Friday, March 31, 2006

SoaP

It's hard to guess what will be the blockbuster of the summer--Mission Impossible, X-Men, etc. But one thing's for sure. The only film I, and millions of others, will not miss, is Snakes On A Plane.

Samuel L. Jackson definitely wants those snakes off the plane, and I will be there opening night to make sure he gets his wish.

Columbus Guy says: What's it about?

LAGuy Responds: Please tell me you're joking.

Good News

Recent research suggests that testicles may become a source of embryonic stem cells. This is great news, since promising stem cell research can then go on without the ethical fears which have made many oppose it.

Testicles. Is there anything they can't do?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

First they came for the peanut butter, and I said nothing

Large jars of peanut butter have been banned in Tennessee's 15 state prisons because inmates were hiding guns, drugs and other contraband in the 18-ounce containers, state corrections officials said.

What will they ban next? Cakes? How hard is it to fool a prison guard, anyway? Makes me long for the days when the G-man was on local radio.

Luke Warm, Action Hero

John Kasich has a reputation for smarts and integrity. His big deal was the budget, until he ran for president, was washed out in the first wave, and disappeared. I assume his reputation is deserved, but maintain rational doubt.

So today Mr. K has a piece in opinionjournal.com about Ohio Republicans going down the drain.

I know Ohio Republicans. I recognize almost everything -- scratch that -- I recognize every single thing in Kasich's piece. If you had collected a scattering of Ohio Newspapers over the course of aboout two years, you'd recognize all of it, too. (Nevermind that it reads like a less-than-unhinged, even reasonable Democrat press release; I've already said that you'd get the information from the papers.)

What gets me is, there's no there to it. If a sixth grade student, having read those papers, half a dozen articles would do it, wrote this, I'd tell his parents he was extraordinary. If a ninth grader did it, I'd give him an A, then I'd talk to him about stretching himself. If a 12th grader did it, I'd say, okay, you deserve your diploma, give him a B maybe, but I'd be a little abrupt: Fine, but what do you think?

So, from the great Kasich, what do we get? Nothing that I can see but intellectual mush. The sky is falling, at least that's what the papers say, but is there an insight in there anyway, a suggestion, even a criticism? He doesn't like "corruption," unlike, I don't know who, but as best as I can tell he wouldn't know corruption if it bit him in the arse. He says, literally, nothing. Should Ohioans elect Petro? Blackwell? A Democrat? Should taxes be repealed? What should anyone do or think after reading this? Damned if I know, and damned if I know why anyone should read it, except as evidence that there is a lot less to Kasich than meets the eye -- and he's been invisible for going on six years now.

The bio appendage does note one thing: Kasich has a book out. Its title? "Stand for Something".

Kevin Phillips Bong

Kevin Phillips is one of the mysteries of life. He made his reputation with an apparently clever and clairvoyant book (which I've never read), The Emerging Republican Majority. Since then, he's written books which tend to be slightly silly, but he's still reviewed respectfully and his reputation, if anything, grows.

I was going to attempt a takedown of his latest, American Theocracy, but luckily for me, Jacob Weisberg beat me to it. So by all means, check out his review in Slate.

Columbus Guy says: For several years around the turn of the century, Phillips was NPR's Voice of the Republicans. Whenever they needed balance for their liberal views, Phillips was their guy. Doubtless it was more palatable to them than finding an actual, you know, conservative. Anyway, I've not noticed him for quite awhile. Maybe McCain's crowded him out of the market. Or maybe he was the only REpublican in Bob Edward's Rolodex. In any case, I'm sure I'll be hearing from NPR about his book soon, if I haven't already mercifully missed it.

Another One Bites The Dust

I'm very sorry to see Lisa Tucker leave American Idol. She was perhaps my favorite all-around performer on the show. Still, I think she's a smart, talented kid and will land on her feet.

I'm also surprised at the weakness of heartthrob Ace Young. His fan base doesn't seem to be cutting it.

Finally, the last thing I want is for Katharine McPhee, who was also in the bottom three, to be voted off. She may not be the best singer but she's the only true babe left.

Bad Public Relations

After waiting years for welfare reform, then finally getting it (and seeing it succeed), it seems the Kauster has a new issue--illegal immigration. As a Democrat (mostly), he feels unsure of what to do, but he's pretty sure the Republican should take up the anti side if they want to prosper.

Is he right? Maybe. (There's an answer for you.) The issue is tricky because it splits party lines. Most Americans are enraged at the millions who have crossed over and continue to cross over our border on the south. Politicians, however, feel differently. Most Dems love Latino immigration, legal or otherwise, because it means (probably) lots more votes for Democrats. It's their best hope for retaking all three branches.

Meanwhile, Republicans are wary of the issue for two reasons. First, they're the business party, and many recognize cheap labor is a great thing, and don't wann to give it up just because it makes a lot of people mad. Second, they fear if they alienate Latinos (even more), they'll never get their vote and the Dems will take over.

So you've got this issue that can fire up a lot of voters, but most politicians are afraid to touch. The question is will some politician be either smart of dumb enough to brave the tremendous hassles of the issue and try to be a populist hero? It'll probably take a Repub to lead on the issue, but it could be a Dem, or perhaps even a third party.

One thing for sure--all the recent protests (especially the giant one here in Los Angeles) didn't help. I'm generally sympathetic to immigrants, even illegal ones, who mostly want to come here to work, but to see them protesting (rather than showing gratitude) is sickening. If they're so unhappy, they should recall no one forced them to be here. And if they truly think the Southwest belongs to Mexico (because they stole it from the Indians first) then I lose all sympathy.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Sex doesn't sell

Markets everywhere tanked on this news.

Best line: "I've got a fair amount of money, but I don't have enough to fix this animal."

UPDATE: Anonymous points out the link doesn't work, but I can't figure out why. All the url is in the code, but clicking on it gives only a part of the url. Here it is: http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/mld/myrtlebeachonline/14211018.htm

(The long and short of it is, Hooters Air has rolled over, legs in the air and pennies in its eyes.)

Who's got George's checkbook?

Our local NPR folks just reported a little blurb about Cryin' George Voinovich, who considers, according to the story, his stand last year against John Bolton for UN Ambassador to be one of his finest moments.

George has pronounced Bolton "a changed man" who has a "flair for diplomacy."

Displaying that flair, Bolton said, (all according to the story; no tape) "I appreciate that."

Quote Of The Week

As a teen, I played at Pinball Pete's in Michigan. Former owner Tim Arnold now runs the non-profit Pinball Hall Of Fame in Las Vegas. The great thing about his museum is he keeps his machines in tip-top shape, and allows you to play them for the original cost.

As he puts it in Las Vegas City Life:
"This is commercial equipment. It's not art. These are old, tired street whores that belong out in the alley with their legs in the air and their slots open, ready to make money. That's what they do. They don't sit in somebody's rec room."
Next time I'm in town, I'll have to give one of them a workout.

The last Laff

Bruce Bartlett continues his Hamlet act, arguing that tax cuts do not "pay for themselves." (Actually, that's the piece title, not Bartlett's text.

I suppose that's true. The only tax revenue curve I know if is the Laffer curve, and, as Bartlett argues, it's perfectly plausible to believe that we are not at a point on the curve where the marginal gain from taxes exceeds the marginal cut. Whether anyone knows where we are on the curve, I doubt, but am open to persuasion.

In any case, the argument for tax cuts must also include (as Bartlett implies) arguments on other grounds: one, overall growth is higher as more money and choice is left to the private sector, which I suppose must mean that long term, revenues are indeed higher with tax cuts, so long as they do not reach some theoretical minimum.

Two, it's simply the moral thing to do. Let people do their own stuff. If you don't like the consequences, if you're squeamish and righteous, and you see someone who doesn't have enough money, give them yours.

Tsuris With The Fringe

I don't have much to add to this amusing piece by Russell Jacoby in The Nation on how those on the Left (not just Dems, but the Left) have to deal with the nuts to their left.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Big Victory

So, the Federal Eelection Committee has decided to exempt us bloggers from the restrictions of campaign finance laws.

In other words, the government has decided to reward us with our basic constitutional rights. Big victory.

Sing along: You . . . have made me . . . verrry happy . . . you have made me so very happy

European researchers have developed "neuro-chips" in which living brain cells and silicon circuits are coupled together.

So Long, Lem

Stanislaw Lem just died. He was (until yesterday) perhaps the best living science fiction writer around. In fact, I'm not even sure if I'd call him an sf writer. Sure, he wrote about robots, the future and all that sort of stuff, but his work was far more intellectually dense than usual for the genre, and, while fun, even playful, had much less of the sf "gee whiz" feeling.

A common complaint about science fiction is it's about a guy taking an imaginary ship to an imaginary planet where he shoot an imaginary monster with an imaginary gun; it has no relationship to real life. And just as bad, that most such writers (like Kurt Vonnegut's alter ego Kilgore Trout) can't write for sour apples. While both these caricatures have, alas, a bit of truth about them, Lem stood apart from even the better writers.

His best-known (but not best) book is Solaris, about a live planet that induces hallucinations in those who investigate it. Part of its notoriety is that it was adapted into two (boring) films by Andrei Tarkovksky (1972) and Steven Soderbergh (2002).

My personal favorites include The Futurologial Congress, a vision of a society where people take all sorts of drugs to avoid seeing things as they really are; The Cyberiad, a series of tales told by robots that investigate what it means to be alive; and A Perfet Vacuum, a collection of reviews of imaginary books.

Lem was closer to a philosophical writer like Borges than a conventional sf writer. Nothing dates more quickly than science fiction, as the world doesn't turn out like expected, or as a work has future technology with outmoded sociology. Lem, on the other hand, has the depth and imagination to live beyond his time.

And let me also tip my hat to his translators. He wrote in Polish but was read around the world. Since his stuff is full of complex ideas and wordplay, translating him must be quite a task.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Betcha trillion dollars they didn't

"The Security Council then passed a resolution condemning the attacks and making it illegal for countries to strike nuclear facilities."

We're such snobs here.

Perusing the latest issue of the Ann Arbor Observer, I was once again struck by the incredible snobbiness of Ann Arborites. This guy, not even a native, explains how he came to move to A2 from lame Livonia, a mere 15 minutes away. He waxes poetic about the trivia contests at the Ann Arbor bars, (see our drunks are so much smarter than your middle class Livonia drunks) and seeing B.B. King at Hill auditorium, which wouldn't be the same if he were a visitor. He actually italicized visitor. There is one major difference between A2 and Livonia and that difference is that Ann Arborites are generally major blowhard SNOBS. The rest of the Observer celebrates our new metrosexual gym (apparently imported from Vancouver) and a lengthy discussion about whether we should eliminate all parking in the downtown area. (Apparently to keep the visitors out). I do like many aspects of living in a University town. Yes admittedly there are a few differences, but being insufferable about it, is very big fish in small pond. Check it out at arborweb.com .

Depressing lines

Via HV, some not quite clear on the concept thoughts:

"He believes that his presence and example in the home is why both his sons decided to marry when their girlfriends became pregnant."

Better than the alternative, maybe. But somehow, I don't think this has the picture quite right.

And here's an entry for the "black people and white people sure are different" sweepstakes:

"My observation is that black women in their twenties and early thirties want to marry and commit at a time when black men their age are more likely to enjoy playing the field."

This seems better evidence for an explanation of why women tend to marry older and men tend to marry younger.

Ohio's will

George Will sure seems to be paying attention to poor little Ohio. Well, why not? The Dems are convinced that this is their shot, that a 100 percent bedwetter can beat a RINO. If he did, it might be a defeat for conservatives at that.

The interesting race is governor, Hillary's Manchurian Candidate against the Republican Ohio Republicans love to hate. The good news is, the winner will be running as a conservative. Of course, so will Hillary.

Time Lets You Care

This week's Time seems hopeful that GOP control of the House may end this election cycle. I know media loves the horse race aspect of elections best, but the horses aren't even at the gate yet--can't this story wait until fall?

In any case, the pull quote goes to Newt Gingrich, who suggests a two-word slogan for the Dems. And it would be cool to drive across the country seeing tons of "Had Enough?" billboards. I suppose then there'd be just as many saying "It Could Be Worse."

No Opinion Piece

In the Sunday LA Times editorial section, there's a curious non-piece by editor Nicholas Goldberg. He discusses the repulsive article by Harvard's John Mearsheimer and Chicago's Stephen Walt.

Their main thesis is that the pro-Israel lobby (mostly run by Jews, of course) is too powerful, somehow fooling or forcing America to support the immoral country of Israel against its own interests. There's hardly a sentence in this shoddily researched piece that doesn't shave the truth in one way or another. So I was intrigued to see what Goldberg had to say.

Here's what he says: bupkis. After spending most of his article laying out the beliefs of these authors, he then goes on to note what they are saying is controversial to some. I kept waiting to see if he would take a side. Nope. His final suggestion is "judge for yourself."

This won't do. Goldberg, you edit an Op-Ed page that has an opinion on everything, and now these fools come along with their slimy ideas and suddenly cat's got your tongue? Shame.

That Time Of Year

Our local public radio station, KPCC, is going through its annual pledge drive. I've said it before, I'll say it again--I'd rather have regular commericals than deal with two weeks of seemingly endless pledge breaks.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Wrong turn

Not that PajamaGuy is about to start promoting taxes, but the gas tax is nearly a perfect one. It generally pays the costs of what it is collected for, and those costs closely correlate to usage.

Its major weakness is that it still leaves to the political process the allocation of construction: Someone has to decide what roads to build.

So, the idea of switching from gas tax to tolls is an improvement. And with today's technology, it would be trivially easy. "Easy Pass" road sensors are fine as they are, but they could be improved even more and made cheaper. You could buy an anonymous toll-bucket at every gas station and convenience store, just as you buy anonymous gas, batteries, phone cards and tanks of propane for your grill. Mount the bucket in a standard place in your trunk or under the hood, and a nickel gets deducted for every mile you drive, or $4 for the Throgs Neck Bridge.

Easy. Sensible. Pays the costs, without the politics.

So what do governments do? Well, first thing is they're worried about revenue, not the cost of the service. And the second thing is they propose an outrageous invasion of privacy. Instead of anonymous payment, they want to track all your movements.

Five dollars to the first person who sends in some bureaucrat's denial that they'll use the data for anything else. $50 if the speaker is someone who has received money from Homeland Security.

West Wing Cops Out

There's not much point in taking on West Wing now, since it's on its last legs. On the other hand, this may be our last chance.

So here's the latest plot--in the surprise development everyone was expecting, Democrat Santos (Jimmy Smits) pulled even in the polls with Republican Vinick (Alan Alda) in their race for President.

However, Santos loses a briefcase that Vinick's advisor Bruno (Ron Silver) finds. Bruno discovers Santos has been secretly paying for a women who's had a baby out of wedlock.

For one second, I thought they were actually going to do something interesting. They were going to have a major, positive character with a serious character flaw. Not just some understandable flaw in an advisor who otherwise only wants what's best for the public, but something that, to at least some viewers, might seem to demonstrate a true lack of judgment.

But then I realized they wouldn't do that. The story unfolded as expected. Vinick (also a good guy) returned the briefcase rather than take advantage of it. And it turns out--of course--that Santos is covering for a brother who impregnated the gal years ago. (At least he says so. It would be great if he were lying, but that's just not possible.)

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Beautiful thought, beautifully expressed

Via His Virtualness, His Legalness:

Trying to prevent people from being killed for their religious beliefs is not an "assault against Islam." It's defense against Islam, or to be precise against a certain strand of Islam that regrettably cannot be dismissed as just some unimportant lunatic fringe.

Paddlin' Madeleine

Amazingly dumb editorial on our Middle East policy in the LA Times (via the Financial Times) from Madeleine Albright. If it weren't condescending and pointless, it wouldn't be anything.

You remember Ms. Albright, former Secretary of State. When asked how she felt about U.S. sanctions against Iraq killing half a million kids, rather than challenge the premise of the question, she said "we think the price is worth it." This is someone we should listen to?

Let me give you a taste of her "argument":
For years, the president has acted as if Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein's followers and Iran's mullahs were parts of the same problem. Yet, in the 1980s, Hussein's Iraq and Iran fought a brutal war.
Ms. Albright, this may surprise to you, but the president and his people know all about that war. They even understand that while both Iran and Iraq are problems, they're not the same one.

There's literally nothing in the article that those who support the Iraq war (only part of a multi-layered approach to Middle east foreign policy) don't already understand quite well (and perhaps reject). But that doesn't stop her from lecturing everyone on the obvious.

Thank goodness such people no longer run our foreign policy. Let's hope they never do again.

PS There were four guest editorials in the Times, all highly critical of the Bush administration. That must be a record.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Advanced economics

My local NPR just announced a study that found more people are seeking free medical care, but, the point of the study: They're finding it hard to find places that provide free care.

ABC puts the "A" in American

I love these ABC links detailing translated captured Iraqi documents. Any time there is anything indicating support for Bush's war justifications, they add a lengthy editor's note to denigrate it. "The document does not, however, conclusively establish that Aliens did not occupy Saddam's body and cause him to engage in this incriminating behavior."

Prima donna

Who does Dick Cheney think he is? Britney Spears? Here's his list of hotel demands. I'm suspicious of its veracity, though. He wants a bed, a bathroom, the room service menu and the temperature set to 68 degrees. Where's his demand that there be a Gideon's bible, a pad of hotel stationery and brochures for the local rock caverns?

Loose And Lost

I'm not one of those whiners, ubiquitous on talkbacks, who complain that every episode of Lost doesn't answer enough. I understand that the story is still in the early stages, and the mystery drives it--big questions take time to explains. But it's getting hard to ignore the loose ends.

With a huge ensemble, they have a lotta balls in the air by necessity, but some episodes it seems they forgot what happened last time. Not that long ago (by island time--it's been months of TV time, considering how rare new episodes are), Jack, Locke and Sawyer met the Others and were told to watch out. You'd think this would be the talk of the Island, but after a mild attempt to start an Army with Ana Lucia, any notice of this threat seems to have petered out.

Then Sawyer (acting out of character?) pulled a long con on Jack and Locke and stole all the guns. (It seems to me the essence of a successsful con is when it's over, you fade away into the night, or at least your mark doesn't know he's been taken, but Sawyer still hangs around proudly--but let's ignore this.) You'd think all that Locke, Jack, Sayid and others would do at this point is put constant surveillance on Sawyer until he gives the stash back, but they all act like it didn't happen.

Then Claire and Kate find another bunker on the island, with valuable information about the Others. You'd think they'd tell everyone, and it would create a huge stir, but it seems to have been forgotten.

Now we've got the prisoner, Henry Gale, who's already been interrogated by half the regulars and seems to be on everyone's mind, but it's not even clear what Locke or Jack, his main jailers (though he was brought in by Sayid) plan to do with him.

Note to the producers: you don't have to explain the numbers, or the black smoke, or the Dharma initiative every week. Your characters don't even always have to talk to each other about the amazing things that happen to them. But they shouldn't act like each day is their first on the island.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Email Sassing, Plagiarizing Network

My friends over at The M Zone hardly need my links, they've got so much traffic, but there's an interesting controversy brewing over there.

They wrote a pretty funny piece a few weeks ago, the M Zone Wonderlic Test. Yesterday, Colin Cowherd, of ESPN radio, read a lot of it on his show without attribution. They emailed him to ask for credit and he emailed back telling them to pound sand.

The Zone is getting tons of emails on this, and are ready to respond yet again. Let's see how this feud plays out.

Democracy Works!

Let me congratulate the American Idol voters. Once again, they got it right, and kicked off Kevin "Chicken Little" Covais, who never should have been there in the first place.

The upside to continuous monitoring

Eventually, we won't have to report to Big Brother any longer.

Oh, no, not a filibuster

Harry Reid announced yesterday that in about two months he's going to cave and rush to support a harsh immigration bill.

The Green Shirt Gauntlet

After bragging on Elvis Costello's lyrics, one of our anonymous readers challenged me to interpret "Green Shirt."

I was afraid of this. "Green Shirt" is one of those early songs where the words come fast and quick, but aren't always clear. The main point about lyrics, anyway, is how they sit on a tune, not how they read without it. "Green Shirt," like any Elvis song of this period, has lots of delicious phrases, so even when you have no overall theory, it still sounds great.

In fact, the song has the famous phrase "Quisling clinic," which Elvis claimed in an interview was just a place he saw when he toured the USA, nothing more. Well, perhaps nothing more, but when Elvis saw it he must have thought this is a great term for where they deal with traitors in one of my paranoid songs.

I'll be honest--until today I had never attempted a unified interpretation of the song. I just let the little bits here and there entertain. But looking at it as a whole, it's not necessarily that tough to bring together.

Elvis of this era has three main topics: sex, politics, and sex and politics. And while he throws a lot at you, he's usually not that hard to understand. He's rarely cryptic, like Steely Dan can be. He's rarely surrealistic, like Dylan can be. He's rarely annoying, like Bernie Taupin.

So, "Green Shirt." This is one of Elvis's songs where sex and politics merge. (Dont forget the working title of his Armed Forces album was Emotional Fascism.) Of course, sex to him isn't about silly love songs--it's about lust and hatred and rage and paranoia. The title conjures up the fascistic image of brown shirts, only a little more colorful--the emotional color of green.

The song starts with a woman on a blue screen who comes into the singer's house. The blue screen is TV, but perhaps this is the Orwellian version of TV, where she's watching him. She takes all the colors of the spectrum and turns them into black and white. In this Orwelllian vision, emotions are corrected and simplified.

But there are those in their green shirts, who try to play the game of love their own way, against what Big Sister demands. You don't want to get caught, lest you be tortured in the Quisling clinic. Big Sister listens to the "Venus line"--where people are talking about their own version of love, against the state. If she catches you, they're in trouble. People are trying to please themselves, they're trying to play the game their way, but they get caught up in the game and get in trouble themselves.

Of course, you don't have to read the politics as being anything but metaphorical, and the whole song is about the emotional minefield you get stuck in if you wish to play the game of love.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Sorry

Sorry, Faithful Reader, if my output has been off for a few days--there has been trouble on the production side (or should I say supply side).

I realize if we at Pajama Guy want to keep faithful readers, we need to be faithful, too. I promise, if I can help it--because sometimes I can't--I'll try to avoid such gaps in the future. (Are gaps something you avoid? I'm reminded of the critic who said of a book "it fills a much-needed gap.")

Nazis on parade

Rights carry special duties and responsibilities and shall be limited as necessary by law.

His Virtualness scares Mickey

Defending against terrorism with self-organizing networks of empowered individuals rather than government bureaucracies ordering people around.

Getting stronger all the time

The P-Boys fill in their argument for impeaching Ginsburg.

A judicial philosophy holding that the law should be the opposite of what the Constitution says would merit impeachment. So would a judicial philosophy to the effect that the words of the Constitution are not binding in constitutional adjudication.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Stupid people watch Oprah

But, to be fair, there's no evidence that watching Oprah actually makes you stupid.

Nor can he be a very brave man who will not credit them with a nobler motive

Anonymous is unhappy that we've not written about Chef. How about we write about war time atrocities and how western militaries deal with them?

The Emir was, however, brought to the river, close to where a gunboat was waiting, mortally wounded, but still alive. As he lay on the bank an Egyptian soldier walked along the gang-plank to the shore, and, approaching the old chief, kicked him with deliberation. Fortunately Major Gordon witnessed the perpetration of this brutal act, and the Egyptian, who had probably expected to be complimented on his courage, was, to his intense amazement, forthwith strapped across the breech of the gunboat's howitzer and soundly flogged.

Title contest

I can't decide what's the best title for this article: "After being surprised by her husband's role in the Dubai ports deal, Sen. Hillary Clinton has insisted that Bill Clinton give her "final say" over what he says and does, well-placed sources said."

Option One: "I'm sorry. That's just not credible."

Option Two: "You mean it used to be different?"

Is it anything like a lobster tank?

Talk about the rich getting better health care:

Hundreds of well-off Japanese and other nationals are turning to China's burgeoning human organ transplant industry, paying tens of thousands of pounds for livers and kidneys, which in some cases have been harvested from executed prisoners and sold to hospitals.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Diet Coke of Evil

So the BBC reports that Bush dared to say axis of evil again. Not to be outdone, North Korea says Bush is the ringleader of evil.

I've never quite understood Communist and Arab radical rhetoric. It's anti-reason. I've usually chalked it up to translation and cultural difficulties, but somehow I think there is more going on.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

As Time Go By

That 70's Show is going off the air after 8 years. That's about right. (The first two years of the decade were just the 60s finishing, anyway.)

It's certainly a lot better than M*A*S*H, set during the Korean War (1950 - 1953) lasting 11 years.

I guess the best show ever for someone who cares about this sort of stuff is 24.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

What is your one-word description of CNN?

This link on CNN about drinkin' kids in Spain (via Drudge) led to this link, about describing Bush in one word. The whole thing is below, but two paragraphs dominate. The first tells you pretty much what it's about.

Describe Bush in One Word: "Incompetent," "idiot" and "liar" were one-word descriptions of President Bush by a majority of Americans, a new survey found.

Wow. A majority of Americans, huh?

The second paragraph tells us the objective facts about why anyone with any brains would conclude that such one words would be appropriate:

The White House has been struggling to rebuild its image after damaging corruption scandals, slow progress in Iraq, the failed Dubai port deal, secret eavesdropping program, slow response to Katrina and the handling of Mr. Cheney's hunting accident.

Now, you know, I'm just asking, but do maybe story selection and emphasis have anything to do with this? And how many of them are true, anyway? Slow progress in Iraq? Secret eavesdropping? Give me a break.

Describe Bush in One Word
"Incompetent," "idiot" and "liar" were one-word descriptions of President Bush by a majority of Americans, a new survey found. Mr. Bush is also seen as being more "out of touch" than President Reagan. What would be your one-word description of President Bush?
President Bush has been losing the support of his core constituents, according to opinion polls released this month. The Pew Research Center in its poll asked respondents to use one word to describe President Bush. The results were startling.
The most frequently used word was "incompetent," followed by "good," "idiot," "liar," "Christian," "honest" and "arrogant."
Overall, only 28 percent of respondents used positive words like "good, Christian and honest," while 48 percent used negative words such as "incompetent, idiot and liar." One in 10 used neutral words, "O.K., president, conservative" and others.
The White House has been struggling to rebuild its image after damaging corruption scandals, slow progress in Iraq, the failed Dubai port deal, secret eavesdropping program, slow response to Katrina and the handling of Mr. Cheney's hunting accident.
In the same survey, 56 percent of Americans said President Bush is "out of touch with what is going on in the government." Only 36 percent said he is "in touch." In 1987, 47 percent of Americans thought President Reagan was "out of touch."
What would be your one-word description of President Bush?

Wendy's Goes New Wave

I was in a Wendy's the other day. Like so many restaurants, they play music. This Wendy's lineup featured a collection of 50s and 60s hits. Some of my favorite music, but so familiar you don't even notice it.

Then they played "We Got The Beat." That was a bit different. Hadn't heard The Go-Go's in years. Next up, "Our House." Madness. Even rarer, even better.

Then I heard Elvis Costello's "Clubland." It almost knocked me off my chair. It's odd enough to hear Costello, much less "Clubland."

On my way out, they played "Boogie Oogie Oogie." I couldn't help but wonder if the song mixer did it as a joke. He's obviously an Elvis fan, and A Taste Of Honey, with this one single, beat out Costello for the Best New Artist Grammy in 1978.

I hadn't been to Wendy's in a while. Maybe I'll be back soon.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Accidents happenn

As South Park might say, Holy crap. A Ward Sutton cartoon that is actually thoughtful.

How the mind boggles

Ann Althouse is mind-boggled that the "obvious" hasn't occurred to Charles Krauthammer (there must be something in the air; at least three times in the last six weeks, I've been present at public statements of otherwise intelligent people making otherwise intelligent argumetns that no one could possibly disagree with them).

Namely, it's clear to Althouse that gay marriage is different from polygamy. It's all about economics: "A polygamous marriage, however, puts a group of persons in a position to claim more economic benefits than the traditional heterosexual couple."

It seems to me this is just factually wrong. How do three people in a marriage end up with more economic benefits? And why is it okay for a gal not receiving those economic benefits now to marry a single guy -- or gal! -- to get those economic benefits, but not to marry into a an existing couple to do it?

I think Althouse has gay-brain. She's convinced it's a huge moral crusade, and good for her, but then she has to deal with a horde on the other side who also see it as a huge moral crusade, but going the other way. Althouse would be better off to argue that there shouldn't be economic benefits to marrying, at least not governmehnt sanctioned ones. Indeed, it's a bit hard to justify government regulation of marriage at all, but for the fact that all known socieites do it, and pretty clearly this is only because of the issue of issue, which is to say, children.

Trouble in River City

PajamaGuy has been inaccessible to me for the past 18 hours or so, although I have been able to access blogger and edit posts. I just haven't been able to read the blog, and I've tried from several different machines and networks. I assume the troube is universal and not merely following me like a rain cloud.

His Virtualness posts a plea for help from someone who had it worse.

Meanwhile, we'll pray to the Google Gods and hope it all clears up (not to mention considering finding other hosts and devolping a Dooms Day strategy.)

(BTW, at least she's smart enough to find an email address for help, even though no one is responding to her. I can't even find that, so if someone wants to pass it along so I can send a nastygram of my own, please do.)

Bernard-Henri Levy

Bernard-Henri Levy is a rarity--a major French intellectual who likes America. His latest book, American Vertigo, is about his travels throughout the U.S. While I admire his enthusiasm, I think he often misses the point. Most French intellectuals hate America for the wrong reasons, but he likes us for the wrong reasons.

Here's a good example. He tells a story of a small group of people who start a successful campaign to prevent Wal-Mart from coming to their town. In this, he sees the vibrancy of American democracy. Well sure, there's that...

But to me, one of the great things about America is the freedom we offer, including to our entrepeneurs. You can start with a little money and a big idea, and, like Sam Walton, have the biggest company in the world before you're done. You do this through hard work and ingenuity--mostly by giving the people what they want, while the government interferes as little as possible.

That a few busybodies can exploit the powerful levers of government to prevent consumers from getting to make a free choice, then, is not necessarily an Amercan triumph.

(I love Democracy, but it doesn't mean I love the result of every vote.)

I wonder what Levy would think of a guy like Tom Monaghan. There's the entrepeneurial side, who made it possible for America to get a pizza fast, hot and cheaap. Then there's the activist side, who wants to create a place to live that fits within his religious ideals. Levy would probably oppose both.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Same old, same old

A similar scheme aimed at manipulating wasps failed when they flew off to feed and mate.

Well of course they do

"Canadian baby boomers prefer television over sex"

The Great Divide

"I think there's a case for impeaching Justice Ginsburg."

Of course there is, although it would have to be on the basis of her decisions using foreign "law", and not, I think, the speech referenced.

The real wrinkle, though, is that half or 80 percent of the prominent legal academy disagrees, along with a full third of the population, and most of the rest don't like the idea of impeachment. It would only work if we could get Ginsburg on American Idol or something and the public didn't like her.

A consistent Republican

Constant Republicans are so rare. Democrats too, I suppose, and I admit I have a few candidates there, damn few, maybe, at least that aren't lunatics, but a few.

Anyway, while I haven't followed Katherine Harris's congressional career, she has been admirable and remarkable since her entry to the national stage.

The bottom line of the Florida vote was that our national election machinery has precision approximating that of the 2004 elections--several states had vote outcomes on the order of a difference of 100,000 votes, say, 1 percent of total population. If things get closer than that, forget it. It's all noise. You may as well flip a coin. What did Florida boil down to? 527 votes? Forget it. (I love it when people say Florida proved how important each vote is. No, it proved that even in the most bizarre election ever, so close that it's probably impossible to be beaten, your vote still doesn't count. You would have made it only 526, or 528.)

But Harris kept her cool. She did the only thing she could do, and certify the results. It was only the wretched behavior of Gore and the Florida court that made the problem. (My criticism is tempered, for Gore, at least; any of us in that situation would have found it awful and hard to resist, constitutional democracy be damned.)

So her decision to continue her fight in the Florida senate race against Ben Nelson is consistent with her cool. I hope only that the $10-million she's spending isn't her last $10-million.

No, thank you, we're British

Perhaps I've misremembered the line. We're French? We're German? We're from Ohio? Doubtless John Cleese and Steve Martin have both used it. In any case, anonymous points out that ColumbusGuy dropped a ball:

You're missing the best part of the story: The students are protesting because they don't want "anglo-saxon" economics. They want guaranteed job with high benefits where it's almost impossible to be fired. . . . it's hilarious[, as if] supply and demand work differently in France. Why not protest the laws of physics, too?

How Do You Ruin Pizza?

I recently had the opportunity to sample Pizza Hut's new "Cheesy Bites Pizza."

When it comes to pizza, I'm pretty much no-nonsense. I got nothing against a few toppings, but it's the tomato sauce, cheese (not too much) and crust that make or break it. In fact, my favorite part of the pizza is when you have a bit of crust in each bite to balance out the rest.

That's why this new promotion is an abomination. Instead of a real crust, they've got 28 "cheese-filled," "pull apart" bites ringing the concoction. They're disgusting. If I wanted that, I'd have ordered a grilled cheese sandwich.

And once you've pulled them off, you've got this gooey mess with no crust! Who'd want to eat that?

Chastened, Or Insane?

Last year I wrote a bit about Hilton Als, New Yorker theatre critic. Apparently, he found Ibsen "boring." In fact, unless a production was propped up with the latest bells and whistles, Ibsen was all but unplayable.

Als' idea of good Ibsen was a production of A Doll's House where the women were around six feet tall and the men were all dwarfs. I admit I didn't catch this celebrated version, but it sure seems that whatever metaphorical power one gains from the casting must have dissipated pretty quickly.

That's why I was startled by this week's review of Hedda Gabler starring Cate Blanchett. He's actually angry that they've tampered with the text to present a (somewhat) different Hedda from what you normally see. At one point he's even bothered that Ibsen's stage directions are not followed. Could this be the same man?

My guess is he got so much (deserved) grief from his slam of Ibsen, that he went back and read the originals, and developed a new-found respect. That or he's pretending.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Idol P.S.

American Idol voters made up for last week's mistake and voted Melissa off. Good work.

Whole Foods Does It Again

I've written before that cashiers at Whole Foods don't know how to stack the bag properly when I buy dinner there. (Part of their "Core Values": "We satisfy and delight our customers.")

I had a plastic container of salad, and a same-sized plastic container of hot food. Now I want the cold on at the bottom of the bag because heat rises. I have to drive back home through cold weather for about fifteen minutes. By the time I return, the hot food will have cooled and the salad will be considerably warmer.

So I gave the cashier the salad first, so just by chance she'd put it in the bag first. She weighed it--one pound. Then she weighed the hot food--half a pound. So putting the hot food on the bottom would also make the bag unstable.

Didn't matter. She put the hot food on the bottom, and I got cooled mashed potatoes and warmed iceberg lettuce.

Unreasoned

I guess Europe is still fighting for that welfare check:

Dominique de Villepin, the prime minister, has staked his reputation, and possibly his job, on a measure that aims to cut rampant youth unemployment with two-year contracts that enable employers to sidestep rigid French labour laws and fire them without reason.


No, it would allow employers to judge the reason. While it may have the side effect of allowing unreasoned employers to fire people without reason, unreasoned employers have plenty of problems of their own and won't be employing people for very long in any case.

Weekly Idol Piece?

No, this is not my weekly American Idol piece. I'll write about it, or not write about it, whenever I choose.

Only a few short comments, and not about their choices of the great Stevie Wonder's songs. (Let's have another week of Stevie--his catalogue can take it.)

Two hours makes for a bit of paddding, but then, the Wednesday show is almost all padding. It's a testament to the entertainment value of this show that it can have so much padding and I don't mind. (Or is it a testament to VCRs?)

Last month, I feared the judges were getting a bit cocky. The show's a huge hit, and they're starting to think it's all about them. But, I said, at least Ryan Seacrest seems to appreciate how lucky he is.

I take that back. Lately he seems cocky too, being a smart aleck with the judges and striding about a bit too confidently. I'll give Seacreat credit that he's the one who has to move the show along, and for the most part you can't see the mechanics, but truthfully, aren't there about ten-thousand people who can replace him on short notice?

A Thousand Words

Newspapers, through a sense of propriety (and in the case of Danish cartoons, cowardice), sometimes leave things out of a story. For example, if a politician reputedly tells a sexist, dirty joke, they will report he told a sexist, dirty joke. They may even describe the sexist, dirty joke. But they won't print the actual joke.

This is a mistake. A joke can't really be judged until you hear it. That's what I was thinking when I read the story about a man who was cited for making an "obscene" hand gesture while in traffic. Though the citation was dropped, the man is suing, claiming it was part of his free speech

Legally speaking, I think he's right. Regardless of the gesture, I don't see how it isn't protected as communication under the First Amendment. Nevertheless, others may disagree and the story simply doesn't carry the same meaning unless this anonymous gesture is fully described or, better yet, illustrated.

Sure, we all know what the gesture almost certainly is--that's the point. Why the cutesinesss surrounding it? The fully story isn't being told.

(And if it is illegal to use this particular gesture in traffic....)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Hiatus

It's good to have The Sopranos back. On the other hand, it's been gone so long, it'll take a little getting used to.

How long has it been gone? Well, from the time Drea de Matteo got killed last season to her appearance in Sunday's premier, she was able to star in a highly touted new series that's already all but off the air.

Bashful Bashman

So I heard Howard Bashman of How Appealing fame speak to the local Federalist Society chapter today, along with Ohio State's Doug Berman of the sentencing blog.

They're both walking demonstrations of the short bald guy rule. (Although I hasten to note, ColumbusGuy makes them look like Tom Cruise.) Humble, nice, accomplished. It's nice to see such a combination.

(BTW, I know it's the Fat Bald Guy Rule, but none of us was fat in this case. Give me a little ColumbusGUy license.)

Platinum Blondie

Like jazz and hip-hop, rock and roll started out as a populist type of music. The establishment hated it, but the people loved it so much no one could keep it down. Throughout the 50s and 60s, the most popular artists tended to make a lot of the best rock.

Then, as often happens, the music grows larger and more sophisticated, and some of it is loved by smaller and smaller niches. The Velvet Underground was one of the greatest rock bands of all, but had almost no commercial success. Unfortunately, this made some think that to sell well also meant to sell out.

Punk music was born out of a "do-it-yourself" ethos. That was part of its charm. But because little of it hit big in America, there became a feeling among some in the punk world that failing commercially was a badge of honor. How dumb.

Blondie was just inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Bully for them. Unfortunately, Blondie guitarist Chris Stein still has a bit of the feeling that widespread popularity is bad. He's quoted in the LA Times as saying "contrary to popular belief, we didn't have any mainstream success. I always considered us just a very successful cult band."

This is just silly. Blondie, in its heyday, had a gold album and three consecutive platinum albums. They also had four #1 hits, "Heart Of Glass," "Call Me," "The Tide Is High" and "Rapture." And that's just in Amerca--if anything, they were more popular overseas.

Sorry, Chris, but if that isn't mainstream commerical success, there's no such thing.

Don't Test Me

A predictable, and predictably bad, editorial in the LA Times. To no one's surprise, Joanne V. Creighton, President of Mount Holyoke college, doesn't like the SATs.

She states (she doesn't even rhetorically ask) "It seems self-evident that a one-size-fits-all test could not adequately assess the diverse populations of students and schools that make up the U.S. educational landscape." True, since nothing could adequately assess all students properly. But, in fact, it's because of our diverse population that something like the SAT is so useful--it's the only common measurement we have.

Creighton is bothered that certain groups, such as Asian students, predominate on prestigious campuses. (Poor fools--they worked too hard, they must be punished.) She prefers touch-feely "holistic" standards that allow her to get results that please her social-engineering heart.

Mount Holyoke has made the use of SATs optional for admission. Fine. Small, prestigious liberal arts schools can easily get away with that, no damage done. However, Ms. Creighton believes this essentially meaningless experiment proves the SATs shouldn't matter, because research has shown those admitted without SAT scores do just about as well.

This is the kind of thing that gives research a bad name. It's not hard to pick good Holyoke students from "non-submitters," since the school itself is both selective and self-selective. It's as if the research is designed not to upset the theory it's supposed to prove. If you want serious research into the SATs, what you do (and it's not that hard) is compare students with vastly different SATs within the same institution taking essentially the same classes.

Today's educators will bend heaven and earth to get their preferred results. If the SAT gave them what they want, they'd laud it to the skies. Because it doesn't, they must destroy it.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Liberal Education

Big doings at the Huffington Post. George Clooney admits he's a liberal! Don't bother, there's really nothing there.

One thing intrigued me, though. Clooney (and he's hardly alone) seems to relate being a liberal with opposing the war in Iraq? Why?

Despite recent history (i.e., Vietnam), there's nothing particularly pacifist about liberalism. They may not agree with conservatives on whom to oppose, but the Left certainly supported fighting the Axis. Before then, they volunteered to fight against Franco. It seems to me the war on terror, which is essentially a war on fascism, is right up their alley.

I realize today's liberals reflexively hate everything Bush, but can't they ask themselves whether they'd support the war if Clinton or Gore had started it?

(And yes, it works in both directions. Being a conservative shouldn't automatically means you support the war, either.)

Fish in a barrel

It's almost not worth commenting upon, but this is such a perfect example of the genre that it's worth noting. Gore gives a firebrand speech, offering up boob-bait for the bubbas. (I take for granted that he did it sincerely.) The nice thing about the story is that it's impossible to tell whether the reporter is a true believer, a Republican plant, or simply an objective reporter.

I'm leaning Republican plant; it reminds me of the time I approached a politician and asked him about a quote he gave to another reporter, and he said, with some passion, perfectly earnestly,"Oh, that bitch. She printed exactly what I said."

Hello, ColumbusGuy. Would you like to play a game?

So I log onto Amazon.com, to check an order I made for my nephews after Don Knotts died. One's into old comedies, so I sent him the Abbott & Costello routine, Who's on First?. The next I figured would enjoy The Incredible Mr. Limpet, and another the three Wallace & Grommit shorts.

So what do you suppose Amazon does? It welcomes me with an offer to buy "The Apple Dumpling Gang."

Obvious tart. If she really knew me, she'd have led with Andy Griffith.

Au contraire

LAGuy says Ayla ain't got no chops. What does he know? Ayla says, “I thought I was the most consistent performer,” she said. “Vocally, I had proven myself."

The only thing that troubled me (and since it's the last line of the story, it might well be the objective reporter taking a shot at the poor girl), was this line: “I can’t even picture myself going home and living the lifestyle I lived before,” she said.

If that's reflective, she's going to make some guy very happy. Anyway, unlike LAGuy, I know how to follow the implicit rules of posting. Herewith, Ayla:


No, wait. Herewith, Ayla:

The new Bob Dole

It doesn't bother me much to see McCain take it in the chops (my favorite line was from the participant who said, after McCain recognized he was losing and asked all his supporters to cast a symbolic vote for Bush, paraphrased, "McCain voted against every one of the president's tax cuts. Maybe he should have supporterd him then.")

But Frist?

I'm about ready to give up. Let's just give it to Hillary. That's probably the best way to drive a stake into the Clintons anyway.

Poor Ayla

American Idol is finally down to its top twelve. For the most part, the audience has kept the best singers. (I question the continuing popularity of Kevin Covais.) Unfortunately, this means they've voted off most of the babes.

They've been knocking off two gals a week to get to this point. Three weeks ago, they pared the babe division down 50% by kicking off Stevie and Becky. At least we still had Ayla, my favorite. But last week she was the final girl not to make it, losing to the rodent-faced Melissa. (I know, I know, it's a singing competition, but my TV gets sound AND pictures.)

The only one left who's still in the babe category is Katharine McPhee, but I'm still feeling bad about Ayla and her tearful exit. Press accounts say she's brushed it off, but it must be tough. And the reason I think it's tough is the same reason she was never going to win, anyway.

I realize she doesn't have the chops, when you come down to it. But even if she did, she would have engendered too much hatred to make it all the way. Her life has been too perfect so far--it looks like she's never failed at anything. She's tall and beautiful, and a good student with a basketball scholarship. She's got a rich, loving family, with a father who's a state senator and a mother who's a TV news broadcaster. And she's only 17. America would have turned on her sooner or later.

There is (was?) a website devoted to her that I checked out. As I predicted, a lot of people wrote in to sneer. Here are a few comments (some apparently patterned on Chuck Norris style jokes):

"Ayla can leap tall buildings in a single bound."
"Ayla once caught a bullet with her teeth."
"This just in!!!.... Ayla found the cure for AIDS."
"Breaking News: Ayla just captured bin Laden."
"It took 7 days to create the heavens and earth???? Ayla could have done it in 3."
"Ayla has donated her heart, lungs and liver 3 times. They just keep growing back."

Here's the comment that best symbolized all the hatred that would have manifested itself, the longer she stayed on:

"TV: $600. Popcorn: $2. Phone: $75. Seeing a rich snob get knocked down off her pedestal knowing daddy can't do squat...................PRICELESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Maybe it's best she lost before it got too ugly.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Miyagi say, 'You try too hard'

Daniel Son needs to take a breather from Desperate Housewives. Maybe a dose of The Sopranos is called for.

Good Timing

Big story today in The New York Times, "Hussein Saw Iraqi Unrest as Top Threat." The headline pretty much says it all. I think there are two lessons we can learn from this.

1) We invaded at the perfect time. If we had waited much longer (and we certainly waited, hoping to get important members of the UN, who were essentially playing us, to join our coalition), Saddam likely would have gotten wise. There probably would have been more resistance to our invasion, and--who knows--perhaps many thousands of our soldiers dying in the first few months of battle.

2) Iraqi people should appreciate (not that many don't) what we did, since if we decided not to invade, it seems that Saddam was ready for another cleansing, where tens of thousands or more of his own people would pay the price.

Can qualms have considerable force?

His Virtualness brought me up short with this line:

But the Milosevic trial was yet another argument that the qualms about the Nuremberg approach to deposed dictators (qualms that many participants in the Nuremberg trials felt quite strongly) may have considerable force.

In any case, let's change this model and hang them, without Ramsey Clark.

Before The Parade Passes By

Sunday is Parade Magazine day. The cover is their annual "What People Earn" issue. It's always interesting to know what different people make, though how they figured Angelina Jolie made $30 million last year, I don't know. And I was surprised, speaking of Hollywood salaries, how the star of a top hit like Desperate Housewives, Teri Hatcher, only made $1.25 million. I bet she's making more in 2006.

But the best part of Parade is the regular columns.

There's the ineffable Walter Scott and his "Personality Parade," which I've written about before. This week someone actually wrote in to ask "Why didn't Q'orianka Kilcher get as Oscar nod for her role [as Pocahonatas] in The New World?" Scott replies that the Academy doesn't like nominating juveniles, and Kilcher is only 16. As evidence (evidence!) for his theory, Scott notes the last youngster nominated for Best Actress was 13-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes for Whale Rider, 2 years ago. Let me suggest an alternate theory. The Academy wasn't particularly impressed with this flop and felt the only nomination it deserved was for cinematography. (It should have won that, by the way.)

Then there's the smartest human in the world, Marilyn Vos Savant. People send her two sorts of letters: puzzles, which Marilyn answers easily, and thorny moral or philosophical problems, which Marilyn also answers easily.

Today someone asks why there are laws preventing fast food companies and gun manufacturers from being sued, but nothing to protect the tobacco industry. Marilyn usually gives sharp, sensible answers, but today she apparently lets her hatred of tobacco get the best of her, and her answer--sorry Marilyn--makes no sense. She states: "The subjects are neither related nor parallel: Food and guns can be used properly and without abuse. Tobacco cannot."

The arguments here is so obviously flawed I will not waste time refuting it. Instead, I call on Marilyn to look at it again and correct herself.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Shorts

I just caught the five films nominated for Best Live Action Short Film for this year's Oscars. As usual, I liked them better than the five Best Picture nominees.

They played all five as a single show. If it comes around to your town, check it out.

While there was humor, a common theme was dead wives, who were featured in three of the shorts.

The Runaway (23 minutes), a German film, is a touching film about a kid who keeps bothering a man who claims not to know him. Their relationship gets more complex and more mysterious as the film goes along.

Cashback (18 minutes), a British entry, is about a grocery store's night shift, and how the employees deal with their boredom. It's perhaps the funniest of the five, as well as the best shot. It also features some stunning nude women.

In Our Time Is Up (12 minutes), Kevin Pollak is a psychologist who find he has six weeks to live and decides to tell his patients what he really thinks of them. It's probably the thinnest of the nominees, but still quite amusing.

The most depressing film, The Last Farm (17 minutes), comes from Iceland. An old man who lives far away from the big city has to deal with his wife's death.

Then there's the Oscar-winner, from Ireland, Six Shooter (27 minutes). It stars Brendan Gleeson as a man who's just lost his wife. He meets an odd companion on a train trip. To say more would give away the plot of this dark comedy. (To say almost anything about these shorts gives away the plot.)

It probably deserved to win, though I do feel it's a bit of a ringer, since it was made by Martin McDonagh, author of The Beauty Queen Of Leenane and The Pillowman, one of the best playwrights around.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Pence-ive President

"This stuff ought to be out. Put this stuff out."

It's for the children

"Some groups, particularly banks, fear Wal-Mart will use its industrial bank as a base to offer a wider array of services in its branches."

My mouse isn't working

"A computer controlled by the power of thought alone has been demonstrated at a major trade fair in Germany."

Is there a word for being depressed and impressed in equal measure?

A Meddling Court Destroying Yet Another One Of Life's Simple Pleasures

It's official. According to a California state appeals court, public urination is against the law. It doesn't qualify as littering, but it is a "public nuisance." But what about when it's a public necessity? It seems to me if I at least make an attempt to, say, hide behind a dumpster, I should catch a break.

There is some slight good news. The court would allow exceptions for say, hikers in the middle of nowhere. Well, it's a start.

Columbus Guy says: So it's still okay in Brentwood?

And you misinterpret this how?

An absurdly bad discussion of The Conversation over at Slate. As often happens, the critic lets his politics run away with him, which would be embarrassing enough in a political column, but deadly in an artistic one.

The critic, Benjamin Strong, is all over the place. He wants to comment (stupidly) on the politics of the Nixon era, the Ford/Carter era, the Reagan era, the 60s and today so badly that he twists his cinematic evidence beyond recognition.

The Conversation is a 1974 Francis Ford Coppola film, shot between his two Godfather epics. It features Gene Hackman as a wiretapper who gets too involved in a case with disastrous results. It's the kind of paranoid, downer film that was much more common in late 60s, early 70s Hollywood. The film is suspenseful, but fairly dark and hard for the average audience to take--it was a box-office disappointment even though Coppola and Hackman were at their commerical height.

This is not how Strong sees it. At the end, Hackman fears he himself is tapped and literally rips up his apartment searching for the bug. The film (by chance--Coppola had the ideas years before) was released while Nixon was ensconced in the Watergate scandal. Here's what Strong has to say:
Coppola's original audience was still waiting for its criminal president to face justice, and surely Harry's crackup was cathartic. At the very least it was profitable.
Huh? Because Nixon wasn't yet out of office, the audience enjoyed seeing Harry go nuts at the end? I don't get it. And then Strong insists that this film, which failed, made money. Why?

Strong goes on to list conspiracy thrillers made throughout the Ford and Carter years, but even he knows we still make them with regularity. (Heck, Gene Hackman keeps making them--Runaway Jury, Enemy Of The State, Absolute Power.) So he has to claim they were somehow different once Reagan was elected. He chooses poor old Blow Out (1981) to prove his point.

Blow Out is about a sound editor who records a car crash, which leads to his attempt to unveil a conspiracy. However, by the end, the conspirators have succeeded in their coverup. How does Strong read this? Simple. In the sunny Reagan era, no one wants to know the truth; Blow Out failed at the box office--no one wanted to hear bad things anymore. (Perhaps it was the downer ending. Even the big hit conspiracy films of the 70s that Strong lists, such as All The President's Men (1976) and The China Syndrome (1979), in addition to being very well made films, had their conspiracies revealed to the public by the end.)

He then goes on to claim, 25 years later, "the America of Blow Out, with its bleak atmosphere of futility and collective denial, has become distressingly familiar." His proof (read it yourself, I'm not kidding): the pessimistic thriller Syriana and the Bush administration's argument for wiretapping. Leaving out the silly political claim, which I don't even have the energy to go into right now (I'm exhausted enough following Strong's incoherent argument about film), I think it's worth noting Syriana is hardly symbolic of Hollywood right now--not in its subject, message or style.

Not content yet, Strong needs to misread yet another film and era. He claims not only is The Conversation "optimistic" compared to films today, but so is Antonioni's Blow-Up (1966). He feels the film is about a fashion photographer roused from his apathy (i.e., doing his job and having sex with models) into action. Hmmm. I seem to recall the "action" was mostly blowing up photos until the photographer become uncertain of the nature of reality itself. (Good ol' sunny Antonioni.)

Blow Up and The Conversation (not to mention the darkest conspiracy film of them all, The Parallax View (1974)) can be read in various ways, but to see them as optimistic because they believe the truth is out there (something any X-Files fan can tell you) if you search hard enough, while pretending that all the films made in the last quarter century that were far more likely to have happy endings where the good guy unveils the conspiracy are the opposite, is just bizarre.

If you want to get the bad taste out of your mouth, here's a decent essay on The Conversation.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Including "The Economist"?

"Bloggers may be (mostly) amateurs, but they are often smarter than the professionals, or possessed of useful specialist knowledge, argues Mr Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee, whose own blog, instapundit.com, attracts more readers than many established political magazines."

One for the archives I

Nothing remarkable about this story. Rather, I have nothing to remark. The story itself is quite remrkable, and so here it is.

Going with the flow

You've got to love businessmen. They're just about makin' it work, you know? My guess is it's all going to be some meaningless partnership or reincorporation. How hard is it to fool David Gregory and charles Schumer?

Sure

Drudge claims NASA will soon announce the discovery of life out there. Let's put it this way--I'll believe it when I get it straight from NASA.

Ecclesiastes I

"Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force."

Sequel Or Equal

Entertainment Weekly has some fun with the worst movie sequels. (Following EW trendiness, all of them were made this side of 1970.) It's hard to argue with most of the choices.

But then, it's easy enough to beat up on bad sequels. The idea of a sequel itself is bad. If a film is good, you probably already said what you had to say. Besides, it's some kind of miracle when everything comes together to make a hit--expecting to duplicate the experience is like hoping to get fire twice from a match.

I'm more troubled by their sidebar of good sequels. These do occur, occasionally, but I feel the implication is these films are better, and I don't agree.

Toy Story, while it may be Pixar's first feature, is still its best. Toy Story 2 is fine, but while it may be technologically superior, the first story is still fresher and more entertaining.

Godfather II is a great film, certainly, but it doesn't have the classic structure of the first Godfather.

Then there's the biggest mistake of all, placing The Empire Strikes Back above the original Star Wars film, A New Hope. Yes, Empire is wonderful, but A New Hope created the entire universe that Empire played around in. Empire is darker--that's the story--but it can't match the delight of the original.

When sequels are superior, it's usually because the original stinks. Star Treks II and IV are a lot of fun, but stay away from the first one. And I've always found Alien to be, for the most part, a cheap slasher film in outer space, while the sequel, Aliens, is a superior action film.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

True thought

I must be in a sappy mood today. First I credit DeWine and Snowe for their great kindness of not destorying their president and their party, now I'm going to get all gooey on His Virtualness.

When HV heard about the ports deal he knee-jerked that it was unimpressive. Pretty quickly, though, he tempered his thoughts and recognized at the least a complex issue and perhaps that he had been had. Now he seems to have largely reversed course.

LAGuy's friend Cass Sunstein was supposedly working on the concept of how people change their minds. I suppose he's had three books out since then, so maybe he's published on it and moved on. In any event, Reynolds provides a nice case study -- although it remains possible he's the only person to have ever changed his mind in the face of evidence and thought.

Sowing his seed

Props to Richard Brookhiser, via His Virtualness via Albion's Seedlings:

Bangalore has educated, relatively low-wage employees; someone in Bangalore probably wrote the program that makes the system run; and Bangalore, thanks to India’s earlier access to the English language, has the jump on tech centers in other developing nations. So Google fortuitously reaps what Cornwallis and Wellesley sowed—and lays in the seed for later harvests.

Nice. And it echoes the earlier line, "Britain’s legacy to independent India was mixed, for it included both parliamentary democracy and socialism . . . But time has winnowed the wheat from the chaff, for democracy remains, despite the hiatus of Indira Ghandi’s emergency rule, while socialism has been consigned to the dunghill."

Now that's metaphor.

Days of DeWine and Snoweses

Much as I gripe about the Republicans In Name Only, they do hold together a significant amount of the time. Kudos to Ohio Republican Mike DeWine and Maine Republican Olympia Snowe for not falling for the partisan tripe of wall to wall anti-Bush news coverage for the next six months of Democrats saying, "We would absolutely continue this program; now let's impeach Bush for implementing it."

Agreeing with Saddam

"Where is the crime?" Saddam Hussein defends himself, correctly. He was the law.

But of course the law was not just. And now, he is being tried, not truly according to law, because there is none applicable to him, but according to victor's justice. That's okay. The victor's justice is just, unlike Saddam's. He can be executed now.

The Fight Continues

Not surprisingly, Daniel Dennett responds to Leon Wieseltier's frontal assault on his latest in The New York Times Book Review. And Wieseltier answers.

Dennett takes his Darwin straight, and it's hard for a lot of people to deal with, especially non-scientists. Dennett wants to use evolution to explain just about everything. Alas, this often means reviewers go nuts and don't fairly represent him. I don't always agree with Dennett, but I always find him bracing, and generally bemoan his critics' lack of comprehension (or even competence).

Dennett, with some justification, but more thunder, complains Wieselter's review is more name-calling than serious discussion. (I agree that when people start throwing around words like "scientism" or "reductionist," they're generally avoiding the real argument in favor of cliches.)

The essence of their disagreement, seems to me, grows out of a position Wieseltier shares with many others. He doesn't want to be a dualist, but he also doesn't want to admit biology explains everything. This requires there be something kind of magical about what's going on, yet not supernatural, an untenable compromise with Dennett's Darwinian universal solvent. Certainly there are emergent properties (nothing amazing about that), and one can discuss various issues at different levels of abstraction. But that doesn't mean in reseraching "the autonomy of reason" (as Wieseltier has it), that we mustn't delve deeper into biology.

Sullivan's Travels

A no/maybe/yes on the war from the Excitable Boy in Time. While it's always good to be open to alternative ideas, I don't get Sullivan's negative arguments.

Let me put it another way--the negatives he puts out were well understood by most war supporters. If anything, I (and I can't be alone in this) thought it would be harder. So why does he act as if they're revelations?

Columbus Guy says: It was His Virtualness who said something like, "I find it less important to read Andrew than I used to."

Indeed.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

I hate New Jersey Nazis

Will the supreme court outlaw anonymous speech? Sometimes, I wish I'd voted for Lamar Alexander: "Cut their pay and send them home."

"Is Europe willing to fight for anything besides a welfare check?"

The headline morphs a bit from the index page to the article's "Is the Continent willing to fight for anything, besides a welfare check?" which is more fair to Britain, of course.

Make Mine Pajama Guy

Faithful reader, ask not what Pajama Guy can do for you, but what you can do for Pajama Guy. If you see an interesting post, feel free to send the item and/or URL across the internet.

Or imagine this conversation.

"I read the most interesting thing in Pajama Guy the other day..."

"What's Pajama Guy?"

"Only the most underrated blog on the internet, chockfull of fun and fascinating insight on a daily basis. I start every day with The New York Times, the Washington Post and Pajama Guy. And I lied about the first two."

"That sounds great. Where can I find this font of wisdom?"

"No farther than your fingertips. Just type in pajamaguy.blogspot.com and before you know it, you'll be the life of the party."

Solomonic Wisdom

Overturning a lower court ruling, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the Solomon Amendment, which cuts funding to colleges that don't allow military recruiting on campus.

I have some misgivings about the opinion. The Court dismissed the various First Amendment arguments--regarding expressive conduct and association--a bit too easily. This may cause trouble down the road. (I'm ignoring the situational ethics of the academics who brought the suit--many have no trouble with harsh speech codes, for instance, and happily support the government requiring colleges to jump through hoops elsewhere.)

Overall, I can't say the opinion is a surprise. The colleges had a pretty weak case, or should I say the government had a strong one. For years, they've been paying the piper and calling the tune. That this shouldn't apply where they have a clear mandate--raising an army--would almost be absurd.

I was a bit surprised all the Justices agreed. Is this a harbinger for the Roberts' Court?

Monday, March 06, 2006

True story II (foul language warning)

LAGuy pooh-pooh's his Oscar picking ability, saying he would have scored as high a match if he'd picked at random.

Reminds me of freshman inorganic chemistry at Michigan. (don't read this if you don't like salty language.) Something like 500 kids took the class at a time, more than they could fit into a lecture hall, I think, for the exam, which was 15 questions multiple choice. It was pretty tough; the median was usually six, a nine would pretty much guarantee you an A.

I lived on north campus, Bursley, which meant we had to take a bus to central campus. During the exam, they posted the answers on the wall, so that you could check it when you left. Of course, this meant a crowd of 500 around this single sheet of paper. I figured, screw it, it wouldn't do me any good anyway, since there was some variation from test to test. WHen I caught the bus, I was alone, and when I reached the dorm, it was empty, because everyone else was still trying to figure their score.

Except there was one guy on my hall, in shorts and t-shirt, walking up and down the hall with a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other, and he's crying.

"Two," he says. "A fucking two. A God-damned monkey could do better."

And given that it was a four choice answer set, of course he was right.

Compare And Contrast

If you want to see how I would have voted for the Oscars, check out this old post. Me and the Academy don't intersect much.

Columbus Guy says: Really? You catch picture, director, documentary and song (and I suspect you tagged one or two others that I'm too lazy to look up) and you consider that not much?

The only nit I pick is PSH. Apparently you don't share the widely held view, including this house, particularly ColumbusGal, but me, too, of his stellar chops, etc. Do you think he's not good? Or just that the performance wasn't as worthy?

Anyway, my only comment is that the choices seemed awfully pedestrian. Whenever they follow my tastes, something's up. Wallace & Grommit, Reese W, Penguins and Philip Seymour would likely have been my choices, too.

(And while commenting on Clooney is almost as dumb as Clooney commenting on politics, didn't he seem defensive in his political tripe? What should he care what anyone thinks about Hollywood, so long as they pay to see his movies?)

LAGuy replies: Hey, I was picking from their candidates. I would have matched as much choosing at random. And even then I didn't agree with a single acting or writing award.

As for Best Actor, I thought it was one of the toughest categories this year. As good as I thought Hoffman (and Joaquin Phoenix) was at portraying a well-known figure, I thought Heath Ledger's performance had more depth.

George Clooney made two very political films in 2005 (neither of which were huge hits, by the way), so I guess he felt he had to say something.

Oscar Oscar Oscar

Stop me if you've heard this one: What does a Grateful Dead fan say when you take away his drugs? "This band sucks!"

It's sort of how I felt watching the Oscars. For the first time in years, I had no money on it. So I just watched it as a show. And boy is it boring.

Making it even duller, almost every favorite won. Luckily, there were two moments when the unexpected happened, and they almost saved the evening.

First, for best song, Three 6 Mafia won for "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp." Wonderful. (I could hear the sound of millions across America clicking off the TV at that point.)

That held me for a while. Then, when it looked like there wouldn't be a surprise for any of the big awards, the biggest of all was an upset. Crash beat out favorite Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture. If you're gonna have an upset, that's the time to do it. Well done.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Whose Side Are You On?

I saw some anti-war protestors while driving through Pasadena. There were only three, but they had a ton of signs lying around. Perhaps they were expecting more comrades to join them later.

Anyway, the signs said pretty much what you'd expect. Bush is a liar and a war criminal, they support Cindy Sheehan, and so on. But one sign surprised me. It said Bush was selling us out with his port deal.

Now I admit the issue is a tremendous gift to Democrats. The public can't stand it and Bush won't give up (not yet, anyway). But these weren't Democrats, these were war protestors. They didn't like our attacking a "sovereign nation," even if it was a torture chamber run by a madman with whom we had the shakiest of truces. Shouldn't they, then, support this sort of rapprochement with an Arab, Muslim country? Shouldn't they like a plan where we work with others, rather than fight them?

But I forgot, Bush did it, so it can't be good. Keep waving them signs, boys.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Cada quien tiene su manera de matar pulgas.

Everyone has their own way to kill fleas. In English we would say, 'there is more than one way to skin a cat.' So, maybe the Nicaraguans can find their own way to prosperity, even relative comfort for their people. It appears to me that so far they are still looking for that way.

Last year in February, I encountered Nicaragua really for the first time. Of course, like everybody else, I had heard about the Sandinistas and the Contras and the US involvement. I had even heard that the US Marines invaded Nica in the early 1900's to preserve the financial interests of businesses that were likely not playing fair. We (US) had once longingly looked at the San Juan River as our canal of passage, before choosing Panama. Nica has been under democratic rule for sometime now, though the Sandinistas still have significant legislative power. Last February, ignoring all this, I volunteered to work on a medical mission in Nicaragua.

Our group, Hope Clinic International, assiduously avoids politics and sets about helping advance the medical care of children in Nicaragua. Last year we established a year round clinic in the city of Esteli. The clinic employs two Nicaraguan doctors and it is supplied with medicines for treatment of parasites, iron deficiency and many common ailments. Twice each year two teams of medical and surgical/OB doctors, nurses and volunteers briefly tours the country providing medical care as we go. The surgical/OB team is by necessity more hospital based and our medical team is able to work in more flexible conditions. Last year I worked in Esteli and Jinotega, and some of the group then went on to Chinandega. This year I worked exclusively in our clinic in Esteli. My work each year was very rewarding.

Last year, I had listened to Learn Spanish CD's in my car and learned mostly nouns and a few very basic phrases. This year I had prepared by taking a Spanish course in my home and I actually knew how to conjugate a verb. My vocabulary had also greatly improved beyond the simple tourist vocab that most beginning language courses focus on. Still, I only speak a weak Spanglish. The people of Nicaragua are very forgiving. They always understood me, but they speak so fast, I am only able to pick out pieces of what they say. Fortunately some of the volunteers with us can translate well. (One of our volunteers learned most of his Spanish by listening to Spanish love songs. Still he was a quick and eager learner and soon was able to move beyond amor to medical terminology.) My translator was a native Nica, which was very helpful to me.

The people of Nicaragua are very charming. Everywhere we would go, they would listen to and sing along to music. It appears that many of the big magnet speakers, once so popular in the US, are now all in Nicaragua as even the small farmhouse/roadside restaurant that we stopped at had these massive speakers cheerfully playing. Most have a good sense of humor, which often transcends any potential language barrier. They tease each other and us gently with the humor. (Similar to the one US born translator, one Nica named Chico, seems to have learned all of his English from television, movies and music. Last year he seemed to answer several questions with the title to a popular song. He could do spot on imitations of Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, and John Wayne and he often played with our pronounciations.) Obviously not all people are the same in any culture, but these distinctives seem strong.

More later.

For every dollar spent on economic education, we'll gain a trillion dollars

The Reason folks report that California is going to give everyone, not just the rich, quality health care. They're going to do it by making private insurance illegal.

Good for them. It's for the children, too.

Wild Times

As a kid I was taken to see Oliver! on my birthday. I liked it so much my parents bought me the soundtrack. The character I liked best was The Artful Dodger, played by Jack Wild. The Academy was impressed too, giving him an Oscar nomination.

Next year he played the lead in the TV series H.R. Pufnstuf. During lunch time in elementary school, we'd listen to songs from the show. A particular favorite was "Mechanical Boy."

After that, Jack Wild dropped off the map. Like so many child stars, he failed to translate that success into adulthood. But, to me and millions of others, he remained a fond memory.

So I was shocked to read his obituary. It turns out he'd had a rough time as an adult--hard living mixed with depression. Though he eventually became clean and sober, he was diagnosed with oral cancer in 2000, and it caught up with him this year, at 53.

It's a sad ending, but, perhaps, he was comforted to know, thanks to DVDs, he'll be forever young.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Sister Site

I'm always glad to link to sites that use the same template as Pajama Guy. We picked our look because it's reminiscent of pajamas. I'm not sure why anyone else would.

In the past, I've linked to GayandRight and History On Trial. (The latter deals with the Holocaust, so I can only presume it chose the first template offered.)

Now let us welcome Better Living: Thoughts from Mark Daniels. He's from Ohio State University, so perhaps ColumbusGuy should contact him.

Bad Timing

The voting deadline for Academy members was a few days ago. Now it's reported the Christian school Michelle Williams attended wishes to disassociate itself from her Oscar nomination for Brokeback Mountain.

Why'd they wait so long? If only they'd made this announcement two weeks ago, she would have won in a walk.

Congestion tax

I suppose this is a form of a congestion tax. Unforunately (fortunately?), all tax schemes have implementation difficulties:

The Iraqi government has banned all private vehicles in Baghdad during daylight hours Friday, the Muslim prayer day, just as it did last week. That kept car bombs, what the military cars vehicle-born improvised explosive devices, off the streets.

But Zarqawi just waited until the ban was lifted.

The Uselessness Of Economic Statistics

Jane Galt, aka Megan McArdle, is one of the sharpest gals in the blogosphere. But she already knows that.

Anyway, I was checking out one of her recent posts on the ideas of the Left, fine as always, and started reading the many responses. (Boy, it would be nice to get a string of responses.) One persistent guy, Spencer, believed he could prove the Left is better for our economy than the Right. Trouble is, there are always thousands of things going on in the economy, and it's hard to show correlation is causality.

Let me give you an example of Spencer's statistics:
average real per capita income growth; 1960-1980 = 2.9% 1980-1992 = 1.7% (Reagan- Bush I) 1993-2000 = 2.9% (clinton) 2001 - 2004 = 0.8% (bush II).
So that's part of his evidence--and I'd say by far the best part. Let's say we accept the numbers (and I don't). They're still too simplistic to tell us much.

First, the decades of growth after WWII might be hard to compare with other eras, since we were practically the only major country in the free world that wasn't simply rebuilding from dust. Furthermore, following a lengthy Depression and a World War, we had nowhere to go but up, arguably.

As to the Reagan era, Dems love to pick it apart. But a big question here is what years are relevant. We had perhaps the worst recession since the great Depression in 1981-1982, and throwing those numbers into any grouping will greatly bring down the average. We have to ask ourselves, then, were the first couple of Reagan's years necessary to reverse the stagnation and high inflation of Carter, were they due to Reagonomics, or was it something else? It does seem to me when a new administration comes in it takes at least a year to get its programs in place, and perhaps another year or two for them to have an effect. (When Michael Kinsley tries to prove Dems are better, he--dishonestly, seems to me--gives the Prez only a year lead-time.)

Then of course, there are business cycles, pretty much unavoidable. Timing, in such cases, are everything. (Reagan wouldn't have been re-elected in 1982, nor Clinton in 1994, though Bush I would have made it in 1990).

Then there are sea changes. Did Reagan (or others) make big enough changes that we were able to enjoy their fruits in the 1990s as well (even after the fairly mild recession that knocked out Bush I)?

Then there's the question of whom to credit even speaking contemporaneously. Clinton was lucky enough to inherit an economy on the rise. But how much credit does a Clinton get, then, when six of his eight years (six very good years) were spent banging out agreements (budget, welfare reform) with a Republican Congress. (Obviously the same question goes for Reagan and Bush and their respective Congresses.)

Then there's the Bush II years. Congress was with him, so how much blame or credit should he get? Well, he did inherit an economy that was tanking. Then, not long into his first term, 9/11, which gave the market and the rest of the country willies for quite a while. You might think this would guarantee a mini-depression, yet even during the worst, the numbers weren't that bad, and for the past few years we've had solid growth and low unemployment.

I'm not an agnostic. Some measures are better for the economy than others (though, with any move, there will be winners and losers). I'm just saying if you insist that your way is best, it's not hard to find numbers that support you. How else can we explain all those upper middle class Nation readers who still believe in Marxism?

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