Sunday, April 30, 2006

"The Unthinkable"? How about "The Inevitable".

The company long synonymous with U.S. industrial might is scrambling to avoid something else once unimaginable: bankruptcy.

As easy as a new keyboard

Face swap with complete feeling:

The French woman who received the world's first partial face transplant has complete feeling in the new tissue five months after the operation, she told a Sunday newspaper.

Isabelle Dinoire, 38, also told the newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche that the hardest part of her recovery appears to be getting to know herself again. . . .

She takes out old photos and, shocked at the difference between her former face and her new one, tells herself that she simply has aged, she said.

Dinoire said her speech has improved as she has gained more facial mobility.

. . . Dinoire lost much of her face when she was mauled by her pet Labrador while knocked out from drugs she took to forget a trying week. Her lipless gums and teeth were permanently exposed, and most of her nose was missing.

Dinoire wore a surgical mask in public to avoid frightening people. During 15 hours of surgery, a team of doctors replaced the gaping hole in her face with a donor transplant that included a new nose, mouth and chin.

. . . Dinoire noted that her speech had improved. During the February news conference, her words were difficult to understand because her new mouth was frozen open.

Today, "I still have a little problem of mobility, symmetry as the doctors say."

She said the real difficulty was pronouncing sounds that use the lips, such as the "b" or "p" sounds.

Today, Dinoire still only leaves her apartment if accompanied and has not replaced the mirrors she removed from her home after the accident, she told the newspaper during an interview in a small room at the Amiens teaching hospital.

. . . several times a day she must examine a small patch of skin from the donor on her stomach, a "sentinel ... that should sound the alarm if something goes wrong," she said.

She also has to do the same with her face, examining it in a magnifying mirror - the only mirror now in her home.


As easy as replacing your mouse. Or should it be your screen?

The Merging

Screw the "Singularity." WHen IBM starts to announce work on the genome, it's a merging that's emerging.

Poll Position

Today's LA Times has a front page poll that seems designed to get certain results rather than find the truth. The headline: GUEST-WORKER PROPOSAL HAS WIDE SUPPORT.

How do they conclude this? Well, they asked people which approach they prefer to illegal immigration, "only tougher enforcement of immigration laws" or "enforcement and guest worker program." Not surprisingly, given a choice of solution A or solution A plus B, the vast majority picked the latter (Californians 70% to 22%, the nation 63% to 30%).

The paper's excuse is these are the two choices being offered the public. Even if this were true, it doesn't mean they shouldn't try to find out what people actually believe. For instance, they could have offered a third choice--only a guest worker program--and see how that played. Or they could have asked, straight out, which is more important, greater enforcement or a guest worker program. I guess they were afraid of what they'd discover.

(They also might also have mentioned more about plans to make illegal immigrants citizens, since "guest worker program" in the question above was apparently described as a plan that "would allow undocumented workers to work legally in the U.S. on temporary visas.")

PS They did ask further questions about different proposals. It's touching to see how they lovingly describe the guest worker program and make tougher enforcement sound quite harsh. Here's the wording they used:

Do you support or oppose the following proposals.

Create a guest worker program that would give a temporary visa to noncitizens who want to work legally in the United States. The program would provide a path to permanent resident status if certain requirements were met.

Allow undocumented immigrants who have been living and working in the United States for a number of years, and who do not have a criminal record, to start on a path to citizenship by registering that they are in the country, paying a fine, getting fingerprinted, and learning English, among other requirements.

Fence off hundreds of miles of the border between the Unted States and Mexico, and toughen immigration laws by making it a felony to be in the United States illegally.

PPS I always hated it when blogs got linked and added something to welcome new readers, until it happened to me. Hello, all you kausfiles fans out there. Please check out the rest of Pajama Guy. We write about all sorts of stuff--heck, we hardly ever write about immigration. Later this week I'll be discussing The Da Vinci Code and how to get rid of pigeons. Perhaps you'd enjoy our highly popular post last month on great screenplays.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Radio Days

Rush Limbaugh is arrested. And he likes it.

Meanwhile, Al Franken can't get arrested.

I get by with a little help from my friends

Thank you readers who helped me prepare for my editing test. "Accommodate" showed up, "supercede" did not (rim shot).

Annual Observance

Today is my birthday. Here are some others born on April 29th. If you run into them, sing 'em a song.

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

Columbus Guy says: Ah, birthdays, a time to step back and remark those strange spots, sags and odd hairs that mark wisdom and accummulating child support. It couldn't happen to a nicer Guy. Happy Birthday.

Friday, April 28, 2006

A matter of convenience

"It will also mean that they do not have to carry ID on them which can often be the source of inconvenience."

Once registered on the system, clubbers are identified by finger scan only.

Losing His Voice

Phil Hendrie is quitting radio to concentrate on acting. Hendrie has a brilliant show where voices he performs call in (to Hendrie himself) and say outrageous things. The real fun begins when listeners who are not aware it's a put-on call in and interact with these fake characters.

It all requires tremendous talent, since Hendrie has to differentiate his real voice with his fake call-in voice. And after he pulls that off, he makes the content compelling. The concept works perfectly on radio, where sound alone rules.

Right now he's featured in the sitcom Teachers, playing history teacher Dick Green. (Believe it or not, my high school gym teacher was named Dick Green.) Shelley McCrory, a veep at NBC, says "while his [sic] is a huge loss for radio, it’s a big win for television.” Sorry, I've seen him act. He's nothing special in that arena, but he's irreplaceable in radio.

Twirl That Mustache

There's an hilarious political ad out here for The Man Who Would Be Governor, Steve Westly. To prove what a great Democrat he is, he brags how he stopped George Bush's plan to take money from education and give it to the energy companies.

I just love that image of a Simon Legree Bush stealing kids' lunch money and handing it over to his fat cat oil cronies.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Best advice (14th ed.)

"No query to an author should sound stupid, naive or pedantic."

(JFS&Gs, wouldn't you want to strike "sound" and insert "be"?)

Can I schedule this?

"The lightning bolt struck his head from behind, and yellow sparks formed inside his mouth"

Mighty Mouse

"Our mission is more daunting than that of our predecessors. It is to save journalism. You and I know this isn’t going to be easy.”

Yeah, well, I'm sure you're upt to the task, you big lasagna. Maybe you could start by stopping being partisan Democrat hacks?

Huh?

"Many conservatives dislike her because of her attempts to influence policy while her husband was president."

I suppose it's technically true. Many conservatives dislike Lenin because of his attempts to influence policy while premier.

Jaded

Is it just me, or are the judges and host of American Idol so secure in their jobs, since the show is bigger than ever, that they actually seem a bit irritated? As if they have better ways to spend their time, but will condescend to spend an a couple hours a week to pick up their massive paychecks.

The Front Page

Odd headlines on the front page of the LA Times.

The main story is BUSH'S PROPOSAL VIEWED AS A DROP IN THE BUCKET. Now this is likely true--his proposal regarding gas prices is probably a drop in the bucket, and that's how many view it. Nevertheless, it seems to me the headline belongs to an editorial, not a news story.

(Gas prices are so high whenever I'm about to go somewhere, I ask an old question: "Is this trip necessary?")

Below the fold, we see IRAQI STRIFE SEEPING INTO SAUDI KINGDOM. I read the story and found there's no violence going on. The article is actually about Saudi Shiites looking at what's happening in Iraq and demanding equal rights with Sunnis.

Wouldn't a better headline be IRAQ WAR INSPIRES GREATER RIGHTS IN SAUDI ARABIA?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Bet the feds say yes

Good for Wisconsin. No mandatory implants.

Of course, by the time it works its way through committee and the next 10 legislatures, it'll be slightly changed, to "mandatory implants."

Bellwether

(Maybe I should have written "bellweather." Eh. I'm sure I will, still.)

Good signs: "There have been two Flight 93 projects on TV, both drawing strong viewers. In January, A&E earned its largest audience ever (5.9 million viewers) with "Flight 93." Last fall, Discovery's "The Flight That Fought Back" (a mix of re-enactments and interviews) averaged 7 million viewers."

And bad signs: "By a slim margin the film is the top choice among males, but it's also registering a high percentage of "definitely not interested."

And good signs: "Indeed many industry insiders were surprised "United 93" got Universal's greenlightgreenlight at all."

Just out of curiosity, 6 million viewers at $6 is $36 million. So we need 17 million viewings to break $100 million, eh?

Someone Got It Right

Wedding Crashers and The 40 Year Old Virgin have received the most nominations at the MTV movie awards. This alone guarantees the show will honor better films than the Oscars.

Perspective

I like reading old magazine articles since the people writing them have no perspective. They don't know what's going to come, what will be learned, how their subject will be viewed. So, reading them, you get a better idea of what people originally thought, without the gloss.

I recently watched a DVD of old Dick Cavett shows and saw someone I hadn't heard of--Adelle Davis. She was a major food guru in the early 70s. Checking up on her via the internet, I was a bit surprised to learn she was still controversial. Anyway, it was fun to hear nutritional folk wisdom back then.

A lot of what she said made sense--for example, avoid processed and refined foods. Perhaps it's just common sense. Some of what she said is still questionable--she favored large doses of Vitamin C. (According to some websites, she also favored large doses of other supplements like Vitamins A and D, which is definitely bad.)

Sometimes she just seemed wrong. She was against chemical fertilizers, but they've made food cheap and plentiful for a world that Adelle's contemporaries were predicting would see shortages. And with what we know now, Adelle's enthusiasm for getting rid of DDT may have been deadly.

Worst of all, she claimed all those chemicals would soon destroy our topsoil. I remember hearing about this as a kid and worrying. I have to ask, what happened to all the disaster that was predicted--all the vast areas of farmland that would no longer produce?

Then there's things she said which are the reason I love to hear old stuff. You realize some things never change. The latest generation is always out of control. Popular entertainment is always too dirty and violent. Everything is always at crisis level.

According to Adelle, because of the evil "food industry," people are eating worse than ever. Perhaps it was true then--perhaps now--so I guess we're lucky that life expectancy keeps going up anyway. You'd think people would be dropping dead on the streets.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Steerage, anyone?

Don't these people sell tubes to sleep in, too?

". . . Airbus has quietly pitched the standing-room-only option to Asian carriers, though none have agreed to it yet. . . . The paper, quoting experts who it said had seen a proposal, reported that if the standing room option is used, passengers would be propped against a padded backboard, held in place with a harness."


(Fun bonus fact from Wikipedia: "Steerage is also used a slang for the common working class, or simple-minded folk, i.e. 'You are not likely to find much steerage on international flights.' Really? Better talk to Airbus.)

The press doesn't have it, either

"Above all, we must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today's world do not have."

Not-So-Hot Carl

Poor Carl Bernstein. Ever since the glory days of the 70s, uncovering Watergate--and being played by Dustin Hoffman in the movie version--he's done little of note. While his former partner has published bestseller after bestseller, Carl's written practically nothing. In fact, his most famous appearance in print has been as Nora Ephron's rotter husband. (This time he was portrayed by Jack Nicholson).

So perhaps it's understandable he wants to relive past victories and take down the latest President. Trouble is he's got nothing this time but political disagreement, generally not considered impeachable. He tries to make a case, but everything he says only shows he really really disagrees with Bush's policies, nothing more. In his list of particulars, he includes "the non-role of Saddam Hussein and Iraq in the events of 9/11" (even if Bush had mistakenly made this claim it wouldn't be impeachable), "the assurance of Wolfowitz...that Iraq's oil reserves would pay for the war within two to three years after the invasion" and--you won't believe this--the death of Pat Tillman. Even Bernstein's best claims are no good, but someone should tell him that adding on a bunch of make-weight arguments doesn't help your case. Or is it that Vanity Fair pays by the word?

If the Dems take over Congress, I guess they can try a pointless investigation, but let's put our cards on the table. Bush is being attacked because the public feels the war went on too long and too many people died, and also that Bush was too slow in dealing with Katrina (and maybe that gas prices are too high). But the Constitution already has a way to deal with an unpopular President. It's called an election. (Not that Bush can run again, but the voters can still send a message.)

Monday, April 24, 2006

What do Penn and Teller have to say about this?

So, John Lennon's back for peace talks. Maybe he and Osama can work it out. (Or was that Paul?)

Believe It Or Not

Roger Ebert has a regular feature where he reviews classic films. He's even published two collections of these essays. Most of the movies he discusses are worthy, but maybe he's running out of titles.

His latest pick is the little-seen Ripley's Game (2002). The film, starring John Malkovich as Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley, was not considered commericially viable and went straight to cable. I'm guessing this is some sort of orphan syndrome pick--if the film had a normal release, Ebert couldn't be its champion and he'd see it for what it is.

I finally caught the film (on cable) last week. John Malkovich is good, but we've seen him play the psycho role before. The plot, where Ripley gets a regular guy involved in murder, is a bit hard to buy. And the action sequences have some awkwardly staged moments.

I'm not sure who made the decision not to release the film theatrically. Perhaps they thought the film too ordinary and Malkovich not a big enough star. In any case, it's a decent piece of work, but it shouldn't have a chapter in a book about great movies.

Best Seller

Someone just gave me a copy of The Da Vinci Code. I generally don't read present-day novels, but I glanced through it.

On page 8 of the Special Illustrated Edition, I found this: "...a dubious honor that made him the brunt of ribbing...." You can be the butt of a joke, but you bear the brunt of ribbing. At least that's what I've always been taught.

This is a best seller?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Just Spell My Name Right

My old pal Cass Sunstein gets a little love from The Chronicle Of Higher Education. To be honest, I didn't realize he was a media superstar. I guess I watch the wrong shows.

It's always an odd sensation when I see former professors spouting off in the popular media. It's not just that they're usually in a more rarefied (there's a word that's hard to spell, ColumbusGuy) atmosphere; rather, if they're any good as academics, I usually feel they're straining to simplify their arguments. Is that what they're thinking when they take those pauses before answering?

Or are they just thrilled to get some face time?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Good And Bad On The Same Day

Two California court cases just came down, one that's a reason to celebrate, the other to sigh.

The first is Lyle V. Warner Bros, dismissing a claim that vulgar language and conduct in a room full of comedy writers constitutes sexual harassment. The case was brought by a secretary who worked on the Friends sitcom. (The facts are pretty wild, making more interesting reading than your usual case.)

Without this sort of protection, writers, especially on adult-oriented shows, would become so self-conscious that their work would be seriously impaired. I only wish the court had adopted the even stronger First Amendment arguments in Judge Chin's concurrence. In fact, I wonder if other courts, less familar with the entertainment industry, would have been so protective of the writers.

On the negative side, there's Harper v. Poway Unified School District, where a high school was allowed to bar a student from wearing a t-shirt with an anti-homosexuality message. As ugly as the words may be, and as much as school authorities may have disciplinary discretion, the decision is extremely hostile to generalized, political speech. The Constitution, in my understanding, does not offer freedom from offending viewpoints.

Much better is Judge Kozinski's dissent. It not only makes a strong argument for freedom of speech, but also has quite entertaining footnotes.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Did I Read That Right?

Speaking of The New Yorker's latest issue, I read the oddest thing in the film review. In Anthony Lane's pan of American Dreamz, he mentions an incomparably greater satire, Dr. Strangelove. (Strangelove is one of my top ten films of all time.)

After calling Stanley Kubrick a "humorless artist"--and I don't entirely disagree--he states:
[m]ost of the fun in that movie springs not from Kubrick but from Peter Sellers; the rest of it is cold and cavernous grandeur, overlaid by a studentish conviction that the world is run by lonely, nervous madmen.
What? Dr. Strangelove is hilarious, but not just because of Peter Sellers. What about Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn and Slim Pickens? Above all, there's George C. Scott, who arguably outdoes Sellers with his knockout comic performance.

Articles We Never Finished Reading

Here's a "Talk Of The Town" piece in The New Yorker that starts so stupidly it would seem a waste of time to continue. The first sentence:
The imminence of catastrophic global warming may be a subject far from the ever-drifting mind of President Bush—whose eschatological preoccupations privilege Armageddon over the Flood—but it is of growing concern to the rest of humanity.
I'm not much on Bush Derangement Syndrome. I just think political parlance is so base these days that even major magazine editors no longer feel the need for common sense, or common decency. I realize "Town" has always been chatty, but if David Remnick wants to be convincing, or even reasonable, he should drop the cheap shots.

Another example:
...the audience-of-one that most urgently needs to see the film and take it to heart—namely, the man who beat Gore in the courts six years ago —does not much believe in science or, for that matter, in any information that disturbs his prejudices, his fantasies, or his sleep. Inconvenient truths are precisely what this White House is structured to avoid and deny.
Remnick may think this is snappy, but he's simply being childish. If he wants to comment seriously on politics, he should aim higher than contemptuous hyperbole.

As President, Bush has made fantasy a guide to policy. He has scorned the Kyoto agreement on global warming...

This is amusing, since it was Clinton and Gore's fantasy that Kyoto could pass the Senate, and then be followed afterward.

...it is close to inconceivable that the country and the world would not be in far better shape had Gore been allowed to [be President].
What a limited imagination Remnick has!

One can imagine [Gore] as an intelligent and decent President, capable of making serious decisions and explaining them in the language of a confident adult.
The obvious line here (since this blog doesn't have the high standards of The New Yorker) is I guess I was wrong, Remnick does have quite an imagintion. But the real point is that even if you disagree with Bush, you should admit, as opposed to Remnick's tiresome caricature, that he regularly makes serious decisions and explains them in grown-up language.

The piece praises Gore to the skies. Since Gore is probably my least favorite politician in the country, I found it stomach-churning. Even so, if Gore had been elected, I hope I would try to write about him fairly.

Ironically, Remnick's piece will probably keep people away from Gore's new documentary, since he writes two sentences which are the kiss of death for any film:
An Inconvenient Truth is not the most entertaining film of the year. But it might be the most important.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Diplomatic strength

Via Drudge, Halfbright can leg press 400 pounds. That's probably more than I can do, not that that's a measure.

Someone remind me. Was she second-it or third-it?

What do you call three commonly misspelled words?

A good start? So far this Singularity thing isn't working as one might have hoped. Nonetheless, Anonymous kicked in three good ones:

accommodate
supersede
minuscule

I'll never get supersede, that's for sure. C'mon, gang. I still have a week before I have to answer to the editor-testers. Help me fill in my weakness. Or one of them, anyway,

The Voice Of The People

Once again, I was surprised by the American Idol vote. Ace Young lost. This in itself is not surprising, since his head has been on the chopping block for a while. But this week?

Ace was better than usual. Meanwhile, Kellie Pickler, by her own admission, butchered "Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered." I thought at first her innocence worked well with the lyric, but soon her pitch was off and, worse, she was racing the band to see who could finish first. It was the worst performance I've ever seen from an Idol finalist.

And yet, Kellie made it through. In fact, she didn't even finish in the bottom three. Instead, Chris Daughtry, whom many thought was safe, did. Consider it a wake-up call, Chris.

One interesting factor in Idol is as contestants are eliminated, voting blocs change. The question then is will Kellie's bloc grow, or eventually fall below the winning level.

Meanwhile, it looks like, along with Kellie, that Taylor and Katharine are untouchable. Expect two of them to fight it out in the finale.

Too Soon?

Some people are saying the pain of 9/11 is still too fresh to make a movie about it. The filmmakers of United 93, which is getting good buzz, feel differently.

I feel the time is right, and has been right for a while. We mustn't forget what happened that day. Yet, I admit, I'm not sure if I'll see the film. I already know the story, and don't know if I need a painful dramatic recreation to burn it into my mind.

To show there's nothing new under the sun, I'm reminded of the Greek tragedian Phrynichus. His play, The Capture Of Miletus, was about how the hated Persians took over that city. The Greek audience was moved to tears, being reminded of this recent tragic event. Their solution? They fined the playwright for reminding them of all that pain, and forbade any future productions on the subject.

Hmm, fining artists when you don't like their work. Interesting.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Ooops, your contempt is showing

Here's how one hale fellow thinks of our troops (while supporting them):

"They’re 19 and 20-year-old kids who couldn’t get a job."

No, Richard, I suspect you're the fellow who couldn't get a job in a real market. Thank God for CSI.

I guess the idiots didn't quite understand it

Courtesy MRC, a panel of hotshot reporters talks about how nobody is as smart as they are:

"Evan, nothing has lit up the telephones on talk radio more than this Dubai ports deal. Why did it resonate so much with the American people?"
Newsweek Assistant Managing Editor Evan Thomas: "Because it’s something that simple idiots can understand [other panelists snicker].


The only talk radio I follow is Limbaugh, and he spoke consistently in favor of the thing the whole time. And, despite the chatter, isn't he pretty much the beginning and end of talk radio?

Get Serious

I understand The Chronicle Review from The Chronicle Of Higher Education is part of the anti-war echo chamber. But does that give Alan Wolfe leave to write in its pages like a smartass just because he figures he can get away with it?

In a discussion of two fairly unimporant books about Bush and the Iraq war, Wolfe thinks nothing of taking childish, clueless swipes along the way.

He starts a sentence "[i]t would be wrong to blame the war in Iraq, and its dreadful results, on the military..." Okay, he's amongst friends, they assume the war has failed, but which dreadful "results" is he referring to? That we removed from power perhaps the most deranged and dangerous (to his own people and others) dictator in the world? That we did it taking, by military standards for an operation of this size, fairly low casualties (as painful as any casualties are)? That Iraq has held elections? That we may finally have a functioning democracy in the center of the Middle East, part of a multi-pronged strategy to get at the "root problems" of the situation?

But that's nothing. Here's how he summarizes what's happened:
A determined group of neoconservative intellectuals developed the theory (preventive warfare), the objective (toppling Saddam Hussein), the strategy (a unilateralist coalition of the willing), the tactics (massive firepower and limited numbers of troops), and the rationale (Saddam's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction).

Let's go over this bit by bit. Wolfe says the neoconservatives (determined ones, no less) provided the theory behind the war. Actually, while they had some say, the big names who supported the war in the Bush administration were good old conservatives--in fact, Bush didn't have a single neocon among his top advisors. And what is this strategy?--preventive war. Well, actually the idea is pretty old, and we've done it before. Furthermore, we'd been in a state of war with Iraq since the early 90s, with only a shaky truce, that Iraq didn't follow, preventing full-out atttacks. Finally, if it weren't obvious before, 9/11 made it quite clear that in future situations, preventive actions might be required--I hope anyone who can't see this never holds high office.

Next, he says the objective of the war was to topple Saddam Hussein. This was the short-term objective, and we succeeded spectacularly. Now everyone can pretend he wasn't a major threat. If he were still around, all we'd be hearing now is how can we have any serious foreign policy while we allow Saddam Hussein to rule.

Wolfe calls our strategy a "unilateralist coalition of the willing." Let's not talk about how we went through the UN to get unanimous approval for a resolution giving Saddam one last chance, how Saddam failed, and how it then became clear we were being played by a bunch of countries (some on the take) who had no intention of fighting. Let's not even note when we fought Iraq with the UN's approval in the early 90s, we did all the heavy lifting. Let's just say Wolfe is being a smartass.

He defines our tactics as massive firepower and a limited number of troops. Guess what, you always have a limited number of troops. Ours succeeded in taking Iraq before anyone could shout we were failing. (Well, a few did.) There was a lot of controversy--after the fact--if there were enough to hold the country once we took over. (This is one of thousands of possible disasters that we were supposed to be completely prepared for.) I have my doubts--I happen to think more troops would have just meant a larger shooting gallery, but I certainly could be wrong. The point is, neither the neocons, nor the conservatives who actually ran the war, said "let's send in a limited number of troops." They sent in the the number they thought they needed. It might have been a mistake, but Wolfe is just being a jerk here.

Finally, he claims the rationale for the war was Saddam's alleged possession of WMD. No matter how many time I hear this dishonest argument, I still can't believe people are making it. Now don't get me wrong, WMD were a sufficient argument for the war (Saddam had 'em, and either hid them or got rid of them illegally, while prepared to make new ones at a moment's notice), but this was only a small part of the overall rationale.

I've always said the hallmark of serious argument is not necessarily how well you make your case, but how fairly you represent the claims of your opponent. Alan Wolfe fails on this count. Why should he expect anyone to take him seriously?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

It's Reno Time

Sounds like we're going to have to send in the Waco tanks and psyops guys to put a little pressure on the Anderson Widow.

And those meddlin' kids, too.

Why don't they try this at CBS or the New York Times? They're pretty much dead, too.

A poet in the Oval Office

"I'm the decider and I decide what's best."

(No Snark Zone: I really do like that: "I'm the decider.")

A little help

Say, PajamaGuy readers, what can be more fun that top 10 lists?

More than one reader has noted that ColumbusGuy is, er, an independent speller.

In a few days I'll be taking an editor's test and one of the tasks will be spelling, God knows why. How's about giving me your top 10 most commonly misspelled words, or even one or two? Let's give this Singularity thing a dry run and demonstrate how your collective brains are bigger than my own (as if that is some sort of accomplishment) and helping me avoid, you know, actually working (as if that is some sort of accomplishment).

When I'm done, I'll let you know how many of the words showed up.

Political profiteering

President George W. Bush said on Tuesday he is "concerned" about high housing prices, and pledged that the U.S. government will keep a close watch out for profiteering.

"I'm concerned about higher home prices," Bush said at a Rose Garden news conference to name new staff appointments.

"The government has the responsibility to make sure that we watch very carefully and investigate possible price-gouging, and we will do just that," Bush said in unprompted remarks about high home prices.

About Time

Finally, TV broadcasters are getting together to fight the FCC. I personally think the FCC should regulate TVs and radios like any other home appliance. Make sure they don't shock you, sure, and prevent competitors from jamming frequencies, but that's about it.

Years ago, the government usurped our freedom by declaring the airwaves special. Unlike ink, which they don't regulate to license newspapers, the government is allowed to make all sorts of rules regarding what's on the airwaves. All in the name of (snort!) The Public. If the public truly owns the airwaves, then let them decide what to watch without the FCC's intervention. Instead, the FCC is allowed to act in "the public interest," which for some reason means putting on shows the public isn't interested in.

That was bad enough. But ever since the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction, the FCC has gone hog wild. They shouldn't have the power to fine anyone, but now they think they should be allowed to fine people out of existence.

Generally, the TV mucky-mucks have played along, figuring it's the cost of doing business. But lately the FCC's been so drunk with power, it's even ticked off the networks. Rather than take it, they're taking the FCC to court.

They have only one weapon. It's called the First Amendment, which FCC poobahs might be surprised to discover outranks even them. Unfortunately, the courts have given the FCC some leeway to regulate content--but it's not unlimited. It's time they learned their lesson. Here's hoping the courts favor freedom over censorship.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Sounds like a Yale man

Eight people die in Tel Aviv at the hands of a bomber and here's the response of the Palestinian government:

"We think that this operation ... is a direct result of the policy of the occupation and the brutal aggression and siege committed against our people," said Khaled Abu Helal, spokesman for the Hamas-led Interior Ministry.

Safe in their seats redux

Barone says no Democrat takeover. We'll see. Ohio's Ken Blackwell against Jim Petro May 2, and Flight 93 or United 93, whatever it's called, will be my bellwethers. 93 does less than $50 million, Repubs in trouble; more than $100 mil, Dems in trouble.

Safe In Their Seats

Ghastly piece in the Sunday LA Times on political theatre, "Uncomfortable In Our Seats." It's another chestnut on how theatre should challenge our assumptions.

Mark Twain once said there's nothing that needs reforming so much as other people's habits. To Times staff writer Charles McNulty, there's nothing that needs challenging so much as other people's politics.

His jumping off point is the trouble the play My Name Is Rachel Corrie is having in getting a New York production. The play is a tribute to the young American woman who died fighting for the Palestinian cause. A success in London, its politics apparently need to be contextualized before Americans can handle it.

This may seem odd at first, but it's quite easy to explain. The average New York theatregoer shares the politics of the average London or even European theatregoer with one glaring exception--Europeans hate Israel, so the play goes down easy overseas. If the play were Rachel Corrie Was A Foolish Racist, it wouldn't see the light of day in London.

Yet, McNulty feels the need to ask, melodramatically, "[h]ow daringly political will we allow our stages to become?" The answer is, not very. When theatre groups put on their predictably leftist plays, the leftist audience leave feeling quite pleased, even smug. (I'm not saying the right doesn't do the same thing--it's just that theatre isn't its preferred milieu.)

A better question would be what quality of plays are we looking for. Drama ripped from the headlines can be fun, but most of it is awful. (I once went to see a friend in a play that turned out to be a two-act, three-hour screed against Clarence Thomas. If it were a movie, I could have walked out, but since I was only one of three people in the audience, I was stuck.)

McNulty even admits much political drama leaves something to be desired, though he laughably feels "they make up in courage and conviction what they lack in sophisticated artistry." Courage? Exactly what will happen to people who put on productions that question how America treats war prisoners? Will they get hurt by all the awards people throw at them? Don't talk to me about courage until there's a West End production of The Life Of Mohammed.

McNulty is at his worst when he claims these plays don't generally point in the same political direction. Amazingly, his example is David Hare's huge success about the Iraq War, Stuff Happens:
...instead of skewing the material toward a predictable bias, Hare finds in Colin Powell a protagonist who can movingly embody the diplomatic tragedy that paves the road to any war.
McNulty is so far up the cocoon, the big difference to him is Hare finds a positive tragic figure instead of a comic villain to explain how horrible Iraq is.

McNulty makes his main point near the end:
[My Name Is Rachel Corrie] will open minds and hearts to a situation that's less black and white than many have been told.
So don't worry about McNulty, he's already got the truth. We're the ones who need help.

Maybe, just maybe, Mr. McNulty could benefit from having his political assumptions questioned. There's one place, however, I can almost guarantee that won't happen--political theatre.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

You have 15 seconds to comply


Easter thoughts

"The existence of this (Israeli) regime is a permanent threat . . . Its existence has harmed the dignity of Islamic nations."

Meanwhile, the Democrats are highly concerned that BushCheneyRUmsfeld go, because, well, they might do something.

UPDATE: Some crazy thoughts from Mark Steyn: "It's not the world's job to prove that the Iranians are bluffing."

Tin eye

His Virtualness thinks that nanotechnology and other futurist doomsayers like Michael Crichtton have it wrong, as he notes in this casual aside: "the scary Crichton scenarios are easy to debunk (see this Crichton debunking by Freeman Dyson, for example)"

I think the professor works too hard to read, sometimes. It's hardly a debunking at all. Dyson refers to Bill Joy's famous essay, Why the Future Doesn't Need Us, and his only arguments are that we haven't caused much known harm in 25 years from biotechnology, and the power structure was afraid of the printing press, too.

Color me unimpressed.

The most important thing he says is "I assume that the basic message . . . is true. I assume that the growth of biological knowledge during the century now beginning will bring grave dangers to human society and to the ecology of our planet. The rest of this review is concerned with the question of what we should do to mitigate the dangers."

The second important thing is how to respond, of which the most important elementn is "Relinquish pursuit of that knowledge and development of those technologies so dangerous that we judge it better that they never be available."

Yeah, well, good luck. The only real response is an escalating arms race, so that whatever harmful, individuality-destroying technologies develop are countered by other technologies.

On that, you can color me pessimistic. (And in any case, you can find a much more thoughtful presentation than Dyson's here, at least in outline.)

Tin Ear

There's plenty of sympathy out there for illegal immigrants. (I hear some object to this phrase, but it seems properly descriptive to me.) On the other hand, there's plenty of animosity. So you'd think, in planning their marches, they'd worry more about public relations. For instance, waving a lot of Mexican flags is not the way to generate good will.

So what are they planning next? A boycott of work, school and commerce. The concept in itself is of questionable efficacy, but the date they've chosen is absurd. It's to take place on May 1, May Day.

I realize the Marxist ANSWER coalition has done a lot of organizing, but perhaps the immigrants and their supporters would do well to avoid big events on the day best known for communist demonstrations.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Not Cool

Yesterday's LA Times had a front page feature on Eric Monte. Apparently, Monte, creator of the TV hit Good Times and writer of the film Cooley High, has lost it all and now lives in a shelter.

There may be a number of reasons he's in such bad shape, but it seems to be mainly a case of drug problems. But that's not why I bring this up.

Here's the Times quoting Monte: "...all I need is one hit again and I'm cool and the gang."

Did I read that right, "cool and the gang"? It should be "Kool and the Gang," or at least "kool and the gang." Is the LA Times, the voice of the city that means entertainment, so oblivious that it's not aware of a quote from Pulp Fiction, or, for that matter, popular music of the 70s and 80s? For shame.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday

I was going to post a bit more about "the Singularity" but I think I'll hold off -- LAGuy's Screenplay-O-Rama is still cookin'. Drop in and say your piece; we're within a notch of setting a PajamaGuy record for reader feedback.

Unclear On The Concept

Dave Chappelle is interviewed in the current Esquire. What everyone really wants to know is why he walked away from a $50+ million deal with Comedy Central. Here's one of his reasons:
The bottom line was, white people own everything, and where can a black person go and be himself or say something that's familiar to him and not have to explain or apologize?
As an honorary white, I must say, it's news to me (and to Oprah) that we own everything. But let me answer his question in two parts.

1) If white people own everything, you know what's a great way to start changing that? Have a black man make more than $50 million.

2) You want a place that's familiar, where you can go and not have to explain yourself? I would suggest returning to a hit show where you are given carte blanche.

I liked it better when Chappelle wasn't explaining himself.

PS: Greetings, all you visitors from THE M ZONE. As long as you're here, why not check out the rest of the blog, or at least this week's most popular post? Let us know what you think.

PPS: If you're Dave Chappelle, you are invited to respond by being yourself and saying something familiar to you without having to explain or apologize.

Hollywood Story

I usually leave the comments where they belong, in the comment section. But an actual Hollywood screenwriter (I won't embarrass him by listing his stellar credits) had a great reply to my Best Screenplays post, so let me reproduce it here:

Prepare yourself.

The best screenplay I ever read...

was "HOOK."

WAIT! WAIT! Don't scroll away just yet, let me explain.

This was an early draft, way before the actual movie came out. The credits read:

"HOOK"

The Return of The Captain!

Story by: Jim Hart and Nick Castle (who was originally set to direct, but that's another story)

Screenplay by: Jim Hart (apparently before he became "James V. Hart")

In a nutshell, I thought this was a brilliant idea for a movie, an "adult" version of "Peter Pan" wherein the grownup Peter is lured back to a Neverland he no longer believes in, when his own children are kidnapped by Captain Hook. Moreover:

It was nearly as brilliantly executed.

This was a VERY well written script (and, like LAGuy, I had read a lot of them by that time) and I was actually dazzled.

Which brings us to:

ACT TWO

We all know what the movie became: Bloated and Lifeless. And I knew it would be that way, even before I saw it. How?

Because I knew someone who was working for Spielberg at the time, and I was able to get a hold of a copy of the Production Draft of "HOOK". Of course, you can guess what it had become:

Bloated and Lifeless.

Astonishingly so. The script had literally ballooned to more than twice its original page length, and stretched to almost 3" between brads.

How could this be? Wouldn't the movie have been three hours long? Well, the best (and most tragic) example I can give is that the dialogue for PETER often included two, three - or more - "choices," presumably to better serve the riffing talents of Robin Williams.

Now, I'm no expert in screenplay writing (oh, wait a minute - yes, I am) but this seems like a pretty piss poor way to write a tight script.

Or even a shootable script.

But rather than go into any more painful details, let's move on to:

ACT THREE

When I read the original draft of "HOOK," I honestly thought this could be Spielberg's greatest movie ever, topping even his own favorite, "E.T." Which is why it was so disappointing that he himself ended up gutting what could have been one of his all time greatest works.

Or maybe I should've given 3 choices above:

1. Disappointing
2. Disturbing
3. Disheartening

I mean, hiring a re-writer to rework just one character's dialogue (Carrie Fisher for Tinkerbell)? Are you kidding me?

I had absolutely nothing to do with this project, but even now I can feel the pain of Nick Castle and Jim Hart.

But there's one final note to play:

CODA

The year that "HOOK" pancaked into the tarmac, Spielberg was tapped to present an Oscar at the Academy Awards. It must have had something to do with writing, because I remember him going on and on and on about the importance of - nay, the sanctity of - the script and the screenwriter.

It was one of the most audacious acts of hypocrisy I've ever witnessed in my entire life.

Thank god Hollywood learned its lesson.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

I'm not dead yet, but how could you tell if I were?

His Virtualness insists this is good news. And indeed, all of us who have known anyone with Alzheimer's or a crippling injury would agree that it is.

But it's just another brick in the wall, too.

I'm not dead yet

Don't forget to check out LAGuy's screenplay review and the commenters' responses. They're still coming in.

How to tell if you're a communist

How do you know if you're a communist? If someone asks you if a government program will work and you respond, "A great deal will depend on the people who implement the program."

Advertising is dead, long live advertising

Like many, I'm sure, I cannot stand pop up ads. I've largely switched to mozilla because of it, but still use explorer in a few spots.

Lately, though, I've discovered that companies are finally coming around, and giving me something useful, like this sponsored archive.

Sing A Song Of Queen

After suffering through country music week, it was nice to hear Queen songs on Amercan Idol. The band's catalogue is fairly deep, and they mix rock and melody, with virtuosic singing, in a way that makes for a lot of great potential choices.

It was no surprise Bucky had to go. He stayed on longer than expected, in fact. (I did like his choice of "Fat Bottomed Girls"--he went out with class.) Now the question is can Ace pull it together, or will he do himself in some week.

What surprises me most is how popular Taylor is--he hasn't been in danger yet. People just seem to like him. Can it continue?

Quote Of The Week

Regarding the Duke lacrosse team case, Police Chief Ron Hodge, commenting on D.A. Nifong's actions, unwittingly let's on how things usually work in Durham:
I think the district attorney is proceeding cautiously in this case. He probably has no choice....It's high profile.

Still Waiting

Happy hundredth, Samuel Beckett. Celebrate by starting a book group and reading his work. Can't go on? You must go on.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Movies! We got your screenplays! Silver screen here!

Don't miss LAGuy's screenplay extravaganza.

We will march on a road of their bleached white bones in a matrix of their sweetened, enlarged livers

"Death by enlarged liver"

I kind of like that. When my time comes and they send in Kevorkian, that's my choice, so long as it is from forced (well, voluntary will probably do) feeding.

Partnering

LAGuy has bad luck in partners, in my case, anyway (but he brought it on himself). First I disappear for a week, leaving him alone to hoist the load (of which he did a fine job). Then, I step on his post of the month.

But I can't resist this threefer, where Dick Morris throws his credibility down the toilet (I know, I know) not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times in the same column.

Hillary's stoppable. Why? Because in one poll "her lead is down to 54-33" and in another by 40 to 16. That's two.

Al Gore is a credible challenger. THat's three.

ANd the coup de gras: "When Hillary ran in 2000, few believed she would run for president."

UPDATE: Anonymous points out alternative spellings.

Best Screenplays

I recall a book series called Best Screenplays, following after the John Gassner Best Plays series. As far as I know, it never caught on. Perhaps because plays are considered works of art while screenplays are merely "blueprints" for movies. People are fascinated by great buildings, not blueprints.

There's something to this. A screenplay, for better or worse, is shot just once--if a play had only one performance, the particular production would grow in importance. Furthermore, film is such a visual medium, the technical side is hard to ignore. (King Lear is a great play. A film of a performance of King Lear is not a great film.)

Wait, it gets even worse. In the silent era they didn't even have screenplays, they had scenarios. Sometimes not even that--the great clowns often worked day to day with basic plots. In the studio era, with rare exceptions, writers were "schmucks with Underwoods" whose work would regularly be superseded by whoever or whatever the producer felt was necessary. More recently, directors bring in their own people for script surgery, not to mention stars who feel free to change things any time. Then, this being film, we get test screenings and editors who chop up what's left of the script. (I don't think I can put Annie Hall on my top screenplay list, for instance. It's one of my favorite films, but it seems to have been discovered in the editing room.)

And what about adaptations? You may think A Streetcar Named Desire and Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? are great films, but that's because their screenplays pretty much leave their sources untouched. And even a film based on a novel or short story--how can that be compared to an original screenplay?

So, overall, rating screenplays is a game for chumps. Movies are such a collaborative art, it's already a bit much to compare directors, so why even bother with the screenwriter? (Richard Corliss tried in his book Talking Pictures, and no one took up his invitation.)

So with those caveats, let me talk about my favorite screenplays, as opposed to the often safe choices of the Writers Guild.

How to judge? I've read countless screenplays by both unknowns and high-paid screenwriters. Should I judge the script by how well it reads--someone like Shane Black can make the action sound very exciting--or by how it plays (which I can't know half the time since, even when a screenplay is shot, it's rarely as is)? Should I work backwards with something like Eraserhead and just assume I'd like the screenplay because I like the film?

And even then, what makes a screenplay great? Intricate plotting? Fascinating characters? Snappy dialogue? Certainly not beautiful images.

Is a well-plotted script like Ruthless People superior to an episodic one like Animal House or one full of set pieces like There's Something About Mary? How do you even judge a screenplay like Ghostbusters when you find out Bill Murray came up with most of the best lines on the set?

Well, I don't have time to go over thousands of films and their screenplays (bet you were afraid I did), but let me discuss (very quickly) about 25 or so, with the understanding most of them would make my top hundred. I'm pretty much sticking to Hollywood, as the WGA does. I'm certainly not competent to judge scripts not written in English.

The Shop Around The Corner. A little note first. It's by Samson Raphaelson, but...he wrote it in close consultation with director Ernst Lubitsch. There are rumors other hands (Ben Hecht) worked on it. It's also based on an Hungarian play, though it's supposedly completely different. Many screenplays have mulitple parents and are of uncertain origin. I'm going to ignore this problem and usually just discuss the title.

Anyway, The Shop Around The Corner is probably #1 on my list. It's perfection. (Trouble In Paradise, by the same writer/director duo, is also perfect, if a little more brittle. That would also make my list, but I'm trying to limit my discussion to one script per author.) Exquisite dialogue. Wonderfully drawn characters. A delightful comedy that has powerful drama as well. Endlessly watchable.

Hail The Conquering Hero. Preston Sturges may be the best screenwriter of all. His plots (usually) move well, his dialogue is brilliant without seemng to strain, and even his smallest characters get great lines. Hero is probably his best work, since it has a headlong momentum that's almost never been matched. It makes my top ten, but I could almost as easily pick The Lady Eve, Sullivan's Travels and a few others.

Pulp Fiction. When movies didn't compete with TV, they weren't afraid to have people talk. Now if you have more than a page or so of dialogue in one setting, everyone gets worried. This may be why so many of my favorite screenpays (as opposed to movies) are "old" films. But there are more recent works that I love. Pulp Fiction, another top ten choice, is dazzling. It's not afraid to have page after page of talk because that's the film's secret weapon--it moves the plot forward, deepens the characters and makes us laugh all at once. And the plots (which wrap around each other) all unfold in unexpected yet satisfying ways--amazing in an era when you know exactly what's going to happen in most films after the first ten minutes.

North By Northwest. Hitchcock felt his work was done once the script was finished--shooting was basically to make sure the script wasn't messed with. But Hitch still needed writers to get that vision down on the page, and he never had anyone do it better than Ernest Lehman. It's an elaboration of the "chase" films he'd been making from the start, but what an elaboration. It goes from set piece to set piece, never flagging. Some may complain it doesn't have the psychological depth of, say, Rear Window or Vertigo, but I don't care (maybe I'm the one lacking psychological depth)--when something is done this superbly, you just sit and watch in wonder. Another top ten.

Insert Billy Wilder film here. My favorite is Some Like It Hot, but is it his best screenplay? All I know is there should be at least one in the top ten, and several in the top hundred. No one understood better the point of a screenplay is to grab the audience and not let go. That he was also one of the best dialogue writers in town sure helped. If he has a problem, he tends to overwrite--sometimes you're too aware of his presence. But he's so damn good, you don't mind. (On the other hand, other "writerly" screenwriters, like Joseph L. Mankiewicz or Paddy Chayefsky, are so literary, their stuff sometimes rubs me the wrong way.) My favorite Wilder scripts (and remember he had great collaborators, too) are Midnight, Ball Of Fire, The Major And The Minor, Five Graves To Cairo, Double Indemnity, Ace In The Hole, Stalag 17 and Some like It Hot. I know I left out some great stuff, but I can't include everything.

This is turning into a book, so I'll keep it short from here on in.

The Hustler and The Sweet Smell Of Success. While the stories are only so-so (Success has a third act that doesn't work), they both succeed for three reasons: introduction to a fascinating and dark milieu, cool characters and the most quotable dialogue ever.

Back To The Future and The Sting. Amazing and intricate story construction, even if the characters have to be kept simple to make things work out.

Singin' In The Rain. Scripts for musicals are usually idiotic, knowing the numbers will save them. Comden and Green were handed a bunch of old songs and came up with a great story that's more than just a string of song cues. (Their Bandwagon isn't bad either.)

Die Hard. Action should be fun and stylish, not merely violent. This film was the template, alas, for a bunch of inferior copies.

It Happened One Night. It's hard to separate Robert Riskin from Frank Capra, but no matter what the director brought to the film, he couldn't have done it without a solid script. It virtually invented screwball and, for laughs and warmth, was never topped (except maybe in My Man Godfrey).

Duck Soup. Is this even a script or just of a bunch of funny guys at Paramount tossing gags around. Who cares?

Moonstruck. Finally, a film about people. (A lot of my favorite films are about people, honest.) Real people with just a little exaggeration.

The Godfather. A rare epic story that's as good as people say.

Toy Story. Pixar's secret is in the story, and I still don't think they've topped this one.

The Philadelphia Story. Most of what's good comes from the play, but still an excellent and rare example of drawing room comedy being properly adapted for film.

Tootsie: A lot of hands on this screenplay, but it all comes together.

Lost In America. There's an early feint toward a story, but it never materalizes. But story isn't everything. Just giving Albert Brooks an opportunity to rant is enough for me.

Memento. Almost too clever for its own good, but I admire the Swiss watch mechanics. (A watch that runs backwards.)

The Big Sleep. The best in detective dialogue ever. So good, you don't really care the story is impossible to follow.

Heathers and Being John Malkvoch. Both scripts made brilliant films, yet both are examples of a third act rewritten to make the film more palatable. As is so often true, the orginal scripts are better. (For two acts Adaptation is also great, but they DID keep the third act and it didn't work.)

Casablanca. I don't need Robert McKee to teach me it's great.

Star Wars. It doesn't have to be about great dialogue.

It's A Wonderful Life. As sentimental as you can get without being annoying. Has scope and is surprisingly dark in places.

Well, that's it for now. Please send in your own faves, as well as what's wrong with mine. I seem to have a preference for comedy. Sorry, but it's the genre I understand (and appreciate) best. Also, I seem to prefer mechanics and dialogue over art. Sorry again, but as they say, if you want to send a message, have someone reopen Western Union.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Apology

I was going to write about my favorite screenplays today. (A follow-up to yesterday.) Being a screenwriter myself, it's a big subject, and requires a bit of discussion.

As it turns out, I'm a bit busy now, so I will have to do it tomorrow. See you then.

Chris Versus Chris

I see Chris Matthews parodied on SNL more than I watch his own show Hardball. So I wasn't prepared for the load of garbage parading as wisdom (or worse, conventional wisdom) he spewed yesterday on The Tonight Show.

Let's take one example of many. He still seems to be under the delusion that Joseph Wilson had the goods on the Bush administration regarding Iraq seeking uranium in Africa. I thought this little item had been cleared up years ago, but apparently plenty of people, even those who pretend to keep up on the news, still see Wilson as the one who got it right.

Christopher Hitchens has a concise piece in Slate earlier this week regarding this issue. The piece is fine, but should at this point be unnecessary. The real question is how a big name like Matthews can't even get something this simple correct.

Another Word Bites The Dust

Unique used to be a great word. (A unique one?) It used to pretty much only mean one-of-a-kind, no qualifiers allowed. Now it more commonly means special or unusual. How dreary.

I ran across a usage today that really drove this home. Here's the logline for tonight's episode of House: "House tries to save a young boy who has the same unique symptoms as an eldery patient who died from the illness."

Got that--two patient share unique symptoms. Who writes this stuff, anyway?

Monday, April 10, 2006

So What Else Is New

The Writer's Guild just announced the top 101 screenplays of all time. The list is not too adventurous--it's pretty much just the top Hollywood films of all time, though perhaps with a slight preference for wordier material.

Here are the top ten

1. Casablanca
2. The Godfather
3. Chinatown
4. Citizen Kane
5. All About Eve
6. Annie Hall
7. Sunset Boulevard
8. Network
9. Some Like It Hot
10. The Godfather Part II

A few of these I think have inflated reputations, both as movies and screenplays, particularly Chinatown, All About Eve and Network. Still, though most of these are great films, there's nothing particular brave or exciting about the list.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Really, Now?

Four years ago, we had a Presidential election...on West Wing. There was no suspense--it was unimaginable President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) wouldn't be reelected. It was his show, after all.

Tonight, the winner of Republican Vinick (Alan Alda) versus Democrat Santos (Jimmy Smits) will be announced. I personally felt there wasn't much more mystery than last time--how could they not choose the Democrat? While both candidates are appealing to the Democrat-filled writing staff (Vinick is one of them maverick Republicans), how could the show possibly pick Alda--none of the show's regulars even work on his staff, while a few run the Santos campaign and the rest are rooting for him.

It's true, the show is due to be canceled, and a Republican taking over the White House would not only be a brave artisitic choice but, for a show with plots based on headlines, a realistic one. But I thought they simply didn't have the nerve.

Now a story comes out that the plan was for Vinick to win. However, when actor John Spencer, who played the potential Veep in the Santos campaign, actually died, the WW staff simply felt it would be too tragic to have Santos lose the race as well. So, he wins.

I read this just as I was about to write a piece taunting the show for having the Dem win yet again, even before I'd seen tonight's episode. That's how confident I was. So I have to wonder if this "new" ending is really new. We'll never know. In any case, West Wing ends playing it safe.

Didn't mean to kill her?

Here's the week's winner for reporters ignoring the news:

French prosecutors called Friday for a 25-year prison sentence for a young man accused of burning a 17-year-old woman to death in a Paris suburb. Sohane Benziane, a Frenchwoman of Algerian origin, was doused with lighter fuel, set on fire and left to die in the basement of a run-down housing estate in Vitry-sur-Seine near Paris, in October 2002.

. . . State prosecutor Jean-Paul Content argued that [22-year-old] Derrar had premeditated what he called "an act of boundless cruelty", but had intended only to scare the young woman, not to kill her. According to the prosecutor, Derrar had focused his anger on Sohane after getting into a fight with her boyfriend. Sohane's murder deeply shocked the country and her name became synonymous with the fight to improve women's rights, particularly to combat violence against women of immigrant background in the country's poor suburbs.

So it's just an act of domestic violence? Oh, wait, no, it's an act of domestic violence involving immigrants.

Hmm. I'm guessing Russian Jews.

(Oh, and don't forget, they're poor. Maybe if we had some decent worker protection laws in that country everything would be okay.)

Just because I'm paranoid

So, I go to google, and up pops www.google.ca. http://www.google.ca/

Why not? I'm in Canada. But I decide to override and plug in .com. Doesn't work. Just how do these international borders map onto the net, anyway?

A Talent For Inapt Comparisons

Roger Ebert starts a recent review thus:
Friends With Money resembles Crash, except that all the characters are white, and the reason they keep running into each other is because the women have been friends since the dawn of time.
Hmm. The whole point of Crash, hence the title, is how you keep pushing up against people you don't know in all sorts of combinations. Friends With Money, though set in the same city, is about a small group of friends who see each other all the time (and rarely anyone else) because they plan to.

"Saving Private Ryan resembles Crash, except that the characters are all in the Army and the reason they keep running into each other is because they've been ordered to."

Is Roger making some sort of joke? Sometimes I worry about him.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The end of opportunity cost

LAGuy's presumptive friend Ron Bailey opines that ending death is a good thing. Among other things, all the farms can go back to nature, because we'll be able to feed ourselves so efficiently we won't need all that land. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,6-2123870,00.html

Maybe. Why that's important, I don't know, since once we transcend biology, biology becomes much less important. Nature, schmature.

More to the point, once you no longer face time constraints, you know longer face choices. You can try everything, or at least an approximation of it. Maybe I should watch Groundhog Day again for clues.

The latest in a continuing series of press bias

Landmark legislation offering eventual citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants suffered a potentially fatal blow Friday in the Senate, the latest in a series of election-year setbacks for President Bush and the Republicans who control Congress.

Thanks, AP. Wouldn't know what to think without you.

70s Music/Films

I just caught two 70s films I hadn't seen in years. Both of them are good ideas that fail for similar reasons.

Phantom Of The Paradise is Brian De Palma's fairly imaginative rock verson of Phantom Of The Opera with some Faust thrown in for good measure. Ultimately, it doesn't work. For one thing, the casting (with the exception of Jessica Harper as the ingenue) is weak. Nor has the film dated well. De Palma favorite Gerrit Graham as Beef might have seemed outrageous in 1974, but by the end of the decade his act would be almost tame.

But really it's two words that explain the failure of the film: Paul Williams. Not only is he creepy (in a bad way) as the villian, Swan, but his score--oh, his score. Over the years I've caught this musical maybe four or five times, and there's not a decent song in the bunch. I've never been a big fan of William's hits ("We've Only Just Begun," "Just An Old Fashioned Love Song," "Rainbow Connection," etc.) but it's as if he saved his worst stuff for Phantom. If the score worked, this film might even have been a classic. Instead, it's barely watchable.

Then there's FM, which starts well, with a Steely Dan title song. The plot is also pretty cool. A small, underdog, avowedly non-commercial radio station rises to the top by letting the disk jockeys play what they want. The trouble is the tunes they choose are so lame. The film was released in 1978 when all sorts of exciting new music was bubbling up, but all this station plays is corporate rock. Their idea of a coup is broadcasting a Linda Ronstadt concert live.

Michael Brandon stars as Dugan, the lead DJ and station manager. He apparently did a lot TV and movie work back then, but this is the only thing I've ever seen him in. This is odd, since the supporting cast is full of well-known faces such as Martin Mull, Cleavon Little, Alex Karras and Eileen Brennan.

Predictably, the suits want to commercialize the station. Hey, great, I was up for a good David versus Goliath fight. But the whole thing becomes a joke once you hear the songs the crew plays: "Cold As Ice," "More Than A Feeling," "Life In The Fast Lane." Exactly how would the new guys make things worse?

Friday, April 07, 2006

Still Too Much Freedom Of Speech Out There

In a close vote, the House passed new restrictions on soft money contributions. Now that the Supreme Court has said that messing with political speech is perfectly okay, I guess the sky's the limit.

Of course, this vote had a twist. In the past, it was Democrats who supported campaign finance reform, figuring "getting money out of politics" would benefit them. What happened, though, was rich Democrats funneled cash to "527" groups to get their message out. Suddenly, money in politics made the Dems feel warm and nice, while the Republicans thought it would be a good time to limit it even more.

So, sure enough, the vote was along party lines. Apparently, both sides are willing to slice up our freedoms as finely as possible, as long as it gets them elected.

The Hottest Team In Baseball

Well, my team, the Detroit Tigers, are now 3-0. Al their victories were convincing. It's been two years since they were the worst team in baseball, and it seems like decades since they were a winning team.

Sure, it's too early to make predictions, but let me be brave--the Tigers will finish the 2006 season undefeated!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

It's Not Over When The Fat Lady Sings

I have to admit I'm pleased Mandisa got 86ed from American Idol. Unquestionably talented, she was far from my favorite performer. Yet, I feared, her soulful belting would win.

Let me put it this way. I remember the old Gong Show, and the only act that was gong-proof, and usually the winner, was any African-American lady who could belt out a soul number. But it's a style of singing that often doesn't work for me.

I have plenty of soul and gospel albums where it does work. But there are a lot of songs that require a less overpowering style. For example, as talented as Aretha Franklin is, I'll still take Dionne Warwick's version of "I Say A Little Prayer," which is nuanced but simpler, and brings out the natural quality of the song better.

It's the same way I felt a few weeks ago when Mandisa oversang one of Stevie Wonder's greatest songs "Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing." The song is a Latin rhythm number, and keeping the beat without pouring a lot of syrup over it is important. Mandisa's all-purpose belt wasn't appropriate.

Good work, voters. You are restoring my faith in democracy.

Columbus Guy says: Now if the voters can just restore your faith in democracy by, you know, a vote for politicians.

I Worship At His Shrine

Gene Pitney, 65, just died. He was the undisputed leader of melodramatic rock and roll. His yearning, impassioned vibrato made every love song he sang a matter of life and death.

Pitney was a major star in the pre-Beatles 60s, with hits such as "Town Without Pity," "(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance" (a song not found in the film of the same name) and his biggest, "Only Love Can Break A Heart."

Unlike many of his contemporaries, he was able to withstand the British invasion. In fact, as different as they may seem, he became good friends with The Rolling Stones--Mick Jagger and Keith Richards even wrote his (non-hit) "That Girl Belongs To Yesterday." And in 1964, when The Beatles ruled the charts, he scored two top tens--"I'm Gonna Be Strong" and the magnificent "It Hurts To Be In Love."

While Pitney rarely wrote his own material, he was actually a great songwriter, turning out classics for others, such as "Hello Mary Lou," "He's A Rebel" and "Rubber Ball."

My personal favorite? It's a tie. Whenever I'm on the road, it's "Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa." The rest of the time, it's a song that's, as they say, more relevant than ever, "Mecca."

Go out and buy, or burn, his greatest hits right now.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Because it's free

There's a health care metaphor here somewhere. I'm blogging from the Columbus airport. Why? Because I can.

I wonder if they have an MRI machine somewhere around here?

They Never Give Up

Yet another in the neverending series of articles by leftists trying to revive socialism. I don't want to waste too much time on it, since their arguments are pretty much always the same nonsense. But let's look at a few sentences here and there before I fall asleep.

You know what, I just reread the piece and it's even worse that I remembered. There's simply nothing here to engage the brain. It's the same crude caricature of both socialism and capitalism, filled with ridiculous arguments (did you know capitalism hasn't cured every problem there is yet!) and non-sequiturs.

If anyone thinks they see a serious argument here, please let me know.

Columbus Guy says: You want a serious argument? How about this: A man seriously spoken about as a credible Republican candidate for pres supports a statewide insurance mandate.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill Tuesday that would make Massachusetts the first state to require that all its citizens have some form of health insurance. . . . If all goes as planned, poor people will be offered free or heavily subsidized coverage; those who can afford insurance but refuse to get it will face increasing tax penalties until they obtain coverage; and those already insured will see a modest drop in their premiums.
The measure does not call for new taxes but would require businesses that do not offer insurance to pay a $295 annual fee per employee.
The cost was put at $316 million in the first year, and more than a $1 billion by the third year, with much of that money coming from federal reimbursements and existing state spending, officials said. . . .

Individuals deemed able but unwilling to purchase health care could face fines of more than $1,000 a year by the state if they don't get insurance.
Hope you're "deemed" what you can afford. (Say, do you suppose you'll be exempted from mandates? Anybody talking about mental health parity in Mass?)

Here's a gem worth preserving in the piece you cited: Ugly as it was in so many ways, the Soviet Union not only spurred imitators but stimulated and sometimes supported resistance movements and, more relevant to us, along with the presence of vigorous socialist movements and ideas it encouraged thinking and acting toward alternatives that would be neither capitalist nor Communist.

Sure, they killed a lot of people, but by God the trains ran (and maybe if we looked at it, most of them were Jews).

And I approve of the ending line: On the road to shaping an alternative, the left might respond with a time-honored socialist insight, namely that "I" only exists within a "we," and that unless we look out for everyone, no one is secure.

No justice, no peace, I always say.

I wonder if the guy who calls for killing off 90 percent of the world's population considers himself a Socialist, or sympathetic to 75 percent of what The Nation calls for? I suppose it's okay, as long as it's properly planned.

My Word

In the old days, you had to make your own fun. But now, thanks to the 'net, I play bridge and chess with people across the world.

And here's a link you might find interesting. It's a Scrabble challenge, updated twice daily. Look at the seven letters and try to come up with the best score on the board. Hint: play the board, not just the letters--unless you find a bingo (seven-letter word), the best play is often a short word. Warning: the site uses ALL the legal words available, so it's rare you can beat 'em. In fact, you can't. You can only tie 'em.

Southern Comfort

I get the idea--get them out of their comfort zone and see what happens. But as usual, having the American Idol contestants sing country music made for a pretty unpleasant night, musically.

Every week they have a theme, but perhaps this one they could cut.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

My tea leaves just changed

Delay's out, eh? If the Republicans are letting their leaders be chased out this way, stick a fork in 'em.

Well, at least we can look forward to unlimited and free medical care as far as the eye can see.

Let's End The Season Now

Major League Baseball has finally started and standing atop the American League's Central Division (tied with the unimportant White Sox) at 1-0 is my team, the Detroit Tigers. I will keep doing these updates until they lose a game.

So Long, Sister

I watched Sayonara last night. It's one of those films I've seen in bits and pieces, but never start to finish. It's a Marlon Brando film about an American serviceman who falls in love with a famous Japanese performer.

The film was a hit back in 1957, offering the audience what it wanted--widescreen romance, lavish color, location shooting, beautiful sets and costumes, a dramatic Franz Waxman score, etc. It won four Oscars and was nominated for ten.

Yet, the film is slow going. It spends two and a half hours telling a story that could be better told in ninety minutes. It's not helped by Joshua Logan's plodding direction. While the message of the film is tolerance, it also hasn't dated well, since inter-ethnic romance isn't quite so daring any more. If anything, its quaint view of Japan and its submissive women seems condescending today.

Still, I couldn't help but laugh when I read this reader's review by Jessica Donohue from Berkeley, California at the Internet Movie Database. I honestly thought real humans didn't write this way once they left college. (Does that mean Jessica is still expecting a grade?):
This is a masterpiece of film-as-propaganda. In the social sciences, the Other is a pan-applicable category which labels those facets of a culture that incur self-loathing. In Sayonara, the Other is blatantly feminine.Women in this film are treated derogatorily, this is obvious. No less subtle is the negative attitude towards aspects of Japanese culture, even landscape, labelled feminine (vs. masculine American). Gender ambiguity defines Japanese culture in the film as well as in the colonial imagination (Said, 1978). Such androgyny is horrifyingly Other.
The review continues in this hilarious vein. (Imagine referencing Edward Said to prove a point in a movie review--or anywhere else, for that matter.) As they say, read the whole thing.

Columbus Guy says: What's the problem? The Other *is* blatantly feminine.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Rittle more . . . rittle more

What are you going to do, Hans Brix?

Hans Blix says there's plenty of time to negotiate with Iran, because the country is five years away from havintg a nuclear bomb.

What I want to know is, what's he going to do if he's wrong? Send them a letter?

Good for Luttig

Remember how the Bush administration held Padilla forever, not charging him, not doin' nuthin', saying to its critics, "Pound sand, we're at war." Then, when the supremes said they'd look at the case, suddenly they decided to charge him criminally?

Here's the appellate judge's response to that: Judge J. Michael Luttig said the administration risked its "credibility before the courts" and left the impression that Padilla had been held in military custody "by mistake."

That, or they're afraid to make the argument they proclaim. C'mon, fellas, you believe it or you don't--and you'd damn well better believe it.

House afire

As in, "I know I haven't been setting the." Nonetheless, blogging will be light from the Heartland this week and part of next, while the ColumbusGuyClan travels to Vancouver, to the top of the misty mountain where sits Simon Fraser.

Gross Out

In a company town like Los Angeles, you forget that most America don't live or die over the movie release schedule. Most people hardly go to movies, and those that do are hardly aware of what's coming until it opens.

That's why nothing opens better than a sequel. The best advertisement is a blockbuster. Yet, even the experts were shocked at the amazing $70 million opening weekend of the computer animated feature Ice Age: The Meltdown. The numbers are comparable to Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. Of course, the downside of sequels is the audience is front-loaded that the numbers drop pretty fast, so I can safely predict the lastest Ice Age film won't make anything like Nemo money.

Also of interest is ATL, a relatively unheralded film that grossed over $12 million in only 1602 theatres. This shows, yet again, that there's a solid, if limited, audience for films that appeal to the African-American audience.

Performing abominably with only $3.6 million was James Gunn's Slither, a horror film that promised to be, if nothing else, pretty disgusting. It actually got good reviews, but the horror audience doesn't read reviews. Horror is a tricky genre--there are numerous cases of relatively low-budget films opening big, but then you get a film like Slither that seems perfctly positioned and it flops.

But the flop of the week, perhaps year, is Basic Instinct 2. True, it's a sequel to an international blockbuster, but the original came out 14 years ago--almost an entire generation of filmgoers has grown up since Sharon Stone first crossed her legs. Furthermore, Stone hasn't had a hit in a while, and while the original also had Michael Douglas, this films features David Morrisey (I don't know who he is either). It also doesn't help that the critics hated it. Finally, as unfair as this may be, the first film featured an incredibly hot blonde at the height of her allure, while in the lateast she's...past her prime. Since much of the appeal of the film is based on the heat generated by the leads, is it that big a surprise the film made no more than the second weekend of Larry The Cable Guy: Health Inspector?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Just enough of me, way too much of you

P. J. O'Rourke would recognize this guy:

A University of Texas professor says the Earth would be better off with 90 percent of the human population dead.
“Every one of you who gets to survive has to bury nine.”

I'll Draw My Own Lines, Thank You

My friend Tom Berg, a law professor, is not stupid. Nor does he support governmental censorship, for the most part. But a recent post of his over at Mirror Of Justice suggests he doesn't think much of the violence and casual sex in our media, and would be more than happy if bluenoses of the right and left made common cause in fighting against it.

I don't think much of this approach. There simply is no reliable measure of what violence or sex is "good" for the art, but it's certainly my experience that those who think there's too much are the worst critics around. (Tom is also against "mindless consumerism," the existence of which I question. If it is a problem, I'd say it's pretty small compared to mindless religious belief, which I think someone like Tom could perhaps write about with a lot more depth and usefulness.)

Tom quotes, approvingly, someone who thinks going after Sex And The City and Desperate Housewives is a good idea. I've actually never watched Sex And The City (though I know some of the writers), but enough people I respect have found it a witty, enjoyable experience that attacking it, even for its message (whatever that is) seems like an exercise that'll make the world worse, not better. As for Desperate Housewives (on tonight), I've only seen a few episodes, but it's clearly (among other things) a satirical approach to soap opera, and attacking it for all the casual sex almost certainly seem to be missing the subtlety (as bluenoses almost always do, and then get mad when you note it, claiming the subtlety's not there, after which they follow with some cheap rhetorical trick like saying "you wouldn't support racist material, would you?").

Historically, of course, sex (especially adultery) and violence have been two of the major themes of drama. Just because some modern art is seen as mere entertainment rather then "important" is no reason to attack it. Why not attack the actual casual sex you oppose, and not representations of it that you don't fully appreciate?

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Some cheap laughs

To match LAGuy's Guilty Pleasures, here's a bit of fun that had me scrolling to the end, a rarity.

Finding Osama

But Layden, the Penn addiction expert, refuses to see porn as mostly harmless.
"When I ask men who are sex addicts if they would want their wife or daughter to be in porn, 100 percent say, 'No,'" she said. "They want it to be somebody else's wife or daughter. They know this material is damaging."


But Layden, the porn expert, eh? I think I know where bin Laden been hidin'.

Anyway, I think this statement probably isn't true. I've seen some of these porn sites, and they're disgusting, so much so that I almost turned away. I have no doubt that incest porn is a category all its own.

Guilty Pleasure

Considering it's about the dumbest idea for a game show ever, I have to admit I watch Deal Or No Deal (when I'm home and it's on). I generally prefer game shows that require intelligence, such as Jeopardy!, but Deal Or No Deal, as ridiculous as it is, has an interesting mixture of suspense and big money.

The game is simplicity itself. The contestant picks one of 26 briefcases. Each case has an amount in it from 1 cent to a million dollars (not actual money, but a number). From there, the contestant eliminates more and more briefcases from consideration. Along the way, with increasing frequency, the "bank" offers money for the contestant's case, based on the dollar amounts left. What's offered is usually less than the expected value of the case, but can still be a lot. This is because about a quarter of the amounts available are six or seven figures, so if even a few are left, they can bring up the average quite a bit.

The suspense--and what little strategy there is--involves whether the contestant will take the deal or not. Almost everything about the show I hate. The dumb luck. The glitz. The host (Howie Mandel). Worst of all are the friends and family brought by the contestant for raucous support and, believe it or not, strategic advice.

But the numbers are fun. And the suspense--turning down life-changing amounts and possibly ending up with next to nothing--makes the show fascinating. I like how the suspense is statistically built in. In you eliminate a lot of low numbers, you'll be offered huge amounts, and that's exciting. But if you eliminate some large numbers first, the odds are you'll start picking low amounts next and the offers from the bank will keep rising, which is also exciting. The odds that you'll pick all low or high briefcases is so unlikely it will almost never happen.

As silly and mindless as the show is, I can understand why it's a hit all over the world.

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