Saturday, September 30, 2006

Flow

Flow is important in TV programming. It's not nearly as important and developing shows that people like, but it still makes a difference. Each network hopes one show will lead into the next so viewers keep watching.

Ugly Betty is a new show that ABC has high hopes for. It's somewhat similar to the hit movie The Devil Wears Prada, and has tested well, so they've given it a good slot on Thursdays at 8 right before their biggest hit, Grey's Anatomy. It has a good shot at doing just fine, but I wonder if this was the best spot for it. The show has a light feel, and the characters often play like caricatures. It's a lot like Desperate Housewives, in fact, but is different enough--less outrageous melodrama--that it wouldn't feel like a repeat if it followed that show. (Last season ABC tried to follow Lost with another ensemble serial full of mystery, Invasion, and it didn't really work.)

Meanwhile, Brother's & Sisters, a (somewhat dreary) show that deals with numerous interpersonal relationships, seems more cut from the same cloth as Grey's Anatomy. ABC has given it the plum slot following Desperate Houseewives where Grey's Anatomy itself became a hit. It doesn't seem to follow that well from the wilder Housewives, and may have played better near Anatomy.

Meanwhile, the oddest night of TV is NBC on Monday: Deal Or No Deal, Heroes and Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. These are three shows with the potential to do well, but are all very different--a game show, a comic book come to life, and a realistic drama with witty dialogue.

Friday, September 29, 2006

An honest reporter

In contrast to Jennfer Loven, Charles Hurt appears to be an honest reporter. Of course, his story shows why honest reportiung doesn't work:

The fence came to symbolize what many Democrats said was an unforgiving bill. They said the fence proved that Republicans harbored a hostility toward immigrants.
But by yesterday, more than 20 Democrats had switched their position to support the border fence -- including several who face tough elections this fall. . . . After the vote yesterday, Rep. Alan B. Mollohan, a West Virginia Democrat who also switched his vote, was waiting in an out-of-the-way hallway beside a bank of elevators. When asked by a reporter why he switched his vote, Mr. Mollohan first responded, "How did you find me?"


And then there's this, which deserves a "truer words" heading:

"The time to address the border-security emergency is now, before Congress leaves for the November election," said House Speaker J. Dennis Haster.

Neutral news

"That fundraiser was held behind closed doors - like most that Bush does lately."

A little snarky, eh? Say, Jennifer Loven, Jennifer Loven, don't I recognize that name?

Guess who's ready to cash in?

"Craigslist founder says he won't cash in"

Oliver!

Oliver Stone believes Bush has "set America back 10 years." He probably wishes it was 15 or 20, back when he was making good films.

Not Amadeus

Good news from Germany, if things just not being bad is good. It appears the controversial staging of Mozart's Idomeneo, after being canceled due to fear of Muslim reprisal, may go on. Also heartening is that many Germans were outraged at the cancelation.

The opera has the King of Crete making a deal with Neptune to help him get home after the Trojan War, a deal that comes with a high cost. This particular production has the King carry onstage the severed head of Neptune--somewhat odd since the plot ends in reconciliation between humans and the gods--along with the heads of Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed, who aren't even in the libretto.

Coming on the heels of the reaction to the Pope's speech, perhaps the Europeans have had enough. I heard a right-wing pundit compare the two controversies. He complained that whereas the Pope was making a learned speech, the director of the opera was going out of his way to be offensive. Whether you agree with this or not (I don't), he's missing the point. It's not about the nature of the offense, it's about the disproportionate response.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A Ford In Your Past

Stanley Crouch, in a short piece on John Ford and John Wayne, overpraises the overpraised Searchers. So what else is new? This: "In the 1939 Stagecoach and the 1946 My Darling Clementine, Ford made Wayne a star...."

Highly surprising, seeing that Wayne does not appear in My Darling Clementine. Ford did direct it, at least Crouch got that right.

Passings of note

Cooper was great. You wish people didn't have to go.

The Emperor Of Comedy

I saw Sid Caesar at the Museum Of Television And Radio last night. A bit stooped, but still with it.

Caesar was before my time, but thanks to the magic of reruns and DVDs, I have been able to see a lot of his best material. TV demands a lot, and for most of the 50s he gave his all. Like many of the greatest TV clowns, such as Jackie Gleason and Dick Van Dyke, he did amazing things while still fairly young and never really topped himself.

Movies didn't catch his true comic quality; sketch comedy was his metier. (It might not have helped that he was an alcoholic. Come to think of it, so was Dick Van Dyke. I'm not sure about Gleason but he was certainly known to bend an elbow.)

Yet, even more amazing than Caesar himself, was the stable of writers he had. Perhaps the four greatest comic minds of the last 50 years--Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart and Neil Simon--all wrote for Caesar, not to mention supporting player Carl Reiner throwing his two cents in.

While Caesar never did anything as good again, the people who wrote jokes in that room went on to create muhc of the bets comedy since then. And that room was so memorable it inspired three separate works of art in three different media. First came Carl Reiner's 1960's sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show. Two decades later came the Mel Brooks' film (he produced) My Favorite Year. (I've always hated that generic title.) Then in 1993 Neil Simon wrote the play Laughter On The 23rd Floor.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Where's Howard Hawks When You Need Him?

Jeffrey Wells compares Clint Eastwood to John Ford. I thnk that's fair. They both make big, boring films that win awards.

On The Edge

The Tigers have the best record in baseball (along with the Yankees), which determines home advantage in the playoffs. However, with only five games left, they're not even certain to win their division. One loss and the Twins could be tied with them. I guess I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth and just be glad they get to keep playing.

An even more interesting race is in the National League's Central Division. St. Louis had a solid lead on the Astros with the season almost over. Then the Cardinals lost six in a row while Houston won six, and now only 2.5 games separate the teams. This is probably the worst division in baseball, since even after their six wins the Astros are only at .500.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Splish-splash

No WMD in here.

A modern day Sherman

"If nominated, I will not run," Clooney said. "If elected, I will not serve."

Now if they can just teach the New York Times

"Computers taught to sort opinion from fact"

Is "heh" trademarked? "The scientists will use machine-learning algorithms to give computers examples of text expressing both fact and opinion and then teach them to tell the difference."

Talking Non-Point

I've heard more than one Democrat (from Nancy Pelosi on down) refer to the Republican Congress as a "do-nothing," "rubber stamp" Congress.

Now you can do nothing, and you can rubber stamp legislation, but how can you do both?

Smart Move

Mel Gibson has criticized the war in Iraq. Smart move. This is one of the few sure strategies Jew haters have to get people on their side.

Hindsight

This latest brouhaha over what Clinton and Bush did about terrorism before 9/11--with accusations flying back and forth--is a waste of time. Okay, they both knew there was a serious but general threat. The options they had weren't great and I doubt no matter how many ways we replay it we had much chance of stopping what happened (even if we were clocking a number of the participants).

Can we please move on?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Wicked

"Former White House Intern Offers Self as Alternative to Hillary"

Der Bengals

They've done it! Congratulations, Detroit Tigers. Thanks to the lenient rules of baseball, you have guaranteed yourself a spot in the playoffs, even if you don't finish in first place

The Big Picture

I was going to write a piece about the study many are using to claim the war in Iraq has created more terrorism. However, it's confidential so who can say they're reading it correctly.

In any case, I've written about this issue so many times I don't want to start from square one again (but I keep writing because I don't want another ground zero). So I'll just cheat and offer a few selected points and conclusions.

We should not forget the main problem is those who would kill us believe false things. While we should try to convince them they're wrong, we have to be ready to use the stick with the carrot. It's not because of us that new fools join them, but because of the culture they live in where nonsense is common. If they saw things more clearly, they might not be our friends but they wouldn't be attacking us (think France).

Thus, leaving things as they are is not acceptable. We did little or nothing for decades, and cannot repeat that mistake. It will take at least a generation to deal with it. Until then, our enemies must know there are consequences to their actions. They didn't need the Iraq War to attack us five years ago, and they won't need it to get new recruits. (However, they are no doubt heartened when they see so much opposition in the West to the war.)

Regardless of what you think about the war in Iraq, I can't imagine a better outcome for the terrorists than us leaving early. This should be above politics. Alas, it isn't.

Now we're just dickering price

A fee of 25,500 euros ($32,000) is way too much for a woman to charge a man for fondling her bosom, a Finnish district court ruled.

The court jailed a couple in their twenties for more than a year for charging a 74-year-old who suffers from dementia a total of 25,500 euros to enjoy the woman's breasts on 10 occasions.

"Based on general life experience alone, it is indisputably clear that a 25,500 euro charge is disproportionate to the compensation in question," Judge Hasse Hakki, who heard the case, told Reuters Friday.

But he said the court in Kokkola, about 300 miles north of Helsinki, would not decide "the proper financial value of the compensation."

The retiree filed charges against the couple, who were convicted of extortionate overcharging, even though he told the court he paid the price willingly at the time.


Yes, your Honor. I did it willingly at the time. (And I just have to say, that judge must have some general life experience. Can't you just see it? "The court takes judicial notice that she is uuugggg-LEEEEEE.")

Sunday, September 24, 2006

All the world's libraries in the space of a sugar cube

Can't get much better than this.

Unfortunately, they're next likely to allow someone to hijack them in the name of global warming, or gun control, or any number of other things. Indeed, five will get you twenty it's already happened.

Spread A Little Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine has made $50 million dollars so far. Not bad for a little film. And I'm starting to sense what happened with Sideways is happening to LMS: backlash.

As long as they were small, charming films, the critics were champions. But when these two movies started looking like mainstream hits, those in the know didn't want to run with the crowd. They had second thoughts. It wasn't that good. Maybe it wasn't good at all.

I liked both and I doubt I'm going to change my mind. I'm not claiming either is La Regle Du Jeu, but it's rare enough to get good stories with (relatively) realistic human interaction these days, so I think we should celebrate when we do.

It's good when movies you enjoy are popular. It means they just may make more like them.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

That Must Have Been Some Pep Talk

Michigan handily beat Wisconsin today, 27-13. It was pretty shaky in the first half, where neither team was dominant. However, Michigan came out roaring in the second half, with solid offensive drives and giving up almost nothing on defense.

Michigan's hardly got free sailing till Columbus, but if this keeps up, Ohio State may be the game of the year.

John Hughes Was Right

A confused piece in Slate about filmmaker and teen specialist John Hughes. According to Michael Weiss, Hughes and his films were always more conservative than you thought. Okay, maybe, maybe not (depends a lot on what you thought).

Weiss seems to feel there's something vaguely wrong about this. Why? Who cares about the politics of Hughes or his films? The important question is are they any good.

PS Oddly, Weiss says that later Hughes films like The Great Outdoors , Home Alone and Dennis The Menace "were comedies for the Dan Quayle in all of us." I say oddly because Quayle has stated clearly his favorite film is Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

PPS For the record, my favorite Hughes film is Ferris Bueller and I don't like The Breakfast Club.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Sounds about right

The district attorney trying the case says, "Alleged Duke Rape Took 5-10 Minutes," according to the al-Manhattan Media headline.

So let's look at this logically. All sex is rape, and the average duration is three minutes (a good 90 seconds longer than I would have guessed), so, given a decent margin of error, sounds about right to me.

Shock Therapy

For some reason, Grey's Anatomy defeating CSI in their first ratings face-off is being called "shocking." They were both among the highest-rated shows of last year, and Grey's was an up-and-comer, entering into its greatest strength. It had originally been lucky enough to follow the huge hit Deperate Housewives, but soon enough was getting higher ratings than its lead-in. It was much more powerful, relatively speaking, than Lost was against American Idol, or to go back a bit, Miami Vice against Dallas.

ABC advertised heavily, so everyone was aware of Grey's new timeslot. I expected it to win (perhaps not so handily) and most people I knew who cared about such things expected it, too. What's the big surprise?

You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave

Mosquitoes sure are heavy this year, eh?

(English learners: Los insectos son gordos, eh?)

Into the Stone Age?

"We'll bomb you to Stone Age, US told Pakistan"

What the hell. We don't give these people enough economic aid already? I say let them reach the Stone Age on their own schedule.

Hard Landing

The Tigers keep losing. As I write this, they have only half a game lead on Minnesota. But I'm not worried. After waiting this long for a decent team, all I ask is they make the playoffs.

They just need to finish ahead of the White Sox to hit the wild card slot. With 12 games left and a six-game lead on Chicago, I feel pretty good. (But check back with me in a week.)

What's That Smell?

As everyone knows, Hugo Chavez repeatedly referred to President Bush as the devil in his rant at the U.N. He noted he could sill smell the sulfur.

I would guess most understood what he meant, but at least two people I heard on the radio today seemed to think he was referring to Bush's flatulence. Look, the devil smells of sulfur, okay?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Nets within nets

Spooky. Not only will we be assimilated, we won't even know how many ways we've been assimilated.

Big-Time trouble

Gee, there's a poll out that says the public hates Congress more than any time since, 1994. Say, wasn't that when the R's swept the D's out? OMG! IT'S HAPPENING AGAIN! Think it'll come to pass? Big Time.

Half-Baked

A lot of critics love Half Nelson. I wasn't so impressed. Weirder, a number of reviewers (here's one example) say the lead character, played by Ryan Gosling, is a good teacher. It's not that he smokes crack, though it's actually pretty clear by the end it's affecting his performance. No, he's a rotten teacher in any case.

He ignores the official syllabus and decides to teach the kids what he thinks is significant. It doesn't seem to me he's connecting with the students, nor does it seem he's teaching them anything valuable. (It's also doubtful he's teaching them good history, but that's almost beside the point.)

I don't see any of his students getting particularly excited about what he's teaching (at least the filmmakers were honest enough not to have cheap enthusiasm). It seems doubtful they'll go on to do further study in this area, or suddenly discover a thirst for knoweldge. They might remember this eccentric teacher, but that's about it.

A Far Worse Argument

You've probably heard this before, but here it is again. Conservative Ramesh Ponnuru writes in The New York Times that it might help the Republicans to lose big in the upcoming elections.

Sure, it's possible that losing in the short run will help in the long run. Of course, it's also possible--likely, in fact--that losing in the short run will hurt in the long run. No one knows what will happen in a couple years. You win in politics by winning. Any other theory is nuts.

(As to what's good for the people, presumably every party believes they are, so that's not at issue. If you don't believe your party is good for the people, change parties.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

That, or it's just another bad movie

"The return of Marie Antoinette suggests that there are political forces at work in the world that Western humanism does not fully understand and that it may not be able to control."

Another Bad Argument

There's another bad argument related to the war in Iraq that one hears so often I'm not going to bother to link to an example. It's essentially this: what the United States is doing (acting unilaterally, treating prisoners badly, clocking foreign phone calls, not signing the Kyoto Protocol or a hundred other things some don't like, whether true or not) is hurting our reputation around the world, therefore we should stop doing it.

Whenever I hear someone make this claim (every day) I'm always disappointed no one asks the obvious follow-up--are these others foolish to think what they're thinking about us?

I'm not saying we should ignore what others believe--it's always a consideration, but rarely a paramount one when it comes to important policy. In other words, if it's wrong, we should stop it in any case; if it's right, then we merely have a p.r. problem.

In other other words, if you don't like what we're doing, just say it, don't hide behind foreign opinions.

In One Era, Out The Other

I was reading a piece about Bob Newhart in the LA Times when I ran across this: "Newhart, of course, had not one but two successful sitcoms during the Golden Age of television...."

That's funny, back when I was watching those shows in the 70s and 80s, everyone said the 50s was the Golden Age Of Television.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Is that diplo-speak for shooting him?

Mikhail Gorbachev slaps that thing on his forehead and says, "Geez, why didn't I think of that?"


Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said on Tuesday he supported tough measures taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin and wished he had adopted them.
Gorbachev, whose political reforms led to the collapse of the communist empire, said he should have squashed the challenge from Boris Yeltsin, his arch-rival and subsequently first Russian president, by sending him into diplomatic exile.

(Whaddya think a that block quote, LAGuy?)

LAGuy responds: It's good, but there's too much space between it and the line below.

Desperate

Schwarzenegger is polling well ahead of Phil Angelides. A few months ago, they were tied. Of course, Ahnold has done this by becoming a Democrat, but a Governor's gotta do what a Governnor's gotta do.

I'm not surprised that Angelides can't gain traction, considering how lame his ads are. Ahnold's attack ads show us the bad things Phil'll do, such as tax us to death. Phil's attack ads simply show Ahnold supporting Bush and then remind us we have a lot of troops in Iraq, the national deficit is huge and gas prices are too high. What exactly is the governor of Cahlifohrnia supposed to do about these things? (If raise taxes is your answer, then Phil's your man.)

Speaking of gas prices, I was driving along Beverly Boulevard today and the Exxon station on Fairfax was selling gas at $2.85. A few weeks ago you couldn't get it anywhere near three bucks. But much stranger, about a mile farther, the Mobil station (Mobil and Exxon are the same corporation) at Cienaga was selling it as $3.23. I can't explain this discrepancy, nor can I figure out why anyone would buy gas at the latter.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Originality

Two of the big new NBC shows will soon debut, and you may need some help to tell them apart.

I'm referring to 30 Rock and Studio 60. They're both backstage looks at Saturday-Night-Live-type shows. Even the titles sound the same. (One takes place in New York, the other in Los Angeles, so they're completely different.)

30 Rock is a one-camera, no laughtrack, half-hour sitcom created by Tina Fey. It stars Fey as the headwriter of the live comedy Girlie Show, with Alec Baldwin as the network suit and Tracy Morgan as the unstable star. I thought Fey did a good job writing the film Mean Girls, and she's been the headwriter of SNL itself, but neither are sitcoms. It's a tricky form that's defeated greater talents. (Mel Tolkin, a great TV writer, once said it's just as hard to create a bad show as a good one.) I'm most looking forward to Baldwin, who's shown his comedy chops in recent years.

Critics are more interested in Studio 60, created by Aaron Sorkin. It's an hourlong behind-the-scenes-at-a-live-comedy-show drama, sort of a West Wing meets Saturday Night Live. I'm looking forward to it, but I see two major potential problems.

First, the two lead men are Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford. Both are talented actors, but with similar comic styles. They may not play well against each other.

Second, Sorkin's best work (West Wing, A Few Good Men) feature a symbiotic relation between his lively dialogue and his melodramatic plots. Backstage at a comedy show isn't exactly life and death. Studio 60 sounds more like Sports Night.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Hey There Lonelygirl

Over the past few months a young woman who calls herself Lonelygirl15 has been appearing in a video diary on YouTube. Her stories garnered millions of fans, who obsessed over her troubled life. Some wondered if she were real, or if the whole thing was made up. Well, duh. Of course it was fiction.

I didn't really know anything about Lonelygirl until a friend mentioned it a few weeks ago. I looked in for a second and that was enough. Even a real teen's confessions wouldn't interest me that much, but why watch such an obvious put-on?

First, Lonelygirl's name was Bree. Who named their kid "Bree" before Desperate Housewives? Second, the actress playing the part, Jessica Rose, is right out of central casting. Finally, in the little I saw, her monologue was too smoothe, not at all like real life.

Still, I'm kind of sorry her cover was blown. It was harmless fun for a lot of people.

ColumbusGuy adds: Ugh. Why don't we just cut to the chase and do a JonBenet site? It'll have the added benefit of her crossing over. We'll make billions.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

How Do You Like Us Now?

I can't believe it. I was sure at the very least it would be a tough game, but instead we had our easiest victory in years, whipping Notre Dame 47-21. It's been over a decade since Michigan won at ND, which makes it all the sweeter.

We have a whole Big Ten season to go through, but now I look forward to OSU. It sure would be great if we were both undefeated, #1 and #2.

In other words, after a weak year in 2005, I've now got my hopes up again, all waiting to be smashed.

Why Not Throw In Hitler?

I'm looking forward to seeing The U.S. vs. John Lennon but there's one thing I don't get. The TV ad features Gore Vidal saying Lennnon was about life while Nixon and Bush are about death.

I know Vidal has long since gone 'round the bend when it comes to politics, but am I missing something? Since when does George Bush have anything to do with the attempt to deport John Lennon? (Let's not even get into which side in today's fight is about death.)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Planks

Whenever I write about my old friend Tom the law professor it always seems to be to criticize him. Well, I'm gonna do it again.

Over at Mirror Of Justice he writes about what Leon Wieseltier believes Reinhold Niebuhr would think about the war in Iraq, but forget that. Here's what Tom believes:
I'm pretty certain we could find numerous occasions (though I haven't gotten the cites, I confess) in which the President or other war supporters [he links here to something completely irrelevant--check it out if you don't believe me] have effectively asserted that we as a nation are or will be successful because we're "fundamentally good." The relation between such sentiments and the huge missteps in Iraq is pretty direct: we knew better than other nations whether Saddam was an immediate danger, we knew better than others how to build a successful postwar Iraq, and anyway it would be relatively easy to rebuild because the Iraqis would react positively to our obvious commitment to democracy.
I find this argument seriously flawed in every particular, but what strikes me most is how he's guilty of what he accuses the Bush people of--he misunderstands Iraq but is certain he knows better.

ColumbusGuy adds: Plus he has questionable taste in sweaters.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Say, I'm feeling better already

"A Russian mayor has called for prostitution to be made legal in a bid to wipe out a rising tide of extremism."


Geez, I feel like we're such chumps here in Ohio. All we're trying to do is legalize gambling. It's for the kids, of course, and it's called Earn and Learn, I kid you not. Here's a contest: How many lines do you have to read before you get to this, "
Learn & Earn will be funded by proceeds on slot machines at 9 venues in Ohio (7 at existing racetracks). Did you know that Ohio has lost billions of dollars in gaming revenue to our neighboring states? Learn & Earn will reclaim this money to invest in education and jobs here in Ohio!"

Yay!

Not that I'm opposed to gambling. Like marriage, it's hard to see why the government's involved in this issue in the first place--although it's much easier to see it for marriage, I guess.

Master of my domain

We're living in a virtual world:

Anti-Borat hard-liners have pulled the plug on borat.kz, Borat's Kazakhstan-based Website after his requent displays of anti-Semitism and his portrayal of Kazakh culture. Nurlan Isin, President of the Association of Kazakh IT Companies took the action after complaints. He said: "We've done this so he can't badmouth Kazakhstan under the .kz domain name. "He can go and do whatever he wants at other domains."

Anti-Borat hardliners? Methings I smell journalistic irony.

And for the Sept. 11 conspiracists:

Sean R. Roberts, Central Asian Affairs Fellow at Georgetown University, has been studying the phenomenon. He said: "I have found that more Americans are aware of Kazakhstan than four years ago when I last lived in the United States. "The increased knowledge of Kazakhstan, however, is not due to the country's economic successes or its role as a U.S. ally in the war on terror. "Instead, most Americans who have heard of Kazakhstan have heard of it through a satire of a Kazakh journalist named Borat. "Borat certainly does not promote an image of Kazakhstan that is in sync with that which the government and its leader would like to promote abroad. "As the old adage goes, however, 'there is no such thing as bad publicity.' "If that is true, Borat is bringing much more publicity to Kazakhstan."

You Do The Math

Michigan has won two easy games in two easy weeks, but that's gonna end soon. If they beat Notre Dame this Saturday, it won't be easy.

Let's put it this way. Michigan just played a patsy, Central Michigan, and beat them 41-17. Notre Dame just played a ranked team, Penn State, and beat them 41-17. Doesn't bode well.

Meanwhile, Ohio State has shown it's the best team in college football. I can only hope by the time we play that game, we're more than just a spoiler.

A friend tells me that Michigan's defense has done pretty well, except for giving up a few key plays. Perhaps, but a key play here, a key play there, suddenly the game is over.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Just when I thought I respected John Bolton

George Clooney will speak to UN security council about Darfur.

Okay, okay, anything to raise awareness. Maybe Paris Hilton can show her ta-ta's.

Brilliant

Incredible. All you have to do is have your interpreter say something different than you are saying. Cheers for Taheri.

Think

So I was in our local health food store today where I buy psyillium husks, and also some salsa and blue corn chips.

While waiting I browsed the aisles, where I found, for $1.69, "nutrient enhanced water beverage." There were several flavors available, and each one referred to the thing it was supposed to enhance.

There was "strenth," for example, and I imagined that if I drank it I would feel strong.
There was "revive," and I imagined that if I drank it I would feel refreshed.
There was "multi-essential" and I imagined that if I drank it I would feel . . . complete.

Then I came across one that said, "Think," and I put the product back on the shelf and didn't buy it at all.

The Dismal Science

Headline from the LA Times business section:

Slump in Raw Material Prices Feeds Economic Concerns
As crude oil falls below $66 a barrel [...], Wall Street fears a worldwide slowdown.

So what exactly would be good news in the world of oil?

Columbus Guy says: I don't know about the world of oil, bujt here in Columbus I just turned my nose up at $2.13 gas, just drove right past it. Shame, too; I was all set to vote Democrat.

You Better Believe It

It always fascinates me how people come to believe certain things. One would hope we sift through the evidence and come to rational conclusions, but 1) we don't have time to fully investigate most things so we let rules of thumb guide us and 2) that's not how the human brain works, anyway.

There are numerous sites (here's just one) that have built up elaborate conspiraces about 9/11. I'm almost impressed in spite of myself. As always with well-developed crackpot beliefs, they're an odd mix of truth, half-truth and nonsense. And, for most followers, it's a closed system. No matter how successfully they're refuted, they come up with reasons to continue believing (often by simply refusing to believe the refutation).

At first I laughed at all this, but has it gone too far? In American alone (if anything, these ideas are more popular elsewhere), there are tens of millions who believe this stuff. It's tough enough to fight a war against terrorists when you understand how dangerous they are.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Preemptive whining

LAGuy may think it's time for Republicans to push the panic button, but it's Democrats doing the preemptive whining.

The 9-11 anniversary speech carried all the hallmarks of politics as honed and polished by President Bush in the 12 years he has held public office. The most important hallmark is a passive-aggressive strategy—to land a punch without looking like you’re in a fight. So Bush took the high road of patriotism, as he called for Democrats to stop opposing his policies in Iraq and elsewhere. “Winning this war will require the determined efforts of a unified country,” Bush said, “and we must put aside our differences and work together to meet the test that history has given us.”

And this is different from Harry Reid, how?

Nothing in his speech, and nothing outside it, suggests that President Bush is ready to meet his critics half-way in setting aside their differences.

Half way . . . should we pull back to Germany?

In the president’s view, the people playing politics—and dividing the nation—are those who oppose his approach. That may not be explicitly partisan politics, but it is political debate dressed up in patriotic clothes.

And this is different from Harry Reid, how? (Okay, I'm being disingenuous; everyone knows Harry Reid isn't sincere, while only Michael "Mad Cow" Moore doubts Bush's sincerity.)

Earlier in the speech, he was more explicit about the most important of those differences: about how to end the military operations in Iraq.

Bush’s rhetorical strategy is twofold: first, issue a statement of fact about your own position; second, caricature your opponents to look foolish. First the statement of fact: “We’re training Iraqi troops so they can defend their nation. We’re helping Iraq’s unity government grow in strength and serve its people. We will not leave until this work is done,” he explained.

And so on and so on. I'd like to see Newsweeks' careful parsing of Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham-How's-"Clinton"-polling-right-now. I'm sure it's in the archives.

Revealing truth

From MRC:

"Here in New Orleans tonight, the water that came through this neighborhood a year ago destroyed a lot. It exposed a lot, too, including, some say, the dicey issues of race and class in our country. Why didn’t certain people leave? Who did get out? Was any of this in any way intentional?"

When we're listing what it exposed, how about including, "If you live in a hole nine feet below sea level, you can expect to have nine feet of water in your house," and "If you live in stupid, unsustainable circumstances, don't expect the rest of th nation to pay for the cost of your risk-taking while giving you the benefits."

Nature: It's not just for Steve Irwin anymore

"Fish kills spear-fishing diver off Florida"

Grouper: It's good eatin'.

Let's Make Comparisons

I was listening to NPR yesterday. Some guy noted that polls show the West sees Muslims as violent while Muslims see the West as violent. He then started into some argument about how we're similar, though I didn't hear it all since I had to leave my car.

We all know there are similarities between different peoples--the Russians (and the Nazis) love their children, and all that. So what? The point is not that we see each other as violent, or even that we are violent. What counts is why we are violent, and what kind of violence we find acceptable.

When I got back in my car, someone was talking about Hugo Chavez. Chavez has made it clear you're either with his revolution or against it. As sure as night follows day, the woman who noted this then went on to talk about what President Bush said (or what she imagined he said) about terrorists. I changed stations. I can only listen to so many pointless comparisons in one day.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Year Ago Today...

...I wrote about September 11. I suppose it still applies.

Goofy

I don't care what they say, Pluto is a planet.

And while we're at it, tomatoes are vegetables.

Two Detroits

Congratulations to the Detroit Shock, champions of the WNBA. They were behind 1-0 and 2-1 in the 5-game series with Sacramento, but wouldn't say die. It's nice to know that when a women's team wins in Motown, no one burns anything down.

On the other hand, the Detroit Tigers, top club in major league baseball for most of the season, has been slumping for weeks. There are less than twenty games left, but at this rate, it's questionable they can hold on to their division lead. And since they have two teams beathing down their neck, the wild card slot is no guarantee either.

If you'd told me a year ago the Tigers would be in first at this late date, I would have celebrated. I'd have been happy for them to be over .500. But after a whole season on top, they better make the playoffs.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Damn

So the Buckeyes won. Great. We live less than a mile from the stadium, so now the parade of idiots will be twice as long as it would have been. Here's rooting for Indiana.

But what do you say, LAGuy? Any chance the A-squared Islamofascists can wipe that smirk off Touchdown Jesus? (I'd ask A2Guy, but he seems to have moved on to that granola Co-op in the sky.)

We Have A Winner

Here's a letter to the editor from one John Singh of Oakland. He is at great pains to separate bloggers from actual journalists. Apparently, we fall far short of the high standards found in that profession.

I have nothing to say except we might have found a replacement for Jonathan Klein's quote in the upper lefthand corner. But then we'd have to change our name from Pajama Guy to what...we've been Singhed? Singheads? Singhled Out!?

Ah, let's just keep it as it is.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

What A Guy

Brad Pitt became the hero of countless millions when he came up with a fairly original excuse for not tying the knot. He and Angelina won't get married, he explained, until homosexuals are allowed to marry, too. This gets him off the hook for the foreseeable future.

Some other ideas:

"I'd love to get married, honey, but I'm sort of on hold until this War on Terror thing is resolved."

"Sure we'll get married, but first I want to finish my research on curing the common cold."

"Let's get married, just as soon as we smash the patriarchy and its obsolete institutions."

Friday, September 08, 2006

That can't be good

Unanimously passed the senate? That's suspicious.

But, good. Let's see what they do know.

The Fall Of Hollywood

I recently saw a USA Today feature (which means it's on two pages) about the top ten films coming this fall. I always hope that's when they'll finally release the high-quality stuff. From the article, I don't expect much.

Here's the list:

1. Hollywoodland (opening today). Adrien Brody investigates the mysterious death of George Reeves, who played Superman on TV (I thought it was suicide). Reeves' life interests me, but a fake investigation of his death doesn't.

2. The Black Dahlia. Another mysterious real-life death in Hollywood. Brian De Palma can be an intriguing director, but I have no interest in this ancient (1947) case.

3. All The King's Men. I'm not the biggest fan of the original, but a modern remake, even with a good cast, sounds far worse.

4. The Departed. The latest from Martin Scorsese, whose best work seems years behind him. The cast attracts me, but early word is not great.

5. Flags Of Our Fathers. I usually don't like Clint Eastwood films anyway, and while WWII was the central event of the last century, it doesn't mean movies about it (that I already know the story of) are any good.

6. Marie Antoinette. Booed at Cannes, and I didn't even like Sofia Coppola's "good" film Lost In Translation.

7. Babel. The word is pretty good so I have some hope for this one (even if it's not in English).

8. A Good Year. A male Under The Tuscan Sun. No thanks.

9. Casino Royale. The Bond series is pretty tired. Perhaps Daniel Craig can re-animate it, but we don't even know if it'll be better than the first movie version.

10. Bobby. The assassination of Robert Kennedy. More boring politics, this time from director Emilio Estevez.

At least there'll be new Lost.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Dead Letter

I was just watching Casablanca. A great movie, but you already knew that.

One thing struck me. Plenty have noted how silly the "letters of transit" are, much less ones that can't even be questioned. Come on, if the Nazis wanted to stop Paul Henreid, would they really let a document stop them?

But another thing hit me. Ugarte (Peter Lorre) has had the letters of transit for a while. Then, for some reason, he asks Rick (Humphrey Bogart) to hold them. It's a necessary plot point, but why does Ugarte bother? It's not like he's worried he's being watched, since he has no plan when he's arrested soon after except to run away. Besides, he's going to make the transaction in only an hour or so when he gives the letters to Bogie.

PS Boy does Dooley Wilson do some of the worst fake piano playing I've ever seen.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

As a woman, I say this just isn't right

From a cruel (but presumably fair) review of debutante Katie Couric:

The real purpose of this report was to show off Lara Logan, the intensely telegenic reporter who serves as foreign correspondent. She went undercover in Afghanistan, much as Rather had done many many years ago. But as a woman, Logan said, her Taliban hosts "insisted I cover everything but my eyes."

So let's work that a bit: As a woman, Logan, who is indeed a woman, talked about her trip. As a woman, Logan talked about her checkbook.

I'm the first to admit women have distinctive views, and of course one of the underlying points of the paragraph is disparate treatment of women, but even so, I don't think it was the act of speaking that was meant to be identified as female.

So presumably it was her Taliban hosts who were acting as a woman. This is conceivable, since her hosts could have been women. But a group of them acting as a single woman? Intriguing, I admit, but that sort of thing seems more likely in New York than Afghanistan.

And isn't it more likely that it would be Afghan men than women insisting on the garb? Not exclusively, to be sure, but take the men away and I'm guessing the cloak goes soon after.

Of course none of this matters a whit. E.B. White's dead, and he didn't work in Washington anyway. Only one thing matters, baby, and it's the image:

It's Time

When it comes to elections, I always say don't panic--I don't even look at polls until after Labor Day. Well, Labor Day is over. If I were a Republican (and thank goodness I'm not), I'd say it's time to panic.

Unless there's an amazing turnaround, the only thing you can win is the game of expectations. The question worth asking now is will you keep control of the House and/or the Senate.

(That reminds me, the new season of House just started. If you're not already a fan, check it out.)

"A New Perspective" or "Old News"

(Or maybe "the cat's pajamas." Indecisiveness strikes a decisive blow.)

" . . . placing small electrodes on the surface of the eye then using an electric current to stimulate the retina . . . a video camera attached to a pair of glasses was used to pick up images and transfer them to the electrodes via a computer . . . the electrodes then stimulate the retina to send messages down the optic nerve to the visual area of the brain . . . it does not offer full sight [but] it could one day provide blind people with enough "functional vision" to negotiate their way across a room without bumping into objects."

and, "The researchers are also developing a second type of bionic eye that involves electrodes implanted directly onto the brain's visual area, meaning it could help patients whose optic nerve has been destroyed."

Of course, here's a 2001 blurb from the BBC (sorry-either I didn't save the picture or just don't know where to locate it at the moment):

These are the first pictures from an extraordinary experiment which has probed what it is like to look through the eyes of another creature.

As reported on BBC News Online last week, a team of US scientists have wired a computer to a cat's brain and created videos of what the animal was seeing.

By recording the electrical activity of nerve cells in the thalamus, a region of the brain that receives signals from the eyes, researchers from the University of California at Berkeley were able to view these shapes.

The team used what they describe as a "linear decoding technique" to convert the signals from the stimulated cells into visual images.

Dr Yang Dan, Assistant Professor of Neurobiology at UC Berkeley, Fei Li and Garrett Stanley, now Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Harvard University conducted 11 experiments.

They recorded the output from 177 brain cells that responded to light and dark in the cat's field of view.


A cat's-eye view of a woodland scene

In total, the 177 cells were sensitive to a field of view of 6.4 by 6.4 degrees. As the brain cells were stimulated, an image of what the cat saw was reconstructed.

The first example is a face. Although the reconstructed image is rather fuzzy, it is clearly recognisable as a version of the original scene. It is possible that a clearer image could be obtained by sampling the electrical output of more cells.

In the cat's brain, as in ours, the signals from the thalamus cells undergo considerable signal processing in the higher regions of the brain that improve the quality of the image that is perceived.

Taking an image from a region of the brain before this image enhancement has taken place will result in a poorer image than the cat is able to see.

The other two examples show two woodland scenes, with tree trunks being the most prominent objects.

By being able to tap directly into the brain and extract a visual image the researchers have produced a "brain interface" that may one day allow the control of artificial organs and indeed machines by thought alone. It is also conceivable that, given time, it will be possible to record what one person sees and "play it back" to someone else either as it is happening or at a later date.


A clearer image could be obtained by sampling more cells


Or how about, "I'd like a new keyboard, please."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Where the power is

Say, Mensa Kids! Can you pick the notable name from the following list?

"Plans for the opening week of CBS EVENING NEWS WITH KATIE COURIC have surpassed network executives' wildest dream: Presidents Bush and Clinton, radio king Rush Limbaugh and broadcast legend Walter Cronkite have all agreed to appear, a CBS insider reveals!"

No question, Limbaugh's being on this list says something big. I know, old news, but it still hasnt' been absorbed in Manhattan.

The really interesting question is, does Katie have a similar splash out there saying "Bush, Clinton, Cronkite and CHomksky"? If so she's got some serious game. She's Hillary Clinton in drag.

Gross Guesses

Summer's over so let's look back at some rash guesses regarding movie grosses. I get these courtesy of Gaucho.

Here's what Premiere magazine expected to finish on top:

1. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
2. Superman Returns
3. Cars
4. X-Men: The Last Stand
5. Mission Impossible III
6. Over the Hedge
7. The Da Vinci Code
8. Click
9. Miami Vice
10.You, Me and Dupree

Here are the best guesses of Entertainment Weekly:

1. Superman Returns
2. Mission Impossible III
3. X-Men: The Last Stand
4. Cars
5. The Da Vinci Code
6. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
7. Over the Hedge
8. Poseidon
9. The Break-Up
10. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Gaucho himself made a list:

1. Superman Returns
2. The Da Vinci Code
3. Cars
4. X-Men: The Last Stand
5. Over the Hedge
6. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
7. Mission Impossible III
8. Snakes on a Plane
9. Lady in the Water
10. Little Miss Sunshine

Here are the actual winners, with their grosses rounded to the nearest 5 million. (Some are still playing so I had to guess the final number).

1. Pirate Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest 420
2. Cars 245
3. X-Men: The Last Stand 235
4. The Da Vinci Code 220
5. Superman Returns 200
6. Over The Hedge 155
7. Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby 150
8. Click 135
9. Mission Impossible III 135
10. The Devil Wears Prada 125

For good measure, here are the next ten:

11. The Break-Up 120
12. Nacho Libre 80
13. You, Me And Dupree 75
14. World Trade Center 75
15. Monster House 75
16. Miami Vice 65
17. The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift 65
18. Poseidon 60
19. Little Man 60
20. The Omen 55

Of course, this is domestic gross. Some movies play better internationally (for instance, Tom Cruise films), and then there are DVDs and other markets, so these number represent far less than half the revenue stream. Still, they give a reasonable clue to the films' popularity.

The top grossers weren't that hard to guess, though their order was. Congrats to Premiere for getting the big one right. Pirates ruled this summer, almost doubling its closest competitor, but EW and Gaucho put it only sixth.

The always reliable Pixar, with their latest blockbuster, Cars, was second, which is pretty close to the guesses. The third X-Men film did quite well, finishing third, once again to no one's surprise. With a big star, director and novel, The Da Vinci Code was the last of the summer's 200 million+ blockbusters, and all three guessed it would do pretty well.

The ultra-expensive Superman Returns had very disappointing returns, not quite reaching the 200 million mark. A good sign of how disappointing this was is Premiere expected it to finish second while EW and Gaucho thought it'd be first.

Over The Hedge finished sixth, pretty much as all predicted. Then we get to seventh place, Talladega Nights. Perhaps questioning Will Ferrell's star power, the movie was passed over by Premiere and Gaucho. EW did let it slip in, but only in tenth place. A more reliable comedy name, Adam Sandler, had another hit with Click, finishing eighth for the summer. Premiere got it, but EW and Gaucho didn't see it.

The high-profile Tom Cruise sequel, Mission Impossible III, did a weak 135 million, finishing ninth. EW, overrating yet another film, expected it to finish second. Premiere, perhaps sensing Cruise's PR problems, still thought it would make fifth. Gaucho (having already seen its opening weekend) guessed a reasonably accurate seventh.

Every summer there's at least one sleeper, a film no one expects much of that becomes a solid hit. This summer, in tenth place, it was The Devil Wears Prada. Check the lists as much as you like, you won't find it.

The only other film topping the century mark was the Vince Vaughn/Jennifer Aniston hit The Break-Up, which EW picked for ninth.

What other guesses didn't make the top ten? Well, Premiere had Miami Vice and You, Me And Dupree, figuring they'd be ninth and tenth when in fact they finished sixteenth and thirteenth. EW thought the big-budget remake Poseidon would finish eighth. It only made eighteenth.

Gaucho's last three guesses, Snakes On A Plane, Lady In The Water and Little Miss Sunshine, were off. The first wasn't the hit the internet fever suggested. The second was the first flop for M. Night Shyamalan since he hit it big with The Sixth Sense. The last one is actually an inspired guess. It's still playing quite strongly and has a shot to make it up to around 70 million or so.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Laborious

In honor of Labor Day, I will not create a real post today.

Great moments in intellectual property

Ever since sometime between sixth and tenth grade, when I figured out that Bayer sells a product for twice the price as a competitor, but people buy it anyway, I've always bought the generic.

I buy in bulk, too, if you're interested. It bothers ColumbusGal when I bring home 40 rolls of tp, or a five-gallon bucket of ketchup. She says the house is too small, but since when can you have too much tp or ketchup?

So, anyway, speaking of bulk, a year or so ago my sister, WarsawGal, told me of these orange, chewable fiber tablets, Benefiber, because I was complaining about alternative products. But when I went to buy it, it was too expesive for me. Right next to it, though, was CVS's "Betterfiber, compare to Benefiber," etc.

Recently, though, I noticed that it's changed. It's now "Easyfiber, compare to Benefiber," etc.

I'm surprised that change was necessary, but maybe there's not enough profit in fiber-carrying knockoffs to fight it out in court. Or maybe they lost because they had to leave suddenly.

LAGuy adds belatedly: I have a rule about TP. If there's any question at all, buy it. You can't have too much, but you sure can have too little. On the other hand, it's easy to have too much ketchup.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Talking dirty

This beautiful chick is talking some smack:

"In a time when pantywaists like the UN try to say that self-defense is not a human right, it is refreshing to see that TV shows like Crime Strike realize that self-defense is the ultimate human right."

Hat tip His Virtualness. I think he's boinking her. I hope so, anyway.

Our Miss Brooks

I've never thought much of Rosa Brooks's columns in the LA Times, but she really outdid herself this time:

Criticize Israel? You're an Anti-Semite! by Rosa Brooks

This is the internet headline. In the Times it was "On Israel, kid gloves--or else."

EVER WONDER what it's like to be a pariah?

Not really, but if I did, I'd probably imagine what it's like to live in Israel, where my neighbors want to wipe me out yet the world turns its back.

Publish something sharply critical of Israeli government policies and you'll find out. If you're lucky, you'll merely discover that you've been uninvited to some dinner parties. If you're less lucky, you'll be the subject of an all-out attack by neoconservative pundits and accused of rabid anti-Semitism.

In other words, if you criticize Israel harshly, you might be criticized back.

And what's this with the neocons? Brooks knows (presumably to her chagrin) that Israel has widespread support in the U.S., only a small bit of which comes from neocons.

This, at least, is what happened to Ken Roth. Roth — whose father fled Nazi Germany

Unless she thinks this gives Roth an automatic pass, why bother to bring it up.

— is executive director of Human Rights Watch, America's largest and most respected human rights organization.

Reading this, you'd have no idea that HRW and Roth have for years been criticized by (non-neocon) Jewish groups and others of having anti-Israel bias.

By the way, does she have any evidence to back up the "most respected" claim?

(Disclosure: I have worked in the past as a paid consultant for thie group.)

No comment.

In July, after the Israeli offensive in Lebanon began, Human Rights Watch did the same thing it has done in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia, East Timor, Sierra Leone, Congo, Uganda and countless other conflict zones around the globe: It sent researchers to monitor the conflict and report on any abuses committed by either side.

The background info's irrelevant. The question at hand is simply do they report on Israel fairly.

It found plenty. On July 18, Human Rights Watch condemned Hezbollah rocket strikes on civilian areas within Israel, calling the strikes "serious violations of international humanitarian law and probable war crimes." So far, so good. You can't lose when you criticize a terrorist organization.

Sure you can, so buck up. You get told "it's America's fault" or "they're representing their people" or "they have no other choice." And you sure hear Israel blamed for the terror inflicted upon it. In fact, I bet Brooks won't be able to hold it in for a whole column.

But Roth and Human Rights Watch didn't stop there. As the conflict's death toll spiraled — with most of the casualties Lebanese civilians

Anyone who reads the papers is aware that most of the deaths were on Lebanon's side. This tells us little or nothing about human rights violations and who's at fault.

— Human Rights Watch also criticized Israel for indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

"Indiscriminate." So according to HRW, Israel just bombed without giving a hoot what they were bombing. Military target, not a military target--who cares, let's have some fun.

Roth noted that the Israeli military appeared to be "treating southern Lebanon as a free-fire zone,"

I'm a bit surprised Brooks mentions this, since it makes Roth look pretty extreme. Certainly one can criticize the way Israel ran the war, but claiming they weren't going after a specific enemy doesn't make much sense.

and he observed that the failure to take appropriate measures to distinguish between civilians and combatants constitutes a war crime.

If Israel as its policy wasn't going after specific combatant targets, why did it bother to warn civilians when it was about to attack (while Hezbollah hid among these civilians)?

By the way, note that Israel going after enemies is a "war crime," while Hezbollah intentionally targeting civilians is only a "probable war crime."

The backlash was prompt.

If by backlash you mean people having the nerve to disagree.

Roth and Human Rights Watch soon found themselves accused of unethical behavior, giving aid and comfort to terrorists and anti-Semitism.

Once again, this didn't come out of the blue. Critics have spotted similiar behavior many times before.

And it should go without saying that this report was music to the ears of terrorists and anti-Semites. Brooks shouldn't deny it, she should claim it's still worth it.

The conservative New York Sun attacked Roth (who is Jewish)

You know, I kind of figured that already.

for having a "clear pro-Hezbollah and anti-Israel bias" and accused him of engaging in "the de-legitimization of Judaism, the basis of much anti-Semitism." Neocon commentator David Horowitz called Roth a "reflexive Israel-basher … who, in his zest to pillory Israel at every turn, is little more than an ally of the barbarians." The New Republic piled on, as did Alan Dershowitz, who claimed Human Rights Watch "cooks the books" to make Israel look bad. And writing in the Jewish Exponent, Jonathan Rosenblum accused Roth of resorting to a "slur about primitive Jewish bloodlust."

I don't know about the other pieces, but I did read TNR and Dershowitz, who both made some good points. We're not talking about baseless accusations, but arguments explaining why Roth's methodology and analysis are seriously flawed. It would be nice if Brooks tried to meet their arguments rather than dismiss them as name-calling.

By the way, you told us the New York Sun is conservative, and David Horowitz is a neocon--how come you didn't tell us what Alan Dershowitz is?

Anyone familiar with Human Rights Watch — or with Roth — knows this to be lunacy.

Maybe paid consultants know. I doubt everyone else does.

Human Rights Watch is nonpartisan — it doesn't "take sides" in conflicts.

This is the issue in dispute. I think you need a little more than mere assertion to win the day.

And the notion that Roth is anti-Semitic verges on the insane.

Insane or not, I don't see anything in the quotes above directly calling him an anti-Semite. They claim he's anti-Israel (and I know you don't think that's the same thing) and spreading nonsense and/or lies that please anti-Semites.

But what's most troubling about the vitriol directed at Roth and his organization isn't that it's savage, unfounded and fantastical.

Hey, we agree on something.

What's most troubling is that it's typical. Typical, that is, of what anyone rash enough to criticize Israel can expect to encounter.

Yes, everyone's so frightened of criticizing Israel. This would explain why it's the most criticized country in the history of the world.

In the United States today,

I have no trouble finding criticism of Israel in the U. S. (If you want some URLs I'll be glad to supply them.) Still, Brooks is wise to limit her argument to the U.S.--in other countries, it's common to blame the world's only Jewish state for practically anything.

So American's out of step with everyone else. Could the whole world be wrong about the Jews? Hmm, when's the last time that happened? Oh yeah--always.

it just isn't possible to have a civil debate about Israel, because any serious criticism of its policies is instantly countered with charges of anti-Semitism.

I don't know what she's been reading, but I saw civil debate. One of the things that made it civil was those criticizing Israel didn't make cheap accusations based on flimsy evidence.

Think Israel's tactics against Hezbollah were too heavy-handed, or that Israel hasn't always been wholly fair to the Palestinians,

This is not the problem. The problem is with those (and they're legion) who say Israel's actions to defend itself are always heavy-handed and that they've always been unfair to the Palestinians. Worse, many find moral equivalency between a democracy that would like peace and a terrorist organization explicitly devoted to genocide.

or that the United States should reconsider its unquestioning financial and military support for Israel?

Unquestioning? It may be popular (it should be popular) but it's easy enough to find people who question it.

Shhh: Don't voice those sentiments unless you want to be called an anti-Semite — and probably a terrorist sympathizer to boot.

Because Brooks is the one who gets to decide who's a bigot, and don't you forget it.

How did adopting a reflexively pro-Israel stance come to be a mandatory aspect of American Jewish identity?

So we are talking about the Jews! I thought we were just talking about Americans.

Skepticism — a willingness to ask tough questions, a refusal to embrace dogma — has always been central to the Jewish intellectual tradition.

Not that it matters, but American Jews are less likely to support Israel's policies than many other denominations in this country.

Ironically, this tradition remains alive in Israel, where respected public figures routinely criticize the government in far harsher terms than those used by Human Rights Watch.

Would that all countries were as good at self-criticism.

In a climate in which good-faith criticism

Good faith in this context is meaningless. Even a Holocaust denier can have good faith.

of Israel is automatically denounced as anti-Semitic,

I'd certainly oppose this if it ever happened. Do you have any examples?

everyone loses.

Israeli policies are a major source of discord in the Islamic world,

What did I tell you? Israel's fault.

and anger at Israel usually spills over into anger at the U.S., Israel's biggest backer.

So when groups act out on their rage, even if they blame the wrong people, we should appease them rather than oppose them?

With resentment of Israeli policies fueling terrorism and instability both in the Middle East and around the globe,

Darn it, if Israel would just stop insulting its neighbors by existing, we could have peace in the world.

it's past time for Americans to have a serious national debate about how to bring a just peace to the Middle East.

We already know how. Israel's opponents have to give up their insane, self-defeating racist hatred. Once that happens, there'll be peace. Before that happens, I don't see any solution.

But if criticism of Israel is out of bounds, that debate can't occur — and we'll all pay the price.

And whose fault will that be? Of course, Israel's. And us for backing them. Couldn't be anyone else's.

Back to Human Rights Watch's critics. Why waste time denouncing imaginary anti-Semitism when there's no shortage of the real thing?

I don't think anyone denies there's a shortage. In fact, it's the main reason Israel has to work so hard to defend itself.

From politically motivated arrests of Jews in Iran to assaults on Jewish children in Ukraine, there's plenty of genuine anti-Semitism out there — and Human Rights Watch is usually taking the lead in condemning it.

Except when they're making it easier for Jew-haters to do their job.

So if you're bothered by anti-Semitism — if you're bothered by ideologies that insist that some human lives have less value than others

Any particular ideologies you'd like to mention?

— you could do a whole lot worse than send a check to Human Rights Watch.

Or you could contribute to the Mel Gibson Defense Fund.

Well, that's it. Perhaps I was a bit harsh. No doubt if Rosa Brooks reads this it'll be more evidence we can't have a serious discussion.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

MTV Math

I didn't expect much from the MTV Video Music Awards, and my expectations were met. I think the low point was when Al Gore came out and actually lectured the audience. That's Entertainment!

At one point* he said MTV polls showed how important viewers thought the environment was--and the audience cheered. So they were cheering their awareness?

He then repeated the line he can't know for sure--that we must act soon. Perhaps we can wait a while. Perhaps it's too late. Perhaps there's nothing we can do. Perhaps nothing need be done. Perhaps there's no good move to make at present. We just don't know.

Weirder still was Queen Latifah's introduction for Gore. She noted it took 10,000 generations to get to one billion humans and only a few more to get to six billion (soon nine billion). What's your point, Queen? The reason it took us so long to get to a billion is nature used to be far more dangerous to humans, but with a lot of work we were able to tame it enough to make the world house and feed billions better than it did the smaller populations of earlier eras. This is a good thing.

It's not as if those 10,000 generations were trying to live in balance with nature. Rather, nature was slapping them down. Their lack of control over the environment made life hard. If they knew what we know, they could have gone from ten to ten billion in a hundred generations.

*All discussion of the show is based on personal recollection.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Glenn Ford

I sometimes give tributes to the recently departed, but Glenn Ford just died and I have to admit I'm perplexed. I didn't hate him, but this guy was one of Hollywood's biggest stars in the 50s and I just don't get it. He was a competent actor, but where's the charisma, where are the acting chops?

He made almost 90 films, I've seen about 20. I recently saw Texas (1941) that starred a very young Ford and William Holden. You can glimpse what Holden will become, but Ford doesn't seem much of a presence. His first major movie is Gilda (1946), and it made him a box office attraction, but the film really belongs to Rita Hayworth's.

Probably his best work is in The Big Heat (1953). While Glenn Ford is not the first name you think of when you think film noir, this Fritz Lang film is still one of the best of the genre. Its violence is still pretty shocking.

He's also well-known for The Blackboard Jungle (1955), and it's actually a pretty rough film, with Ford trying to teach all those teenage hoodlums. Still, it's mostly remembered as the film that introduced "Rock Around The Clock."

He did Ransom! in 1956 (later remade starring Mel Gibson), which isn't bad. He also made some decent Westerns. I like The Fastest Gun Alive (1956) (he reportedly had the fastest draw in Hollywood) and the generically-named Cowboy (1958), which is most memorable for Jack Lemmon's peformance.

The Teahouse Of The August Moon (1956), a not-completely-successful adaptation of the hit Broadway comedy, is charming, and Ford more than holds his own with Marlon Brando. Not so successful is Frank Capra's last film, a remake of his much better Lady For A Day (1933), Pocketful Of Miracles (1961), co-starring Bette Davis. (Capra writes in his autobiography--not that it should be taken at face value--that one of the reasons he left directing was the stars seemed to be running the show.) Better, but no classic, is The Courtship Of Eddie's Father (1963), with a young Ron Howard and Jerry Van Dyke as comic relief.

As he got older, he didn't get as many lead roles, and started working in television. The most notable film of his later years is Superman (1978) where he played Pa Kent.

Ford may not be remembered like Gary Cooper or Humphrey Bogart or Cary Grant, but he'll be remembered.

web page hit counter