Sunday, September 30, 2007

Those eyes, those deep beautiful eyes

Voters "saw something different in Ronald Reagan's eyes than they saw in Jimmy Carter's eyes," the ex-mayor told a cheering crowd of 3,000 members of the National Federation of Republican Women yesterday.

Blecch. How about a policy? Are we suing gun-based businesses this week or are we celebrating the Second Amendment? (I think I see the answer in his eyes: both.)

Time To Close It Down

The latest nominees for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame include Madonna, The Beastie Boys, John Mellencamp and Donna Summer.

No Surprise

In a day of upsets, the unranked Wolverines took care of the even worse Wildcats. The game was way too close--in fact, at halftime, things looked dire. At least Michigan gets a breather next week against EMU before the bell starts to toll.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

I Don't Recall Anyone Asking

"Gingrich Says No to White House Bid."

3 - 2

Okay, it's the fifth game of the season, against a weak (as usual) Northwestern team. Time for the Wolverines to get a winning percentage.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Sounds like a job for Law and Economics

Norwegian experts found cancer patients were no more likely to get divorced than people without cancer, except for those with cervical and testicular cancer. ... the study showed women with cervical cancer had a 40 percent higher chance of getting divorced than other women. Men with testicular cancer were 20 percent more likely to get divorced than similar men without cancer.

Let's Get This Straight

Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs was, I believe, the first to uncover Dan Rather's fraudulent documents. (If not the first, he certainly did it early, and definitively.)

It's a sign of how politics drives people insane that there's still debate on the topic. A side-insanity issue deals with those who admit they're fake but insist the scandal was orchestrated by the right.

Sidney Blumenthal recently made this accusation, claiming Johnson-types got their marching orders from Karl Rove.

Here's Roger L Simon on the topic:
I noticed today via LGF [Johnson's site] that Sidney Blumenthal is inadvertently taking off after Charles Johnson. I say inadvertently, because I doubt even Sidney is so ideologically straight-jacketed to think that Charles works with Karl Rove.
So why am I bringing this whole silly thing up? Because it's spelled "straitjacket" and I'm tired of seeing "straightjacket."

I realize the latter is so popular it's now accepted, but think about this for a second. Is there anything "straight" about this jacket? No, it's tight, narrow, like a strait. If you ever have any trouble remembering, just recall the one in the jacket is in desperate straits.

Four more years! Four more years!

"she has got no business being asked to speak for me in a presidential debate just like I don't try to speak for her unless I know what her position is."

Oh, give me some of that old time religion. He could have stopped at "for her," and the nonsense would have been just as complete, but he had to keep going, didn't he? "Unless I know what her position is," indeed. Goodness, he doesn't even know what is is, so why get him started on the epistemological journey beginning at "unless"?

Plus this nice little footnote:

"When you have such a substantial lead and so much credibility, you can afford to lay back."

Credibility? She may well be president, but she'll always be a punchline.


Finally, something important. In the midst of so much pointless debate these days, here's one that counts--Star Wars On Trial. In this book, they discuss eight issues:

1. The Politics of Star Wars Are Anti-Democratic and Elitist.

2. While Claiming Mythic Significance, Star Wars Portrays No Admirable Religious or Ethical Beliefs.

3. Star Wars Novels Are Poor Substitutes for Real Science Fiction and Are Driving Real SF off the Shelves.

4. Science Fiction Filmmaking Has Been Reduced by Star Wars to Poorly Written Special Effects Extravaganzas.

5. Star Wars Has Dumbed Down the Perception of Science Fiction in the Popular Imagination.

6. Star Wars Pretends to Be Science Fiction, but Is Really Fantasy.

7. Women in Star Wars Are Portrayed as Fundamentally Weak.

8. The Plot Holes and Logical Gaps in Star Wars Make It Ill-Suited for an Intelligent Viewer.

My peremptory conclusions:

1. True. Lucas makes feints toward democracy, but his heart isn't in it. And while we're at it, the Federation is a military operation.

2. False. The Force can be used for good and bad, and the good side (ignoring Lucas's cheap shot at Bush in Star Wars III) is pretty easy to spot, and generally aligns with what we'd call religious virtues.

3. Haven't read the novels, though I assume they're not great SF. On the other hand, I doubt they're what's responsible for other SF not selling well--if anything, they've opened up the market.

4. False. First, there's a lot more SF because of Star Wars, good and bad. Second, there'd be a bunch of FX extravaganzas no matter what--Star Wars moved them in the direction of SF. Third, most of the "thoughtful" SF before Star Wars isn't that great.

5. False. Star Wars took an ill-respected cubbyhole packed with nerds and turned it into a popular universe packed with nerds.

6. False. The division between fantasy and SF has always been a bit overblown anyway, but as far as I'm concerned, it's got the hardware, and no elves, so that's good enough.

7. False. Women in Star Wars, like women at Star Wars conventions, are lonely, not weak. Sure, they tend to be damsels in distress, and the Jedi seem to be a patriarchy (Leia's alleged powers notwithstanding), but the women are still pretty tough.

8. False. Sure, there are plot holes, and a lot of Star Wars was jury-rigged. But when you're creating an entire new world, you're gonna have some parts that stick out.

I hope that settles things. But if not, please let me hear what you have to say.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


I just want to say that whenever I find myself in legal trouble in Maine, I always choose the firm of Brann & Isaacson to deal with my problems.

Pathetic Coincidence

Like many, I check my watch during movies. The later in the film I check, the better it is.

Anyway, I was recently at a matinee of 3:10 To Yuma. When I checked, I noticed it was 3:10.

Inside Inside

I just watched the 2005 documentary Inside Deep Throat. I feared it would be cheap and exploitative (you know, like its subject), so I was surprised at how well done it was. It's both a behind-the-scenes look at how the most famous porn film ever was made, and a fair-minded report on the controversy surrounding it.

One slight problem. Early on, a graphic claims the film cost $25,000 and grossed $600 million. The latter number is absurd. (The former sounds right on.) The film did extremely well, no question, but I would be shocked if it made more than one-tenth what they claim. Even taking inflation into account the number is still sky high.

PS I happen to know one of the producers of the documentary, but I wasn't aware of it until I saw the credits.

"Everyone thinks they have something to say, until they're put on stage and asked to say it."


UPDATE: Well, Hell's bells. Anonymous points out I forgot to title the thing. Now I can't without airbrushing. What a conundrum. Plus, there's actually a link in the title, but no title. Oy vey. (A little neoconservative lingo, there.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Deep thoughts from Dick Cheney

"I think we’ll increasingly see a lot of emphasis on deciding who the next occupant of the Oval Office is going to be.”

At least he knows he was lucky to get two terms.

One Word, One Hour, One Missing

The new TV season has started. On Monday I watch Heroes, on Tuesday House. But somehow, without Lost on Wednesday, there's a hole in the schedule.

My TV week used to be built around Wednesday. Now, instead of a peak, there's a svacka (it's Swedish, look it up).

Heroes And Villains

In Slate, Jessica Winter seems surprised that Gordon Gekko, the villain of the movie Wall Street, has turned into a folk hero. But that's how the movie is designed.

The Charlie Sheen character, a young go-getter whom we're supposed to identify with, is fairly dull. Even duller is his kindly father, a union leader played by Martin Sheen. Duller still is the Hal Holbrook character, a long-winded Wall Street oldtimer who's supposed to represent how good and honest things use to be.

Amidst all this boredom, Gekko stands out--as Hollywood recognized 20 years ago when it gave Michael Douglas an Oscar for the role. He's exciting, he's charismatic, and he's unashamed. That Gekko is also a crook just shows the lack of imagination in the screenplay, where they can't figure out a story about high finance or big business unless someone is breaking the law.

Going For Broke

David Brooks has a piece that's pretty much the conservative conventional wisdom on the netroots. That they make a lot of noise, but smart Democrats (like Hillary) know they won't win if they try too much to appeal to them. He even goes further and says their candidates lose and they can't get their policies through.

He believes national conservatives can essentially win as conservatives, but the Dem formula for success: "You have to be moderate on social issues, activist but not statist on domestic issues and hawkish on foreign policy."

Well, maybe. But maybe it's whistling past the graveyard. Sure, Brooks has seen this phenomenon before (Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern) in the days before the internet. But as they say, past performance is no guarantee of future results. Times changes, demographics change, ideas change. A bit over 20 years ago, Reagan could win with 59% of the vote, taking almost every state. Now it's hard enough for any candidate to get a majority.

What are the odds a conservative Republican today could take New York, or New Jersy, or former Republican stronghold California? Republicans count on the South and much of the West. Democrats count on California and the Northeast, and both fight over the Midwest--it's a delicate balance, very different from how things shook out 40 years ago.

When the Presidential race gets down to business, it's one personality against another, and anything can happen. Do I want to have a better chance of winning with a candidate who gives me some of what I want, or a somewhat worse chance with a candidate who gives me almost everything. If I were a member of the far left, why not go for broke?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Here, Here, Heroes

After a disappointing finale last year, I'd say Tim Kring's Heroes had a fairly promising second season debut. It's going off in a lot of new directions, and has added some new characters (while the old ones who might have died all survived), which can be tricky, but so far the new plots look intriguing. We'll see if it's going anyplace, but until then, getting there is the fun part.

Not Much Of A Secret

"Podhoretz secretly urged Bush to bomb Iran. "

Sort of the same concept as Larry David's "The Anonymous Donor."

The New Phone Book's Here! The New Phone Book's Here!

I just got my new phone books. I brought them in and threw out the old pile of phone books, which I'd never used.

With the internet, phone books seem obsolete.

Free And Easy As Pie

A few weeks ago my friend Jesse Walker had a short review of Free And Easy, the first sound film Buster Keatond starred in. For a while I've been thinking of writing on how each of the big three (Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd) dealt with sound, and some day I may get around to it.

Anyway, I finally saw Hollywood Cavalcade, a rather ridiculous 1939 Fox film starring Don Ameche and Alice Faye (whose charms I must be missing) that purports to be about the silent days. If it's remembered at all, it's for the bits with Buster Keaton (along with some other silent comedians), who is essentially playing himself, reenacting old comedy scenes.

Except he's portrayed as a great pie-thrower (in fact, the films seems to say he invented pie-throwing, and by mistake), which was not really his style. Some have been offended--the film implies he was just another silly slapstick comedian.

But I'd guess he was happy to play the role. For one thing, it was better than what he was generally being offered at the time. Second, he's allowed to do a lot of physical comedy, and while it doesn't compare to his earlier work--and I'm sure he wasn't given free rein--there are still some nice moments.

And it's worth remembering, Keaton was always willing to try new things. Take Sherlock Jr. To my knowledge, Keaton had never played pool on-screen, or even much in real life. But because it fit the story, he became an expert, performing trick shots that are still hard to believe. If he had ever felt the need to throw pies in one of his films, not only would he have done it, but would have probably done it better than anyone else.

Monday, September 24, 2007

S. A. Essay

I've never felt strongly about Scott Adams since I never followed Dilbert. But after reading this rant at his website, I now think he's amazingly--perhaps wilfully--ill-informed, and also a huge jerk.

Why Not Do It For Free?

There's been some controversy over how The New York Times published's anti-Petraeus ad at a cut rate. Some even claim heavy discounts for one political side breaks campaign finance laws.

Who cares? Newspapers are exempt from campaign finance rules because if they weren't it would make the destruction of First Amendment rights too obvious. The Times, if it wishes, can make every page, every day, nothing but anti-Petraeus editorials. It's silly that it can't decide for its own purposes how much political speech to allow other groups that it agrees or disagrees with.

Vote Early And Often

Three cheers for the Florida Dems deciding to hold an early primary despite threats from the National Committee. The DNC has been way too uppity of late--their job is to serve, not control. It's time someone gave them the finger. A state primary should be the state's business--how much they want to coordinate with others is up to them.

The whole primary system is structured stupidly anyway. Anyone opposed to business as usual gets my vote.

Future Events Such As These Will Affect You In The Future

A number of essayists have noted our lives don't look like Stanley Kubrick predicted, or The Jetsons. In a Reason piece, Katherine Mangu-Ward adds her name to the list. (She's actually commenting on Daniel Wilson's Where's My Jetpack?.)

Her main point is the reason jetpacks and underwater homes aren't common is that we didn't really want them.

This is true as far as it goes. The evolution or our lifestyles in a free market is largely determined by what we really want, not what inventors think we want. But there's a second factor just as important--feasibility.

While some items work even better than many sci-fi authors predicted--computers are perhaps the best example--lots of other wishes just have too many physical limitations built in.

Take space travel, the bread and butter of futurists. Human travel to other planets, not to mention other stars, takes mind-bogglingly large amounts of time and money and so simply ain't happening with present-day technology; furthermore, there may be insuperable barriers (where are those wormholes?) to significant advances in the future. I don't think we're not stepping on other planets because we don't want to--if it were feasible, we'd be doing it now.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Marcel Marceau, RIP

But we'd draw the line at Condoleezza Rice

Sure we'd invite Hitler to speak, says Columbia dean.

And don't get me started on Rummy.

(Apologies to QG, who's engaged in some private blogging among Turing Friends. Or should that be "other Turing Friends"?)

Michigan 2.0

The team that beat Penn State seems to be a different one from the team that lost its first two games this season. Notre Dame is such a sorry squad that I wasn't sure, but Penn State was ranked #10. Sure, there were lots of iffy things about the team--the QB is still pretty green, the offense relied on Hart too much, the kicking is still from hunger--but overall, the 14-9 victory was pretty convincing.

Michigan deserves to be a top 25 team, and if they win the rest of their games (doubtful) they should finish in the top ten. At least it looks like Carr will have a winning seasons--I wouldn't have bet on that before this weekend.

Ohio State now looks like the team to beat in the Big Ten. I only hope when the Wolverines face the Buckeyes the game matters on both sides.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Day Of Atonement

Today, millions of Jews around the world are asking for forgiveness. And if Michigan can beat Penn State today, I'm sure millions of Wolverine fans will forgive their team for the worst start in two generations.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A True VIP

I regularly check out Virginia Postrel's blog. I was reading some stuff on TV replacements for swear words (one of my personal favorites is Robert Preston in Semi-Tough telling the Lord he's been a bad boy, and "now you're gonna thwart me") when I ran across her most recent post. She reveals she has breast cancer.

Virginia is at the top of the list of the best people I know. It's rare to find so many good qualities in one person. It's both a pleasure and honor to be her friend.

Anyway, she says the prognosis is good, and that's nice to hear. I only hope she knows how many people are wishing her good luck right now.


Now Rudy wants to sink the Second AND the First amendments.

"Your papers, please"

I feel strongly about not showing a security guard my receipt when leaving a store. Not sure why; it just strikes a nerve. I therefore try to avoid shopping at stores that participate in this obnoxious practice, such as BestBuy, and refuse to sign up for a membership at any "big box" store that would require me to accede to the practice. But in some cases a near-monopoly situation doesn't leave me much choice, e.g. ToysRUs and Home Depot. In such cases, if I'm alone and they ask for my receipt, I just say "no," and keep walking. Nobody has ever detained me. When I'm with someone else, I suck it up for the sake of politeness and show the receipt.

Well, here's the resolution of a case where such a refusal escalated just a bit. I wonder whether I would similarly stand on my principles with the police by refusing to provide ID. Honestly it might just depend on my state of mind from the initial situation and/or how the officer asked.

Where's the Great Taranto when you need him?

"HPV Vaccine More Effective Than Thought"

I don't know. Thought is pretty darned effective. Er, sometimes, at least.

The Promised Land

"Like Moses, I get to see the Promised Land, but I don't get to step foot in it," Dr. Pausch said. "That's OK. I will live on in Alice."

"I will live on" indeed. Quite a touching story, but at least he gets out alive.

Careful what you ask for

I think this is right. For the first time, the Supreme Court is likely to rule that there is such a thing as a "collective right." Sure there is. When George Bush publishes a newspaper, that satisfies my right to speak. So long as Cass Sunstein's strictures on process are observed, that is. We do require that there be Justice, after all.

Bah. The Soviet Union didn't die; it just moved.

Civics Quiz

Here's an interesting civics quiz you can take online. 60 multiple choice questions testing your basic civic literacy.

Word is that most college seniors actually get failing grades, but I have no doubt anyone intelligent enough to read Pajama Guy will pass with flying colors.

The Acting Senator

Fred Thompson may be the best known actor/Senator. But I have to admit I was impressed with Barbara Boxer in a short scene in Curb Your Enthusiasm. She wasn't just playing herself, she also fit into the plot with a riff on dry cleaning. Okay, she shouldn't quit her day job, but when non-actors appear in shows, I usually fear the worst, but it wasn't bad.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

It's All Jake

Here's an interesting reminiscence on Shakey Jake. Please check out the link to the aural report on Jake that was done on NPR.

Enjoy The Lovely Foliage While You're Blowing Up Civilians

"US touts fall in Baghdad Attacks"

from the BBC

I'm Done, Now You Can Leave A Comment

Here's an interesting headline about Taser Boy: "Stun-gun video fuels debate on free speech vs. public order."

Excuse me, but where's the conflict? Even if Andrew Meyer thought he was asking a serious question, and wasn't a prankster intending to get a tape of what happens after he disrupts Senator Kerry's forum, I'm not seeing the dichotomy.

Anyone who tries to hijack such an event isn't on the side of free speech or public order.

On The Balance

I've spoken to Cass Sunstein about his theories on the "balance" of the Supreme Court, but I don't recall if I've blogged about it. I was thinking of doing just that, but I see someone beat me to it.

And They All Sound Just The Same

Showtime's sitcom Weeds has a gimmick--each episode starts with a different artist performing the theme song, Malvina Reynolds' 1962 comment on conformity, "Little Boxes." Elvis Costello, Randy Newman, Dave Matthews, Engelbert Humperdinck, Billy Bob Thornton--there have been some pretty big names.

But none of them can change the fact it's a sour little condescending song that doesn't even fit the show that well.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Happy Talk Like A Pirate Day.

Playing The Palace

I don't have much to say about this latest OJ ruckus, but I do have a question. Anyone who's been to Vegas knows all the snazzy places are along the Strip. Then there's downtown on Fremont. What was OJ doing hanging out at a declasse off-Strip joint like Palace Station?

Goodbye, Shakey

Like any college town, Ann Arbor has had several well-known characters, but none more ubiquitous than Shakey Jake. He could be found on the street corner (you never knew which), wearing a three-piece suit and sunglasses, holding a guitar, watching the students walk by, offering commentary on the world in general.

Other such characters I knew about when in college (Doctor Diag, Stan the Mumbler) didn't last long, but Shakey was always in town when I returned. He looked like an old blues artist, and I guess he was, but really his profession for the last few decades was being the town eccentric.

A friend just emailed me Shakey Jake's obit. Turns out he was 82 (he seemed ageless) and enjoyed the charity of many local merchants. In any case, here's to you, Shakey. It takes characters to give a town character, and you filled your position honorably.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind

The New York Times will stop charging for access to parts of its Web site, effective at midnight Tuesday night, reflecting a growing view in the industry that subscription fees cannot outweigh the potential ad revenue from increased traffic on a free site.

As has been obvious from the start (I'd link to what I wrote back then if I could find it), the firewall put up by the TimeSelect program, blocking its opinion writers from view, is a disaster. The thing the Times provides that has real value--you know, news--has been free. But the thing that can be gotten a thousand times over elsewhere on the internet they decided to hide.

Even before the Times blocked its editorials from site, their stable of writers had seemed more one-sided and shrill than ever, but I'd still check in occasionally. Once TimeSelect started, I realized I could get along quite well without them. Now that I'm in the habit, I'm not sure I'll ever return.

No Experience Required

Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney make a big deal about how they ran things--a city, a state, a business--while their main Dem opponents never ran anything or met a payroll in their lives. Does this really matter? When it comes to hiring a CEO I would care a lot of about experience, but the Presidency is more about politics. I'm not sure exactly how experience will help you that much once in office--the key is what will you do, not how you do it. I'm not saying it doesn't matter, since you aren't a dictator and have to work with others (as Senators do)--I'm just saying there's only so much you can guess about the success of your management based on past experience, since the job is unique.

Yet, this is an issue that a lot of people seem to care about. They ask does Barack Obama have enough experience? (For some reason, rather than saying he has good ideas, a common defense to this is "did Bush?" Well, yes--for six years he was a highly popular and effective governor of a state that's bigger, richer and more populous than most countries. Meanwhile, a couple years ago, Obama was a state senator.)

All I can say is experience is overrated, and should only be used as a tie-breaker, if then.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Emmy Fever

The Emmys are still a joke, but there were some interesting nominess this year. Did they win?

Well, I can't complain about The Sopranos or 30 Rock winning the big awards. The Sopranos was more than just a sentimental favorite--David Chase ended the series was some powerful (and not too sentimental) episodes. And while this isn't the golden age of TV comedy, 30 Rock is a lot of fun. (Who would have thought a year ago no one would even remember Studio 60 while 30 Rock would be winning awards?)

For some reason The Amazing Race keeps winning the reality TV Emmy. I don't care about this category, but this is another reason why they should adopt my rule--once a show, or even an actor in one role, gets an Emmy, that's it--give it to something or someone else next year.

An even better example is James Spader. Obviously the Emmy people love him, because he keeps winning best actor in a drama. But he doesn't deserve it over James Gandolfini (whose loss was the shocker of the night) and it's time Hugh Laurie was recognized for House. Okay, we get the idea, you (over)like Spader. Time to Move On.

Ricky Gervais was fine on Extras but probably didn't deserve best actor in a comedy series. It might be his snob appeal. Are they having a laugh? (Was hoping for Alec Baldwin. Did bad publicity hurt him?)

Sally Field winning for drama? I've only seen her show a couple of times, but she's won Oscars, and since the TV people love to give movie stars Emmys, that might explain it. I've only seen Ugly Betty a couple of times as well, and I'm not sure if America Ferrara deserved her Emmy, but I can't get too worked up about it.

It was in the supporting categories that they made some great choices. Can't argue with Jeremy Piven from Entourage, though it was just as much Johnny Drama's year. And Katherine Heigl for Grey's Anatomy? Fine.

But much better, they recognized the amazing job Jaime Pressly does on My Name Is Earl. And finally, finally, an actor on Lost (which wasn't even nominated for best drama) won an Emmy. It was the best character too--Terry O'Quinn as Locke--even though there was fear he'd split the vote with Michael Emerson who plays Ben. This alone made the night worthwhile.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Who Cares? Part II

Well, it's nice to see that Michigan is no longer the biggest joke in college football.

I'd like to see Appalachian State take on Notre Dame.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Who Cares?

Incredible. Who would have thought a year ago that Michigan versus Notre Dame would be the least important game of the week?

Friday, September 14, 2007

With Friends Like This

Everyone's linking to this YouTube video, so who am I to be any different?

Bob V. Beatles

I recently read Bob Newhart's I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This! An enjoyable memoir, but he does repeat a bit of nonsense I've heard before. He claims his first album, The Button-Down Mind Of Bob Newhart, sold better than any Beatles' album.

What people are looking at is how long the album was #1 and how long it stayed on the charts. Newhart's first album was a phenomenon, no doubt, but the market was much smaller then so sales didn't need to be as spectacular. Button-Down Mind was #1 for 14 weeks and was on the charts for 108 weeks. Pretty impressive, and it's true most Beatles albums can't match those numbers (though Sgt. Pepper, with 15 weeks at #1 and 168 weeks on the charts, surpasses it), but as far as sales are concerned, Newhart's LP didn't move much over a million copies, while most Beatles releases sell in multiple millions.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Comedy By Association

I saw a bizarre ad for the Bang Improv Theater in the latest hard copy of the Onion.

It shows George Wallace standing in the doorway, fighting against integration, and printed over the photo is "bad improviser." Beside that is a picture of Rosa Parks riding the bus, fighting for integration. According to them, she's a "good improviser."

Huh? Both these acts were planned, not improvised. I don't see what they have to do with the subject at hand, even tangentially. Because we like what Parks is doing, and hate what Wallace is doing, does that make it okay to assume she's good at whatever she attempts, and he isn't?

(My guess, by the way, is that Wallace, being a professional politician, used to appearing in public, was the better improviser.)

If you bring in the ad, you get $25 off your first class in improvisation. 1) That class sure sounds expensive, especially considering it's a subject hardly worth learning. 2) I'd like to take the ad in (they're about a mile from where I live) just to ask them what the hell they were thinking.

People Everywhere Just Wanna Be Free

In a not entirely unsympathetic look at libertarians in Commentary, Kay S. Hymowitz takes such people to task for their radicalism. The criticism, as always, is they go too far with the freedom thing. It's an attack from the right, much of it based on a fear of family breakdown, a central issue for conservatives.

But I'm not sure if Hymowitz's arguments work. Two of her main claims don't hold up to scrutiny, seems to me.

1) Hymowitz brings up Brian Doherty, a friend of mine, who's just written a lively history of libertarianism, when she compares libertarians to the conservative's bete noire, hippies:
the libertarian vision of personal morality--described by Mr. Doherty as "People ought to be free to do whatever the hell they want, mostly, as long as they aren't hurting anyone else"--is not far removed from "if it feels good, do it," the cri de coeur of the Aquarians.
Pardon me, but no matter what you think of these two statements, there's a world of difference between them, a difference so obvious I don't feel the need to explain it.

2) Here's her claim about the yearning for freedom, and other things inborn:
A libertarian, according to Brian Doherty, "has to believe" that "the instincts and abilities for liberty . . . are innate," that we possess "an ability to fend for ourselves in the Randian sense and to form spontaneous orders of fellowship and cooperation in the Hayekian sense." But this view of the relationship between the individual and society is profoundly and demonstrably false, especially when applied to the family. Children do not come into the world respecting private property.
They don't? Kids have trouble learning the word mine!?

I find Hymowitz's claim quite ironic. The Right regularly attack the Left for its wish to create a "new man." The Right insists, no matter how much society may force its views on people, there are basic beliefs and urges that no one can get around. So why can't they believe that people have at least some instincts regarding both freedom and cooperation?

Everyone understands that socialization plays a part, but why is it only when the Right's shibboleths are threatened do they suddenly start emphasizing how malleable humans are?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

It's all about the sample, baby

Hey, here's an idea. Do an online survey to determine whether people spend more time online or watching tv. This way all of your respondents not only will be net users, but net users willing to spend enough time online to fill out surveys. Methinks this is not one of the groups within IBM that gets their stuff published in peer-reviewed journals.


The Emmys are this Sunday, but they have so many awards they give out the least important hundred or so the week before.

Here's a list. Let me draw your attention to one in particular: Original Music and Lyrics: "Saturday Night Live Host: Justin Timberlake," Song Title: "Dick in a Box," NBC.

Proud as a peacock.

Too Bad

Waiting For Guffman is my favorite Christopher Guest-directed mockumentary. (Guest's next two films, Best In Show and A Mighty Wind, grossed far more, but Guffman established the style and stock company of this series (unless you insist on including Rob Reiner's Spinal Tap, created more than a decade earlier).)

While watching it recently, something hit me. There's always comic exaggeration in these movies, and almost everything about the fake local musical production is dumber and cheaper than it would be in real life. (And actors always love to make fun of bad acting.) But the tunes themselves created for the musical within the movie are far superior to what you'd expect from such a show. This is for two reasons. Guest, with the rest of Spinal Tap, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, are imaginative songwriters and parodists. Second, if they wrote the kind of music you'd likely see in such a show, you wouldn't be entertained--even at how bad it is--you'd just be bored.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Come again?

"It's an outrage," said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Washington, D.C. good-government group Project on Government Oversight.
"You never want to see lawmakers trading on their national security people making large donations," Ellis concurred.

Whatever the nominal substance, be it Homeland Security or anything else, is there anything else that congress critters do except for trade on their, ahem, "credentials"?


Many have noted--it's pretty hard to miss--that Osama Bin Laden's recent speech was indistinguishable from what many anti-war groups are saying.

This happens all the time. Someone you despise sides with you on some issue. There's not much you can do about it. In fact, the more popular your view, the more likely it is this may happen. But to say you're guilty of the foolishness of another simply because he agrees with you is guilt by association. (Of course, some try to flip it around, and blame the other side, which is even dumber: But this, I think, is only the flip side of the vaunted perch we insist on giving him, a insistence that is a paradoxical part of Bushism. They are tacit partners in creating the world in which we now live.)

Let me close with one of my favorite quotations, even if it's not directly related: Whenever you find you are on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect. Mark Twain

On The Prize

I don't like to use the word "complacent" since, in modern usage, it always is something "now is no time to be." But for the past few years, I do sometimes fear we're getting complacent.

The lack of any major attack on American soil in six years has taken the edge off. (Some have gone so far as to claim the threat is vastly overblown, or even non-existent, but I'm talking about the rest of us, who are the large majority.) I know we shouldn't, and wouldn't want to, feel like every day is the day after 9/11, but I think we should still feel as if it's a few months after. There are plenty of people out there who would like nothing better than to kill tens of thousands of Americans inside the US on one day, and that's what it's all about. We can't allow our enemy's lack of success in repeating a spectacular attack like they had in 2001 to let us forget this.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Jane Wyman

Jane Wyman just died. I don't really have much to say about her. She'll be remembered as an Oscar winner for Johnny Belinda, as well as Ronald Reagan's first wife. She also did a lot of television, such as her work on Falcon Crest, but I can't recall actually ever seeing her on the small screen.

I remember her best in two roles, Helen in The Lost Weekend and another Helen in Magnificant Obsession. In both roles, she's the woman the troubled protagonist has to prove himself worthy of. Alas, this was the kind of role Wyman usually had to work with. She had to stand by and support her man, or wait for him to come to his senses. Perhaps that's why she won the Oscar for Johnny Belinda--as the deaf mute who's pregnant after being raped, she finally got a part that allowed her to show off a bit.

Just by chance, I watched her in a movie yesterday--one of Frank Capra's most forgettable films, Here Comes The Groom. She's charming as Bing Crosby's ex-girlfriend, but not much more. But there was one scene where she gets to open up--she and Alexis Smith have a knock-down drag-out fight. Of course, that was mostly done by stuntwomen, but it was a rare moment where she got to do a little extra.

Running Amok

I just watched the remastered Star Trek episode "Amok Time." It's a classic, and deserves to be, but I have some questions.

Shouldn't Spock have informed Kirk, or Star Fleet, or someone, about his powerful sexual urges before he left on a five-year mission? For such a supposedly logical people, aren't the Vulcan laws and rituals fairly primitive--arranged marriages with no easy divorce, fights to the death, etc.? Why does T'Pau have an Eastern European accent? Wouldn't it be fair to tell Kirk, before he assents to the fight with Spock, that it's to the death? I realize McCoy's options are limited, but is it really the best strategy in a fight to the death to paralyze the Captain?

The Inscrutable West

The cover feature of the LA Weekly is about Jodie Foster's new vigilante movie, The Brave One, which supposedly says something about the post-9/11 American soul (or whatever).

There's a sidebar interview with director Neil Jordan. Here's a bit that stood out:
You know, I’m your traditional European leftie, basically. But I don’t believe anybody knows the territory that they’re in as a person who lives in the West at the moment. Nobody can explain why a doctor in Glasgow set himself on fire in a truck laden with explosives — a sophisticated, Western-educated person.
Actually, there were two people involved in this incident, Bilal Abdulla and Kafeel Ahmed. Is there anything Jordan's leaving out about these sophisticated, Western-educated guys that might lead to an explanation for their actions?

Here's another passage worth pondering:

Q: Is there something uniquely American about this story?

A: I think so. Retributive justice, deciding to kill someone without compunction or pity and stuff like that.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

And He's Catholic

The headline reads "Pope says abortion 'not a human right.'" This is a "dog bites man" story if I ever heard one.

(Besides, they bury the lead, which is that Amnesty International has adopted new rules where, in come cases, they support abortion rights.)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Glory days

"Armed with a deep voice and somber demeanor, Hagel rose quickly in the Senate, developing an international reputation perhaps faster than any previous Nebraska lawmaker."

Here We Go Again

After last week's infamous loss against (I can barely stand to write this) 1-AA Appalachian State, Michigan can now either have a horrible season or something much worse.

We face the Oregon Ducks today. A week ago, I thought we might have some trouble dispatching them before we got to the tough games. Now I'm wondering how we'll win any games at all.

Amazingly, Michigan is a one-touchdown favorite. How can this be?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Miller Killer

In "Death Of A Phony," yet another right-wing piece kicking Arthur Miller's corpse, Thomas Lifson attacks the playwright for his politics and his hypocrisy.

Fine. Go at it. But I found the opening lines odd:
I must confess that I never liked playwright Arthur Miller's work, even though I never really publicly criticized it. As an Ivy-educated, Ivy-employed intellectual, I was supposed to think he was deep. All the right people agreed on that point. So I sat through performances of his most famous work, Death of a Salesman, on several occasions, in the company of my parents at first, and as a season ticket holder at a couple of repertory theatres in adulthood. But I always found Death to be tedious and pretentious. The author must have been a rather unpleasant man, I would find myself musing during the seemingly endless performances.
As I've noted before, in America, Miller is treated by highbrow critics as middlebrow, which is about the worst thing you can call anyone. They think his work is stilted and prosaic, and does nothing imaginative in form or content.

In fact, it's the middle-class, middlebrow audience that's clutched him to their bosom. He's one of the few Broadway playwrights whom the average citizen can name, and his work, particularly Death Of A Salesman and The Crucible, gets revived in regular venues throughout the nation because it still holds the stage for most people, not because they've been told it's good for them.

Maybe if Lifson had paid more attention in the Ivy League, he'd have noticed them saying Miller writes bad melodrama for the bourgeoisie. And maybe then he could have enjoyed Miller more, knowing by liking this out-of-fashion earnest liberal, he was striking a blow against the presumptuous intelligentsia.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

You're Hitler! (Long Form)

"There is something spooky about Ron Paul and something even spookier about his acolytes whose devotion pushes them to support him in online polls like cyber-brown shirts."

And that's not even just for starters; it starts before this and goes on and on. I've always liked Roger Simon, and it seems more likely than not that Paul is a nut (is there a Libertarian who isn't? Anyone care for a 17th Amendment debate?)

But this is just blech. It's the way the Clintons would call someone Hitler.

We're (no longer) Having A Heat Wave

For the last weak we've been having the worst weather I can remember since I moved here. Southern California has been unbearably hot and, even more unusual, humid.

Usually, the weather around here is the best in the country (if you like it warm during the day, cool at night, and never particularly cloudy). You actually get used to it, think it's normal. Really the weather around here is like your health--you take it for granted till something goes wrong.


I couldn't believe how wrong-headed Charles Taylor's review of the Primary Colors DVD was. At least not until I got to the end.

I didn't read the novel by "Anonymous" (Joe Klein), though I got the impression if it weren't a roman a clef about the Clintons, it wouldn't have sold too many copies. And I'm certainly not going to watch the awful Mike Nichols film again. But I do remember one thing about it--the movie's a love letter to Bill and Hillary, especially Bill.

Here's how Taylor sees it: "Nichols looks at Jack and Susan Stanton and sees nothing more than a pair of Dogpatch pretenders to the throne, people whose every pragmatic move is held up as proof that their talk of accomplishing something is just a pretense to accumulating power." Taylor doesn't get it. In the film's most memorable scene, no one can find John Travolta (Jack Stanton/Bill Clinton) because he's out eating donuts. But while he's doing that, he's also connecting with the common people, really listening to them, because he cares.

The general plot is about the shenanigans of a Presidential campaign, and the Clinton character is responsible for more than his share. But at the end, when he's on the precipice, he's reminded that since he's a Democrat, he is good and his opponent is evil, so he must go on.

You'd think this couldn't be clearer, and I wasn't sure what Taylor thought he saw, but then I read these words:

Nichols seems to disapprove of the Stantons' ability to play in that dirty a game. Would he feel the same way now, given what happened to John Kerry, who chose to stay above the fray in the Swift Boat smear? Would Nichols consider it dirty politics if Kerry had deigned to fight back? [...] God only knows what smears are being prepared against Hillary Clinton. But it must be obvious to the goons readying those attacks that she's not just going to take them. The coiled energy of Thompson's Susan Stanton, that palpable resentment at having to downplay her own intelligence, suggests what might be unleashed in a Hillary Clinton no longer in the supporting role of candidate's wife.

So Taylor is one of those people who actually believe that the problem with liberals is they're just too nice to respond to the dirty, unfair attacks of conservatives. Anyone this blind can't be trusted to understand even the most basic political tropes of a Hollywood movie.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


According to a new book by Jeffrey Toobin, Justice David Souter wept and considered resigning after he was on the losing side of Bush v. Gore. Rather than comment on this melodramatic scene, let me show you one of my favorite David Letterman top ten lists.

Top 10 Ways Souter Celebrated His Confirmation - October 3, 1990

10. Smiled for a few seconds, then back to serious thoughts.
9. Bought Sandra Day O'Connor robe from Victoria's Secret.
8. Marched into judicial supply store and announced, "The gavels are on me!"
7. Cruised by Bork and Ginzberg's places with Aerosmith blasting.
6. Kicked Mom out of house. Had girl over.
5. Made paper hat out of U.S. Constitution, filled it with beer, put it on.
4. Paid his college dope-smoking buddies rest of hush money.
3. Ate his usual cottage cheese lunch off the chest of a $1,000-a-night hooker.
2. Made prank call to guy who won the McMillions contest.
1. Gave a big wet kiss to Thurgood Marshall.

Summer Movies, Didn't Have Me A Blast

Around this time of the year I usually look back at the top films of the summer, but I see our blog buddy Gaucho over at Teahouse on the Tracks has beat me to it.

Here's the top ten list Gaucho prints (from IMDb). This is for domestic gross. Worldwide, Pirates wins, followed by Harry Potter.

1. Spiderman 3
2. Shrek the Third
3. Transformers
4. Pirates 3
5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
6. The Bourne Ultimatum
7. Ratatouille
8. The Simpsons Movie
9. Live Free or Die Hard
10. Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer

A couple comments.

1) This is the first summer I can remember where there isn't a surprise on the list. Seven of the top ten films are sequels, one a Pixar, and the other two are based on subjects already huge in related media. And look at the sequels--only one is the first sequel. Four are the third in the series, one is the fourth and one is the fifth.

2) I'm not entirely sure Gaucho's list is correct. It seems to have missed Knocked Up, which should be #8. A few years ago it might have been a sleeper, but Judd Apatow films aren't surprise entries any more. (While we're at it, Superbad is far from played out. It'll easily make over $100 million, though how much more we'll see.) Also, Rush Hour 3 (another threequel) probably has enough steam to make it to the bottom of the list.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I Want Answers!

For those of you wondering about our Presidential Trivia quiz, Lawrence King has posted the answers in the comments section.

Pulling Together Pulling Apart

Sometimes I wonder what happened to the grand social experiment known as kibbutzim. Well, sort of an answer at the Becker-Posner blog. Some interesting insight, in any case.


A week ago I saw The King Of Kong, a film about videogames. Since then, I've caught Akeelah And The Bee--about spelling bees--and Rocket Science--about debating.

What they all have in common is not only that they're about things associated with young people (though in Kong the grown-ups are still playing), but also that they're about doing something at the highest level.

Now for some things--say, football--the highest level is obviously far better than a local game, but it's still recognizably football. Same for chess.

But what fascinates me about some disciplines is, at the far-right tail-end of the bell curve, it becames so specialized, so mutated, that they almost seem to be doing something else.

The best videogame players will take common arcade games and play them for hours, even days. They'll play screens you've never seen before, at difficulty levels that seem impossible. They'll use strategies (see the ones for Centipede) that allow them to score a few levels of magnitude greater than what a merely "good" player can manage.

Spelling bees were originally created to test how well kids could handle everyday words. Now the top players are so specialized that they spend months memorizing obscure words, words that no one uses in real life, much less spells. Watching the Scripps National Spelling Bee, you're not just watching decent spellers, but word freaks. (Are they outmoded due to Spell Check?)

Then there's debate. It used to be about who could make the best argument. Now the discipline is as much about who can make the most arguments in the time allotted. The top debaters sound more like auctioneers than people trying to make a point.

Furthermore, these skills don't really lead to anything else. In some ways, that makes me admire the people who have them even more.

Monday, September 03, 2007

What Is The Title Of This Post?

Out of respect for Jerry Lewis, I will not be posting today.

Hollywood Go Home

As has been noted by many movie and political columnists, there are a bunch of anti-Iraq war film coming out. Not suprising. Hollywood has a pack mentality.

I occasionally see the artists behind these works discussing the politics of the films, and alas, it's as fatuous as you'd expect. So don't think I'm specifically picking on Brian De Palma in analyzing his recent remarks. It's just that they were linkable. Equally silly comments by, say, Robert Redford in People, weren't.

His film, Redacted, is about gang rape and murder committed by U.S. soldiers in Iraq. (If you feel a sense of deja vu, it's because De Palma had a similarly themed movie about Vietnam called Casualties Of War.)

The movie is an attempt to bring the reality of what is happening in Iraq to the American people

The reality of the war is our soldier are risking their lives to bring freedom to Iraq. Gang rape and murder by our military is rare, while outrages from the other side are common.

The pictures are what will stop the war.

The war has gotten highly unpopular without much help from movies.

In real life, I feel helpless to stop these horrible things that are happening,

Well, it's quite possible horrible things, worse than what we've seen, will happen if we leave too early. No reason to feel helpless about that--we can stop it by voting against people who demand quick withdrawal.

It is un-American to criticise the government... Personally, I am not scared.

Pretty much everyone criticizes the government. What some of the critics don't seem to like is being criticized back.

As far as not being scared, that's because critics of the war have nothing to be scared about. Now if you tried to criticize the other side as viciously, you might have something to fear.

I am the man they love to hate. I am sure they will say; 'It's another De Palma misogynist saga'.

Because when it comes down to it, it's all about De Palma.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

That's That

I don't want to talk about it.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Minnesota- Land of 1000 Lakes, Sex Cruises and Notorious Men's Rooms.

OK Senator Craig is a hypocrite and is not what he pretends to be and its fun to watch the roaches scatter from him- but but should tax payer dollars really be spent sticking police officers in toilet stalls (bet thats a fun shift and puts them in a great mood) to harass the horny looking for a no-strings good-time and arrest them for what is perfectly legal in numerous other situations (tapping feet, waving hands, even soliciting sex). If there is a crime here, its certainly the performance of sex acts in public, not acting out a bizarre code (which frankly seems, according to Slate's Explainer at least, designed to avoid accosting the unwilling). An exposed willy with intent to poke (or variations on that theme ) would be a more defensible standard for criminal prosecution and the public humiliation that comes with it.

I understand the problem and do not want to worry about sex acts and solicitation occurring in public restrooms either but have to think that a cop out in the open would do more to deter that than one hiding out on the crapper.

Memo to Democrats- don't make the mistake (like the Republicans did in 1997) of trying to overtly use this this story, it has plenty of legs on its own and any direct association will only tarnish the teller

Just doing my part to lift the level of conversation around here.

Craig Questions

Well, a rather silly scandal has forced Senator Craig out. I'm not quite sure why in particular he had to go. Was it because he committed a crime (or at least pled to it)? That he tried to solicit sex in a rest room? That he lied about it later? Because he's gay? Because he's a hypocrite? Because he's a punchline?

Regardless, are we really paying cops to sit in stalls to catch people? That sounds creepier than the crime. And who released the interrogation tape? Is that standard procedure now?

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