Friday, August 31, 2007

Presidential Trivia

Someone sent me some trivia questions about US presidents. While I know a few of them right off the bat, I thought perhaps others would like to take a crack at them first.

1. From time to time, a president is succeeded by someone older than him. But only once in history have we had a succession of three presidents, A - B - C, where C was older than B who was older than A. Who were the three?

(I mean, older in actuality, not just "older at the time of office." For example, G.W. Bush was born before Bill Clinton.)

2. What president lived the longest after his presidency ended?

3. Who were the youngest person to be president while in office, the oldest in office, the youngest at his death, and the oldest at his death?

4. How many presidents were descended from English monarchs?

EOC

NBC recently reran (rerunned?) their special on the first five years of Saturady Night Live. It was quite well done, but one thing bothered me. A couple of the writers lamented that they never gave cast member Garrett Morris good material, or developed characters for him. They're being too nice, even if it's after the fact.

When SNL started, no one knew how it would work, or which cast members would be stars, if any. It was a free for all. If you were any good, you'd get your chance to shine. The truth is, Garrett Morris sucked. He was what we call an Enemy Of Comedy. Sure, he had a few moments, and created a memorable character or two, but, for whatever reason, he didn't just do a weak job--his timing and line readings were so bad he hurt the performers around him and the sketches he was in.

Morris has complained that he was typecast on the show, but if I were a writer around then, I would have fought against using him in anything I did. Compare him to Eddie Murphy, who started not long after Morris left. He was the most talented member of the cast, not the least, so the writers lined up to have him do their material.

Back then no one knew that SNL would someday feature an evolving cast, so Morris stayed on for the first five years. If Morris were coming up today, he'd be on probation the first year and then be let go.

I've met Morris a few times. He's a nice guy, and when he has time to rehearse and can do more than one take, he's a passable actor. But when I think of how bad he was on SNL, I want to slap him.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Law Con

I'm not the first on the web to catch this, but it really jumped out.

Here's a New York Times editorial that says we need to care for veterans "under that other constitutional right — to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

I won't insult my readers by saying where that "right" is found.

Monetarism

I don't care how many times I see the new ten-dollar bill. My first thought is always I've got an old ten that's stained.

Ego Exercise

Not far from where I live, there's a sign for "Centered Self Pilates." How many names did they think about before settling on this, because whenever I drive by it, I think I'm reading "Self-Centered Pilates."

A Poor Man's Amanpour

Christiane Amanpour's six-hour three-part special on fundamentalist Jews, Muslims and Christians was apparently a ratings success.

I didn't watch it, so I can't comment. However, I talked to a (conservative) friend who said he didn't think there was much there. I asked him if it didn't help him see what makes religious people--particularly extremists--tick. He said no, but it did teach him why liberals are so willing to make excuses for Islamic terrorists.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Unproven assertions

"America can do that much math."

I don't know whether to be insulted or pleased. Either way, I'm a fan. Bellingham Airport? Way better access. $2 peanuts? Better than $100 peanuts. Of course, in my case, there is a rent for this Columbus-based airline that none of the other Guys can cash in, but even so, it's an interesting venture.

Between The Laughter

Here's a weird headline: "Owen Wilson's Film Future Is Likely Fine." Odder, it appears to present itself as a news story.

I have nothing against Owen Wilson. I wish him well. But he's an A-lister who usually works in comedy. Now that it's known he's attempted suicide, it might be harder to laugh at him. Instead of enjoying his character, you may be thinking about the actor playing the role, and what his real life is like.

Hollywood may still love him, and the audience may be sympathetic, but movies cost a lot, and if something gets in the way of the laughter, would you hire him?

Go Bo Diddley

Bo Diddley suffered a heart attack while undergoing a medical check-up. If you're gonna have a heart attack, that's the place.

I saw Bo many years ago in Ann Arbor. I remember him doing his only top 40 hit, the novelty number "Say Man." It wasn't the best show, but seeing any rock and roll pioneer is inspirational.

Bo's been sick lately. Here's hoping he regains his beat.

Day By Day

Michael Palin has just published his diaries from the years 1969 to 1979. Being a fan of all things Python, I'll probably pick it up. Steve Almond, reviewing it in the LA Times, has a problem, however.
"Diaries" slogs. This book should have been a brisk 300-page memoir -- and it could have been, too, had the author been willing to do the sort of editing and rewriting he and his mates routinely forced themselves to endure on behalf of their comedy.
There's nothing wrong with memoirs--I'd be glad to read one if Palin wrote it--but I don't agree with Almond. There's something irreplaceable about contemporaneous accounts. It's too easy for facts to get embellished, or forgotten, and replaced with received wisdom. It's fascinating to read what people were thinking right as something was happening.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Idaho Pervs?-Of course, it's Bill Clinton's Fault

"....Asked about Craig, Romney said, "He's disappointed the American people."
"Yeah, I think it reminds us of Mark Foley and Bill Clinton. I think it reminds us of the fact that people who are elected to public office continue to disappoint, and they somehow think that if they vote the right way on issues of significance or they can speak a good game, that we'll just forgive and forget," Romney said on CNBC's "Kudlow & Company."...."

Elvis Lives

In principle I should be opposed to this. Still, I have to admit the guys in this commercial do a pretty good job turning "Viva Las Vegas" into "Viva Viagra." (Bonus points for proper scanning.)

The Nice Party

David Brooks eviscerates the latest book that says Democrats don't win elections because they're too smart and too nice.

The funniest part is the outrageous things the author, Drew Westen, thinks Al Gore should have said to Bush in the debates. This shows for all his take-no-prisoners approach, the author is naive, while Gore's a professional. Gore knew how to deal with negative information like DUIs. You don't confront the opponent in person, where he'll look sympathetic, and respond immediately with tales of personal redemption. No, you wait till the Thursday before the election and release the information through operatives, so the final press cycle is all about the issue, cutting to the heart of fears about Bush ("we don't really know this guy") and pushing four of the five million undecideds in your direction, turning all the polls around.

No matter how many time I hear the partisan claim that "we've got facts and logic on our side, so the only reason the other side gets any votes is because they appeal to fear and ignorance," I'm still shocked. I understand by definition you believe in your side, so there's a tendency to think the other is mistaken or fooled or evil (yes, Westen even states some Republicans are just unredeemably evil), but still, try to give them some credit.

What bothers me extra is the authors, such as Westen, who came from academia and try to coat their arguments with a scientific veneer. Sure, right wing talk radio makes the same claims, but everyone understands (even those who agree) that these guys are entertainers who talk for a living. But a professor who goes to the trouble of writing a book, claiming his thesis is backed by scientific rigor--well, how does such a fool get tenure?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Not without my Bill

QueensGuy, resurrected, says it still ain't law (although I think it is va-loys').

I don't think we'll have international law until a U.S. president is dissuaded from military action, not by other-opinion and similar such albeit-painful-nonetheless-short-of-shoot-you consequences, but by the fear of jail. That's coming sooner than we think. I'd be surprised if a first-term Hillary!(tm) would jail W for his war crimes, but after that the bets are off. (Come to think of it, she might find it expedient to jail Bill. There isn't going to be a statute of limitations.)

And speaking of international law, here's as good an article as you'll find about the Great and Terrible Carla Del Ponte, who declined to prosecute Clinton at one point, and said prosecuting NATO was "not my priority." Well, all hail Carla and her priorities. My guess is W would be higher on her to-do list than Bill, but still not high enough.

Zzzzzzzzzz

Hey, a modernized version of a Greek tragedy commenting on the Iraq war. How original.

Stupid Kong

I highly recommend The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Dollars, but I must take exception to Slate's characterization of Steve Wiebe as a "lovable loser." Maybe he's obsessed with a videogame--so what? everyone should have a hobby--but anyone who's got a nice house, a decent job and a loving family shouldn't be called a loser. I thought he came across pretty well. (Of course, I now hear the filmmakers manipulated the facts to make Wiebe the hero and Billy Mitchell the villain.)

Six Degrees Of Wikipedia

I have a new game, based on an old one.

I'm sure my readers are familiar with Wikipedia, the web encyclopedia anyone can contribute to. Every entry has links to other entries.

So the game is choosing a start and finish, and seeing how many links it takes to get there. There are no guarantees it can be done and it doesn't necessarily work in both directions. Also, since Wikipedia is constantly being revised, what once worked may not work later.

One way to play is to figure out what can be done, then see if others can do it, and in how many clicks.

I'll give you a few examples (answers at bottom).

1) Anton Chekhov to Stalin in two clicks
2) Bill Clinton to There's Something About Mary in three clicks
3) Albert Einstein to The Republic in three clicks
4) Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase to Kevin Bacon in three clicks

Spread it around. Let's get this game going.

My answers (there might be others)

1) "Anton Chekhov" to "Yalta" to "Stalin"
2) "Bill Clinton" to "Monica Lewinsky" to "semen" to "There's Something About Mary"
3) "Albert Einstein" to "Euclid" to "Plato" to "The Republic"
4) "Salmon P. Chase" to "Dartmouth College" to "National Lampoon's Animal House" to "Kevin Bacon."

PS Before I posted, I figured I'd check to see if anyone had thought of the idea already. Sure enough, there's a search engine which actually connects one item on Wikipedia with another.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Unknowing metaphor alert

"These pages you are holding contain more than news and features. They are an inky artefact, a monument to the efforts of a trade, a profession, a type, whose time, I fear, is passing."

Three comments come to mind, and here my editor's soul is MIA.

1) "Is passing"? Wrong tense.

2) "These pages you are holding". Heh.

3) When was the last time this guy had an original thought or expression, or even a decent limit on his word count?

Where's George?

Clean and articulate Barack Obama says he'd work with Republicans and names them, somehow omitting Evenrepublican John McCain. What I want to know is, Where's Cryin' George Voinovich?

Marvellous

While I wouldn't call "World Enough And Time" a classic (here's the YouTube Trailer), I have to admire the obsessives who insist on making new episodes of Star Trek.

As Bluto puts it in Animal House, nothing is over until we decide it is.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Are You There, ColumbusGuy? Are You There?

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Storms slammed rain-soaked Ohio on Saturday and hundreds of thousands of people in the Midwest were without power after their homes were battered by lashing winds and flooding rains.

One Week

I can't believe it, but in one week, the Michigan Wolverines are going to vanquish their first opponent of the new season, Appalachian State. After that the schedule gets a bit tougher, but the point is there's no substitute for the college football season.

I'm a little worred about our defense. We had enough trouble last season in our final two games, but we've lost quite a bit of our best there. Still, you can't help but have a big turnover on a college team. Let's give 'em a chance to show what they've got.

Friday, August 24, 2007

What The "L"?

I heard a radio ad for a local fast food place where they announced the "l" in tortilla.

I don't care how low rent this ad was--"tortilla" is no longer an exotic word that you have to guess at. How did this happen?

Anyways

I told a friend I don't consider myself part of the elite. He said I am. I asked how did he know. He said because I say "elite" instead of "elites."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

And if you do shoot, aim center mass

The good ColumbusGuy and I have previously discussed whether there can be such a thing as international law, when there is no international power of compulsion.

Here's an interesting example of how leverage can maybe, sometimes, be a useful substitute for compulsion. Because it's a NYTimes piece that will make itself unavailable at some point, I'll summarize:

In 2003 or thereabouts, the US federal government made it illegal for Americans to place bets over the internet (with some exceptions), and for US banks to make or accept the associated financial transactions. Antigua and Barbuda, besides having pretty good reefs for scuba diving, is home to many internet gambling companies, and filed suit with the WTO that the US laws were protectionist. The WTO ruled in favor of A&B, holding that the US' allowance of those exceptions -- for state lotteries, race tracks and the like -- favored domestic merchants over international merchants, and was punishable by sanctions. They're now at the punishment phase, and given that the effects of normal "tit for tat" trade barrier punishment would be de minimis, A&B is seeking permission to sell at will US copyrighted intellectual property products such as software, movies and music, without paying the US copyright holders.

The dispute raises novel questions involving diplomacy, hypocrisy, and free trade. But I'd submit that CG is still right -- when at the end of the day you can say "no thanks," it ain't law.

Well, I should hope so

"Arizona School Suspends 13-Year-Old Boy for Drawing Gun"

Good God, son, don't draw unless you're prepared to shoot.

Bait And Switch

As readers may know, one of my favorite hangouts is the 99 Cent Only Store (formerly the 88 Cent Only Storee).

A new store just opened up in a nearby strip mall. It said 99 Cents on it. I was thrilled. But upon closer inspection, the sign said "99 cents and up." Now that's just cruel.

Billy Goad

Billy Wilder represents some of the best of what the Hollywood system has produced. Smart, but commercial. Whether or not it's high art, I leave to you.

Wilder himself was a cultured man, but, allegedly, wasn't thrilled when European art films started gaining currency in the U.S. around fifty years ago. In fact, he sometimes mocked what he considered their pretentiousness and lack of storytelling.

Considering two recent deaths, I found this passage in Ed Sikov's biography of Billy Wilder interesting:
At least as much of a goading spur was the fact that Michelangelo Antonioni's ponderous L'Avventura had been a huge art house hit on both sides of the Atlantic the previous year, and American art house critics were still falling all over themselves spreading the gospel of serious cinema. For Wilder, Bergman was bad enough. Now there was Antonioni, whose films were even more nose picking. In response, Billy wanted not only to make yet another enormously successful and crowd-pleasing comedy, but to make the most raucous farce he could think up. He was compelled to make the absolute antithesis of L'Avventura, if only to prove a point to himself.
Incidentally, this is when he'd just made The Apartment (and Some Like It Hot before that) and was about to make One, Two, Three.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Golden Oldie

Yesterday I heard the Hollies semi-hit "King Midas In Reverse." The line that stuck out was "He's King Midas with a curse."

I think Graham Nash missed the point of the original fable.

Gitmo Understanding

Meghan O'Rourke reviews Poems From Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak in Slate. Let me quote a few bits to give you the tenor of the piece:

it drives home the plurality of experience and attitudes of those incarcerated, pushing back against the tendency to view them as interchangeable "enemy combatants."

as the way the poems restore individuality to those who have been dehumanized and vilified in the eyes of the public.

The poems short-circuit the entrenched scripts of "American" vs. "Muslim" and "us" vs. "them" and replace them, briefly, with the considerations of one individual trying to speak to another.

The words tyrant (referring to George W. Bush) and oppression recur, as does an acute frustration that Americans who employ the rhetoric of peace and democracy cannot see the hypocrisy of their actions

Curiously, the Western reader may find herself unable to read a poem without trying to evaluate the author's relationship toward the United States. It is a hopeless task, and the kind of exercise in judgment better suited to a judge and jury than to a literary critic.

It is a method of reading Miller cautions the reader against, noting that it only reinscribes the kind of us vs. them thinking the poems themselves begin to complicate.

If certain poems participate in the kind of generalized anti-American invective ("For they are a people without reasonable minds,/ Due to their supply of alcoholic drinks") we've been primed to expect from Muslims by the Bush administration, many others find a vocabulary of their own to express an individualized anger and dismay.

And because the poems are lyric fragments, rather than extended memoirs, they do not leave us with a sense that we have a comprehensive handle on the author's point of view. Rather, these poems both humanize their authors and keep them obscure to us

Instead, it performs a valuable service in humanizing the individuals incarcerated there, reminding us that even those charged with crimes are people, not faceless automatons—even as it also leaves us with a potent sense of how much we don't know about them.

So there you have it--the prisoners at Guantanamo are complex individuals, and don't you dare claim to fully understand them, while Bush and the people who agree with him are a mindless monolith who shouldn't be treated with the same respect.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Did You See What I Saw?

I don't usually link for linking's sake, but this made me laugh.

Republic-ans

I saw this cartoon on a blog. For those of you who don't like links, it's Karl Rove saying to Plato "But surely you can agree that truth can be created by the repetition of a lie."

Yes, I know, it's a joke. Still, the irony is Rove (as far as I can tell from my semi-inside sources) honestly believes in what he's doing, whereas Plato was the one who suggested rulers should lie to keep the people in line.

Oh, Ho, Ho It's Magic

Most magic tricks, once you know the secret, are pretty dumb. A few, however, are almost more fun to watch once you know how they're done.

Christopher Nolan makes films that are confusing on first viewing, such as Following and Memento. You don't really know what's going on until after you've seen them and had a chance to think.

A lot of people complained it was too hard to follow The Prestige, Nolan's film about two rival magicians. They may have been right. There are three different timelines going on and numerous double crosses. (If you want to know the plot, here are the spoilers.)

I recently saw it again and think it may be more enjoyable once you know its secrets. Now you can catch the foreshadowing, and the twists. There are still flaws--some of the tricks aren't presented realistically, and the Tesla magic goes way too far--but if you remember being bewildered, I'd recommend seeing it again. If you don't get it this time, you're on your own.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Leading The Follower

In her LA Weekly review of Leonardo DiCaprio's sky-is-falling eco-documentary The 11th Hour, Judith Lewis wastes no time in repeating the libel that scientists who disagree with prevailing orthodoxy are bought and paid for. But no matter, I was struck more by this bit in the first paragraph: "The last [eco-documentary] featured Al Gore, won an Oscar, and miraculously shifted the tide of public opinion toward the climate change yea-sayers."

Pardon me? The idea that global warming was having trouble gaining purchase with the public till An Inconvenient Truth came out with such unimpeachable evidence that even doltish Americans struck their colors is absurd. It's the sort of vainglory you hear from activists, who love to exaggerate their importance in shaping public opinion, but a journalist, no matter what her politics, should know better.

The public believed in and took the threat of global warming seriously for years before Al Gore's movie came out. I thought everyone knew this, but after coming up against Judith Lewis's smugness, I guess I should link to research that shows 75% of Americans believed in human-made global warming a decade ago, just in case.

PS I Love You

I recently saw Patti Smith in concert. I've always been a fan, and it was great to see her live.

She did a number of her better-known songs, like "Gloria," "Redondo Beach," "Pissing In A River," "Because The Night," "Summer Cannibals" and "People Have The Power" (though I was sorry she left out favorites such as "Dancing Barefoot" and "Frederick").

She also did a lot of selections from her latest album of covers, including "Within You Without You," "Are You Experienced?," "Gimme Shelter," "White Rabbit," "Soul Kitchen" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit." They were interestingly low key.

The band also did a tribute to Elvis (he'd died 30 years ago) performing "Love Me"--sometimes known as "Treat Me Like A Fool".

Patti was once a mysterious presence, but she's gotten very genial in concert. She joked around about how unprepared she was, and gave advice on how we should drink a lot of water and eat fiber every day. This was her last show on a four-month tour, and there were some guests sitting in, including Flea.

I first met Patti when she signed my Horses album in a Harmony House record store in Detroit. A few years later I saw her walking around the streets of Ann Arbor (I believe she lived in Detroit with her husband Fred "Sonic" Smith). Since then, I've had several chances to see her shows, but had to pass them up, to my regret. It's been too long, Patti. If you keep performing, I promise it won't be that long again.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Pro-Choice

Every day the Internet Movie Database has some cinema-related poll. Yesterday's question sounded interesting, so I went to the voting page and here's what I saw.

Which decade produced the best movies?
The 1940s
The 1950s
The 1960s
The 1970s
The 1980s
The 1990s
To date, I'd say it's the Aughts (aka the Double-Ohs, the 2000s, etc.)

Since I think the 1930s is the easy winner, there's not much for me here. I don't get it. It's not as if they can't afford the pixels and put in a few more decades.

By the way, if I had to pick a decade from those above, it'd be the 1970s. After that it gets tougher.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Horror, The Horror

I was recently watching the 1972 film version of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. No classic, but it's an intelligent, reasonably well-made film from director George Roy Hill.

It's probably Vonnegut's best work, and was the bestseller than made him a superstar novelist. It follows protagonist Billy Pilgrim through his days as a prisoner of war in WWII who witnesses the bombing of Dresden (just as Vonnegut did--he even makes a short appearance in the novel). We follow Billy's post-war life, but the twist that makes people think of it as sci-fi is that Billy is (or believes he is) taken to the planet Tralfamadore, and becomes unstuck in time, no longer living his life in chronological order.

The movie captures much of the story--the tension, the tragedy, the humor, the time shifts, etc. So I was surprised, when I hit the info button on my remote, that the genre of the film was "horror." It may be a lot of things, but horror? Who's in charge of these categorizations?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Newsweakest

This is interesting. Robert J. Samuelson, in Newsweek, criticizes Newsweek's cover story about global warming far more harshly than I did.

Let It Roll

A couple days after my post about The Nation's piece on the alleged NAFTA superhighway, I found a right-wing complaint that the magazine blew it because it wasn't suspicious enough.

Here's what I don't get. Let's say there is this huge highway they're building that goes from Mexico to Canada. Why is this a problem? We already have roads that connect at borders, not to mention water and air routes, so what's the big deal?

JFC

HBO is not picking up David Milch's John From Cincinnati for a second season. No surprise, since audiences found it confusing and annoying. Still, I wouldn't have minded more, even if I had no idea what's going on.

The channel must have had high hopes for the series, since they premiered it right after the Sopranos finale. But the show was too bizarre, even for HBO.

The plot is about the entrance of John Monad, a strange being who seems to have magical powers but can't communicate normally, into the surf community of Imperial Beach.

The biggest problem to me was not how hard to follow the show was, but that the Yost family--central characters, three generations of surfers--were not interesting at all. In fact, I felt bad for Rebecca De Mornay, playing the nasty matriarch, who for ten episodes had to screech out every line.

But John I liked, and a few other character were developing in interesting ways. Would the show have gotten better? I don't know Butchie instead.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Hardest Part

Back before DVDs and VCRs and cable, the new TV season used to mean something. Now, September seems like just another month on the tube. Perhaps some of the news shows will be good, but there are none, so far, I'm excited about.

There are a few returning shows I'm waiting for, but even that's changed. Let's look at my favorite sf/fantasy shows Heroes, Lost and Battlestar Galactica.

Heroes had some great episodes, but the finale was so weak, and the reboot so unpromising, that they're going to have to woo back viewers.

Meanwhile, the other two won't even be on until 2008. Both look promising because they now have a clear endpoint so the writers can make each episode matter. Battlestar Galactica, even though it has less episodes per season than a network show, had too many stand-alone plots last year that didn't move the overall arc forward. Hopefully that's over.

Lost, which had a great third-season finale, has had a similar problem. There were times the writers seemed to be treading water, not being sure how many episodes they'd have to spin out. But now that they know the exact number--48--they can make sure each one counts.

Alas, there'll only be 16 per year from now on, but I guess if The Sopranos could get by with even less, I'll take what I can get.

Thank Goodness

A lot of people in the blogosphere have been commenting on the story of the Dutch bishop who favors using the word "Allah" to ease tensions between Muslims and Christians. Most are treating this as self-evidently wacky. Is it?

Could it possibly work? Just changing a term so the two religions can see they're praying to the same Supreme Being?

Well, first I guess we have to ask, are they praying to the same Being, or is there some difference? If they're different, I see two potential problems.

1) This is merely semantic subterfuge, and ultimately both sides will see through it, and tensions will remain the same.

2) It's asking Christians to give up or compromise on their religion, which they either shouldn't or won't do.

If they're the same, will it help? Once again, there are two potential problems.

1) This still smacks of appeasement--why should the Christians be the ones to give in? Won't this enourage more demands?

2) The tensions are there for other reasons (such as different ways to serve the same deity) and can't be swept away, or even significantly lessened, by this sort of tactic.

Republican Future

It's way too early to predict how the 2008 presidential election will turn out. But, looking at the horizon, the Republicans do seem to have a serious problem: each major candidate has (at least) one major flaw that has nothing to do with politics.

Rudy Giuliani He's been married three times and has an embarrassing personal life that can easily be used against him, even by Hillary Clinton.

John McCain He'd be 72 by the election, the oldest first-termer ever. The job ages even the most vigorous men, so do we want a guy who'll be 80 if he makes it two terms?

Mitt Romney He's a Mormon. It shouldn't matter, but a lot of Americans in a recent poll said they wouldn't vote for one. (It's still worse to be gay or an atheist.)

Fred Thompson He's got lymphoma. Remission or not, a lot of voters will wonder if he'll make it four or eight more years.

Every candidate who ever ran has flaws, but can Republicans be happy with this slate?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

What Are The Odds

Some recent scientific research suggests life may have begun on comets and spread to Earth (and elsewhere).

One scientist said:
We now have a mechanism for how it could have happened. All the necessary elements - clay, organic molecules and water - are there. The longer time scale and the greater mass of comets make it overwhelmingly more likely that life began in space than on earth.
He may be right, but isn't this a bit presumptious? "Overwhelmingly more likely" if a bunch of other assumptions he can't be sure about are true, I'd say.

I'm reminded of the Drake Equation, which purports to figure how many civilizations are out in space that we can talk to. Trouble is, it involves a bunch of factors, some of which we understand, some of which we haven't a clue about, making the whole exercise fairly meaningless.

Yet, with all the uncertainty, we get this claim:
The researchers calculate the odds of life starting on Earth rather than inside a comet at one trillion trillion (10 to the power of 24) to one against.
There comes a point when you stop doing science and start doing public relations.

Now He Tells Us

David Frum has an editorial in The New York Times claiming George Bush, with Karl Rove, has hurt Republicans by being more interested in politics and coalition building than in leadership. (It's a bit odd since Democrats believe David "Axis of Evil" Frum was part of that Rovian strategery crew.)

He has some reasonable points to make, but the main thrust strikes me as after-the-fact sour grapes. Frum disagrees with a lot of policy decisions Bush and Rove made, and tries to pin it on political (mis)calculation--they were trying to win voters--rather than disagreement on substance.

Frum believes "In 2006, Republicans and conservatives paid the price for this we-know-best attitude." So Bush and Rove just didn't listen to people who knew better, like Frum, because if they did, obviously they'd have changed their minds and the Republicans would have nothing to fear in 2008. Now that's arrogance. (I'd like to ask him what happened to Republicans and conservatives in 2002, or did that work out because they were still listening to Frum then.)

The reason Republicans are in trouble, more than every other reason combined, is the public has soured on Iraq (a war I assume Frum supported). If it had gone better, Bush would be doing relatively well in the polls, his party would still run Congress, and Frum, who lists a whole bunch of reasons why conservatives are in trouble, wouldn't have anything to write about.

(James Carville has a similiarly-themed but even sillier article about how Rove lost a whole generation of Republicans--this coming from the man, remember, who got his guy elected President but managed to lose the Democrats' lock on Congress.)

PJGuy Got There First

Some on the internet are making a big deal about the recent upgrading by NASA that makes 1934 our warmest year on record.

Others have noted the headlines in the 1920s discussing oceans warming, seals vanishing and icebergs melting.

Big deal. We had the skinny on pre-WWII global warming two years ago.

Why Do They Bait Me?

A reader left a comment suggesting I write about a bunch of things regarding Al Qaeda's grievances. While I often respond to such requests, this is a big subject I don't really have time to deal with properly. I've written a lot about it in the past and I'm sure will do so in the future, but it's usually regarding some small, manageable part of the issue.

However, let make a few short, sweet answers to the points raised.

I would like LA Guy to write a bit more about what he thinks Al Qaeda's grievances are

While Al Qaeda is both all over the place physically (these days not so much a single-minded army as a widespread philosophy that inspires groups all over the world) as well as ideologically (they're quite willing to opportunistically adopt Western criticism of the West--Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, whatever--as their own, even to the point of incoherence), their basic grievance isn't that hard to understand--they oppose modernity. They wish to establish a caliphate, and have the Muslim world, indeed, the entire world, ruled by their form of sharia. Gone would be democracy, free speech, women's rights, gay rights, freedom of religion, due process, open scientific inquiry and almost everything else that signifies a modern liberal society. They don't believe in compromise and favor violence and terrorism to achieve their ends. Any group they see that supports freedom or democracy, or even just opposes Al Qaeda's totalitarianism, they're against. Furthermore, Al Qaeda naturally prefers others not to fight them, much less capture and kill their leaders, as they attempt to impose their rule over others.

and why they are not legitimate

There are a number of reasons, but the main one is the same as that for, say, the Nazis (and I don't like comparing groups to Nazis, because it's too often a cheap debating tactic, but this is one case where the comparison is apt)--their goals are not legitimate, and should not be respected. Even if we assume (for either Nazis or Al Qaeda) clear goals and a coherent philosophy, this would not make them, or the reasons they give for their beliefs, legitimate.

and why they (or Arab/Islam Anti-Americanism generally) are as popular as they are

This question has a lot of complex answers (many of them not redounding to the credit of the anti-Americans), so I'm going to leave it alone for now, except to note as popular as their ideas are, they're not that popular in the Muslim world, and there are actually plenty of signs they're getting less popular.

(i.e. what does legitimacy matter when whatever it is, its inspiring too many people to commit too many horrific acts).

It matters because we need to know if their problem (with us and others) is one of perception or substance. If it's perception, our job is to fix that perception (which I'm not saying is easy, especially when your opponents don't live in places where they can hear the truth). If it's substance, then our job is to change ourselves.

To defeat the enemy, it must be understood.

I think everyone agrees with this (as long as you don't confuse "understand" with "sympathize"). The question is who has the best understanding of the enemy. Furthermore, once you've achieved an understanding, that doesn't mean there's any clear strategy on how to deal with them--especially since they will try to adapt to any move you make.

(& the current strategy seems not be acheiving either aim)

It may seem so, but the question is, once again, reality or perception?

Our current strategy only deals so much with trying to "understand" the terrorists, because 1) you never have perfect information and 2) partial information can be (must be) enough to act on. We feel we already understand the situation well enough to make certain moves.

As far as defeating them, we've let things go for so long that it may be the present generation (or two) of Muslims is lost, and so a tougher fight is necessary than there might have otherwise been. Our current strategy actually goes to root causes (which Al Qaeda seems to recognize, thus their need--against the predictions of those who opposed the war--to make Iraq their central struggle, and to oppose at all costs a democratic state there), which may mean a tougher fight than the easier but less effective means so many against the war support. It's certainly hard to imagine anything more likely to encourage our enemy than retreat.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Is the Pope Catholic?

I don't know, but he IS a socialist:

Pope set to declare income tax evasion 'socially unjust'

Does that deter tax lawyers, or inter them?

Close Encounters With George Lucas

Here's the opening sentence from an article called "America's Two Politburos":

Just when you think it’s impossible to improve on the bar scene in Star Wars, the House of Representatives ends its summer session with a script that would have put Steven Spielberg to shame.
This isn't wrong, exactly, but it's sort of a cinematic mixed metaphor.

Why'd You Say That?

The New Republic is involved in a bit of controversy (hardly the first time). They published (originally under a pseudonym) Scott Beauchamp, a soldier in Baghdad. One of his reports, "Shock Troops," had three anecdotes about the nasty things our guys are doing there.

Beauchamp's veractiy was challenged. Since then, he's admitted he got one detail wrong (a big one, I'd say), but the battle rages over everything else he said.

TNR is in a defensive stance. But I want to discuss this sentence in their latest statement about all the doubts: "While many of these questions have been formulated by people with ideological agendas, we recognize that there are legitimate concerns about journalistic accuracy."

The motives of the questioners, even if The New Republic knows them, are irrelevant. (And TNR admits the concerns are legitimate, making it an extra sleazy attack.) TNR's critics, and, indeed, TNR, don't have to do everything from a neutral stance to make rational points and have a reasonable debate.

Joey-Dee Dee-Johnny-Come-Latelys

It seems everywhere I look I see someone wearing a Ramones t-shirt. If everyone now wearing those shirts actually bought their music, they might have hit the top ten occasionally, or even the top forty.

Unbroken

Until recently, I thought the idea that the building of a highway from Mexico to Canada is part of a plan to usurp American sovereignty was the province of right-wing crackpots, so I was surprised to see left-wingers buy it, too.

This is from an article in The Nation: "this NAFTA Superhighway, as it is called, is just the beginning, the first stage of a long, silent coup aimed at supplanting the sovereign United States with a multinational North American Union."

I guess it just goes to show you, politics isn't a spectrum, it's a circle, with the nuts on the right and left meeting where the ends tie together.

Arrogance Alert

Whenever someone wants to insult a powerful country but doesn't really know what he's talking about, you can bet the Roman empire analogy is coming up.

Well, it's happened again. David Walker, comptroller general of the US
warned there were “striking similarities” between America’s current situation and the factors that brought down Rome, including “declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government”.“Sound familiar?” Mr Walker said. “In my view, it’s time to learn from history and take steps to ensure the American Republic is the first to stand the test of time.”
I only have two problems with this argument: Walker doesn't understand Rome and he doesn't understand America.

There's still much debate about why Rome fell, and I'm not gonna get into it except to note that all the problems Walker mentions were around during the rise of the empire as well as its fall.

As for America, if we listen to the condesecending elite, we've been teetering on the brink since the beginning. Things are better than usual now, but I agree nothing lasts forever. I just don't think anyone can know that day (though since they keep guessing, they'll have a winner eventually).

Until then, I just wish we'd avoid these pointless parallels.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Public relations savant

So Karl Rove wants to spend more time with his family, including his college-age son? Why doesn't he just come out and say it: He wants to score some college chicks.

Merv Griffin

Merv Griffin just died. He started as a singer and rose to fame as a talk show host. (If you have any SCTV DVDs, see if you can't find one of my favorite impressions--Rick Moranis as Merv.) However, he's probably best known as the creator of the two most popular game shows of our time, Jeopardy! and Wheel Of Fortune.

The legend of how he invented Jeopardy! is a classic. Not long before, there'd been the quiz shows scandals which led to congressional hearings. Some shows were fixed, with the contestants given answers. So Merv came up with the simple idea of avoiding this problem by giving everyone the answers, and having the players come up with the questions.

(The whole answer-question thing doesn't really make any sense, but has become so ingrained in the public consciousness that when people try out for other game show, they often start their answer with "what is..." I know, I've done it.)

I met Merv a couple times. I was on the list of people he'd call in to help test new game show formats. He wasn't the kind of producer who sat in his office letting underlings do the work--he was a hands-on sort of guy, closely involved in the development process. He was also a gracious man, very friendly and open.

One time I was asked a question and gave a humorous answer. Merv stopped the run through (it was very casual--just people in a room, no cameras or anything) and asked me if I actually knew the answer or was just trying to be funny. I told him if I knew the answer, I would have said it. On the other hand, if we were really playing for money, I might have tried to figure out the answer a little harder.

Newsweaker

I put up a post about how Newsweek was sliming critics of global warming when it noted, on its cover, that they're "well-funded," and all that implies. (I'm not even sure if it's true, by the way.) I made two points--that these skeptics believe what they're saying, and that there's actually more money and glory on the other side.

Let me reply to a comment I received.

Points 1 & 2 are equally applicable to proponents of intelligent design, safety of smoking and even some holocaust-deniers (as well as to many other causes and beliefs) so I am not sure that shows anything. Since most persons lack the basic knowledge and familiarity to independently analyze science or other data underlying the hypothesis, we are left to interpret it through lenses that we can understand

You seem to be arguing about what's true or not, and which side to believe, which wasn't my point.

I'm simply saying that Newsweek is making a nasty (and irrelevant) charge when it implies that the scientists who speak out against global warming (or facets of it) are not sincere--that they're paid-for mouthpieces. This not only isn't true--they mean what they say--but, if Newsweek honestly wants to go down this path, I bet they'd find there's more pressure on scientists to toe the line, and more money to be had if they do.

- the qualifications of the speakers (though this is not much less confusing)

When you have highly imperfect information, this is generally worth looking at. And while Holocaust deniers and creationists and 9/11 truthers (and even less obvious cases, such as doctors giving sociological advice) are often acting outside their area of expertise, I don't think this is the case with many of the scientists Newsweek is attacking. (If you think they're referring to non-scientists, then you'd have to admit there are a lot more of those speaking out in favor of the global warming hypotheses.)

and the reputation for truthfulness (ideologues being less believable than others)

This is dangerous ground for you, since environmentalism is a highly emotional topic for millions and there is a huge superstructure of those (some paid, some free-lance) who regularly exaggerate threats. In fact, they've cried wolf so many times, that any claim by environmentalist groups should probably be treated with a little extra skepticism, which makes it harder for their serious claims to get through.

who pays and who benefits from research results,

That was why I made the point that there's a lot more money and benefits on the side of believing in global warming than being skeptical of it.

Imagine you're a religious person and you note all these new books out on atheism. If you want to attack the arguments on their merits, that's fine, but if you just want to condemn the arguments because you believe the authors did it for all that big atheist money (even if they were funded by some atheist foundation) you'd not only be making a cheap argument, you'd be avoiding the real one.

and what we can observe through our own talents (OK "common sense"). I do call recall Rachel Carson being denounced as a wacko- there is a history of environmental concerns being pooh-poohed by interests that had something to lose from environmental policies

It is strange that you've chosen to make your stand with Rachel Carson, since she got a lot of very basic things wrong and her critics got them right. To this day, her influence has people vastly overstating the dangers of synthetic chemicals. (Some or her present-day critics go so far as to say that millions have died because her followers supported DDT bans.)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Plugola

In the past couple weeks, your man about LA has been enjoying the local art scene.

First I attended the latest opening at my favorite salon, Wax Poetic, where the beauty of art and the art of beauty mix. It's a lively display by two artists, Sam Brown and Andrew Bell, that they call Progress.

If you're in LA and want to see some cool paintings, or have hair ripped from your body, this is the place to go.

Later I went to Secret Headquarters to see a display of Peter Bagge's work. I think for the past couple decades no one has done better work in comics than Bagge. He has a bunch of collections available, and I suggest you check them out, especially his Buddy Bradley stuff.

I talked to Bagge a bit about pitching ideas in Los Angeles. Plenty of other guys in his field have done well in TV and movies, and I'd love to see something he put together.

Newsweak

(Sorry the title of the post is so lame.)

Pretty sleazy cover from Newsweek. Not because it disagrees with global warming skeptics, but because it accuses them of dishonesty. It has the nerve to call them "well-funded."

1. Show me one skeptic who has written a piece or done research on global warming who doesn't believe what he's writing.

2. The money in favor of global warming is much larger than the money against it. In fact, if you're a scientist who doubts it, you may be putting your job on the line. You certainly open yourself up to significant ridicule.

Okay, I'm a bit late with this piece. My excuse is--who reads Newsweek any more?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

' !

There's a new show on Comedy Central, Lil' Bush. It's a satirical cartoon about our current President and his staff. I haven't seen it (though the word I've heard isn't good).

What fascinates me is the title. As I'm sure readers know, an apostrophe is used to indicate the omission of a letter or letters.

Thus, "little" is generally shortened to "li'l" as in Li'l Abner (speaking of satire).

Lately, however, I've been seeing the erroneous "l'il" quite a bit. There's no missing letter between the L and I.

But Lil' Bush? The apostrophe is completely unmoored from its purpose. Unless they want to claim his name is Lili Bush.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Excitement 1994

Reader Todd has challenged me to come up with 10 better movies from 1994 than The Shawshank Redemption. (It's not his first movie challenge.)

It's actually pretty easy for two reasons:

1) I'm not much of a fan of The Shawkshank Redemption. I think it's too long and not well structured, with weak scenes, one-dimensional villains and overdone narration. The rousing finale isn't enough.

2) 1994 was one of the better years of the past few decades. It even has the only film of the past quarter century that I think would make my top ten of all time.

Anyway, here's my list of the top ten films of 1994.


First, some films that had good things in them, even if they didn't quite work (like Shawshank):

Fresh

Hoop Dreams (Yeah, I know how great people think it is)

The Hudsucker Proxy (the first 15 minutes or so, before the plot kicks in, are brilliant, and there are some amazing set pieces)

I'll Do Anything (for Julie Kavner and Albert Brooks--it's a movie where Nick Nolte plays a character in such desperate straits that he lives on the same street where I'm typing this from)

The Mask

Mrs. Parker And The Vicious Circle.

Muriel's Wedding

Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult

Natural Born Killers

Nobody's Fool

Only You

Quiz Show

The Ref

Shallow Grave

Swimming With Sharks


Here are films I liked that didn't make the top ten--many of them would have made it in other years:

Barcelona (It might have made my top ten, but since it stars people I know, I can't think about it rationally)

Burnt By The Sun

Cabin Boy (A guilty pleasure, if I believed in the concept)

Eat Drink Man Woman

Forrest Gump (Yeah, I said it. It made so much money and won so many awards--and has such simplistic politics--that there's been a huge backlash, but this is for the most part an unconventional, well-done film that only has its wheels fall off around the end.)

A Great Day In Harlem

Heavenly Creatures

Honey I Shrunk The Audience (I think 1994 is the year they introduced it to Disneyland)

The Last Seduction

The Lion King

The Madness of King George (a literate script by Alan Bennett that actually works better than his play (compare History Boys).)

Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision

Once Upon A Time In China IV

Il Postino

The Secret Of Roan Inish

Three Colors: Red

Three Colors: White

True Lies (Arnold's best performance)


Finally, the Top 10

10. Bullets Over Broadway No classic, but one of Woody's best in the last 25 years. A good cast, but Chazz Palminteri stands out.

9. Four Weddings And A Funeral Well written romantic comedies are rare. A smart script that surprised me (I didn't know whose wedding would be next, and I didn't see the funeral coming either). Hugh Grant became a star, and his style hadn't been trademarked yet.

8. Speed Brilliantly conceived and executed. Okay, it has third act problems, but I'll take a thrilling first two acts of action over the inaction of Shawshank until it finally gets to its third act.

7. The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert The best gay Australian road movie ever.

6. Dumb & Dumber The Farrelly Brothers' first and one of their best (Todd knows how highly I think of There's Something About Mary). Jim Carrey has never been utilized so well, and Jeff Daniels keeps up with him.

5. Vanya On 42nd Street It shouldn't work--actors hanging out in a theatre doing a play--but it does. The best film adaptation of Chekhov (or Strindberg or Ibsen, for that matter) I've ever seen.

4. Ed Wood Tim Burton's masterpiece? Maybe. Either way, quite a ride, with great work from Johnny Depp and Martin Landau.

3. Drunken Master II Jackie Chan is a gift, like Harold Lloyd or Gene Kelly. We're lucky to be living in a time when he makes movies. By 1994 he was getting a bit old, but this film showed he still had it in him. Also, it's a nice nod to part I, that helped establish him.

2. Chungking Express A vivid portrait of people in Hong Kong. Wong Kar-Wai's best, and that's saying a lot.

1. Pulp Fiction

Note: I don't usually discuss the titles to these posts, but I feel an explanation is in order. Some film titles are harder to translate than others. When The Shawshank Redemption, which no one understood in English, was shown in Hong Kong theatres, the translators threw up their hands and called it Excitement 1994. That wins the award for best title of the year.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Tribute to Obit

I just read this obituary on Charles Lane (which was written a month after he died)
from Ty Burr of the Boston Globe

I immediately thought he had stolen material from LA Guy's July 11 entry on the same. On re-reading though, while there were some vague similarities, I didn't really see evidence of that. (sorry LA Guy if I excited you about a big settlement) However, I think we can congratulate LA guy's economy of language in succinctly capturing the essence of Mr. Lane more memorably than & in about 80% fewer words than the Boston Globe's movie guy. Here here (Hear Hear?)

Stick This

Stuck in traffic behind someone's truck recently, I had nothing to do but read the guy's many bumper stickers. (To paraphrase Fran Liebowitz, if someone doesn't want to hear from you, why do you think they'd want to hear from your car?)

Most of them were run-of-the-mill anti-war and anti-Bush messages But one surprised me: "Censorship Kicks Ass." I didn't realize there was enough of a constituency for this position that they'd even make such stickers.

Phone Tagged

Everyone hates being put on hold, but, after all, you did call--you want to talk to them. But something happened to me yesterday that I'd never experienced.

The phone rang and a computer voice said "Hello, please hold. We have an important message for you." They called me to put me on hold!

I listened to this repeat for about five minutes. (I was actually on the computer at the time, so I didn't mind.) To be honest, I was intrigued to know what was so important.

When the other side finally picked up, it was a weird request--did I know someone who supposedly lived nearby. The answer was no, and that was that.

I Always Wanted To Hear That

I live in a reasonably nice neighborhood. I walk around at night, unafraid. And the houses and apartments I can see from my window are very nice (if way too expensive).

So I was a bit surprised last night when I heard this megaphone announcement from across the street: "Apartment 5, [name of person which I couldn't make out], this is the Los Angeles Police Department. Come out with your hands up."

The whole idea of "come out with your hands up" is such classic Hollywood, I've often wondered if anyone said it in real life. Actually, I do live in Hollywood, so maybe it doesn't count.

By the way, they blocked off the street and repeated the announcement about five times. Alas, there was no gunplay, so I assume he gave himself up.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

756

Congrats, Barry. I'm glad it's over and we can get back to normal. I bet you feel the same.

Did I Read That Right?

Sometimes you have to read something twice just to make sure you got it right. That happened when I checked out Reza Aslan's piece in Slate, "Why Do They Hate Us."

And I'm not talking about this snide little bit that opens the essay:
Why do they hate us? Americans have been asking this question for nearly six years now, and for six years President Bush and his accomplices ["accomplices"--that's nice] have been offering the same tired response: "They hate us for our freedoms." With every passing year, that answer becomes less convincing.
This is a straw man argument (I don't know anyone from Bush on down who simply says this is the answer and nothing more) where the straw man is actually better than the author's answer. In fact, a large part of the reason is they do hate us because of our freedoms, based directly on their actions and words (even though Aslan prefers to believe Osama Bin Laden when he denies this through sophistry).

No, this was the part.

What al-Qaida does lay out, however, are grievances—many, many grievances. There is the usual litany of complaints about the suffering of Palestinians, the tyranny of Arab regimes, and the American occupation of Iraq. But again, legitimate as these complaints may be, there is in these writings an almost total lack of interest in providing any specific solution or policy to address them.
"Legitimate as these complaints may be"?! No, the problem with Al Qaida, above their illegitimate tactics, is their main grievances are not legitimate.

Then, to make matters worse (or more stupid), Aslan blames Bush for making the problem worse. Worse? Al Qaida declared war on us, wished for our destruction and planned 9/11 all before Bush took office. Have they declared double secret probation war on us since then? (I'm not going to get into the irrelevant and, I'd say, false argument that Al Qaida is more popular now--I've dealt with this elsewhere.)

Apparently, Bush's big mistake is insisting on a clear distinction between us and them, which Aslan believes helps Al Qaida (though Aslan has no trouble pointing out distinctions--say, how we deal with due process--so long as the comparison makes Bush look bad). He ends his piece with the words of Bin Laden to prove this point:

[Bush] stated clearly that this war is a Crusader war. He said this in front of the whole world so as to emphasize this fact. … When Bush says that, they try to cover up for him, then he said he didn't mean it. He said, 'crusade.'
This is Bin Laden's false perception, as well as him parroting, as he often does, false claims that some in the West make. But instead of condemning Bin Laden for his foolishness, somehow Aslan tries to condemn Bush for it.

On one point I agree with Aslan--much of this is a battle of perception. Instead of clearing things up, however, Aslan is muddying the waters.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Star Trek Babies

J.J. Abrams is doing a new Star Trek movie. New, but about the original characters--Kirk, Spock, etc. The original cast is too old (or too dead) to play the roles, so for the first time (?) the crew will be portrayed by others.

The Star Trek series was about adults. The top officers tended to be in their 30s or 40s. I always put Kirk in his mid-30s.

The movies were done years later, and even though the crew was getting a bit long in the tooth, they did some of the best work in The Wrath Of Khan and The Voyage Home.

Now the casting breakdowns are out and we know what the new movie is looking for. Kirk will be mid-20s, while Bones and Scotty will both be around 30. This is ridiculous. Kirk at 25? He's hardly out of cadet school. How can he be a captain? And do we need a doctor on the ship who hasn't finished his residency?

Some heroes are meant to be young. Spider-Man is barely a man. But the characters in Trek have been around the block a few times, and it should show.

POV

What the Prime Directive is to Star Trek, NPOV (neutral point of view) is to Wikipedia. The idea is every article should be accurate, yes, but also disinterested.

This isn't easy, especially on controversial issues. The temptation to make a point (or not to see the other side) is just too strong.

For instance, I was looking up Michael O'Hanlon, one of the writers of The New York Times editorial that's got everyone abuzz--the one suggesting there are very positive signs in Iraq. What caused the stir is that O'Hanlon and co-author Kenneth Pollack are of the left.

Needles to say, war supporters have grabbed onto this piece as a lifeline, while war opponents claim O'Hanlon and Pollack are not only longtime fans of the war, but are also being misleading when when they claim to have been strong critics of how it's been carried out.

Personally, I'd say while there's no doubt they're among the leftists who supported the war, it's also easy enough to look up previous articles where O'Hanlon has spoken out against the Bush administration's handling of the war.

Anyway, the most recent author of the Wikepedia entry on O'Hanlon (it may change yet again) discusses O'Hanlon's article, and then quotes Glenn Greenwald as an example of a critic who has questioned O'Hanlon's honesty. Greenwald says O'Hanlon has regularly supported the war and continually said things are going well.

I'm pretty sure that Greenwald's wrong, but that's not the point. By positing Greenwald as some sort of objective critic--he's desribed as an "attorney and columnist"--and not as the harsh critic of the Bush administartion that he is, the author of the entry is allowing Greenwald to do his arguing for him.

It's not hard to find people who agree with you and have gone on record. To quote them as objective sources, rather than partisan voices in a controversy, seems to me to be breaking the NPOV rule.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Beaten To Redemption

I was watching the end of The Shawshank Redemption--the part where Tim Robbins escapes by crawling five hundred yards through sewage. Morgan Freeman's narration goes "500 yards--that's the length of five football fields, just shy of half a mile."

I was going to note that they must think we're so dumb we don't know half a mile is 880 yards. But someone beat me to it. Check out the trivia section here at the Greatest Movies website--500 yards isn't even a third of a mile.

Now if only I could convince people it's not one of the Greatest Movies, we'd be getting some place.

Sunshine On My Shoulder

J.R. Jones reviews Danny Boyle's Sunshine in the Chicago Reader, calling it a must see. The film's a sci-fi thriller about a crew sent on a mission to reignite the sun.

Jones: "For all its celestial musing, Sunshine is expertly plotted and paced, the science driving the narrative as one complication leads to another." This made me laugh, since the people I saw it with found much of the movie, especially the last half hour or so, incomprehensible.

Ironically, in the same paragraph, Jones shows he didn't follow the plot very well when he says the ship's gardens are destroyed by the navigator's screw-up--it actually happens due to a later incident.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

My Word II

There's a Scrabble website I check out regularly. It shows a board and the latest seven letters chosen. The reader has to figure out the best word to play. It updates twice daily.

The highest game so far has been 1011 total points--with 100 tiles to play, that means more than ten points per. The highest single play they ever had was "vi(s)io(n)ed"--the S and N were blanks that can be used for any letter--worth 140 points. It was played across two triple-word scores, so the points were multiplied by 9, and using all letters meant a 50-point bonus.

I get a feeling these records will soon be flying out the window.

Right now, it's a wide open board. Already, on the second play, "chateaux" was available for 113 points, and that was followed by another bingo, "absenter" ("banters" didn't have the double double-word score).

So here's the scene. One the left side of the board, F has three spaces above it and four spaces below it to get to the triple word scores. Same for K on the right. On the bottom, there are four spaces, then D, then three spaces to get to the triple word scores. The letters in the rack are N, E, E, O, R, O, V. What do you play?

I'll give you a second to think about it.

Don't look down if you don't want to know my answer.







Okay, here goes. I don't know about you, but I would play OVERDONE on the bottom. Including the double letter score on the R, and the two triple word scores, I believe this nets 167 points.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

My Word

There's a new series on AMC--in fact, I think it's the only one they've ever had--Mad Men. It's set in the 1960's world of advertising.

A lot of it is about capturing the period. The look, yes, but especially the different attitudes----sexism, racism and everyone smoking. (I did catch one anachronism--a character said "waiting on".)

Anyway, the ad men are trying to sell a laxative, and one comes up with the term "satisfeculent."

Hmm. I came up with this word a year ago. Does Matthew Weiner read Pajama Guy?

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Best Thing About New York

I was recently in New York and saw some theatre. Since it's so costly, I decided to buy only half-price tickets, but there was still plenty available. (Avenue Q was only 35% off so that was out, though).

I finally caught Spamalot. It's a big hit (won the Tony for best musical) and has been playing for years. It's essentially Monty Python And The Holy Grail vastly rewritten with a lot of songs added. Eric Idle did the rewriting, so it's sort of like diluted Python. If anything, the play cares less about the plot than the movie does.

I certainly enjoyed it, but I'm not sure what to make of these musicals. By "these" I mean Broadway musicals based on classic comedies that didn't really need to be improved--and rewritten by the original writer. The other obvious example is The Producers. I see the shows and enjoy them, but realize the original is better, and already know half the jokes I'm about to see.

Also, the songs don't make up a "real" score that you'd care about on its own, but a bunch of passable tunes and lyrics done by the original guys who aren't trained songwriters (with a little help). The thing is, in the movies, like The Producers or Young Frankenstein (soon to open on Broadway) or Holy Grail or Life Of Brian, the songs tend to come out of nowhere and are delightful and bizarre at the same time. Having a whole score of such stuff isn't the same things.

Mike Nichols directed Spamalot and had a hand in editing the script so it would work on Broadway, even with--essentially--no story (by the middle of the second act they stop searching for the Grail and start looking for Jews, since their new quest is to put on a Broadway musical--the song about how you need Jews for musicals echoes the "Keep It Gay" number in The Producers about the other necessary ingredient).

I'd recommend Spamalot, but it's not nearly as magical as Monty Python straight.

The other show I saw was delightful. Maybe it helped I was a little worried about the premise. It's The 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee. The title pretty much says what it is.

The score is by the awarding-winning William Finn, who wrote March Of The Falsettos (which I didn't like that much). Anyway, the auditorium is set up like a high school gym, and the plot is mostly about six nerdy kids trying to win a spelling bee (what did I tell you?).

They spell a lot of words in the show, which is fun, since you can see if you'd get them right (and many of the funniest lines are when the Vice Principal reads the definitions of the words and uses them in a sentence). But they also all have songs that tell about themselves and their often messed-up lives.

Adding to the fun--it's a stunt, but one that fits in with the show--they invite four people from the audience to participate in the bee. They actually get real words and keep playing until they're eliminated. (The words get hard enough so that no one could stay up there too long).

Like many modern shows, there's no intermission. I guess this is okay, since movies don't have intermissions, but I like the old style of musical. Actually, Spamalot doesn't quite fit the old style, either, which was a long first act--60 to 90 minutes--and a shorter second act--45 to 60 minutes. If anything, Spamalot's second act is a bit longer than the first (and it does start to drag a little toward the end--by the way, they also have audience participation where they (spoiler) find the grail under someone's seat--they invite the guy up onstage and take his picture with the cast).

Spelling Bee is about an hour and forty five minutes. (Part of the timing depends on how long the audience participation lasts). It also drags a bit near the end, but still works.

I was told to check out Grey Gardens but didn't get the chance. I now regret it because the cast looks pretty good and the show just closed (because of people like me who put it too far down on their list).

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Ballot Up

My friend Tom has made the finals of a comedy competition and needs your vote. You can register at the Famecast website here, and vote here. It'll likely be close, so every vote counts.

Your Bag, My Bad

I had a new experience the other day. While waiting on the tarmac for two hours in a packed plane flying us back to LA, the PA announced some of our bags weren't going to make it with us.

This wasn't due to a terrorist threat, or anything like that. It was just that the airline was having trouble with its baggage handling system, and, even with all that trouble, knew enough that they were gonna fail.

And guess what? My bag didn't make it. I got to wait at LAX two more hours for the next flight, which happened to have my bag (no doubt knocking someone else's off the next flight).

I won't say what airline it was, except it was an American airline.

I'm reminded of a Henny Youngman joke:

I went to the airport. I had three pieces of luggage. I said, “I want this piece to go to Cleveland, this piece to go to Toronto, and this piece to Florida.” The airline agent said, “We can’t do that.” I replied, “Well, you did it last week.”

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Michelangelo Antonioni

Wow, Antonioni died, a few hours after Ingmar Bergman. Michelangelo Antonioni was one of the few names as big in the art film racket as Bergman.

Their approaches were quite didfferent. Bergman believed in actors' faces--closeups--to bring out emotion. Antonioni believed in distance--long shots, long takes--to show distance in space and time.

Antonioni broke from the Italian neo-realist tradition in the 50s and gained international fame in 1960 with the striking L'Avventura. His languorous style, where little seems to be happening, was controversial, but Antonioni always had--and continues to have--many defenders.

I'm not one. I don't hate him, but I think he can be dull. And while I prefer films that move, I'm not against filmmakers who attenuate scenes--such as Ozu or David Lynch. It's just that, too often, Antonioni strikes me as a hip style in search of meaning.

L'Avventura was followed by two similar films, making up a trilogy--La Notte and L'Eclisse. Them came another film in the same vein, except it was in color, The Red Desert (to switch to English titles).

All these movies featured his gal, Monica Vitti, and a bunch of other people portraying oh-so alienated modern people.

Next, in 1966, probably his biggest hit, and his first in English, Blow-Up. It starts out seeming to have a plot, with a mod photographer in swinging London uncovering a murder plot. But soon Antonioni starts going off in strange directions and you're not really sure what's happening any more. (It features the Yardbirds--The Who turned down the film, thinking the scene mocked them. This is why suddenly the Yardbirds are breaking guitars.)

Anotonioni went on to make other films in English which some people hold in high regard--Zabriskie Point and The Passenger. Unfortunately, he had a stroke in 1985 and, though he continued to direct, was never quite the same.

I hope I haven't given the impression I don't like his work. I recommend seeing his famous films--at least once. It's just that I'm not sure if I ever need to see most of them again.

I know at least two friends who are huge fans of Antonioni. I hope they leave comments telling me why I'm wrong.

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