Monday, December 31, 2007

There's An Iowa Kind Of Special Chip-On-The-Shoulder Attitude

I'm already sick of Iowa. Why should hawkeyes have any special say in our Presidential elections? Are they any better than hoosiers or buckeyes or tarheels, etc.? The state isn't even mentioned in the Constitution, I've checked.

I can hardly wait for this week to be over. The sooner those nutty caucuses are done, the sooner we can put it all behind us. (And what about those sooners?--they're just as good as hawkeyes, too.)

To Be Or Not To Be There

I was listening to the Jackson Five's "I'll Be There." It's a beautiful song, but then we get to this line:

If you should ever find someone new
I know he'd better be good to you
'cause if he doesn't
I'll be there

"'Cause if he doesn't" what? Doesn't "be good to you"?

'Cause if he isn't.

Holiday Surprise

As has been clear for a while, I Am Legend and National Treasure are the two big hits of December. But even if they exceeded expectations, everyone knew they'd do okay.

The real story is the massive success of Alvin And The Chipmunks. Poorly reviewed, no big names, a questionable title (for kids today), the film is at $140 million domestic and isn't close to being played out. This is the family money Golden Compass was aiming at. I guess when that flopped, with so many R-rated films around, the family market was wide open. And with endless sequel possibilities, Fox must be high-fiving--they've got a new franchise.

(I remember having a Chipmunks record when I was a kid, and playing it at a slow speed to hear the normal voices. Someone else thought of it.)

At a lower level (and a level of films I recommend), Juno is clearly this season's breakout indie hit.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Part 2: I Am Still Talking About Fight Club

Reader Larry King had some interesting points to make about Fight Club:

As someone who saw Fight Club three or four times the year it was out, and who still considers it a great movie.... I would have to disagree that "consumerism" is the critique.

A huge number of movies today owe a debt to some watered-down form of Rousseau or Marx. The rich are evil, the poor are virtuous, money (and perhaps also power) are the great sources of corruption.

Fight Club, on the other hand, draws on a very different philosophical strain....If I tried to summarize it, I would say: It is civilization -- specifically, the comforts of civilization, including comfy chairs, anaesthetics, and coddling mothers and wives -- who have sapped the savage essence out of Men. This essence cannot be recovered by a change in social or economic structure (as Rousseau and Marx thought). Nor can it be recovered by a willingness to inflict pain (as the Nazi S.S. thought). Rather, it can be recovered by a willingness to receive pain (as the 1920s Freikorps, the early S.A., and the anarchist Bakhunin thought).

Now, I admit that the attempt to destroy the credit agencies in this film doesn't fit that template. However, I think to analyze the film's message you have to ask, who is right -- Tyler Durden or the protagonist? For the first two-thirds of the movie, TD and the protagonist are on the same side, and their message is the romantic savage ideal I outlined above. In the last third of the movie, TD and the protagonist are at odds, and TD goes on his anti-capitalist rampage. I would argue that the movie's message is that the protagonist is right, and therefore TD's crusade at the end is a corruption of the philosophy it endorses.

Here's my response:

You make some good points. However, I'm not sure if the critique of (or satire on) consumerism is inconsistent with the notion in the film that we need to feel pain to regain our humanity.

The idea of truly feeling life is there throughout Fight Club, even before Tyler Durden appears on the scene. (It's the trouble the protagonist is having that conjures up Tyler.) The fight club itself, of course, is about really feeling things (which is why it's supposed to be so attractive), but also there's the support groups, the burning lye, threatening to shoot someone who doesn't live his life properly, picking a fight and losing, the near car crash, etc.

But the whole film is also shot through with consumer products and how they're not good for you, as well as a clear suggestion that the world of business and of power are evil. Thus you get the scene where we see a whole apartment furnished by Ikea; the politicians being attacked by the proles who do the real work; proles messing with rich people's food; and lots of scenes that show the stifling world of business.

And what does Tyler Durden himself do? He sells soap--an item that prevents us from smelling as nature intended. But it's not just any soap, it's special, expensive soap which he makes from body fat. He's a salesman, but the very thing he sells is a sick parody of capitalism, and a comment on how we're selling ourselves.

I'd say the "official" view of the film is that Tyler goes too far with Operation Mayhem, but what films officially say and what they actually say are often two different things. It's like the old gangster films that allowed you to enjoy the gangster's rise, while "officially" condemning him at the end to teach us a lesson. What makes Fight Club Fight Club is the sexiness of what Pitt has to offer, not Edward Norton coming to his senses (though I do admit we're on his side in the final battle).

Speaking of the ending, it's one of the best parts in the movies. While I don't exactly buy that Edward Norton could survive the gunshot, the effects and the music (by The Pixies) work pretty well--even the "subliminal" pornographic image stuck in adds to the fun. I hear the ending of the novel is different. For one thing, the protagonist is stuck on top of a building that's supposed to blow up.

Larry also made some points on what it means to be masculine, but I guess that's a discussion for another time.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bank On It

I was at the bank yesterday and this sign was posted (word for word):

We are unable to issue cashiers checks and money orders at this time due to temporary printer disfunction.

We apologize for inconvenience.

First, isn't it "cashier's check"? Second, "dysfunction" is the preferred spelling. Third, I really doubt the printer was dysfunctional, even temporarily. Finally, note they're apologizing not for the particular inconvenience, but inconvenience as a concept.

No Longer A Virgin

For years one of the best record stores in LA was Tower on Sunset, but with CD sales plummeting, it went out of business last year.

That made the Virgin megastore, a bit up the street, the place to be. It had large sections for books and DVDs, but also a large rent, so now it's also closing.

If you need a place to hang out, at least we still have Amoeba, going stronger than ever with the competition disappearing.

Friday, December 28, 2007

It All Ties Together

Speaking of Weezer's song "Buddy Holly," it's generally agreed the video is a classic. But I maintain it's even better than people realize.

Spike Jonze was given a song that, for some reason, combines Buddy Holly and Mary Tyler Moore. Holly died in 1959, Mary Tyler Moore gained her greatest fame in the 70s. So what does Jonze do? He builds the video around Happy Days--a show set in the 50s but filmed in the 70s.

Talking About Fight Club

I watched Fight Club recently. Don't think I'd seen it all the way through since it was released.

It ends (no spoiler warning for such an old film) with Edward Norton's character killing Brad Pitt's character--after he realizes Pitt is actually a creation of his own mind--followed by Pitt's plan of taking down a bunch of skyscrapers coming to fruition. It plays pretty weird after 9/11. Pitt even calls the area "ground zero."

Fight Club is what I'd call an interesting failure--the story doesn't quite work, but it's got a great look and intriguing scenes. At its ideological center is a critique of consumerism and how it separates us (especially males) from our true feelings. Overall, it's kind of half-baked, plot-wise and idea-wise. Still, I can understand how it's become a huge cult item. What I don't get is why people have been inspired to set up actual fight clubs.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Assassination In Pakistan

I don't have much to add about Benazir Bhutto's death except to say it reminds us of what we should already know. That how the next President will deal with foreign policy and the war on terror is as important as any other factor in deciding who to vote for.

They Left Off Some Good Stuff, Too

I was trying to look up VH1's greatest songs of the 90s, but had computer trouble. So I found this list instead.

(I'm going to forgo quotation marks--too much trouble:)

Cannonball, Mary Jane's Last Dance, Come Out And Play, Fly Away, Whoomp! (There It Is), Tubthumping, Man On The Moon, Lithium, Insane In The Brain, Hey Jealousy, Linger, Buddy Holly, All Apologies, When I Come Around, Two Princes, Ironic (the song that launched a thousand stand-up routines), Unbelievable, It Was A Good Day, Give It Away, Mr. Jones, Groove Is In The Heart, Tennessee, Come As You Are, Bittersweet Symphony, All I Wanna Do, My Name Is, Enter Sandman, O.P.P., Loser, Under The Bridge, Losing My Religion, Smells Like Teen Spirit--there was some decent stuff on the radio that decade. Probably better than the 80s.

(Though I'm sure if I was blogging then I'd have been complaining most of the time.)

So That's What They're Calling It Now

Easy Rider (1969) is actually a pretty bad film. Once you get beyond Jack Nicholson and a bit of road footage, there's not much there. I can see why it changed Hollywood. If a movie that incoherent can make so much money, the guys on top must have figured they didn't know the market any more.

So they gave money to new filmmakers, hoping to cash in on this youth market. One of most obvious follow-ups was Two-Lane Blacktop (1971). The Monte Hellman film, starring rock star non-actors James Taylor and Dennis Wilson, is about a cross-country race for pink slips. Even this short description is too kind, since the story doesn't really go anywhere--it's not good when a road picture doesn't go anywhere--and is full of characters too cool, or addled, to care about anything.

It flopped, of course. Some have tried to make a case for the film. For instance, there's an appreciation in Slate by Elbert Ventura. His argument: "Watching Two-Lane Blacktop today, what leaps out is how unpretentious it is." Well sure, nothing seems to be happening. I guess you can't get more unpretentious than that.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

See?

According to an article in the LA Times, Mel Gibson got special celebrity treatment during his arrest. However, as I've maintained, Paris Hilton didn't get any special treatment.

Interesting how the popular press would give you the opposite impression.

No Kidding

Michael Kidd has died. His name might not be quite as famous as other choreographers like Bob Fosse, Gower Champion or Jerome Robbins, though that's partly because they went on to become big directors while his best work was strictly doing the dancing.

But it was a remarkable career. He won five Tonys and was nominated for several more. His most famous work was probably for Guys And Dolls. It included two great dance numbers which brought to life the Broadway gamblers' milieu--the opener, "Runyonland," and the "Crapshooters Dance" (which uses "Luck Be A Lady" for underscoring). Another one of his best-known creations was Li'l Abner's act one curtain, the "Sadie Hawkins Day Ballet."

He also did great work in movies. His most memorable choreography here has got to be his work on the classic musical Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. But he also acted a little. For instance, he holds his own with Gene Kelly as one of the three sailors in what some would call the last great MGM musical, It's Always Fair Weather. Even better, he's wonderful as the sardonic choreographer at the small-time beauty pageant in Smile. You might want to rent these last two films for a nice Kidd double feature.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Did We Read The Same Thing?

The LA Times Book Review regularly looks at graphic novels, which I applaud. However, these reviews often leave something to be desired.

A piece by Laurel Maury in this Sunday's edition discusses three works set in the Middle East. One, Shooting War, is narrated by a fictional journalist in the remains of Bagdhad some time after President John McCain has taken office.

Here's Maury: The exaggerations in "Shooting War" feel scarily unlike exaggerations. "The great capitalist experiment is dying here in the cradle of civilization," [the narrator] declares.

I agree this doesn't sound like an exaggeration. It sounds like pure idiocy.

The paragraph continues: "Marx is dead. Instead you gave us Hobbes. Which would you prefer?" Sounds like something I wish I'd said.

This whipsawed me. I assumed the quote was chosen to demonstrate how nutty the narrator is, not because it's clever or insightful.

I'm not explaining why these sentences I've quoted are so ridiculous. But then, I'm writing this quickly, and for free. Laurel Meany got paid. If she wants to quote what sounds like insanity, the least she could do is explain why she thinks it makes sense.

PS Merry Christmas

Monday, December 24, 2007

That's What The First Two Letters Stand For

The BBC, ah the BBC, so much classier than those corporate, money-driven American networks.

So during this holiday season, please enjoy, on the Beeb, My Big Breasts And Me.

A Scene Which Will Live In Infamy

On the ABC game show Duel, a question read: "What did Alfred Hitchcock use for blood in Psycho's infamous shower scene?"

Scary, maybe, but "infamous"?

(The answer's chocolate syrup, by the way.)

Attend This Tale

Overheard last week: One guy talking to another about a screening he'd seen of this film called Sweeney Todd. He was incredulous--it's about a barber who kills his customers by slashing their throats and then the bodies are made into meat pies!

Okay, I can see an average American (even one who attends screenings) not knowing that the story's been around since the 19th century, but is the 1979 Stephen Sondheim musical that unknown? It practically swept the Tonys and has had many major productions around the world since.

I'm not even saying the guy had to see the show. Just, maybe, he could have heard about it, and had an inkling of the plot. Perhaps they should have renamed it There Will Be Blood.

PS Similar reactions reported at Hollywood Elsewhere.

PPS The LA Times got a couple letters on Sweeney from shocked readers. One says:
For a blood-saturated musical "based on a 19th century legend of a serial killer who slices throats" to be called a "Sondheim masterpiece" is sick, perverse, ghoulish and tastelessly subjective, offering no redeeming social value and serving merely to generate profit for its demented producers. Just what this country needs: more slice-and-dice gore for gore's sake. Next up could be a G-rated romp featuring Jeffrey Dahmer's favorite recipes, or an insider's template on how to present your very own Columbine or Virginia Tech massacre.
A few points.

1) The widespread judgment that this is a Sondheim masterpiece may be subjective (because such judgments are always subjective) but I don't find any tastelessness in how subjective the judgment is.

2) I don't think complex art that entertains millions has no redeeming social value.

3) Anyone familiar with Sondheim's work would know it's not created "merely" to generate profit.

4) I don't get why people bring up the point that its investors want to make money. Would the reader change his mind about Sweeney Todd if it were being presented by a not-for-profit organization?

5) "Demented" producers? Gilding the lily, aren't we?

6) You don't spend a year writing an operatic score because you're presenting "gore for gore's sake."

7) It's wrong to imply the movie is symbolic of the age we live in. Blood-soaked entertainment has always been popular. Homer and Shakespeare provide ample evidence, as does the continued popularity of Sweeney Todd in one form or another for over a century and a half. (I can't be sure, but the letter writer seems to think the creators of the musical--or maybe just the creators of the movie--plucked this legend out of nowhere as an excuse to create gore.)

In the other letter, we get this unfortunate quote from producer Richard D. Zanuck: "The blood splatters all over the place. . . . But the whole thing is obviously tongue-in-cheek."

More like tongue out of cheek.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Pajama Guy Gets Results

Last week I posted on how Professor Tom Berg at the Mirror Of Justice blog used--or misused--the phrase "begs the question."

He's since replied. And he's graciously conceded the point (or at least gone 90% of the way).

Saturday, December 22, 2007

What Are The Odds?

A while ago, the AFI came up with a Top 100 list for comedy, and I noted the top two were about men dressed as women. (See if you can guess which ones.)

I just watched a show on the 50 most outrageous sports moments. Amazingly, out of the endless possiblities, the top two both featured Evander Holyfield boxing and Mills Lane refereeing (even though the outrages weren't caused by either).

Can you remember these incidents, or do you need to look at the list?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Government's Favorite Pastime

"Congress To Hold Hearings On Steroid Use."

Now which part of the Consitution gives them control over baseball, again?

It's Funny Because It's True

From The Onion: "Gore Wins Oscar, Nobel Peace Prize For Slide-Show Presentation."

MB: My Bad

Amazingly wrongheaded essay on Hollywood's anti-war movies by Martha Bayles from The Claremont Institute. But I've argued against her soul-deadening understanding of art before--that doesn't interest me here. What does get to me is her factual misunderstandings.

I could point to a number of questionable claims, but one line especially threw me for a loop. In discussing the Hollywood cliche of the brutalized, deranged Vietnam vet (which she doesn't seem to challenge), we get this:
...in the late 1970s, a slew of films appeared portraying soldiers and veterans as dangerous lunatics: Taxi Driver (1976), Rolling Thunder (1977), Apocalypse Now (1979), The Ninth Configuration (1980). The noble exception was The Deer Hunter (1978), and by the 1980s, it was no longer cool to portray Vietnam vets as nut jobs.
What, Deer Hunter is a "noble exception" to the nutty veteran rule? The film where Christopher Walken is a hollowed-out, drug-addicted veteran who makes his living playing Russian Roulette? Maybe Bayles left when the wedding ended.

And what's this weird cut-off around 1980 when Vietnam vets were no longer seriously troubled? Has she not seen Cutter's Way (1981), First Blood (1982), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Distant Thunder (1988), Casualties Of War (1989), Jacknife (1989), In Country (1989), Jacob's Ladder (1990), Dead Presidents (1995), The Big Lebowski (1998) and hundreds of TV shows.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Strom Thurmond Lives

The EPA just denied California's waiver request for tougher emission standards. Many state leaders have attacked the decision, and a lawsuit will follow.

I'm not going to get into the substance of the debate. I just want to say how much I enjoy it when the Left goes blue in the face demanding states' rights.

More Bad Predictions

I was reading a profile of the B-52's from a 1980 issue of Rolling Stone. It's right after their second album came out. The author, James Henke, is vaguely positive, but seems to keep the band at arm's length, fearful they may be just a fad. (This is why I like to read contemporaneous material--no official, received opinion.)

Henke goes so far as to quote another, unnamed writer, to express doubts:
"They're just this year's Devo," one writer friend commented to me upon learning my assignment. "They're a novelty band, a gimmick act. They'll be gone by next year."
Ha! He wasn't even right about Devo.

Innovation

Years ago I heard rumors that blackjack teams trained at MIT were making a killing in Vegas. I found the story so intriguing that I pitched it as a movie. Then Bringing Down The House became a bestseller and I had to stop since producers were bidding for the real thing.

Until a friend sent me a copy, I didn't know author Ben Mezrich had written another, more recent book about MIT and blackjack, Busting Vegas. I think I found this book even more fascinating since these guys used techniques light years beyond card counting.

Counting, you see, even when done perfectly, only gives you a 1% or 2% advantage. These new techniques could give you an edge, under certain circumstances, of 40% or more. (These techniques require a lot more skill than just card counting. Of course, with the publication of this book, these new ideas were busted. I'm sure Vegas has already taken measures to deal with them.)

The book takes us on the ups and downs (some big downs) of this team. What are their new techniques? Read the book.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Blink Is As Good As A Nod

Unsurprisingly, the Democrats caved on "paying for" the one year Alternative Minimum Tax fix. My favorite part of the article was:

“Our message to the Senate is that we are not going to vote for any bill that is not paid for,” Representative Mike Ross of Arkansas said recently. “If the Senate wants to spend Christmas Day here, we’re prepared to do that.”

But no lawmakers really wanted to do that in the end, as Wednesday afternoon’s vote demonstrated, with 157 Democrats joining 195 Republicans in voting “yes.”

Heaven forfend, the idea of legislators working on a holiday to stick to their principles! Let's not set that precedent now, shall we?

Our Patron Saint

Here's the latest from Jonathan Klein. Not that interesting, but, if you look at the upper left-hand corner of this site, you'll see how important he is to us.

The USADA Finally Lost A Case

A 29 y.o. sprinter named LaTasha Jenkins, with the help of a Valparaiso law professor and some law students, is the first person to beat the US Anti-Doping Agency in an arbitration, where she had faced a two year ban from competition for allegedly testing positive for steroids. Her defense was, essentially, that the WDA lab techs had failed to have two separate lab teams test her two samples, to avoid having the same techs repeat an error, which I think is a perfectly reasonable procedural safeguard. Before this, they USADA had been undefeated in 40 arbitrations over the course of its 7 year existence. I think that's a credit to their diligence and ability to prepare strong cases, but I'm glad to see them finally lose one. It always makes me nervous when a prosecutorial body has an undefeated record, like the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York did for a few years. It just creates the wrong impression somehow.

Bad vibes

As I have remarked before I receive plenty of scam emails (usually with a Nigerian connection) telling me I have lucked out and can collect x million euros, dollars, pounds, gold Iraqi dinars, etc... But this one worried me
We are pleased to inform you of the announcement today 19/12/2007 of your selection as one of the three participants of the promotional Super Ena draw held on the 15 December2007.
The lucky numbers 5 8 5 2 26 71 70 came out first position therefore You have been approved for a lump sum pay out of Euro 27,134,567. This is from a total prize sum of Euro 9,300,000 shared amongst the first three (3) lucky winners in this category
Contact your claims agent for further information
Vito Grosso
vitogrosso03@yahoo.it
Congratulation once again
Gianluca maldini

Sorry, call me insensitive, but no way am I going to contact Fat Vito about this

A+ Rod

The Wolverine fan who send me last week's discussion on a new coach sends me this follow-up on Rodriguez:

I'm thrilled with the hire. I didn't really consider him as a candidate because he turned down an offer from Alabama last year to stay with his alma mater,and I just assumed he couldn't be pried away. Not sure if you know this (I didn't), but he's pretty much credited with inventing the spread option offense that's all the rage in college football right now. Did it while he was head coach at Glenville Stat, wherever the hell that is. It feels great to have an innovator as our coach.

The only question mark about him is the character of some of the players that he recruited to WVU--Adam"Pacman" Jones, for one. But the generally feeling about that is he won't have to take chances on people to get top talent to come to UM. Everything else seems to be a strong positive. This truly is the dawning of a new age for Michigan football. For the first time in almost 40 years, the coach won't be Bo or a Bo assistant. Though Rodriguez played for former Bo asst. Don Nehlen at WVU, so I guess there's still a tenuous connection.

John Bacon, who wrote the most recent Bo book, and worked closely with Bo for a year and a half on it, said a month or so ago, when the rumor was that Kirk Ferentz was going to be offered the job, that Bo thought the two best current college coaches (obviously current when Bo was still alive) were Kirk Ferentz & Rich Rodriguez. One more thing, he's not the first West Virginian hired to coach football at UM. The other was Fielding Yost.

Looking Back On The Future

Okay, the year's not over yet, but unless there are some big surprises in the next week and a half, I think we can look at our predictions for 2007.

Might as well look at mine first.

Predictions For 2007

Iraq: The new Democrat Congress will affect but not derail Bush's plans. Violence will continue but democratic institutions will be built up.

The first sentence is right--the Dems wanted to do something to appeal to their anti-war base, but Bush still pretty much got what he wanted. However, what I didn't predict was violence would drop significantly by the end of the year (whether or not democratic institution are built up).

World Politics: The Palestinians will continue to attack Israel and each other. Castro will die but Cuba will remain a prison.

Essentially right on the Palestinians, I'd say. Castro didn't die, though he was ill. Cuba is still a prison.

American Politics: The Democrats will reverse a lot of rules at first, but eventually fissures will develop that slow down the passing of laws. Bush will get very few of his proposals through, and will change from signing statements to vetoes. Bush will not be impeached. Protectionist legislation will be passed. The 700-mile border wall will not be built. Hillary will remain the Dems front-runner for 2008, even with significant disenchantment among the base. No single clear leader will emerge from the Republican side.

Dems reversed some rules, but were much more interested in launching countless investigations. The fissures did prevent them from passing too many laws. Bush did start vetoing laws, and wasn't impeached. I don't think any important protectionism passed. The Wall wasn't built, at least not much. Hillary, I'd say, remains the front runner, but barely, and plenty of disenchantment. As far as no clear Repub leader, that's true in spades.

Popular Culture: Helen Mirren will win the Best Actress Oscar. The Departed and Dreamgirls will get the most undeserved Oscar nominations. The final Sopranos will be seen as disappointing. American Idol will not go down in popularity. At least three of the top five grossing films of the year will be sequels.

Mirren won. Departed got too many, not as sure about Dreamgirls. Sopranos finale was controversial, and disappointing to many. Idol still was as popular as ever (or at worst dropped only slightly). Looks like four of the top five will be sequels--Pirates, Potter, Spiderman and Shrek.

Economics: The U.S. economy will continue to grow at the rate it's been growing for over a year. The dollar will stabilize.

Essentially wrong. There was growth, but storm clouds these past several months. Dollar didn't stabilize.

Law: Alito will often vote differently from how O'Connor did. This will mean, among other thing (assuming Kennedy and Roberts go along) that affirmative action as presently practiced will be greatly affected, which will create a larger reaction than usual for a judicial opinion.

Alito was different, and affirmative action took a hit, though whether others will follow the law reamins to be seen. It got a reaction, but not that huge.

Sports: Pistons go all the way. The Tigers won't do anywhere near as well as last season. Michigan will finally beat Ohio State.

Pistons fall just short of the finals. Tigers did reasonably well, but not as well as last time. Like the previous season, they fell apart near the end. I figured Michigan had to win one of these days, but I guess not this time.

Internet: The blogs will break another scandal bringing down yet another big name.

The Scott Beauchamp scandal blew up in The New Republic's face. The fallout may not be over.


Let's look at what AnnArborGuy had to say. (The other Guys wimped out.)

World: Pat Robertson is wrong! The world will likely still be here next year. (If you are reading this in January of 2008, then this prediction holds.) [Note from LAguy: And if you're wrong, no one will be around to read it--pretty safe.]

Okay.

Politics: Democrats get a lot of what they want accomplished. Repubs are accommodating on most fronts and only fight one or two issues. Bush threatens but still does not use his veto.

I'd say wrong on all counts.

Economics: Good year for business. Soft landing as they say. Stock market looking beyond 2007 to the election year takes a breather through the summer.

Once again, I'd say wrong. (But I like bold predictions.)

Sports: Pistons don't even make the playoffs. Tigers have a commendable but not pennant winning year. Wolverine fans again awake with a hangover for the New Year.

Pistons win their division, and beat Orlando and Chicago before falling to Cleveland in the semifinals. I guess the Tigers were commendable if you look into their last decade. AAGuy calls it for the Wolverines (though the real hangover was from the first game, not the last).

Religion: The religion of peace keeps making new humans at a pace faster than anyone else and their influence spreads. Flash points continue everytime anyone says anything true about them.

Don't really have the stats for the first sentenece. The second sentence is more an editorial.

Medicine: Major breakthrough in genetic therapy (for a specific disease) is announced. World awaits breathlessly to see if it will have practical value. Health care politics do not result in any reform.

If AAGuy knows of this breakthrough, please inform us. He's right on health care.




Some of our readers also sent in predictions. Here's something from an anonymous reader (feel free to identify yourself):

1. Iran will push Iraq to page 2

I think you called this one.

2. Bush will abandon the "base" and reach across the aisle for several "bipartisan moderate" issues with some but limited success

I'd say no. (He tried bipartisanship in his first term and look what it got him.)

3. "Workforce shortage" will become a big issue as boomers retire

Not yet, but perhaps this isn't a prediction for 2007.

4. Baltimore over New Orleans 13-6 in one of the most boring least watched super bowls ever

Colts 29, Bears 17, in what was a pretty good game.

5. The seasonal aberrations of over 50 degree days in December/January in the NorthEast will push green building/global warming legislation in both Congress and several states but despite the hype it will be largely symbolic without much practicial effect (though it will further marginalize the industry scientists' positions)

I don't recall the temperature a year ago, but right now it's freezing in the Northeast. Bush has got behind green legislation in a general way, but I don't see any yet.

6. As the positions clarify, Immigration will continue to become a wedge issue like abortion, taxes and war.

Immigration was a huge issue, but it was more the elite versus the common folk as top Repubs tried but failed to force comprehensive reform on an unwilling public. Driver's licenses also got politicians in trouble. Whether it will be a wedge issue in the upcoming election is tough to say, since the only major Repub who is "tough" on immigration is Fred Thompson. (Are they throwing away a good issue?)

7. Blockbuster will be out of business (or well on the way)

Throw in major record stores as well.

Finally, here are some predictions from reader Larry King:

1. Nancy Pelosi will not move the Congressional Democrats to the middle. Two reasons: (a) this is always difficult, as seen in 1993 and 2001; (b) deep inside, she would rather be the most powerful Democrat in the USA than the adjunct to a Democratic president.

I'm not sure how to call this one. While she's hardly Bush's friend, she's often been the one putting the breaks on the Dem base's nuttier ideas (like impeachment) and far from pulling us precipitously out of Iraq, the Congress keeps authorizing more money for the war.

2. Pope Benedict XVI will issue a wide permission for priests to celebrate the old rite of the Mass (the "Tridentine" or "Latin" Mass) no later than March of this year.

Larry has said this happened but not until later in the year. Is this correct? (Sounds like you had inside info.)

3. By late 2007, every Democrat who hopes to be elected president in 2008 will be very vague in their statements about Iraq, because they will have realized that the Iraq War will not even be close to over in January 2009 and they would rather not commit themselves to any strategy this far in advance.

They have gotten vaguer, or less loud about the war, as they see it's not as winning an issue as it once was (though it still plays well with the base). I don't know if they are changing their tune because they're afraid they won't be able to keep promises if elected--I could see this strategy once they clearly have their party's nomiation, but earlier?

4. The media, the Democrats, and many Republicans will continue to misinterpret November 2006 as a sign of the religious right's decline.

Considering the rise of Huckabee, you may have called this one.

And I agree with Reader's prediction # 7. Within a couple years, Netflix and Amazon will dominate the rental and buying markets in a way that no physical store chain ever has.

Things seem to be going in this direction, though it's been moving this way for a while.

I [...] predict that by Fall 2007 it will be clear that McCain is the frontrunner. In fact, he will be seen as difficult to beat.Even if leaders of the Conservative Movement attack McCain for not being conservative enough, they will get very little traction. The fact that these "leaders" were silent while Bush increased spending drastically has compromised their authority. Meanwhile, McCain is positioning himself closer to Bush -- supporting his troop increase request and sounding more like a social conservative. As proven in 1968 and 1988, Republicans give the benefit of the doubt to frontrunners who claim conservative credentials, even when these are dubious, and McCain is much more conservative than Nixon ever was.

I've already taken Larry to task for this statement, and it's certainly wrong--McCain is fighting for his life. But it's also true that McCain's clear support for the troop increase has been a great asset, and may yet save him.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

AG Is Gold

I watched the old American Gladiators. Not sure if I'll do the same for the new prime time version, but I am impressed by the gladiators' names: Titan, Justice, Mayhem, Militia, Wolf, Toa, Hammer, Venom, Crush, Siren, Stealth, Fury and Helga (or "Hellga"--I've seen both and prefer the latter).

Not Much To Add

David Denby wrote a perceptive article a few months ago in The New Yorker about the new sort of romantic comedy. In classic screwball, men and women were equals. Now, he claims, in films featuring "Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Adam Sandler, John Cusack, Jimmy Fallon, Matthew McConaughey, Jack Black, Hugh Grant, and Seth Rogen," the man is still a child--a slacker who needs to grow up. The women's a straight arrow with a serious job--the one who has to force her guy to become an adult.

This probably has something to do with Katherine Heigl's recent comments in Vanity Fair that her hit Knocked Up is "a little sexist." The guys get to be lovable screw-ups while the women are humorless nags.

Now Meghan O'Rourke in Slate has a piece on the whole issue--how women and men and marriage are viewed in films these days.

I'm not saying any of these people are wrong, and I agree many romantic comedies today are written from the man's viewpoint. It's just that, for comedy, you often need a wet blanket to play against--in these cases someone who insists the fun-loving guy be responsible. I wouldn't read too much into the trend except that Hollywood has found a way to make money.

Palin Tome

I recently read Michael Palin's Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years. What would interest me most, and what I get the least of, is the making of the original series--three seasons, thirteen episodes a piece. It's what started it all. Much of the diary deals with its ramifications--movies, stage shows, more TV, albums, books, lawsuits. This stuff Palin goes into at great length.

Part of the reason the original show gets short shrift is Palin was simply so busy getting it done. Also, he was just starting out with his diary, and he even lost an early volume.

But another factor is he didn't know how important Monty Python would be. It was an exciting project, but he couldn't have figured it's what would define him. As far as I can tell, at the very least, the first two season were over before he had a clue the series would be legendary. It only started to dawn around the third season that this was something different (completely different).

PS I should add that Palin comes across as the nice, sensible guy you always thought he was. I get the feeling the troupe would have flown apart without him. Writing partner Terry Jones was stubborn. Terry Gilliam, an American and an animator, was the odd man out. Graham Chapman was an alcoholic. Eric Idle, the one without a writing partner, was the hardest to pin down. And John Cleese was a prickly character who refused the do the six-episode fourth season, and didn't even want to do the third.

PPS Palin claims the show was known as the Gay Boys Dragon Hour in Japan.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Give Me Back My Song

One of my favorite songs is the B-52's "Give Me Back My Man." I always thought it was a great torch song--a genre not often heard in the world of punk and new wave.

But now I see on Wikipedia it's actually about a women who's literally lost her guy to a man-eating shark. I dont know, maybe. I'll admit, it does fit the words. Judge for yourself.

Big Weekend

After a couple lackluster weekends, Hollywood finally showed people will turn out if you give them what they want. (Whether they want good films or not is a separate question).

Will Smith had his best opening ever with $75 million+ for I Am Legend. But everyone knew it was gonna be huge--over $50 million for sure. The only question was how much over. More impressive to me was Alvin And The Chipmunks making around $45 million, which doubled expected numbers.

With five major films opening next weekend for the big Christmas rush--Charlie Wilson's War, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, P.S. I Love You, Sweeney Todd and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story--it should be a battle royale through the end of the year.

Beggarman

Over at Mirror Of Justice professor Tom Berg writes about using the historical record in First Amendment religion debates. He starts his second paragraph thus: "To me, though, this begs a further question: why was [Hugo] Black able to draw so much on history about religion?"

So Tom has gone over to the other side. "Beg the question" originally meant assuming what's needed to be proved (a usage he's certainly aware of), but he thinks it's okay to use it as "leading to the question."

I've written about this in the past. I'd rather we followed the historical record.

Matinee Idol

Last week I went to the Silent Movie Theatre to see the rarely shown The Matinee Idol (1928), directed by Frank Capra.

First a word about the Theatre. It's a small place on Fairfax south of Melrose. It was doing revival business back in the 40s, shut down, and reopened (and reclosed a few times) in the past 15 years. The latest group to take over is The Cinefamily. It's ten buck per program, or 25 bucks a month. Check it out if you're in town. They've actually removed seats so the ones left are more comfortable, and the first two rows are couches. (And they still have Bob Mitchell at the keyboards to accompany the silents--he's 95 and actually played piano for some of these films when they were originally released!)

Anyway, Matinee Idol is one of Capra's earliest films, but we can already see themes that would interest him--particularly country folk versus city folk. But whereas some directors like Hawks or McCarey would make fun of rubes, Capra tended to have the city slickers outwitted by the common people. (He practically invented screwball and then spent the next decade apologizing.) He doesn't have this down yet in the 1920s, but it's brewing.

The plot is pretty simple. A Broadway star (alas, a blackface comedian, though to be fair it is a plot point) is vacationing in the country with others of his smart set when they run across a local, amateur production. They laugh it up at how bad these hicks are, and the star's producer decides to put them on Broadway as an unwitting comedy act. Making fun of bad acting goes back to ancient Greece, but Capra doesn't exactly go where you expect him to.

The star (played by a guy named Johnnie Walker, by the way) performs in the bad play, pretending he's an amateur. He falls in love with the female lead (Bessie Love, who I've always liked). The ham troupe comes to New York, not knowing what they're in for. They don't recognize the star of the Broadway show is that amateur, since they see him in blackface.

So we get to the climax. They put on their play and the New York crowd howls. It could have been played for laughs, I guess, but that's not Capra's style, whose stock in trade is public humiliation of the naive in front of sophisticates. Suddenly, this comedy turns nasty. It ultimately has a happy ending, but for a while there, it's harrowing.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Someone Had To Say It

Posner and Becker rank the UN's rankings.

It's Rich

As is being reported all over, Rich Rodriguez will be the next Michigan coach. Seems like a good choice. Sorry, WVU.

Previews

The year is just about up, which means it's time for our annual awards and predictions. I expect the Guys to start working on them, and readers who wish to can leave theirs in the comments.

Here are some categories to get you going: Best Press Coverage, Worst Press Coverage, Biggest Scandal, Biggest Non-Scandal, Biggest Loser, Biggest Winner, Biggest Failure, Biggest Comeback, Greatest Success, Biggest Celebrity Meltdown, Worst Political Move, Biggest Stealth Issue, Most Overrated Issue, Dumbest Comments, Person Of The Year, Most Overrated Person Of Year and Defining Moment.

Also, some time in January, I should be putting out my Film Year In Review--always a popular post.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Losing Site

The old website for University Of Michigan sports was not too fancy, but it was easy to navigate and had all the info I needed.

The new site, using a format that the entire Big Ten has adopted, is much more intricate and a complete nuisance. It takes a long time to load, is more complex than needed and half the time freezes my computer. Thanks, Big Ten.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Never in the same room

Hey, just jetted in from the coast (of the Olentangy River) and boy are my arms tired . . . It's been so long since I've posted, I had to think about my log-in ID, and no guarantee that I'd get it, either . . . try the veal . . .

So I'm reading this Ron Silver column (Silver Bullet? Is it a regular schtick?) courtesy of some place, and I swear Ron's channeling LAGuy. Come to think of it, it's been so long since I've seen LAGuy, I'm not sure this isn't him.

Goodbye Matt

Just got back from a farewell party for Matt Welch, who leaves LA for D.C., where he'll be editor of Reason magazine. (Odd, I thought the Reason HQ was in LA.) Former editor Nick Gillespie will concentrate on Reason TV. The Reasonoids met at the west coast Skeptics Center--interesting seeing all those people who don't believe in anything.

Almost all my old friends who wrote/write for Reason have left town. I guess that's the dislocation effect you gotta expect from libertarians.

The worst thing about it all is Matt also leaves his position on the LA Times editorial board. There's always gonna be a libertarian voice at Reason--his voice will be missed at the Times.

The Great Debate

I read the transcript of the recent Republican debate. Pretty dispiriting. Thank goodness this is the last one till Iowa.

First question: What was Alan Keyes doing onstage? This was the most unncessary appearance on TV since they invited Adam Ant to the Motown 25th anniversary special.

Second question: What's with moderator Carolyn Washburn? She insisted on short answers to complex questions. Usually it's the candidates who try to run out the clock when they have nothing to say.

Anyway, by and large, unimpressive performances by all. I recognize they were often pandering--that's what politicians do. What I found disturbing is they weren't pandering to me.

The biggest unforced error, seems to me, was Romney's. When asked about taxes, he said he didn't worry too much about the rich, but was concerned about the middle class. This is the Dems' positions: "we can raise taxes as high as we want as long as we think the taxee can afford it (and he always can)."

PS I cried because I had no shoes*, and then I saw the Dems debate. I caught some of it on TV, and all I could see was whenever they suggested the government take over yet more of our lives, the concurrent liberal approval chart shot way up.

*When I use even part of this saying, I can't help but think of the Steven Wright line: "I was sad because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet. So I said, ‘Got any shoes you're not using?’" Soon this'll be the mainstream saying. He's done it before. Most people now say "Women--can't live with 'em, can't shoot 'em." A fair amount say "It's a small world, but I wouldn't want to paint it."

The Great Debaters

I recently drove past the Cinerama Dome where they were holding the premiere of The Great Debaters. It's about a debate team from a black college in the 1930s taking on Harvard for the national championship.

This sort of film has become a genre in itself--inspirational tales (often based on true stories) of African-Americans who work hard, believe in themselves and overcome great odds to show a doubting world they're as good as, or better than, anyone else.

While I often enjoy this sort of film, I doubt it has much social value beyond the entertainment it affords. (I'm not picking on the genre--I feel this way about almost all fiction.) I think we're at a point where everyone understands African-Americans can do what anyone else can do. The problems are deeper than lack of inspiration.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Leap over Jaws?

I see the Dave Clark 5 and the Ventures were elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame today. Is there any band that had a hit in the 60s that isn't in the HOF? Maybe next year the Fugs get in.

LAGuy adds: I think you missed the story, which was that Madonna and John Mellencamp got in. I'd rather listen to the Dave Clark 5 and the Ventures.

NE Guy responds: Madonna and Mellencamp got the headlines and while I'm not a fan of and wouldn't have voted for, either, they were at least forces in the industry. Who is left from the 50s and 60 s who is not in the the Hall? It just seems that pretty soon, for a band, being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is going to be more like getting your name in the phonebook, than any mark of achievement.

LAGuy ripostes: Hey, I'm blue, get your own color.

NE Guy responds: Its a different shade entirely but I didn't know it was spoken for. From now on, I'll be puke green unless one of the other guys has claimed it. (And how do you do this to my posts, I can't do it to yours)

'Roids

So the Mitchell Report is out. All sorts of superstars have been implicated.

As I expected, the Report makes one thing clear: steroids have made baseball better.

Lostless

I saw a commerical for upcoming Lost episodes in a movie theatre of all places. It actually got me excited, but then it hit me--the writers' strike. I don't know how far the show got in its already short 16-episode season, but I know they didn't shoot them all. (And Lost tends to have major revelations around the end of the season.)

So let's say there are no more new episodes for a while. What will ABC do? They were scheduled to start showing in Februrary. Will the network wait until the full season is ready, or just show what they have. The aesthetic choice is the former, but the business choice is the latter. If anything, the lack of competition in hourlong drama will help in the ratings.

Behold The Woman

I just watched the famous Twilight Zone episode "Eye Of The Beholder." It's the one where a hideous woman hopes to change her looks through surgery. The bandages are removed and it's The Beverly Hillbillies' Elly May, Donna Douglas. Except in this alternate world, she's considered ugly and the rest of the hospital staff who seem bizarre to us are normal.

Like many Zones, the didacticism is laid on with a trowel. (It's actually worse than I remembered, with a fascist leader on TV going on about conformity.) But I have to wonder how it played the first time. (I can't remember my own reaction.)

A joke is only as good as its set-up, and the set-up here is awfully obvious. Before the bandages come off, the episode is filmed to make sure we never see anyone's face. It comes off as arty, and perhaps a comment on the patient's plight, but how could it not also give away the surprise. Was anyone fooled?

Ike Turner

Ike Turner just died. Though probably best known as Tina Turner's abusive husband (thanks in part to Laurence Fishburne's Oscar-nominated portrayal in What's Love Got To Do With It), he was a major musician in his own right.

He's deservedly in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. He was a popular session guitarist and pianist, who, in 1951, long before he met Tina, recorded "Rocket 99," considered by many to be the first rock and roll record.

With Tina, he recorded "River Deep, Mountain High" in 1966, perhaps the ultimate example of the Phil Spector sound. (It's failure to chart in 1966--it only went to #88 on Billboard, though it was a huge hit in England--made Spector leave the business for a while.)

Ike and Tina's signature tune, an amazing workout of CCR's "Proud Mary," was their one big hit. They didn't chart a lot, but other songs, such as "Nutbush City Limits," are just as memorable. Also memorable was their lively stage show, featuring Ike, Tina and the Ikettes.

He abused drugs (which he admits--he denied abusing his wife) and went to jail for 17 months starting in 1989. He rehabilitated himself and his career in his final years.

Ironically, when I think of him, I think of two things that are really not about him:

1) At the 1994 Oscars, the winner of the Best Short Documentary was Defending Our Lives, about abused women (Blood Ties: The Life And Work Of Sally Mann should have won, but as usual, the Academy went for subject over content). After the filmmakers accepted the award, the show cut to Laurence Fishburne just before the break. That couldn't have been a coincidence.

2) On Letterman, there was a bit where they showed recent books, and my favorite of all-time might be Ike Turner's alleged autobiography, Womans Be Thinkin' Too Much.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It's Pronounced "FOO-KOO-DOH-MAY," People!

New Jersey is contemplating selling the naming rights to their Turnpike rest areas. As a New Yorker, that's where I spend a good amount of time and money while passing through Jersey on my way to the rest of the US, so I'll be interested to see what happens. Let's hope they make them long-term contracts, though, to avoid confusion in meeting up with people, etc. Say, this guy's got plenty of new American money if he's looking for a place to spend it and increase his name recognition.....

(For those readers who don't share my pubescent sense of humor, I'll give a hint: after Mr. Fukudome hit a pinch-hit home run in the World Baseball Classic, some American fans started to chant his name in four, very distinctive syllables.)

Will "Failure To Withhold" Penalties Apply Too?

It's like watching the Cuban Missile Crisis of tax/budgeting policy. Or the World Series of Irony, as both sides claim to be taking a principled stand that is wholly at odds with their historical principles. The House Democrats say all tax cuts must be offset with spending cuts or revenue increases, so let's stop hedge fund managers from using offshore trusts to defer/avoid taxes as a way of paying for the latest one-year AMT fix. (AKA: do it our way or we nuke the middle class.) The Senate Republicans say no new taxes; just drop the AMT that nobody was expecting anyone to pay anyway. (AKA: national debt, national schmedt, let the grandkids worry about it.) They're all throwing around words like "unprincipled" and even "immoral."

While I agree with the democrats on this one in principle -- like being a Jet, if you want to do pay-go you've got to do it from your first cigarette to your last dying day -- this is one mighty dangerous game of chicken. My guess is that the republicans are counting on the fact that it's largely blue-staters who get the biggest state tax deductions and therefore will suffer the most from a failure to reach a compromise. The NYTimes seems to be writing it off to a broader republican strategy that maybe could be called Starve The Beast Part Two. But whichever side prevails, this is not a good way to run tax policy.

Not Worth It

I bought a pull tab can of soup. I cut my finger opening it. And the kicker is this soup was supposed to be good for your health.

Answers On Jeopardy!

Denver Guy asks: I want to hear more about Jeopardy. Do the contestants try to play mind games off air? Does the show withhold taxes on winnings, or are the prizes net of taxes? Are their Jeopardy contestant reunions (there have been so many contestants over the years - it could make a cool club)?

Contestants are thrilled enough to be there without playing mind games. Besides, since they tape five shows in a day, unless you just won, you don't know if you'll be next, so you're nervous enough without screwing around. You do get to play a few practice rounds in the morning before taping starts and that does give you a chance to check out the others.

I seem to recall they didn't withhold taxes, though you could ask them to. Of course, if you won a large amount and didn't pay estimated taxes, you may be penalized for it. (When I played, they also had a limit on games won and money won--you had to list a charity any excess would go to. Happily, they've since dropped that requirement.) You can also reject anything they offer, of course. I turned down the Rice-A-Roni and Lee Press On Nails.

No reunions as far as I know, though they do have that Tournament of Champions, which is sort of a Homeschool Week.

Name The Coach

I personally thought Michigan dodged a bullet when the didn't get Les Miles to coach. His work at LSU didn't particulary impress me. I'll take a coach who gets the fundamentals first, and then works on the flashy stuff.

A Michigan fan recently wrote me on the coach vacancy and he had a lot to say:

I'm not much of a Miles fan either. In addition to what you said, he'll be 54 next season. I'd rather have a younger guy, as it's hard to think of a coach who did as well in his 60's as his 40's & 50's. He's not entirely out of play yet, though. A number of former players, who apparently think he should have been annointed head coach without an interview, background check or anyone else being considered came out and basically raised a very public stink sayingCarr blackballed Les and they were going to hold their breaths until they turned blue or something if Les wasn't offered the job.

There were strong rumors over the weekend that Mary Sue Coleman had gotten involved and that an offer was made to Miles behind the scenes this past weekend. He supposedly has a couple of days to decide. I have no idea of the veracity, but it's not just the usual random posters suggesting this, so it might have some legs.

Assuming Miles turns it down or was never offered, it should get interesting. Not clear who they'll target. Could be Tedford (Cal), who lots of people loved until his team dropped six games this year. But it's not clear if he'd come anyway, since he's a California native who's got a pretty good gig going there. People fear Martin will turn to former Carr D-Line coach and current Ball State head coach, Brady Hoke,and some think it might also go to current UM DC RonEnglish.

Other names mentioned include Saints HC Sean Payton (supposedly UM inquired but he said he's not interested), and Chris Petersen of Boise State. Undeniable offensive innovator, but has only been ahead coach for two seasons and like Tedford has no midwest ties; Missourri HC Gary Pinkel who'll be 56 inApril and who's only really had one good year there, but he's supposed to be a good man and rhe coach atToledo, so he's got midwest ties, and possibly Former UM defensive lineman and current Carolina Panthers DC Mike Trgovac (his name hasn't come up much lately, but I thought he might be a way to appease the former players behind Miles). Brian Kelly's name also comes up from time to time. He's the HC at Cincinnati, and was at CMU for three years before that, and before that he turned Grand Valley into a Div. II powerhouse. But though his name comes up, it's pretty widely thought by insiders that he's not going to be considered because he's a jerk. Another coordinator whose name comes up is the Patriots' OC, Josh McDaniels, whose dad is a legendary high school coach in Ohio. After all, Notre Dame has had such success with a Patriots' OC. Actually I don't want to lump him in with Charlie Weiss because he could be great. I just don't know if his aspiration is to coach college or the pros. Plus you just never know with coordinators making the jump to HC. Take Cam Cameron, who used to coach at UM and whose name the national media (but not the insiders) keep bringing up as a candidate. I can't recall if he was ever OC here or just the QB coach, but by all accounts he was a great assistant. Then he went to Indiana and failed pretty miserably as a head coach. Then had several successful NFL gigs before shining as the Chargers' OC the past couple of seasons. Gets himself hired as the Dolphins' HC and is on pace to do 0-16.

My personal favorite, who probably won't get a look, is Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun. This is only his first year as a head coach, but he's got a great pedigree, having been the Houston Texans' OC and assistant head coach to Mike Shanahan at Denver. Furthermore he was on highly-respected (but 56 years-old) Jim Grobe's staff at Wake Forest as OC, and he coached for at least five years at Ohio University(so he's got midwest ties). All that and he's only 41. While most people want a big name (Bill Cowher's and John Gruden's names are brought up by posters with regularity) coach, I'd rather have a guy who's going to make his name at UM.

The other guy I like, but who would be an even bigger than Calhoun is Brian Kelly's successor at GVSU. He not only maintained the program, but advanced it, going 50-4 over the past four seasons and winning the last two DII titles before losing in the semis this past weekend. He's only 39 or 40 and clearly knows how to wind. I've watched at least some of their last three games, and I really like his sideline demeanor. He's definitely intense on the sidelines, but he never screams or even seems upset. But it's an awfully big jump from D-II to D-I (but Tressell made a similar one from Youngstown St.), and he's never been at a big school as a coach or player. One thing in his favor, though, is that he knows how to prepare a team that constantly has a bulls eye on its back like UM does. In other words we're the biggest game of the year for OSU, MSU, Illinois Wisconsin & Minnesota, and possibly for ND & Northwestern as well.

So anyway, I went into the search fairly optimistic because I thought Martin had done pretty well with his past 5 or so hires (Men's and Women's basketball, Baseball, Tennis and Swimming), but there's SO much pressure from so many sides (former players several factions of big time donors, Lloyd Carr and others) I probably don't even know about, that I'm not as confident now. Martin is being villified in the press for "blowing" the Miles hire and for being "embarassed" by Schiano of Rutgers, who took himself out of consideration after a 5 hour meeting with Martin during which it apparently looked as if he'd take the position if offered), so now I'm lessc onfident he'll be able to just hire the best person. So we'll see.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Heart Attack

What did Alex Trebek suffer today?

PS When people find out I was on Jeopardy!, the first thing they want to know is what is Alex Trebek like. Well, there's not much to say. He's charming enough, but as soon as the lights go off, he runs back to his dressing room to change his suit.

DKLA

I recently overheard some political talk at a party. After ceremonial imprecations against Bush and Cheney, they got down to discussing the candidates. The consensus was for Dennis Kucinich. (One of them had met his wife and described her as "lovely and statuesque.")

They noted he was the only one saying what everyone secretly believed, so they were in a quandary--how could this man of the people have so little support? They decided it was a media conspiracy. The press is treating Kucinich as a joke so everyone else thinks he's a joke.

PS At least one of them questioned the "official story" about 9/11. Kucinich, and his wife, seem to attract these kind of people.

Vocabulary Constabulary

From the LA Weekly review of The Golden Compass:
Calling the Narnia cycle “one of the most ugly and poisonous things I’ve ever read,” the avowed atheist set out to slyly dissemble much of that series’ embedded dogma with his story of a girl’s quest to free children from their zombie-like servitude to quasi-Christian, sin-obsessed authority.
"Dissemble"? Doesn't the author of Compass think it's Narnia that dissembles?

The Big O

Everyone's wondering what affect Oprah's unprecedented endorsement of Barack Obama will have. My guess is very little.

Sure, she can help push a book or a record, but is anyone really going to vote for someone just on her say-so? People don't like to be ordered around by a celebrity, not even one as beloved as Oprah. And it's not as if Obama's some minor candidate who needs the publicity.

I don't suppose we'll ever know for sure how much she helped. Her man was already going up in the polls, and I doubt anyone asked will admit to making a decision based on what Oprah said.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Could we, just maybe, <3 a Huckabee?

Casting Huckabee as the JFK figure of the Republican party is a great angle, and some of the points Rich makes here are intriguing enough to tempt me to seriously research/consider Huckabee for my vote. But there's that voice in my head that just keeps repeating "dude, HE...DOES...NOT...BELIEVE...IN...EVOLUTION." I respect the fact that he's explicit about it, rather than trying to fudge with the intelligent design nonsense hedge, but I'm sorry, I just cannot get past siding with the flying spaghetti monster over science.

One More In The Template Temple

Whenever I see another blog with the same template as ours, I invite them in as a sister (or brother) blog.

So let's give a big cheer to our new sibling, "It's all good."

They Get You Coming And Going

I was just at the 99 Cent Store. A while ago, I noted they sell 99 cent home testing pregnancy kits. This time I saw a 12-pack of condoms available for 99 cents.

I get the feeling one product leads to the other.

Isn't This What Killed Him?

I was recently offered a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, Elvis Style. That is, it had banana flavoring added.

It was actually quite good. Banana really works with peanut butter and chocolate. I'm surprised this hasn't been available for a while.

NEWS

I saw The Golden Compass over the weekend. Nice design, but the storytelling seemed both rushed and muddled. (And it ended with such an obvious plea for a sequel tha many were surprised it was over.) I haven't read the book, which I assume is better done.

As to the controversy over its supposed anti-religious plot, while the evil Magisterium as presented in the movie can certainly be read as the church, it can just as easily be seen as any totalitarian ruling party. And I don't think you have to be against religion to be against any overly dogmatic group, religious or otherwise.

Novelist Philip Pullman is not a believer, and without knowing much about him, I'm just about certain he looked at The Chronicles Of Narnia, got annoyed with its metaphorical message, and figured he could do just as good a job making the opposite point. Since I haven't read Narnia either, I really don't know if Pullman out-Lewised Lewis, but we can now tell with the numbers in that the Compass movie is not another blockbuster.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Trying

A friend suggested I start watching pro football if I miss college. Well, that would mean following my team the Lions. Anyone who watched the hapless Lions lose today to Dallas knows that's not gonna happen. They're not even worthy of a wild card slot.

Save It For A Rainy Day

This has been the rainiest weekend L.A.'s had in quite a while. Unlike other places I've lived, in L.A., it's a nice change of pace. It also means you have clean air for a few days--suddenly you notice the mountains.

In a barely releated item, what's with the Golden Umbrella Awards? Sounds like protection from a golden shower.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Down Time

With Michigan football over--in fact, all regular season college football--I hardly know what to do with my weekends.

It wasn't much of a season, but even with a mediocre team (or a decent team with hurt players), Michigan managed to win. Winning is a tradition, and an unbroken one since Bo took over. With a new coach and new QB next year, there's no guarantee it'll continue.

So I guess I've got about nine months to fret about that.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Play A Song For Me

Another PBS station was showing the Dylan at Newport special last night. At the same time, A&E had The Sopranos season five finale, "All Due Respect." I was shooting back and forth.

After Dylan sang "Mr. Tambourine Man" I turned to A&E. The feds had just arrested Johnny Sack and Tony was on the run. He stopped in front of a school and I noticed something I'd missed before. We could hear a chorus of children singing. And what was the song? "Mr. Tambourine Man," of course.

Winter Whine

Yet another in an endless series of Dem pundits saying the party can win if they're willing to try the take no prisoners approach of the Republicans, instead of being so nice.

Peter Fenn, and the millions of other whiners who agree with him, should watch the next Dem debate. I know it's hard to hear when you're nodding your head vigorously, but maybe he'll notice that every exchange goes like this:

Q: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX?

A: Before I answer, let me note BushisatheworstPresidentever liedusintowarhispartycompletescumbagswilldestroythenationifgivenhalfachance.

Going South

There's a lot of controversy over whether The Golden Compass, which opens tonight, is anti-religion. Not having read the books or seen the movie, I have no strong opinion, but I do know one thing--with reviews this bad it should disappear soon enough.

(Hollywood steered clear of this weekend, expecting a blockbuster? Meanwhile, five huge films are opening on the 21st.)

Mister Mister

That Mitt Romney had to make a speech at all about religion is a sign of how much trouble he's in. If someone's religion is important enough to affect his political choices, it's worth knowing about, but we have Romney's record as a politician plus his stands on many issues, and the fact he's a Mormon doesn't really enter into it.

It does seem to be true that a not insignificant percentage of Americans have trouble voting for Mormons (though I don't think that's the main reason his campaign's in trouble), so perhaps Mitt had to speak out. Too bad the speech was so predictable.

It consisted mostly of mindless pieties, with Romney trying to be all things to all religious people (though non-religious people can go screw themselves). I don't know how others felt, but I think less of Romney now.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Draft

I recently heard a piece on NPR about 28 black soldiers whose WWII court-martial convictions--over a riot that led to the lynching of an Italian prisoner of war--were overturned. (The prosecutor, by the way, was Leon Jaworski.)

Though all but two are dead, the case was reopened due to Jack Hamann's book, On American Soil, that looked into the case.

NPR quoted Hamann as to how the first draft of history is written by the victors, so he's glad that the record has been corrected. While I agree that it's good to set things straight, there's an implication that later drafts of history aren't written by the victors. But when it comes down to it, don't the victors get to write every draft?

Tonight Won't Be Just Any Night

Due to the writer's strike, NBC has been showing old episodes of The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, some from his earliest years. They're just like I remember 'em--pretty bad.

A few people have even suggested it's an attempt to embarrass Jay.

Dylan's Development

I just saw a documentary on PBS about Dylan at Newport in '63, '64 and '65. Forgetting about the controversy behind his last show, what was interesting was seeing how fast he developed. Perhaps the times were changing, and he was trying to keep up, but just as likely, he was helping to change them.

In 1963, just a kid, he's the hot new thing. Another Woody Guthrie, singing (or croaking) out against social injustice. While he did Protest better than anyone, I wonder if he'd figured it was the best way to get noticed in the folk world. This is probably too cynical, but there's no doubt Dylan grew beyond protest pretty quickly, even though this bothered many of his core fans. He must have at least sensed it was a dead end, and watching him on stage in '63, I felt as talented as he was, a lot of his songs from this era haven't aged that well. Or let's put it another way--they seem part of a time capsule.

In 1964, it's hail the conquering hero. No longer a neophyte, he's the voice of a generation, and the man they've come to see. But he's changed. He's turned inward. His work is more abstract and poetic, and his songs, still folk-based, a bit more melodic. While his earlier albums are still pretty good, he's entering his most creative era.

In 1965, he's a superstar. He's outgrown Newport. The cozy world of folk, where they talk the same language and believe the same things, is losing him. And as almost always happens, some of his original fans, who felt they owned him, don't want to give him up to the rest of the world. The big change, of course, is he's gone electric. He's not the solo troubadour any more, but the leader of a band. But this expansion was necessary. It opened up new vistas and led to far better stuff than we've heard so far. Imagine if he'd just stayed on the protest track. He'd probably be remembered today as a superior Phil Ochs.

And it all happened in a two-year period. For a lot of artists, it would have been a whole career.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Smoove Ron

After watching what seems like endless NH campaign spots this month, I have become a little a sick of the state of discourse. The candidates apparently believe that creativity is not what they need (maybe they're right) and bouncing headlines, bland hazy feelgood and shrieking attacks from generic announcerpeople appear to be the order of the day.(Although Romney's "oceans of pornography" spot is sort of interesting for its utter weirdness). One of the most annoying ads is for Ron Paul- its a bunch of ordinary well-fed folks uttering common place phrases without reflecting too much of the buzz and excitement you would think the success of his internet fundraising would engender.

One particularly galling line is from a know-it-all with a painful voice who asserts "He's a doctor. He must know a thing or two about health care." After hearing this about 20 times, this got me thinking- actually Dr. Paul is a gynecologist. He has very specialized that could be brought to bear on the problems facing America.

Just think-- he could run a "womens' issues" ad and have some voter
say "He's a gynecologist. He must know a thing or two about vaginas"

Wonder what that would do for the GOP's gender gap.


NE Guy adds: By request-Here's Romney's "Ocean" ad from last summer. Take a dip

Extra Ethel

I was in a bookstore recently (still a place to be, though who knows how much longer) and saw a biography of Ethel Merman. As a fan of Broadway, I thought I'd pick it up--she's the biggest star in the history of musicals, having introduced major hits by Gershwin, Berlin, Styne/Sondheim and, above all, Cole Porter. Yet I didn't recall ever seeing a bio of her.

But then I noticed there are two new Ethel books. I had no idea which is better, and I wasn't gonna buy both, so the upshot is I bought nothing.

PS Someone asks: "What about Mary Martin? Gwen Verdon? Bernadette Peters? Audra McDonald? That's just for women."

Here's how I count it.

Mary Martin: Six musical hits, three legendary, five Tony nominations, four wins.

Gwen Verdon: Six musical hits, three legendary, six Tony nominations, four wins.

Bernadette Peters: four musical hits (plus off-Broadway stuff), two legendary, seven Tony nominations, two wins.

Audra McDonald: two musical hits (plus straight drama), two legendary, six Tony nominations, four wins

Ethel Merman: Ten musical hits, five legendary, four Tony nominations, two wins (except most of her hits came before the Tonys were around, and people are still outraged about how Mary Martin in Sound Of Music beat out Merman in Gypsy)

Things I Heard Today

I just heard two modern Christmas songs in a store, John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)" and Paul McCartney's "A Wonderful Christmas Time." What a great illustration of the differences between the two.

John's is a very simple but memorable melody with a basic anti-war message that almost overwhelms the song. Paul's is a bouncy, catchy number that focuses more on the personal feelings Christmas evokes.

I like both, but if only there were some way to combine the talents of these two.

That's It?

After a slow start, Heroes ended with ridiculously quick strokes--thanks to the shortened season. And where do we stand?

Claire knows her dead is alive, but he'll be with the company while she'll keep mum.

Nathan, Peter and Parkman decide to reveal their powers and expose the company, and were stopped.

Hiro, showing how powerful he is, stopped Adam in a fairly nasty way.

Niki saved Monica with a little help from Micah.

Sylar revealed his true self to Maya before killing her--though she was revived by Mohinder (with Molly there for good measure). Elle saved the gang from being slaughtered by Sylar, but Sylar got Claire's blood and seemingly revived his powers.

Two regulars apparently died--Niki and Nathan. I say apparently because you never know with this show. The whole Niki plot never really worked with the fans, but I liked her. And I prefer Nathan, a somewhat compromised character, over his naive but confused brother Peter.

I'm not thrilled with Sylar's return. He was a good villain for a season, but I want new adventures. In fact, if I had to kill off two characters, it'd be Sylar and Peter--the two who combine all the powers. I like my characters strong but vulnerable.

Of course the main question now is when will the show return.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Living Color

When watching old black and white TV, I sometimes wonder what the sets and costumes really looked like. Which is why I find this book on sitcoms so cool. Lavishly illustrated, it finally answers the question what color scheme did Laura Petrie used to decorate her New Rochelle home.

Even cooler is this five-minute clip from the unaired Munsters pilot. In color, with new music, a somewhat different cast and weird opening titles (now that we're used to what aired), it actually gives the show a creepiness the actual thing never had.

Huckster

Lately, Mike Huckabee's been on the rise. He on top in Iowa and some see him as a first-tier candidate, up there with Mitt and Rudy, ahead of McCain and Thompson.

There are a number of reasons to explain this uptick, but I don't care. I find him the worst of the major Republican candidates. For one thing, he's a nanny-stater. For another, he's not a fan of free trade.

A little while ago I said I couldn't vote for John Edwards. Well, add Huckabee to the list. (Now watch--it'll be Edwards versus Huckabee. Hey, I've gone third-party before.)

AP News

One of the coolest things first-year law students learn about is adverse possession--if you openly and without challenge use land that's not yours for a long enough period of time, it becomes yours. It seemed nutty to me, but there it was.

Anyway, I figured this was some old common law rule that doesn't come into play any more, so I was thrilled to hear about this case in Boulder. Two families owned neighboring property for almost 25 years. One tried to build a fence along the border and the other sued since they'd been using some of that land since they'd moved in. They won, under an adverse possession claim.

The reaction of Boulder has been how a lot of people feel after they hear about this legal principle: What the...? Almost everyone supports the original owners. The family that won the case has been the target of lots of nasty mail and phone calls since then. Hey, that's why it's called adverse possession.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Mucho Gusto

Let me congratulate the people of Venezuela for their good sense. It'll be interesting to see what Chavez does now.

Unbelievable

I was recently in an apartment building and saw a sign that made me laugh so much I want to believe it's an honest mistake.

It was in taped up in the elevator. Here it is, word for word: "Residents--the water in the building needs to be shut off from about 3 pm today until about 6 pm. Sorry for the incontinence."

Dancing Camels

Jonathan Richman's "Egyptian Reggae" is one of my favorite instrumentals, but I didn't know there was a video.

Did I Read That Right?

Here's an interesting headline: "Kennedy Center Honors Scorsese, Martin." Seemed a bit stiff and formal until I read the article and saw they're honoring, among others, Martin Scorsese and Steve Martin.

The Foer War

Franklin Foer, editor of The New Republic, spends 13 pages explaining how he and his mag did nothing wrong during the "Baghdad Diarist" controversy before, on page 14, essentially retracting everything.

But let's forget about the journalistic controversy and look at the original piece. It's a soldier in Iraq, Scott Beauchamp (published under a pseudonym), relating three stories about how callous the men there have become--they mock a disfigured woman, wear a skull as a hat and run over dogs.

Whether these things happened as related or not, what's intrigues me is how unimportant it is. If people want to check it out, fine, but what does it actually show? The point of the piece seems to be how cruel our soldiers have become in such an awful war as Iraq. But, in fact, these kinds of activities--in fact, far worse--are done by some percentage of soldiers in pretty much every war, no matter how just the cause, no matter how brave and noble most of the soldiers may be. (In fact, it's easy enough to find these kinds of activities among any large group of men, war or no.)

The piece, if true, may provide a little local color, emphasizing the dark side of Iraq, but as such is not particularly illuminating. As a general statement on the Iraq War, it's worthless.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Oh Carol

I've written about misheard song lyrics before, and now that it's the holiday season, let me note one of the most common mistakes of all.

That's right, it's in "Silent Night." Instead of "round yon virgin" you generally get "round young virgin." I think this is because latter actually makes a lot of sense.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Evel Knievel

Evel Knievel has died. He proved you can make a living at anything.

Here's a guy you would have guessed would go out with a bang, not a whimper, but he survived all his crashes and broken bones. Whenever I look at Caesar's Palace, I think here's where he almost died jumping the fountain. (The fountain is gone--I wonder if there's a marker.)

When I was a kid, it seemed every year he was in the news with some spectacular jump. He never meant that much to me, yet I remember the first song I ever wrote was a tribute to Evel. I just one day had the urge and out it came.

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