Monday, March 31, 2008

Robert Fagles

Scholar Robert Fagles has died. He's best known for his translations of The Iliad, The Odyssey and The Aeneid. His versions, in fact, have pretty much become the modern standard in English.

When I was in college, we read Richmond Lattimore's tranlsations of Homer, and I still return to them now and then. But every generation should have its own translation. I'd especially recommend Fagles Aeneid, since while anyone can make the first half interesting, if you've got a bad translation, the second half can be a real slog.


"Florida has become the sixth U.S. state to apologize for slavery."

I don't think too much of this.

1) It's moral preening. "We're great, other people are evil." I mean they're not apologizing for something they actually did, like raise taxes--that would be nice--but for the actions of others.

2) America has already apologized for slavery. It's called th 13th Amendment.

3) It's an empty gesture--if we're lucky. The resolution calls for "healing and reconciliation among all residents of the state." Well, anyone who feels aggrieved may look at this apology and ask for some action to back it up. Either they won't get it, and go on feeling aggrieved, or they might get it, and suddenly we've gone from apology to bad government programs. (In the unlikely case it's a good government program, let's do it anyway without apology.)


I saw 21 over the weekend. I had to check it out since I pitched a very similar story years ago. (It's a hit, by the way--pretty good considering how weak the reviews were. And Stop-Loss flopped, of course.)

Actually, I'd heard rumors of card counting black jack teams from MIT and based my pitch on it. Then Ben Mezrich wrote his bestseller Bringing Down The House and this movie's based on it.

It was interesting to see how the film handled the same basic story. (Of course, I thought my take was better.) They did a reasonable job explaining how counting and team play works, but it was still pretty silly. For instance, the professor who runs the team tries to convince the new guy to join and the new guy's all whiny about it. (I cut that part from my pitch--I hate the scene where the hero doesn't want to join up to do something everyone knows he's gonna do). Soon after, we have the moment where the established team is trying to count cards and failing and, of course, the hero comes back and he can count perfectly. Look, if you've got a team already set up, they can count. Furthermore, Kevin Spacey as the leader assigns the hero to be one of the big players who handles the big money, because the others aren't good enough. Once again, you can either count or you can't--each member of the team should be able to handle the big money as easily as any other.

Hard To Beat

The award for the stupidest essay of the month has to go to Natalie Nichols' "Good Guys, Bad Guys" in LA City Beat.

It starts out discussing how you can't always tell the good guys from the bad guys in Lost. (If it hadn't seemed to be about Lost, I probably wouldn't have read it.) It soon segues into how we crave such clarity in fiction, but it can lead us astray in real life. Not much of an insight to begin with--the real problem is that we all suffer from this, but we can usually only see it in others.

Anyway, after the ceremonial condemnation of Bush (no nuance there--good and bad are easy to see), she goes into full Obama-excuse mode, even as she says she's trying to be evenhanded.

Let me reproduce her final two paragraphs, with comments.

Like the cartoonish pro wrestlers of the WWE, Obama and Clinton have taken turns playing the hero/villain.

Okay, so we're expecting something evenhanded, at least for the Democrats. Will she be able to pull it off?

One day Hillary’s campaign engages in trash talk and cheap shots, the next Barack is taken to task for the way his longtime pastor, Jeremiah Wright Jr., has expressed anger over racial inequality in America and this country’s not-always-exemplary behavior around the world.

Nope, she can't. Hillary is just evil while Barack is misunderstood. Look at how dishonestly she characterizes Wright's crackpot racism. She can't even repeat what he says, but simply points to why he's angry and why America deserves anger.

Clinton recently asserted she would have left her church if her pastor had implied such things as the U.S. brought 9/11 on itself

This is pretty bad, but it's only one of many various, horrible things he said.

as though Obama is somehow responsible for the man’s words.

No one's saying he's responsible for his pastor's words, but he's responsible for how he reacts to those words.

Her insinuation echoes more extreme opinions that Obama is a closet hater of whites because he didn’t denounce and reject Wright.

First, her insinuation, it seems to me, is that if your spiritual leader shows himself to be a nutty racist who sees the world through a provably wrong conspiratorial lens, you leave. Second, I don't think many are claiming Obama hates whites, just that, for whatever reason, he stayed happily in a church for twenty years run by someone who did.

Meanwhile, Clinton – so clear when it comes to saying what she’d do in a hypothetical situation involving someone else – has hardly disavowed statements by Geraldine Ferraro, who recently resigned from the senator’s campaign after saying that Obama is a presidential front-runner because he’s black.

Once again, we see the absurd comparison between a single--and essentially correct--statement by Ferraro and twenty years of a hateful philosophy from your mentor. And Ferraro did leave the campaign, even though she didn't play anything more than an honorary role in it.

Then Ferraro compounded the drama by arguing that racism works in “two different directions” and that Obama’s campaign was “attacking me because I’m white.”

So Nichols is willing to go heavily into what Ferraro said and why it's wrong, but she can hardly be bothered to recount the Reverend Wright's many ugly statements. By the way, I don't agree with Ferraro's second quote here--she was attacked because she said something against Obama and they had an opening to make Hillary look bad; when Obama's friends have said the same thing the Obama camp didn't mind. You'd think this would be an excellent example for Nichols to show the back and forth accusations between the two sides, but she gave up that phantom menace after the first sentence.

No doubt both candidates have engaged at times in mudslinging-by-proxy, but I just don’t see how anyone is responsible for someone else’s words or ideas.

Except when you do, which is all the time when it's people you oppose, such as Hillary two sentences ago.

What the hell, ordinary citizens say way worse stuff than this every day by the water cooler, in the schoolyard, on talk radio, etc.

Another one of the talking points--other people do it! Well, even if they did, it's not really much of an excuse. But you know what? They don't. You'd have to search far and wide to find someone who speaks such racist bilge as Wright. And doing it proudly in public makes it worse. It also makes the need to deal with it (rather than cheer for it, as much of Wright's flock did) more important.

In fact I’d bet that many, if not most, people have friends – perhaps even mentors – who carry opinions and prejudices they don’t agree with, and that might even make them uncomfortable at times.

Yet another talking point. This is not just a friend, but a spiritual leader, and this is not just some stray opinion best left undiscussed, but Wright's basic worldview from which much of his philosophy follows, and which Obama has known about for some time.

Should we expect better from our elected leaders?

Sounds like a rhetorical question, but oddly, she's about to answer it in a way that hurts her argument.

Yeah, but we also shouldn’t hold them to unrealistic standards, rules that not even a TV good guy (or bad guy?) could live up to.

Ooh, she returned to the first paragraph, good writing.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Earned Admiration

Even if you're not a fan, Tom Maguire points us to one New York Yankee with his head and heart in the right place.

Does It Matter?

The Clinton campaign has released a memo detailing some of the "mis-representations" of Barack Obama.

“Senator Obama has called himself a constitutional professor, claimed credit for passing legislation that never left committee, and apparently inflated his role as a community organizer among other issues. When it comes to his record, just words won’t do. Senator Obama will have to use facts as well,” Clinton spokesman Phil Singer said.

Meanwhile, Hillary is still recovering after being undressed in public over her "I dodged sniper fire while visiting Bosnia" statements.

So here's my question: Does any of this matter?

I don't know if it will have any influence on the faithful, but what about those who are still trying to make up their minds? Or, to paraphrase one of our recent comments, does anyone really think politicians believe what they say?

Slow News Day

Really. These guys have nothing more important - or even more interesting - to write about?

A Story AnnArborGuy Should Be On

The LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Caucus of the University of Michigan is unhappy with the logo of local hangout Quickie Burger. It's a drawing of a busty gal in a tight shirt with windblown hair holding a drink and riding a large hamburger. (Better photos here.)

They say it objectifies women, though I think it objectifies burgers more.

So no BLT for the LGBT on State and Hill.

A Story ColumbusGuy Should Be On

I'm glad that Ohio has finally realized the idiocy of attempting to prosecute people for falsely joining the Dems to vote in their primary. Rush Limbaugh told his fans to do this and vote for Hillary. I doubt it had much effect, but even if it did, people are allowed to vote how they want for whatever reason they want.

It's not as if this doesn't work both ways. Open primaries are what got John McCain his party's nominations. If it were stricly up to Republicans, or certainly conservatives, we'd now be watching commercials for Mitt or Rudy.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


To celebrate Earth Hour, I'm going to go to Odd Lots, buy the biggest-ass, cheapest-ass can of charcoal lighter or other bulk volatile organic compound I can find, and set the entire thing afire, ensuring to the best of my ability, that it serves no useful purpose such as heating, lighting, cooking or reducing.

And then I'm going to feel morally superior to all the idiots that are turning lights out somewhere.

Except for one thing

Mark Steyn, who has been the world's smartest Canadian ever since LAGuy pledged his fealty to the Third Amendment, says the Clintons have lost their magic, and are now the tragedy of the old dog: "Few sights are more forlorn than an enforcer who can no longer enforce."

Not quite.

There is no doubt that the Democrat Party is finally having the fight it should have had a decade or a decade and a half ago, which is to say, a fight to expel the Clintons. Pelosi, Leahy, Got-Monica-a-job-Richardson are proof enough. Even a better indicator is our local split here in O-hi: Gov. Ted Strickland is a Clinton playback machine and early endorser, no surprise a-tal, but up and comer Rich Cordray is an Obama backer, which is a quite significant fact.

Of course, it's important to keep in mind that, even if the forces of good prevail, they will only have gotten themselves to the point that they are lying sacks of guano whose main privilege is the right to be first against the wall--just like their brethren, the Republicans.

But of even more importance is the fact that there is no reason to think, yet, that Obama is the better player in this Civil War. He might be; we'll have to see how many more Leahys and Cordrays he can put into play. My money, however, is still on the Clintons. The one thing you can say for sure about them is that they are not empty suits. Despite QG's charming naivete, Obama thus far is.

Abby Mann

Oscar-winning screenwriter Abby Mann has just died.

He started in television during the golden age of TV drama and was later executive producer of Kojak, but is best known as the writer of socially conscious films in the 60s such as Judgment At Nuremberg and Ship Of Fools.

He believed in movies with a message. Not really my cup of tea, but it's still good to have such writers around to keep everyone else honest.

I should add one of his last works was the teleplay for a show about the McMartin preschool trial that aired on HBO. He exposed the case for the sham that it was, even at a time when the witch hunt hysteria over any claim of child abuse hadn't yet subsided.

Film Reviews We Never Finished Reading

"Considering that the war in Iraq has proven to be Washington’s shot-by-shot remake of Vietnam..."

I realize opponents want Iraq to be another Vietnam, even though it's different in almost every particular, but please don't announce this as established fact.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Who's Smiling Now?

Sorry. I just couldn't help myself.


There's been some talk on the Internet in the last 24 hours about this film from Dutch MP Geert Wilders. I can't comment on the film - not having seen it - but I can tell you that my first reaction to seeing the article was:

Gene Wilder's made a new film?

The man who would be king

The New York Times profiles the man in charge of winning Congress for the Republicans:

Cole’s staff didn’t know all that much about Greenberg ideologically, but then they don’t make it their business to know. I once asked Cole about the positions his candidates were taking on immigration and the war. “I don’t think I’ve ever asked a candidate what he believes,” he said. “We’re just looking for winning candidates.”

Have they tried talking to any Democrats? (What the hell am I saying; that's mostly who they're talking to)

Capital Idea

After stating we're in a recession (we're not, and he probably knows it...but he can also read polls), Barack Obama surveyed the scene and decided the problem is we have too much money. So it's time to raise the capital gains tax. But only 33% to 67% higher than it is now, so it won't distort economic decision making.

You know, not having the money you had before, that tends to distort your decisions no matter how it's done.

On Track

While it's too early to worry about the national race, the polls are showing too much variance even if you wanted to. Look at Rassmussen tracking, which gives McCain a whopping ten point lead over either candidate.

I wouldn't believe this regardless, but the differences in various polls are too wide to be just random--one or more have bad modeling. No one's really sure, even based on past performance, who the likely voters are.

My guess is the polls showing Dems doing the best are most likely to be correct. I base this on the high turnout we've seen in their primaries this year. This is due to a number of factors, but at least one is a highly motivated base.

Last Year At Pine Barrens

I just read a fairly well done coffee table book about The Sopranos. There's no doubt creator David Chase is the resident genius, but in interviews he can come across rather poorly.

Aside from the cut-to-black ending of the finale, nothing in the show has raised more mystery than what happened to the Russian in the "Pine Barrens" episode. Here's what Chase has to say about it:

Who knows where he went? Who cares about some Russian? This is what Hollywood has done to America. Do you have to have closure on every little thing? Isn't there any mystery in the world? It's a murky world out there. It's a murky life these guys lead. And by the way, I do know where the Russian is. But I'll never say because so many people got so pissy about it.

Look, not everything needs to be tied up with a bow, but this is still a form of storytelling, not just murky real life, and storytelling goes back way before Hollywood. When you have a plot that revolves around two guys chasing a third guy they're trying to kill, wanting to know how that turns out is not only understandable, it's something the writer should let us in on.

Which Is Worse?

I was talking to a friend recently and the issue of the Reverend Wright came up. (He mentioned it, not me.) My friend had all the Obama talking points internalized--that Republicans support religious nuts who are just as bad, that I don't understand how the discourse in black church's works, that it makes sense that blacks view America with suspicion, etc.

I could have said a lot of things, but I replied no one denies the problem of racism, and that America has its flaws, but this goes much deeper. We're talking about an ugly, false worldview that hurts anyone who believes it. Furthermore, most of Wright's contemporaries, many of whom had it tougher than him, don't share his views.

I mean, we're not just talking about blacks viewing America a bit differently. I noted this is a guy who believes in nutty conspiracies by rich whites against poor blacks (and others)--for example, he says that AIDS was created by white scientists to kill blacks. (He also believes Israel and South Africa worked on a bomb that would only kill dark-skinned people.) My friend said he doesn't really believe in that stuff.

I was taken aback. Why would he say these things in his sermons if he didn't believe them. But I said, okay, let's assume he doesn't really mean these things. In other words, he knowingly lied to his flock, hoping thousands would believe these stories and learn to hate whites (and America and Israel and the rich). This is better?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

I have a dream

Holy Moly, I just heard heard Barack slit his own political throat:

"We cannot fix the problem of America [if we get distracted] . . ."

What we're being distracted by was the fact that racists (he only implied this, wasn't gutsy enough to say it directly) had taken 30 years of three a week sermons and boiled them down to half an hour -- oops he misspoke and had to restate it, half a minute of . . . of what, exactly? Is Obama apologizing for that 30 seconds or denying it?

In any case, none of that is the point. On that score, Obama's in a hole and he's digging.

But the real problem is his vaunted bringing together: We cannot fix . . .

The Problem of America.

There's an historic address for you: "The Problem of America."

Good luck with that, Barack. I'll bet it has really strong appeal, in its market segment. Instead of trying to appeal to 10 percent and another 80 percent with the wonder of America, he''s going to persuade 80 percent to feel like the 10 percent, on the count that this country really, really sucks.

George W. Bush. And Did I Forget To Mention George W. Bush?

People used to mock Rudy Giuliani (boy that seems a long time ago) for his answers in the Republican debates. No matter the question, he'd reply "9/11, 9/11, 9/11."

Not a bad gag (the first 100 times), but it masked a fear that they'd just as soon not have the people reminded of national security issues. Pretty much like how they feel about John McCain, whose alleged toughness in facing our enemies is his strong suit. So they hope to tie him to our unpopular President, whether it fits or not.

Look at their response to McCain's recent speech on Iraq. Both Obama and Howard Dean replied, as far as I could make out, "George W. Bush, George W. Bush, George W. Bush."

The Choice

Some people have asked if I support any candidate for President. I think Woody Allen summed it up best in his "Speech To The Graduates":

More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

Richard Widmark

Richard Widmark just died at the age of 93. A leading man who appeared in over 50 movies and a fair amount of TV as well, he'll probably be best remembered for heels, villains and psychotics.

While he was known to be a gentleman off screen, his first movie role was in Kiss Of Death (1947) as Tommy Udo, who ushered in a new era of cruelty as he maniacally laughs while pushing an old lady in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs. The part got Widmark an Oscar nomination and made him a star.

He continued playing nasty, flawed characters, and stars in two of my favorite dark films from the 50s, Night And The City (1950), where he's a dishonest and doomed wrestling promoter in London, and Sam Fuller's Pickup On South Street (1953), where he's a pickpocket who gets unintentionally gets involved in communist intrigue.

As his career continued he became more associated with Westerns, and often played the good guy. But even then there tended to be an edge.

Starting int he 70s, he became a regular presence on TV, even adapting his title-role detective from Madigan (1968) to the small screen. He kept working into the early 90s, retiring when we was almost 80.

He's not as well remembered as some of his contemporaries, but as long as there are fans of film noir, Westerns, or just Sam Fuller, he won't be forgotten.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Speaking Of Awkward....

Mike Gravel (D?L?G?-AK) has stopped tossing rocks in ponds long enough to join the Libertarian Party and seek their presidential nomination. In announcing his decision to do so, he cited (among other reasons) the fact that "the Democratic Party today is no longer the party of FDR." Because, you know, if you're looking for the hardcore New Deal backers, the Libertarian Party should be first on your list. The reaction of the Libertarian Party spokesman was priceless: “He’s a current Democratic presidential candidate who is now a member of the Libertarian Party who has endorsed a member of the Green Party." And to think Gravel's the guy I matched up best with in one of those political-love-match sites. I'm so, so ashamed.

Could Her Phrasings Get Any More Trite and Awkward?

“We need a president who is ready on Day 1 to be commander in chief of our economy.” Jeez, it's like she's playing talking points bingo, where you get triple points for working three of them into the same sentence. And I want to know why Obama's not hammering on the fact that he was well ahead of the curve, suggesting a specific course of action on the mortgage mess almost exactly a year ago. Of course, that begs the question of whether bailing people out of mortgages they should have known they couldn't afford counts as a good idea. But that's a question for another day....

Music Industry Woes

In their latest issue, Rolling Stone claims that Wal-Mart is the nation's top music retailer with 16% of the market. Using that clout, the retail chain is apparently threatening to stop selling music CD's altogether if the record labels don't cut their prices. Wal-Mart tried this once before but couldn't make it stick.

So, I'm curious. Where do you get your music? Are you a downloader or do you still buy CD's?

Me, I'm still digitizing all my albums from the 60's and 70's.

Damn Wrong

It's hard for me to express just what is wrong with the series of ads by Canadian Club designed to resuscitate the brand.

Oh, wait. I know. They suck.

Denver Pile

I'm not seeing too much of this yet (and by the time I get around to something it's old news), but isn't our own DenverGuy clearly right?

I doubt only his statement that Obama wouldn't take Hillary as VP; more likely, Hillary won't take VP. Of course, anyone who put his heartbeat between a Clinton and the White House would be a fool, so I hedge and say DG may be right. Still, apart from that, I don't believe these people have any principles that would stop the Big O 2 from taking Hill as his No. 2, not even hatred.

Apart from that,though, under the circumstances, isn't Obama really just fighting to be VP? And why shouldn't he? As far as the NYTimes and the broadcast networks would be concerned, such a ticket would be impregnable. Either candidate who gave up the shot at this point would be a fool.

Scary Shopping

At my local grocery store, they've started this new policy. Without warning, employees will walk up to you and say "hello!". They've no doubt been told to do this, but I don't get it. It's startling, and unnecessary, and makes me afraid to shop there.


Good to see we'll soon have new comedy on NBC Thursdays now that Lost is on hiatus. We'll make it through this season yet.

Good News/Bad News

Looking at the latest polls, it seems whatever damage the recent controversy over Pastor Wright has done to Obama has mostly subsided as far as primary voters are concerned. (We'll know for sure in a few weeks.) This is bad news for Hillary, but is it good news for the Democrats? The real question isn't how badly is Obama damaged versus Hillary, after all, but how bad he's damaged versus McCain--something the Democrats might not know until it's too late.

Eyes On The Prize

I caught Charlie Rose last night and he looked like he'd been beaten up. I hoped some guest had finally taken a swipe at him for all his interruptions, and endless questions.

Turns out he hurt himself while saving his Macbook Air. Well, it's a better story than "I walked into the door, officer, my husband had nothing to do with it."

In The Cool Of The Evening

I recently watched In The Heat Of The Night. I hadn't seen the film in years. It won the Best Picture Oscar for 1967, and still has an undeserved reputation as a great movie. It's not bad, but it's a pretty run of the mill murder investigation that packs a wallop because of the racial politics. Except that while it's still fun, the racial side isn't quite as edgy as it once was, and mostly reminds us how bad things used to be. (On the other hand, I think Bonnie And Clyde, and The Graduate, both of which it beat for the Oscar, still hold up. And I'm still surprised Rod Steiger beat Dustin Hoffman for Best Actor.)

I do like the title. It conjures up sweaty Mississippi nights. Except the film wasn't made in the south. They were understandably afraid there'd be trouble if such an incendiary film were shot down there. So they did it in Sparta, Illinois. (And they changed the name of the city in the film to Sparta to take advantage of all the signs.) Unfortunatey, all the heat of the night is pretty hard to buy when you can clearly see the actors' breath as they speak.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Roberts knows law when he sees it

Here's a blog entry that made me weep with joy. (What say you, CG?)

One thing I'm going to have to look at more closely is this description:

The Bush Administration did not agree with the World Court ruling, and, in fact, withdrew from the international protocol that gave the World Court the authority to enforce the Vienna Convention against countries that had signed it. Even so, Bush issued a memo in February 2005 agreeing that the U.S. would seek to obey the World Court, and he told the states involved to “give effect” to that tribunal’s decision in the cases of the 51 Mexicans involved in the World Court case. The U.S. government stepped into the case in Texas courts to assert the authority of the President to lay upon the states a duty follow his mandate to obey the World Court. The case thus reached the Supreme Court as a major test of presidential authority, in seeking to enforce treaty obligations, to override contradictory state criminal procedure rules. In that test, the presidency clearly lost.

What the hey. What meds is our president on? This reminds me of the administration stance on Heller. Fish or cut bait, George.

Oh, and isn't it amazing who the dissenters are? Told there were three, would you have any trouble guessing which ones? Eh, maybe one.


Jonathan Alter in Newsweek shows yet again why Obama supporters frighten me. He seems to believe it'd be worth having Obama as President just for all the wonderful things we'd learn from his constant lecturing.

Here's a good example of the tone of the piece: the United States, black opinion is now nearly unanimously behind Obama, with as many as 90 percent supporting him in the primaries [i.e., about the same percentage Democrats usually get in the general election]. While Obama can do much to guide white Americans toward a better racial future and a greater appreciation that poor kids are not, as he says, "someone else's children," his most exciting potential for moral leadership could be in the African-American community.

I don't know what's worse, the condescension toward whites, the condescension toward blacks, or just the general bootlicking.

Alter goes on about Obama's special relation with the black community, and how he can speak to them as others can't. Now why would that be? Couldn't be for the same reason that got Geraldine Ferraro in so much trouble, could it?

The Next Threat to Our Way of Life....

A holier than thou techno-geek has ideas about making the internet more productive by establishing a filter to block "stupid comments" Gee- how do you suppose he'd rate the Guys? I take this personally.

""Too long [he's 28-NEG] have we suffered in silence under the tyranny of idiocy.” he writes. “In the beginning, the Internet was a place where one could communicate intelligently with similarly erudite people.”" I think the key word there is "similarly."

If he blocks out all the stupid people from his website, where's he going to find an investor to pony up $50K for his idea?

Wake Up and Play Ball

I am officially in favor of baseball games being played at 6:00 AM. I got a respite from idiotic local morning news and even more idiotic national morning news shows (they might report on the presidential election as long there isn't a runaway bride, Britney breakdown, or cop killing his ex-wives that day), I got to hear an exciting rally by the Sox as I drove to work at 7:30 (they subsequently blew the lead during my walk from the parking lot) followed by a dramatic ninth inning homerun by an unknown rookie to tie the game in the ninth. (The problem is the game went extra innings and here it is @ 9:45 and I am still checking updates instead of working). I wouldnt want it frequently buts its a nice change of pace after a miserable winter (there's still a 12 inch snow-pack on the ground here in L-A [Lewiston-Auburn] thats still melting) . (Best announcer quote "I can't tell who's warming up in the bullpen because of Japanese camera angles")

Meter Eater

As I was driving down La Brea the other day, I swear I saw someone ordering at a fast food drive-through from the back seat of a cab. That can't be a good way to spend your money.

Book 'Em

I remember back in Ann Arbor how I spent a fair amount of money both at Borders Book Store and Domino's Pizza--anything to help out a small business.

Times have changed. But now it looks like Borders may be sold, or go out of business. I'd hate to see it go. Big bookstores are a great place to hang out. But then, I like big record stores and they're just about over as well.

If Amazon could figure out how to make a pizza Kindle, Domino's may be in trouble, too.

On Notice

Like millions of Americans, I just received a notice from the IRS in my mailbox informing me I might be getting some money under the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008.

You know, I think I'd prefer not getting the money if I could avoid receiving notices from the IRS in my mailbox.

Crossing The Aisle

The New York Times has a piece on McCain in 2001 and 2004 almost bolting his party. It strikes me as a non-story, but McCain's problems with the Republicans are interesting. Here's a guy who's regularly gone against his own people and worked closely with the other side. How will that play in the election?

Presumably, it will help him with independents, but hurt him with the base. Will this be a net gain or loss? No one knows, and in an age when turnout is crucial, it's even harder to guess.

Also, could McCain take what may seem to some as bad publicity and make it a good thing? In other words, can he run by saying "I'm the true unifier and I've got the track record to prove it, while my opponent [assuming it's Obama] may talk a good game but reliably votes with the left wing of his party"? Or will he play up that he's a proud conservative and always has been? (Can he get away with both?)

My guess is the McCain people are polling right now to see what works best.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Pepperdine buys Buckley

Isn't Pepperdine in California? I'd say this conservative lawyer has been dipping into the medical weed.

For those of you too lazy to follow the link (tsk, tsk; you should follow my example and show a little more ambition and diligence), the man supports Obama because George Bush lied and people died.

But, the man continues, his support is (implicitly) conditioned on Obama's demonstrating he's serious about the war on terror.

Goodness; not even drink will lead to that sort of convolution. Hellfire, not even the Daily Kos is that confused.

Worst Lawyering Of The Year Nominee

By my reading, some Wachtell lawyers just cost Chase about one billion dollars. According to the NYTimes, one of the major factors in Chase's decision to up their bid for Bear Stearns from $2/share to $10/share may have been a poorly-drafted guarantee. How'd you like to be the associate who drafted that language, or the partner who approved it?

Q and A

New England Guy, you've been asked a question. Why don't you answer?

Wet And Stringy

I just caught Taco Bell's ad for the "Cheesy Beefy Melt." To paraphrase Pulp Fiction, it may taste like pumpkin pie but I'm never gonna find out. Because just watching the ad, with long, stringy cheese coming out of people's mouths, grosses me out so much I don't even want to drive on the same block as a Taco Bell.

Making The Switch

I recently watched the 1978 remake of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. It was better than I remembered. (It wasn't really a hit in its day, and aside from Pauline Kael, who raved, the critics didn't think that much of it.)

But I still have a question. The mechanism by which bodies are snatched is very unclear. There are all these plants and spores from outer space that latch on to you while you sleep. They apparently take your brain, or essence, and create a new alien body that still has your memories, while your old body is destroyed. This is already tricky enough. But what I don't get is how close do the plants have to be to get to you? It sometimes seems, such as when Brooke Adams gets replaced near the end, that anywhere in general where the aliens are is enough. But then we see Veronica Cartwright living among the aliens and not changing--she can't stay awake forever, how does she manage?


I avoided a long discussion of Obama's Speech (you know the one--where he wanted to start a conversation about race and since then has moved on as quickly as he could to other issues) mostly because I didn't have the energy. For all the lovely words, I found it at heart dispiriting and dishonest.

I'm still not going to go over it bit by bit, but I do want to respond to a comment I got. Here it is, in relevant part (if you want the rest, try the first link above):

He said some things that I've never heard any other politician say about how associations with other individuals, even loved ones, don't necessarily dictate our own points of view, and that it's still okay to remain close to them. Everyone has a story similar to the one he told about his grandmother, but while most politicians would try to hide their gaffe-prone grandmothers, Obama puts his out there & tells it like it is. Whether or not you agree with his politics, or whether or not you intend to vote for him, you have to give him credit for being among the more honest and well-intentioned public figures we've encountered in a long time.

So he's in trouble for associating with someone, and he makes a speech saying "you know what--it doesn't really matter who you associate with." Some profile in courage.

That's really the trouble with the speech as a whole. He gets in trouble and decides this means it's time to teach us important lessons.

As to most politicans not discussing ugly stories about their grandmother, I would hope so--it shows they still have some sense of shame. But Obama was willing to exploit his grandmother for political gain. It was probably the low point of the speech.

Note, in addition, like so much of his general argument, it's based on false equivalency--as if some questionable statements made in private from an older ("typical white person") blood relative can compare to an ugly, nutty, racist worldview expressed consistently over the years on many different subjects in front of thousands seeking spiritual guidance by a man whom you've voluntarily chosen to be your mentor for two decades.

Regarding Obama's honesty and intentions, as I've said before, I'm not a mind reader. If you forced me to guess, based on their words and actions, I'd say President Bush is far more honest and well-intentioned than any of the candidates today. But who cares? A good man with bad ideas would make a rotten President. If Obama's elected, I can only hope he's lying about quite a few things.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Narrow Path

Hillary's chances are slim, though all sorts of pundits who should know better claim it's over. Sure, she won't catch up on pledged delegates, but that's not the point. Her argument is it'll be close enough that the superdelegates will realize they must decide, and decide for her. (Just convincing the superdelegates from states she won to vote for her might be enough.)

It'll be hard for them to turn away from Obama in large numbers, but if she damages him enough before the convention, it's certainly possible. And I don't mean in reputation, I mean at the polls.

Look at Pennsylvania. It's obviously a must-win for Hillary, but, short of disaster, she will win. What counts is by how much. The polls range from an approximately 10% to 25% lead. If she wins by 10% or less, that's bad news--not beating expectations, and not catching up fast enough. But if she wins by 15%, is that enough? It's doubtful she can win by much more.

The 15% victory would give her, if the turnout is the same as it was in Ohio, a net gain of about 350,000 votes. This would at least put her within reach in the popular vote.

A word about the popular vote. There's no easy way to measure it. The number now is officially about a 700,000 vote lead for Obama. But if you include the unofficial popular vote from Iowa, Nevada, Washington and Maine, Obama has an 810,000 lead. On the other hand, if you throw in Florida--a crucial state, after all, where both were on the ballot--Hillary picks up about 300,000 net. Then there's Michigan, which had Hillary but not Obama on the ballot, where she would pick up another 300,000 or so. While pledged delegates are based on officially recognized votes, superdelegates are able to take into consideration anything, and you'd think they'd want to consider any place that participates in the general election.

Now let's get a little wild and give Hillary a 20% victory Pennsylvania. Once again depending on turnout, this could give her a net pick-up just south of a half million votes. And if Pennsylvania goes nuts and gives her a 25% win, she could gain more than 600,000. Anywhere in the 20%+ range would be such a knockout that Hillary's got a decent argument she's ahead in the popular vote, and makes Obama look like a pretty weak candidate.

Soon after Pennsylvania is Indiana, which is a decent state for Hillary, and North Carolina, which fits Obama's profile. If she can hurt him in Pennsylvania badly enough, North Carolina is not out of reach. Now imagine if she won that state. Suddenly, she's on a streak and the post-Wright Obama looks like a bad bet. Would the superdelegates still go to him?

Hillary's path is tricky, but it's still a lot easier than the path McCain had before him just a few months ago.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Big Bother

Lately I've been seeing Obama/"Hope" posters around town.

Why do I find these creepier than Andre/"Obey" posters?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

Just in time for Easter, the USA Today asks the question "Is Sin Dead?". Amusing replies from various religious pundits follow.

Oh, and check out the Ellison Research Poll (about halfway down the page on the left) on what Americans call sin. My favorite is that 43% of Americans think that having sexual thoughts about someone you're not married to is a sin.

Dang. No more Angelina Jolie flicks for me.

Also: Under the News You Can Use banner we learn that Crucifixion is bad for your health. (via the Good Professor)


I've been opposed to Huckabee from the start. He's wrong on just about everything. So I'm not surprised that he has decided to make excuses for the Reverend Wright. Still, consider this statement.
Sermons, after all, are rarely written word-for-word by pastors like Rev. Wright, who are delivering them extemporaneously, and caught up in the emotion of the moment. There are things that sometimes get said, that if you put them on paper and looked at them in print, you'd say, "Well, I didn't mean to say it quite like that."
The mind boggles. It's what he said, not how he expressed himself. We're talking about a series of vile statements on various subjects, made over many years, and generally being read while delivered, not to mention follow-up work actually written down that's consistent with these views. These were not stray comments made within longer, more rational speeches. These were the very heart of the speeches.

Furthermore, you don't just blurt out something like AIDS was created by white people to destroy black people. These sorts of statements evince a world-view, a philosophy, not just off the cuff anger (which in itself would be pretty ugly). Good thing Huckabee doesn't represent his party, or we'd have two candidates running for President who put up with this nonsense.

Wait Till After Labor Day

They can be fun to look at, but anyone who pays attention to general election polls right now is just being silly. For example, the Rasmussen poll (but not all others) show McCain ahead of either Democrat. But look at this tidbit: "African-American support for Clinton has collapsed, falling to 55% in the general election match-up."

It's inconceivable Hillary will get only 55% of black votes in the election. In fact, getting less than 75% is not only unlikely, but would be a disaster.

PS Another poll says 20% of Obama or Clinton voters will switch to McCain if their candidate loses. Once again, this is hooey. The dust will settle and they'll deal with it.

The only reason I could see them voting in any significant number against ther own party--though not in this proportion--is as a strategic vote: if Obama/Clinton loses, the Dems will feel remorse and in four years, Clinton/Obama will be the presumptive nominee.

Captious Caption

I was watching a tape of American Idol, and Paula Abdul told one of the singers--well, I wasn't sure, since she swallowed the words. I replayed it several times. Finally I put on the closed captioning so I could read it.

But the funny thing was this time around I was able to make out Paula's compliment: "you're 'F' for 'fantastic.'" But whoever was in charge of the CC (and it was being done in real time) apparently couldn't, and typed "'S' for 'standout.'"

I wonder how often this happens. It's tough enough to type that fast--is there any training in hearing what's actually being said?

PS I'm sorry to see Amanda go. She was my favorite contestant.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Galactica Countdown

Here's the David Letterman page where you can watch Wednesday night's top ten list featuring the cast of Battlestar Galactica. I liked how they were introduced as their characters.

Pretty funny, but it also got me excited about the return of the show. By the way, seeing them stand in a line, the guys were much shorter than I expected.

My Favorite New Phrase

"Axis of Hand-Wringing"

Isn't it wonderful? Don't you just want to spread it around?

The Debate Is Over

So Bin Laden has a new tape out. Changing course a bit, he used this chance to attack the EU, not to mention the Pope.

Apparently it's those drawings of Mohammed that got him mad. As he puts it:
You went overboard in your unbelief and freed yourselves of the etiquettes of dispute and fighting and went to the extent of publishing these insulting drawings. This is the greatest misfortune and the judgment for it will be stronger [....]If there is no check on the freedom of your words, then let your hearts be open to the freedom of our actions.
This is why I find it so strange that anti-war types get mad when we say they hate us for our freedom. In the past, Al Qaeda has made it clear that Democracy is evil. Now, we find out that, worse than killing and capturing his fighters by the thousands, not to mention all the "offense" caused by U.S. troops in the Middle East, nothing is worse than exercising basic freedom of speech.

PS I'm too speechless to even write about how Bin Laden is angry that we're not following the proper fighting etiquette.

Rousseau The Noble Savage

One of the complaints about Lost is, with all the mystery around, why don't people on the island ask more questions, or sit down and share information.

If you haven't watched the show at all, I'm now going to give away a spoiler for season two.

I was thinking about this when recently re-watching the episode where we first meet Ben. Rousseau has captured him and is turning him over to Sayid. She lets him know Ben is "one of them." Considering how much more she probably knows about Ben, this is amazingly tight-lipped. Her dialogue seems to be for the convenience of the plot rather than what she'd actually say.

Of course, she is sort of crazy, and has been living on her own out in nature for years. This can make people not particularly communicative. But what's the excuse for everyone else?

Barack Like Me

Now that race is more important to Obama than ever, it's harder for a lot of Obama's fans to claim he'll lead us to a post-racial America. Of course, the claim has always been silly--his main qualification to get this done, according to the fans, seemed to be that he's black (or at least part black).

I'm afraid we won't be a post-racial America until we really don't care what the candidate's race is.

We Was Robbed

I recently watched The Princess Bride (1987) at a friend's house. (We were supposed to watch something else but it wasn't available.)

I remember seeing it in the theatre, and being disappointed. Seeing it again confirmed my memories. In the previous three years Rob Reiner had directed three home runs--This Is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing and Stand By Me. Three different comedies, each well done in its own way. The reviews for Bride were great, so perhaps my expectations were too high.

Reiner doesn't have the chops for this sort of film. He's fine with contemporary characters, but not, apparently, mock costume romance. The action has to work for the comedy to play off it, but the awkward staging and poor pacing make the film only intermittently entertaining. The low-key performances by most of the cast don't help. (Compare this to a similar film like The Court Jester (1955). I wouldn't exactly call it a classic, but the actors play in a heightened comic manner, which gives the film the proper verve.)

If the IMDb is any indication, the film is still beloved, though I'm not sure why. It's not a disaster--and Reiner's done a lot worse since--but it should have soared, while it only sputters.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Is It Helpful?

I'm wondering whether there's a useful analogy between spending a coupla trillion on a war, financed entirely by running up the national debt, and creating a potential depression-inducing financial crisis by overextending credit in the residential housing market. I feel like they're both symptoms of the same irrational view of how money should properly be used, but the distinctions probably outweigh the similarities. This is meant as a call for ideas, rather than me trying to make some overarching point.

Pryor Commitment

Terrelle Pryor announces his intentions today. While a number of schools are possible, the scuttlebutt is it'll either be Ohio State or Michigan. The agony and the ecstasy.

I'm nervous.


Due to the deaths of Arthur C. Clarke and Anthony Minghella, the fisking of Obama's speech has been canceled.

Anthony Minghella

Everyone's shocked to hear writer-director Anthony Minghella just died. Only 54, he was one of the most respected directors around.

He started as a playwright, but was first widely noticed when he directed Truly, Madly, Deeply in 1990. I can't really comment, since I've only caught a bit of it on TV, but some friends I know say it's the best thing he ever did. It does seem to set the pattern for his later works, which--as the title indicates--concentrates intensely on human relationships.

His first film was very British, but his next film (which he didn't write), the comedy-romance Mr. Wonderful (1993), brought him to New York. It was a misstep, and probably set his career back a few years. But he rebounded in 1996, and made his most-honored film, The English Patient.

It was showered with awards, winning nine Oscars, including Best Picture. Alas, I agree with Elaine in Seinfeld--the movie is vastly overrated. But it put him at the top of the game.

His next film, in 1999, I find more interesting--The Talented Mr. Ripley. It's a flawed film, but the title character, a needy poseur, who takes on whatever characteristics are necessary at the time, is fascinating, and it may be Matt Damon's best performance. (I don't know how closely it follows the Patricia Highsmith novel, but then, that's not the point.)

Next came another novel-based film, Cold Mountain (2003). Looks beautiful, but it's another misfire. Breaking And Entering, released in 2007. was an even bigger failure. He apparently has another film yet to come out, so his career's not quite over.

Okay, not my cup of tea, but undeniably talented, and at least someone attempting to make big, intelligent film, at a time when most big films are dumb and most intelligent films are small.

Couldn't Make It Under Two, Huh?

Here's an expert finishing the Times crossword puzzle in a bit over two minutes. I was impressed till I found out it was the Monday edition.

Stamp Act

I used to buy a lot of stamps before I had email. Now I only use them to send bills (some people have even stopped using them for that). So when I go to the post office, as I did yesterday, it's no longer an adventure. I used to look forward to checking out the new first class stamps to see which would be the most fun to send to friends. I'd love to get the new Marvel Superheroes, or the Star Wars stuff, or American scientists, but what's the point. Now I just buy whatever's small enough to stick on any envelope without any trouble and that's that.

Arthur C. Clarke

Arthur C. Clarke has died. He's probably best known for writing the book and screenplay 2001: A Space Odyssey. But to science fiction fans, he was one of the Big Three--Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. Of them, his work seemed the most soft-spoken--perhaps this is my imagination (rather than his imagination), or perhaps it came from his being British and their being Americans.

One of his most famous works, Rendezvous With Rama, is scheduled to be released as a film next year. I'm looking forward to it, but it's doubtful it will be as iconic as 2001.

He's also famous for one of my favorite quotes: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

I read a fair number of his books and short stories. I especially liked the latter, but I admit during the years I avidly read sf, he was never high on my list. Still, he was a solid, no-nonsesne wide-ranging author of speculative literature, and his work has held up better to me than all but a handful of my youthful sf enthusiasms.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Hey hey hey, good - bye

"It will scale into teraflops on an individual chip."

Where's Summer Glau when you need her?

Obama's Speech

I won't go on long about Obama's speech. (He went on long enough.) But what I can't believe is how many commentators were reminded of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech.

They're simply not comparable. Sure, it was moving to many, and I supposed it accomplished what it was supposed to, but that's the point. This was a cover-your-ass speech. Obama wasn't simply appealing to our better natures, or giving us a vision of hope, he was trying to get himself out of a jam. King, on the other hand, was putting himself on the line, and paid the ultimate price.

Good or bad, if you want to compare this to another famous oration, it should be Nixon's "Checkers" speech.

Not If She's Elected

'Clinton says "we cannot win" Iraq war.'

Spreading The Disease

As I've already noted, a lot of people are actively defending the Reverend Wright as a truth teller. Shameful, though not surprising. But three times already, I've heard someone use as part of their "defense" that whites intentionally injected blacks with syphilis.

What they're referring to is the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. While the story is horrible enough (though more complex than commonly understood), it should be understood no one was ever injected with syphilis.

Obama Dilemma

Obama is giving a speech addressing the situation with his pastor, Jeremiah Wright and the vile things the man said. He has to, since it seems to be hurting his candidacy.

The funny thing is I bet it wouldn't be as much a problem if this were the general election. He could just disavow Wright without much worry (in the vague way he's done so far--if it offended you, that means I must disagree with it), since he'd get all the African-American and hate-America-Left votes anyway. But as long as he's running against a fellow Dem, it's not quite so easy. (On the other hand, this could have been truly devastating if it became big over a month ago.)

Where's Woody?

This is from Matt Weiland's review of Richard Zoglin's Comedy At The Edge (which I've discussed earlier) in The New York Times Sunday Book Review. After noting the book claims George Carlin and Richard Pryor are two of the most influential comedians on 70s stand-up, he writes:
It is strange, though, that Zoglin doesn’t rate Woody Allen, a virtual contemporary of Carlin and Pryor, in their company. The schlemiel as hero, the rapid neurotic delivery, the mix of philosophy and pop culture, the angst over emotional, career and relationship success, the shift in the ’70s from stand-up to writing, acting and directing — is any comedian of the period more influential?
1) This is a book about stand-up comedians in the 70s, a group to which Woody Allen doesn't belong. (The book does set the scene with some Lenny Bruce, but he's famous as a groundbreaking stand-up, while Allen truly made his mark elsewhere.)

2) Allen was a brilliant joke writer, and he was even able to create a character in his act that he later transferred to movies. But as a stand-up, as great as he was, he was old-style. Pryor and Carlin changed their 60's acts completely, making them more personal and contemporary, to become the famous and influential comedians they're known as today. Allen's act, by contrast, was highly artificial jokes about things that never happened.

3) This is a book about stand-up, where Allen's influence was minimal. There really aren't that many comedians who copied his style. Sure, there are joke writers, like Steven Wright, and neurotics, like Richard Lewis, but neither owe that much to Woody. Whereas Pryor and Carlin brought in a whole new generation of comics behind them.

4) The book does mention a third comic who's as influential--Robert Klein. Too bad Weiland doesn't see fit to bring him up.

PS Weiland inexplicably ends with two irrelevant paragraphs complaining that Don Novello is not in the book. Maybe that's because he was not a major stand-up act. Novello, best known as Father Guido Sarducci, also used the nom de plume Lazlo Toth in a series of absurd letters he wrote to big names and corporations. (I guess that shows he influenced Ted L. Nancy.) Some funny stuff there, but notice it's not stand-up.

Monday, March 17, 2008

This Should Go Fuckin' Well

The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear its first television indecency case in 30 years. The torture of the English language that necessarily always takes place in these arguments is often the most fun part. E.g. some of the speech at issue is Bono's "fuckin' brilliant" compliment of another musician, and Nicole Richie's existentialist koan "Have you ever tried to get cow shit out of a Prada purse? It's not so fucking simple." Well, that's some noble speech we're defending there, chief. On the other side, you've got the FCC taking the position that use of the word fuck in any form or format "inherently has a sexual connotation," which simply ignores, you know, reality.

Oh, and in case you were curious who was responsible for 99.8% of all FCC indecency complaints.

Ghosts of the Past

I've been something of a movie buff since I was a kid and spent many a family evening as a youngster watching them with my parents. Invariably, at some point during the movie, my mom would spot an actor or actress and say "Now, wasn't he (or she) in..." and we would be scratching our heads, trying to remember the film or the name of the actor or both. This, of course, was before the advent of the Internet, where now such questions can be answered at the click of a mouse.

I was reminded of this last night while watching Darby O'Gill and the Little People, a Disney favorite from way back. Now, there are many reasons to recommend Darby: It's a fun and enjoyable film for all ages, it features a very young and dashing Sean Connery (in one of his first screen roles), the special effects - while outdated today - are very impressive for a 1959 film (the Banshee, featured in the title link - thanks for the tip, LAGuy - scared the crap out of me when I first saw it) and last but not certainly least, it stars a fetching actress by the name of Janet Munro.

Janet Munro is one of those actresses that would make my mom go "Now, wasn't she in..." Sadly, she did not live a happy life and she died at the age of 38. But before that she left an impression on a young boy that's lasted a lifetime.

Does anyone else have "ghosts" like that?

Nerd Alert!

Hey, new Big Bangs today! I'm so glad the strike is over.


This post in the Mudville Gazette is about how some news sources seem to be denying the fairly obvious trend of decreasing attacks and fatalities in Iraq. (They're also decreasing the headlines from Iraq as well.)

I don't like to believe that the media is so opposied to the war that they can't bring themselves to say anything positive, but it did remind me of what I heard on the local NPR station over the weekend. They were reporting on a (rather small, as far as I could tell) protest against the war, interviewing the marchers, and giving glowing profiles on others who want our troops out. (They didn't put it that way--they said they were peace activists, though there's no reason to believe that pulling our soldiers out will lead to peace.)

Anyway, one of the reporters started talking about the surge, and here's what she said--that immediately after it started, violence went up. That was it. Nothing about how it went up because we engaged the enemy, and then it went down and has continued to go down, below pre-surge levels.

It's said generals always fight the last war. Well, in this case, it sounds like the media has settled on a narrative for this war and it can't accept a new one.

Hot Links

If you see three small dots directly to the left of a post's title, that means you can click on it because it's a link. However, I'm the only Guy here really to take advantage of this possibility.

What do I mean? Well, when I use a link for my title, it never goes to something already linked within the post, which is what the rest of the Guys do. Instead, it usually comments on or explains the title, or is indirectly related to something in the post. For instance, scroll down a bit to "But Mr. Adams." This is the title of a song from the musical 1776, so I linked to the number on YouTube.

Reading a blog can take up enough time without going elsewhere (which is why I try to make sure my posts can be understood by themselves). Still, just thought I'd note that if you see the dots, you might take a chance.

Sign Of The Times

It was interesting to see Jaime Pressly on David Letterman's show last week. They noted they both have sons from a relationship that doesn't seem headed toward marriage. And they both said it's fine as long as there are two parents around and also that it's no one's business.

It probably wasn't that long ago when such a conversation would have been unimaginable on TV. Though how long ago I can't quite say.

But Mr. Adams

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy David Post posts about the John Adams miniseries on HBO. He notes that Adams was no friend of free speech, having signed the Sedition Act, making criticism of the government a crime. (McCain's mouth must be watering.) But Post goes too far in his speculation:

It is simply impossible to imagine democratic government, or meaningful elections, where people are thrown in jail for criticizing the government, and it is therefore impossible to imagine the United States of the 19th and 20th centuries had the Sedition Act remained in place – which, thanks only to Jefferson’s election in 1800, it did not.
"Only" thanks to Jefferson? Perhaps. But I still like to think the law was so repulsive and against what most Americans wanted that, even if Jefferson had not replaced Adams, the law would have been repealed. (In fact, why is it that Adams was our first one-termer--and the only one-termer of our first five Presidents?)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Political Perversity In New York

David Mamet's Village Voice confession that he's no longer a "brain-dead liberal" has caused a bit of a stir.

Well, based on statements he'd been making for a while, I can't say it's much of a surprise. But really, who cares? His importance, such as it is, is based on his art. He rarely writes explicitly political stuff (though his latest is), but even if he did, what would count is the quality of the writing, not what side he's on, or even how well he makes his case.

It will be interesting, however, to see how the theatrical world reacts.

PS I find his unorthodox ideas on acting and directing far more interesting--i.e., actors should say their lines and otherwise shut up and directors...well, let's just get rid of them.

Friends Like These

I've been surprised by the number of Obama supporters who have said that his pastor's controversial sermons aren't that bad (or even correct) and everyone should just leave the guy alone. So now that Obama has renounced his pastor's remarks, I guess those people will have to stop supporting Obama.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Ask A Stupid Question, Get A Simple Answer

With Obama Wounded and Hillary Unappealing, Will Gore Finally Surface?


Yet More Free Advice

As part of a continuing series, let me offer some more advice to the candidates:

Every now and then I see an article where the Europeans are letting us know how important this election is in regaining their trust. If I were working for John McCain, I would try to figure out how these pieces can be broadcast across the U.S. on a regular basis.

If Obama, who's already stated his desire to ensure that Americans traveling abroad don't feel embarrassed, is seen as Europe's candidate, then it's pretty clear who America's candidate is.

The Wright Move

You have to wonder if SNL will take on Jeremiah Wright tonight.

Also, this is the first time I can remember they had four new shows in four weeks. No doubt due to pent up supply and demand after the writers' strike.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Fair and Balanced

In the wake of David Mamet's conversion from "brain-dead liberalism", conservative Hollywood writer Roger Simon is calling on a few fellow conservatives to help balance the scale.

"Really," Simon is quoted as saying, "this is just unfair. When someone of David's stature switches sides, it throws the whole Hollywood eco-system out of whack. What's worse, it can cause a ripple effect. I mean, David may be worth 20 Matt Damon's, but what if someone like Jack or Barbra saw the light? The results would be catastrophic. We might even have a pro-Iraq movie in theaters by next summer!"

Simon is asking fellow Hollywood conservatives Ron Silver, Andrew Klavan and others to join him in re-embracing liberalism, saying "It's the least we can do."

A Pox On Both Houses

Congress passes budget plans "torpedoing" Bush tax cuts and, oh yeah, votes to continue with earmarks.

As Megan McArdle reminds us, Congress is America's only distinct criminal class.

You Promised

I saw Stephen King's latest--Duma Key--in the bookstore yesterday. Maybe I'm mistaken, but didn't he say he was gonna stop writing a few years ago?

Lost Another

Wow, Lost killed off another character. And no one saw it coming. Of course, this being Lost, the character may be dead, but the actor keeps working.

(They've been promising Zoe Bell would appear for quite a while, and she finally did, in a surprisingly small role. Just by chance, I caught her earlier this week in the full-length version of Death Proof.)

Quite a while ago I posted on the odds of each character dying. If you're a fan of the show, read it and see how I did.

Mr. Wright

No one wants guilt by assocation, but Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright, isn't easy to ignore. Obama has said he doesn't agree with everything Wright says, and has recenttly strengthened that statements, but is that good enough?

Wright has said vile things in his sermons, on a regular basis, for quite a few years. Inexcusable stuff, I'd say. This is a church Obama chose, and chose to stay with. He even seems to be close to the Reverend.

I'm certainly not demanding every friend and moral leader pass a test, but if I supported a candidate whose church leader said something like, say, America was punished on 9/11 because we support homosexuality, I would want to know why the candidate belongs to this church. At the very least, I'd demand he publicly disavow those particular statements. I don't see Wright's statements as being any better.


On Letterman, they regularly use footage of Osama Bin Laden speaking into a microphone and saying whatever gag works at the time--mattress sales, birthday wishes, etc. And they always end the bit with Bin Laden noting "...oh, and Death To America."

I was thinking about this while reading the latest LA Weekly. Here's the last line from Ella Taylor's squib on Horton Hears A Who: "Hang in, though, for the extravagantly operatic finale, whose plea for mutual understanding was written during the Cold War, yet ought to be graffiti’d on every door in the West Wing." Here's a line from Robert Abele's review of the John Adams mini-series: "Adams famously said, 'Facts are stubborn things.' (Which could be the title of a biography of our current president.)"

I realize they both live lives where failure to hate Bush could cause trouble, but still, dragging in by the heels these sort of mindless attacks should be an embarrassment to them and their editors. So I have a suggestion. Instead of proving their anti-Bush bona fides with the formula "here's something bad in the movie, just like Bush" or "here's something nice in the movie, unlike Bush," let me just suggest that the Weekly, and hundreds of other publications like it, append each article with "Bush Sucks" in case they're afraid we don't know where they stand.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Prolonging the Franchise

Per the Good Professor comes the confirmation of a rumor: the final Harry Potter book is being split into two movies:

The final Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, will get the two-film treatment, simply named Part I and Part II. The two will be released six months apart; the first in November 2010 and then in May 2011. The franchise's producer David Heyman said J.K. Rowling's finale, published last year, is so packed with important details that "unlike every other book, you cannot remove elements of this book."

Now if only they'd done the same thing for books 4 and 5.

Making Larry Craig Look Good

A lot of people are playing a game right now: Who's worse? In one corner, Bill Clinton, in the other, Eliot Spitzer.

I actually don't have an opinion. However, I do feel that what's most offensive about both are not the inciting incidents, but related issues of how they comported themselves.

Small Left Wing Conspiracy

So Geraldine Ferraro had to step down from her (honorary) post for saying Obama wouldn't be where he is today if he weren't black. While she's probably right, I also think she shouldn't have said it. (You don't have to say something just because it's true. Representative King has said Al Qaeda will view Obama's election as a victory and that's even more likely to be true, but I'm not sure if that's the best way to make that point.)

Still, I'm fascinated at all the invective she's receiving. Across the nation people are calling her a racist. Even better, they're claiming this is all part of a deep dark plan of Bill and Hillary. It's just like Hillary claiming all attacks on her man were part of a vast right wing conspiracy.

Now the real question--which side does the whole brouhaha help. My guess is it's a wash, though if it helps anyone it'd be Obama.

Messing With Perfection

American Idol is finally down to the final twelve. They're not bad, though so far I'm not seeing that much personality. This week they gave Lennon-McCartney songs a workout. A few were passable, but the trouble with covering Beatles' songs is it's pretty hard to surpass the originals.

PS I was shocked when they voted off stripper David "I Saw Her Standing There" Hernandez, and kept Kristy Lee "countrified 'Eight Days A Week'" Cook.

Good Timing

Only two more episodes of Lost before they take a break. That's what I was thinking as I drove past a huge billboard advertising the new and final season of Battlestar Galactica. It starts April 4th so the timing couldn't be better.

And, like Lost, I'm glad they've set an end date. I thought the pacing was getting a bit sluggish. There simply was no need for stand-alone episodes, not with mini-seasons. Better to go out in a blaze of final revelations than have the chase go on forever--and even worse, to lose sight of the chase. I'm hoping with the finale in sight, the producers are able to give the show an ending that lives up to its beginning.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Culture Jamming

Locals on the San Francisco Hunter's Point bus line are having some fun with the buses:

The Municipal Railway will not use buses from its new hybrid fleet on one line that runs through the public housing projects in San Francisco's Hunters Point neighborhood until officials can stop troublemakers there from turning off the buses' power switches.

Muni drivers have reported over the last couple of weeks that people have been shutting down the power on their buses by flipping a switch that can be accessed easily through an unlocked panel on the outside of the bus.

Obviously, these are not eco-warriors, otherwise they would be celebrating the use of Hybrid Buses, and the reduction of the city's carbon footprint. And apparently some other locals are not satisfied with just throwing switches:

News of the bus tampering comes as Muni officials are working with police to step up patrols along parts of the 44-O'Shaughnessy and 54-Felton routes, particularly in and around the public housing projects.

There, witnesses reported that teenagers and young adults have thrown rocks at the buses, breaking windows and denting the bodies, officials said. A couple of drivers reported being assaulted, although nobody has been seriously injured.

Now, if I were a certain kind of person, I might draw attention to the words "public housing projects" in both of these situations. I'm not, of course. After all, this is San Francisco, not Paris, and no one's setting off Molotov Cocktails in any of the vehicles.

Yet. (h/t James Lileks)

I Knew (or sorta knew) About Half Of Them

Some neat science trivia. And now I'll never want a cat other than a toyger.

Update: a refutation of the "coconuts kill more than sharks" point.

You Ever Get That Nagging Feeling That You've Forgotten Something Back At The Office?

The R.I.A.A., when reached for comment on the error said "yeah, yeah, no food, drinking her own urine, blah, blah, blah, when does the scumsucking thief go to trial?!?"*

*not really

Absence of Judgment

GayPatriot has an excellent post up, comparing and contrasting the circumstances surrounding the Larry Craig, Eliot Spitzer and yes, even the Bill Clinton sex scandals, and I agree with his conclusion:

What links these three scandals is not just the sex, it’s also the circumstance. Each man had had experience knowing that such sexual antics could lead to public exposure, litigation and even prosecution. And yet, he acted as he did.

When you think about it, the lack of judgment displayed by these three men is stunning. As public officials, the idea that they could engage in this behavior and never have it become public knowledge beggars belief.

So why did they do it? Was it compulsive, something over which they had no control? Were they being deliberately delusional or just narcissistic (I can do what I want and get away with it because it's all about me, me, ME)? Or did they secretly, deep down inside, want to get caught?

Hmmm. Sounds like a job for Dr. Sanity or Dr. Helen.

"Resign? Resign on this, *$%!".

I don't see how a Governor who has admitted long-term involvement with an illegal practice that he has denounced as criminal & prosecuted, involves sex and shows a blatant disregard for prudent spending practices ($80,000 for for 20+ hours?- ah well, cheaper than a 2d marriage I guess), can survive for long, I don't think trying to force him out through the press and public shame is going to work. He has a well-deserved reputation as a bulldog and fighter and the piling on will incline him to dig in- if he can survive this week, he can survive his term though with very limited effectiveness. The press, in their undeclared bias for narrative arc, are pushing this the same way they push for the primary process to declare a winner. NY politics becoming a circus is not helpful to HRC (or to Bloomberg should he ever reconsider)

Ah well something to tide us over until Pennsylvania

Update: Apparently, this post was compelling. NY Times is reporting that he's going to go this morning. However, the Yogi mantra applies until it happens

No Sliding Scale At All? Really?

“There’s no sliding scale in the exploitation of women . . . . Either you exploit a woman in the commercial sex trade or you don’t.”

Thus the danger of believing passionately in any undeniably noble cause. You become unable to see, e.g., any meaningful moral distinction between "exploiting" a child who is held in literal slavery being forced to perform sex acts for money and "exploiting" an adult woman who is an independent contractor performing sex acts for several thousand dollars an hour of her own free will.

Good Title

Somehow it's fitting that after all the major cinematic flops about Iraq, the final one is titled Stop Loss.

Who's The Crazy One Here?

There's this new commercial for El Pollo Loco where this cool guy goes into another fast food place where instead of grilling their chicken, they paint on grill stripes and heat it in a microwave. The workers are rather apologetic while the cool guy insults them, saying he really didn't expect anything.

Okay, cool guy, you made your point, but one question--what are you doing in this place if you knew it was no good?

Near Miss

As expected, Obama won Mississippi. He has the support of back voters, so the state was made for him. About half the Dem voters there are black. More troubling was the lack of white support, much lower than he's used to. Exit polls showed whites cutting 70/30 for Hillary.

I realize this is Mississippi, and the voters aren't like the rest of the nation, but Obama needs to do a lot better than that to win most states. On the other hand, it is too late for Hillary to win in pledged delegates. All she's really going for now is popular vote, though.

Meanwhile, Al Sharpton keeps threatening the Democrats if they don't do what he says. His latest is that they better not seat Florida delegates. Oddly, he claims this will disenfranchise the voters.

I have to wonder how Obama feels when he sees Al Sharpton in the news crusading on his behalf.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Election Issue Nobody Has Brought Up Yet

Whether to invade Iran. McCain could get caught up playing strong, tough, military guy and make leaving the possibility open look like a continuation of Bush's increasing bellicosity. Obama would have to be subtle in drawing a contrast without looking like a pacifist. Clinton would end every sentence in a loud voice to SHOW HOW TOUGH AND PASSIONATE SHE IS!

Lost Time

I had a friend who took all the scenes in Memento--which is told backwards--and made a video where they were in chronological order. It was fascinating. (I did the same thing with Pulp Fiction--not quite as fascinating.)

Watching Lost recently, with all the flashbacks, I thought it would be interesting when the series is over, with all it's 100+ episodes, that someone do the same thing with the entire series. It'd be a monumental undertaking, but it'd sure be cool to see things unfold that way.

Hit The Air Running

I have a friend who made a prediction about the first thing our next President will do, whoever it is. First official action: granting amnesty to all analog TV owners and put back the transition to HDTV from February 17, 2009 to 2010.


There's a local story getting some play about a judge denying a 17-year-old early entry into the military. As far as I can tell, the judge decided the case based on her personal feelings.

But as shameful as the story is, that's not what caught my eye. Rather, it was the opening sentence: "Shawn Sage long dreamed of joining the military, and watching Full Metal Jacket last year really sold him on becoming a Marine."

Full Metal Jacket? Kubrick's film about how the Marines turn you into a dehumanized killing machine? Did he get it?

Sort of reminds me of how Dan Quayle got inspired when he saw The Candidate, a film about how the political system corrupts anyone who runs for orffice.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Governor Clinton of New York?

The XX Factor on Slate suggests this is a dignified way for Hillary to drop out of the race (being the junior partner on a Obama ticket would not be, apparently) . She can truly claim to have great experience cleaning up after this kind of mess.

Interesting notion since it assumes Eliot Spitzer has committed an unpardonable sin and will disappear into the wind. I don't quite get the vitriol the fair sex is spewing at him (although I would agree that $5500 for an hour of nookie is the dumbest investment since Mitt Romney put $42 million into his campaign). Sure it especially stupid to get involved with a criminal activity when you've made your name crusading against vice, but in some ways its less offensive than an affair (unless Eliot brought a NY cop detail with him to the Mayflower) .

Is this maybe a set-up & payback of some kind by Wall Street?

Release The Hounds

Dick Morris has been crusading against Hillary Clinton for some time now. But I don't quite understand his latest screed.

Here's the argument, in his words:
The Clintons' campaign attacks put Obama in a bind. If he doesn't answer in kind, he's toast. But if he does, they'll have forced him off his winning message of hope and change from the bitter politics of the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush eras [actually both Clinton and Bush ran on hope and change, their main difference with Obama being they had actually demonstrated their willingness to work with both parties]. If they pull him off his game and onto theirs, they can wrest away the Democratic convention victory that he's earned.The solution for Obama is clear: Reply in kind, but do it through surrogates.
So Obama can't attack or it screws up his content-free message of "hope and change." But somehow, having Ted Kennedy or Al Sharpton or whomever make these attacks on his behalf is acceptable. Am I missing something?

Catch You Next Time

One blog I regular check out is Megan McArdle's. Now I see, too late, that she was just in town over the weekend and wondering what to do on Sunday.

I'd have been glad to show her around. After all, I am LAGuy. Just a few weeks ago an old friend was in town and I showed her the general area where Megan was staying. Of course, my tour's tend to be less about seeing famous spots and more about what little-known movie was shot on this block.

Suggestion Box

There's no easy solution to dealing with the Dem votes in Florida and Michigan. Doing nothing seems unacceptable, a complete revote seems too expensive, and everything in betwen (including mailed paper ballots) seems a bit slipshod.

I don't know what they should do, but I would suggest next chance they get they fire DNC Chairman Howard Dean, whose arrogance got them into this mess.

Icing Pricing

I've always been fascinated at how prices are set. I know about supply and demand, but someone at street level has to decide exactly how much a product costs.

I was walking around Westwood over the weekend and passed Stan's Donuts and Diddy Riese, just a half block from each other.

Stan's is a hole-in-the-wall sort of place, yet has arguably the best donuts in town. (It regulary wins awards as such.) But quality doesn't come cheap, and a fancy donut there can cost two bucks or more. When I walked by, it wasn't crowded.

Meanwhile, Diddy Riese was doing line-out-the-door business. And seeing the prices I could tell why. You can get three chocolate chip cookies for a dollar (take that, Mrs. Fields) and their famous ice cream sandwich (made with two cookies) for a buck.

Both places have been open for years, so I assume they're both doing well. But starting with the same basic ingredients, it struck me how one is much lower than the market and one is higher. Can donuts really be worth that much? Can really cheap chocolate chip cookies be worth it?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Old Vs. New

James Lileks can't decide if he wants to watch Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem or 3:10 To Yuma and offers up this recollection on the entire Aliens franchise:

Have a nagging desire for more “Aliens” stuff. Don’t want to watch the fourth one ever again, though. And the third one does not exist in my mind, because of what it did to the ending of the second one. So let me get this straight – there are six “Aliens” movies, and two-thirds bite the wax tadpole; why do I care?

I would agree that the original is a classic of the horror genre (even though I know LAGuy doesn't share my affection for it). The second movie is another classic, although from a different genre: Action/Suspense. The third, well, here is where things get a little wonky. My feeling is that it's a damn fine movie, although I understand exactly where Lileks is coming from. The first two movies leave you with a feeling of hope, a sort of Barack Obama "Yes, We Can!" moment.

In Alien 3, director David Fincher seems determined - from the very beginning - to take that feeling of hope and flush it directly down the dumpster. Much like his movie Seven, you not only leave the theater believing "No, We Can't!", but you also wonder why we even tried in the first place. And you want to find the nearest shower.

The fourth movie, Alien Resurrection, is a fascinating train wreck of a flick. There are several excellent movie moments - Ripley blowing the head off an Alien with a shotgun comes to mind - but they never coalesce into a coherent film. Horror often walks a tightrope between being scary and being unintentionally funny and at the end of the movie, when the Mother Alien and her spawn are sharing a tender moment, it's hard to suppress a giggle.

As for the Alien-Predator mashups, the first one is okay. Having Lance Henriksen around is a nice touch and the birth of the Predalien is kind of cool, but other than that it's nothing special. I haven't seen the latest yet. Since all the reviews suggest it sucks Scrabble tiles, I'll wait for it to come to Skinemax.

So I guess I don't agree that two-thirds bite the wax tadpole. Maybe half. Or maybe I do agree and just have a weakness for tadpoles, wax or otherwise. Either way, suddenly I find myself with a nagging desire for more "Aliens" stuff.

Go figure.

Cross posted at the Teahouse.

Hill Bill, Vol. 2

Okay. So I'm reading Tom Maguire and he's talking about all the backbiting going on with the Dems at the moment. How nasty will it get and what will it take - once the nominee is chosen - to heal the wounds and circle the wagons around the real enemy, John McCain? One possible answer is for either Obama or Clinton to accept the VP position if he/she loses the nomination. Tom poses the question and then quickly shoots it down for both candidates, deciding that the Dems are "walking a long and winding road that leads to a swamp".

And while I'm reading this, I can't help but think: If Hillary wins the nomination, why wouldn't she pick Bill? According to the Washington Post, it's possible.

Would she do it?

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