Thursday, January 31, 2008

Rules Are For Chumps

I generally don't like Karl Rove but I'll admit he knows a lot about running campaigns. He has a good piece in the Journal today (subscription required until Murdoch fixes it) about the new rules for running a Presidential campaign. Its pretty good and informative and he leaves off the crass partisan stuff until near the end. (Anybody who thinks the Republican contest has been more about ideas didn't watch the ads for NH).

However he seems to make the mistake most pundits make- trying to generalize "rules" and "lessons" from very specific facts and circumstances. For examples- He says you can't skip six primaries and expect to compete in the 7th because of Giuliani's experience and that you can't come in halfway through a process and expect a groundswell of support (Thompson) and that you can't buy support (Romney, Paul). The answers should be- yes, you could but you would have to do it differently from these guys. Rudy's strategy might have worked if he a) stayed in the news cycles during the early contests, b) punched up his public persona so as not to seem so sluggish in most of January and c) better managed disclosures about his personal life. Thompson would have benefitted from better planning and occasionally displaying a pulse. Romney and Paul could have spent their money far more wisely i.e. -on better ads (I think both lost support with the drivel they were peddling) and on creating a buzz outside of ads (which I think and Mr Rove agrees, seem to be ceding some of their influence to other media).

WTF?

I received some promotional material from Domino's Pizza that offered the "BFD"--Big Fantastic Deal.

Now we all know what BFD really stands for. Will anyone do anything, or are we just gonna say BFD?

A Message To You, Rudy

I've heard a rumor if John McCain is elected President, in return for his endorsement, he will pick Rudy Giuliani as his Attorney General or head of Homeland Security.

Please, let it be the latter. I'd rather have the terrorists face Rudy's aggression.

Picture This

Some believe if you closely examine the photos a paper runs you can tell what the editors secretly believe. The politicians they like look noble and those they don't like look like doofuses, according to this theory.

I have better things to do than submit each picture to such scrutiny, but yesterday's front page shots in the LA Times just jumped out at me. (Sorry the photos I discuss don't seem to be on the Times webpage.)

There were the four top finishers in the Republican Florida primary. On top was John McCain with 36%. He had a broad smile, almost a laugh. Underneath, Mitt Romney at 31%, looking pleasant, with a tentative smile. Below, Rudy Giuliani with only 15%, looking down and frowning. At the bottom, Mike Huckabee at 13% (glancing to side where the number is) looking depressed.

Coincidence?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sal Volatile

I just caught Merrily We Live on TCM. It's a minor comedy from 1938, sort of a knock-off of My Man Godfrey--even uses some of the same actors.

Late in the film, people start fainting, and the head of the household calls for the smelling salts. I have a question--

Whatever happened to smelling salts? I sure don't have any around. What are smelling salts anyway? They seems to be part of the household in older movies. When did they get kicked out the emergency kit? Was fainting more common back then?

TKO

Ted Kennedy's endorsement of Obama will, I assume, play well with the Dem base. Before it, Barack was about ten points behind Hillary in national polls. If it gives him a bump, it may save him on Super Tuesday. (And don't forget the Democrats don't play winner-take-all.)

But if it does gets him the nomination, it's worth noting Ted isn't quite as popular with the public at large. I wonder if the Repubs will use footage of Ted saying Obama is his kind of guy?

Mac Attack

Who would have thought that the Democrats would have the more interesting race going into Super Tuesday? But after John McCain's win in Florida, he's the odds-on favorite to get the nomination. His only credible competitition is Mitt Romney.

The exit polls had a lot of interesting information. I've been wondering for quite a while how the other candidates' voters would split between the big two. Turns out Thompson's people go 2-1 for Romney, Huckabee's 5-3 for McCain, and Rudy's split about even. (Now that Rudy has endorsed McCain, will that change? I was a bit surprised at the endorsement. Is it about national security, or is there bad blood between Rudy and Mitt?)

And McCain won due to some interesting blocs. He inspires both the young and the old, while Mitt gets those in-between. He also appeals to the poorest and the wealthiest (sounds like a Democrat).

Oddly--to me, anyway--McCain is preferred on economic issues. Mitt needs to turn that around if he wants to win.

But the two decisive factors were race and ideology. Romney had a slight edge among whites, but among non-Whites--and Florida has a huge Latino population--McCain led big. As for politics, though it was a closed primary and I thought only Republicans could vote, one in five voters was an Independent or Democrat. The two were tied among Repubs, but the others went strong for John.

One more interesting fact--after all the attention showered on Florida, one in four voters didn't decide on their man until the last three days.

McCain was written off not that long ago, but I always felt in a crowded field with no obvious frontrunner, and all the candidates seriously flawed, he had as good a chance as any, since SOMEONE had to win.

And then everything started cutting for him. First Giuliani, the most popular candidate, all but drops out. Then Huckabee takes Iowa, preventing a serious frontrunner like Romney or perhaps Thompson from become a suffocating favorite. This was enough of an opening for McCain to come roaring through in New Hampshire, revitalizing his campaign.

It was an odd race from the start because, except for the late-starting Thompson, there was no obvious heir apparent for the True Conservative title. They all battled to be the most conservative, but each one had records that showed all sorts of odd votes and policy choices.

Some Republicans feel McCain has the best chance in the general election, but he seems like a weak candidate to me. (They all seem weak.) Of course, you've got his age, which, especially if he's running against a vital Obama, is likely to work against him. And while he does, at present, have wider appeal than the others, he doesn't excite the base--in fact, the base hates him. These days, an excited base is as important as a solid center appeal. And as to the center, even the left, they may love him as the great Republican maverick, but as soon as he's up against a Democrat, his Right side will be accentuated and he probably won't seem so appealing. Also, sooner or later, his persnickety personality will come out. (It's hard to say how his immigration stance will play. He seems to be giving up one of the great wedge issues for his party, but he might get a nice slice of the Latino vote to make up for it.)

I can't say I'm thrilled about McCain being the frontrunner. McCain-Feingold is one of the most disgusting laws the Congress has ever passed. The best thing about him is his being elected President would make a strong statement about national security, but I'm not sure if that's worth giving up so much else.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Pajama Guy Gets Results

When others were calling on John Edwards to leave the race, PJGuy said he might as well stick around and become a kingmaker.

And now in the news: "Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) has his sights set on playing kingmaker at the Denver convention in August, one of his most senior campaign officials hinted Monday."

Parsely

This is from Ted Kennedy's attack on Clinton, aka his speech for Obama: "Through Barack, I believe we will move beyond the politics of fear and personal destruction and unite our country with the politics of common purpose."

He's perfectly allowed to believe this. I just hope he doesn't think there's any connection between the first part of that sentence and the second part.

Krazy, Man, Krazy

I was zipping through the channels when I thought I recognized something. The show--Diners, Drive-Ins And Dives. Guy, the host, was checking out burger joints. And sure enough, there he was at Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger, my favorite spot in Ann Arbor.

It's a shoebox-sized place at Packard and Division, a block from West Quad. You get in line and they grill up your burger (two patty minimum) in front of you. They also have great fries and free spring water.

For those of you who know the place, you might want to check out the show. It's on the Food Network and I'm sure this episode will be repeated sooner or later. It made me want to go back to Ann Arbor.

PS When I do go there, the two places I try to hit are Krazy Jim's and Zingerman's deli. Interestingly, I found a blog where someone from California traveled to Ann Arbor and stopped at these two very places. Nice photos.

Why They Fight

Here's an article about terrorists attacks planned in Spain. This is nothing new, of course. Every month Europe arrests more groups ready to blow things up. (Sometimes they don't stop them in time.)

But there was an interesting final paragraph:
Islamic militants ["militants"] attacked Madrid commuter trains days before Spain's last general election in March 2004, killing 191 people and wounding 1,800. They said the attacks were made in revenge for Spain sending troops to Afghanistan and Iraq.
But wait, after the 2004 bombings the Spanish tossed out their government and pulled out of Iraq. It also pulled its small number of fighting troops out of Afghanistan and has only deployed them there for humanitarian purposes. But the terrorists keep plotting just the same. It must be something else.

(I also heard a rumor that America was attacked before we went into Iraq, but I'm not sure if I should believe it.)

Jonah And Noah

Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism seems to have become a bestseller. The title is meant to be provocative, and it's succeeded. Timothy Noah was provoked enough to respond in Slate.

After a bunch of paragraphs attacking the book, we get to this:
Goldberg's argument begins with the observation that well into the 1930s, the American progressive movement had more admiration than scorn for Benito Mussolini, who coined the words fascist and totalitarian, and even for Adolf Hitler. This isn't news to anyone with even a glancing familiarity with American history. Goldberg further argues that fascism initially evolved from and positioned itself as a muscular brand of socialism (hence Nazi, an abbreviation for "National Socialist German Workers Party"). Also true, and also known to most educated people.
Then Noah continues his attack.

But hasn't Noah given away the game? Do most people today, educated or not, liberal or not, know what he says they know? I doubt it. In fact, if Goldberg's book can get people to admit what Noah says they already believe, I'd guess Goldberg would feel he's accomplished 90% of what he set out to do.

Monday, January 28, 2008

So Out He's In

It's interesting how McCain has a reputation as a political maverick, yet he keeps racking up endorsements from big names. And then there's Obama, who's supposed to represent change, but keeps getting thumbs up from politicians who have been in office forever.

The truth is we don't really want a maverick or we'd vote for Ron Paul, and we don't truly want change or we'd vote for Mike Gravel.

Can't Hardly Wait

What a week it's going to be. Sure, there's the Florida vote, and a big speech, but I mean new House and the first Lost in about a year! It's been way too long. Eight episodes might not be much, but when you're stuck on an island, you take what you can get.

Take It Away

Many have been questioning Giuliani's strategy, and they're looking correct. He was counting on Florida as a firewall, but if you don't play, you can't win. While the polls are close, Giuliani's been in free fall for the past few weeks and both Romney and McCain have a goood chance of beating him there. (Even Huckabee might.)

Not that his strategy was completely nuts. He looked at Iowa and New Hampshire and thought he wouldn't play there, so figured he'd let others fight it out and, still fresh, take them on later.

Oddly, though, there's another thing that looked in his favor a month ago that now might work against him. He probably figured he'd at least take New York and New Jersey on February 5th, and probably Connecticut and California. Since the first three are winner-take-all, and the last winner-take-all by district, this seemed guaranteed to give Giuliani a huge number of delegates, making him a player no matter what.

But, predictably, when you fade, you fade all over. If Giuliani doesn't win in Florida, and worse, finishes a weak third, more voters are likely to desert him and he may not even win his own state. He could have survived in a three or four way race if there were proportional delegates in these states, but if he gets a bunch of goose eggs on Super Tuesday, he really is finished.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Rosenbaum

Jonathan Rosenbaum is retiring. I've been reading him for years, and back when I lived in Chicago I saw him speak a couple times.

He's one of the great scholars in the critical community. His work on Orson Welles, for example, is encycopledic. (Here he is talking about Welles.)

Rosenbaum often allowed his politics to intrude on his critical scrutiny. This led him into interesting--and nutty--areas. A good example is his double review of Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan and Joe Dante's Small Soldiers. The former gets one star, the latter, four. Or look at his alternate list to AFI's top 100 American movies. And here's his top ten list for 2007--how many have you heard of?

I always thought he was Chicago's best film critic.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Checking The Structure

The LA Times reviews Michael Shermer's book The Mind of the Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales From Evolutionary Economics. I haven't read the book, though I do know it's about evolutionary psychology and how it plays out in today's world. (Guess that's obvious from the title.)

I know Shermer--not very well--and have read other books of his. I have no idea if this one is any good, but I can tell the review isn't. It starts with a chip on its shoulder. How dare Shermer use science to back the free market!

I admit there are plenty of shaky, allegedly scientific arguments out there about our psychology, but was it really a good idea to let Lee Drutman review this book? He wrote The People's Business: Controlling Corporations and Restoring Democracy--Shermer never had a chance.

To give you a feeling for Drutman's view, look at this frightening parenthetical statement: "the modern invention of market capitalism has almost collapsed multiple times and would have but for repeated interventions by governments."

Pardon me? Could you point to a specific case? I don't deny government is involved in the market. Even libertarians admit the need to have a force that resolves disputes and upholds contracts, and governments have gone a lot further than that, but when did they save the entire market system? They've saved companies, of course, but if they didn't, at worst it would have meant the company collapsed and others took up the slack (that's a good example of evolution at work). Then there was that panic in 1929 where the government intervened and helped turn it into a decade-long depression, so surely Drutman isn't referring to that.

I'm not denying there's been huge intervention by governments into market systems throughout the modern era--I just wasn't aware that's what saved the capitalist structure.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Never Trust A Man In A Blue Trench Coat

And never play Red Rover with people who lack food and fuel. Did the Egyptians really not foresee that this PR stunt would spin out of their control?

The Anti-Endorsement

The only interesting part of the NYTimes' twist-my-arm endorsement of McCain for the Republican nomination is the wholehearted attack on Giuliani. If the rest of the country for some reason wants to know precisely what the majority of New Yorkers now think of Rudy, here it is in three concise paragraphs.

Post Post

QueensGuy recently commented: "The 'fairy tale' line had been discussed as a racial issue? I missed that. I thought the only race issue between Obama and H.Clinton was the LBJ/MLK point."

This is odd, because I have not heard Bill Clinton's comment discussed in any way outside a racial context.

In a related note, you might want to check out the Washington Post for its piece on how "Black America Feels The Sting Of Ex-President's Comments." It's one of the most-viewed articles of the day. To some, attacking Obama is automatically a racial issue. The question becomes is this the intent of the Clintons?

Will It Still Play

I was recently watching one of my favorite Woody Allen films, Play It Again, Sam (he didn't direct, but he wrote and stars in it).

There's one bit in the movie that's also in the stage version. Tony Roberts is a businessman who's Woody's friend and Diane Keaton's husband. He constantly calls people to update them on what phone number he can be reached at. In the future, this gag may be incomprehensible.

Watch Your Step

All sorts of politicians and newspapers are coming out in favor of Obama over Clinton. They better hope Hillary doesn't win. She strikes me as the type to hold a grudge.

Loading Up The Truck

One of the biggest TV hits ever was The Beverly Hillbillies, which ran from 1962 to 1971. (The entire recording career of the Beatles was contained in these years.) What's impressive about the achievement was that all 274 episodes were esssentially variations on one joke--country folk misunderstanding big city ways.

I watched the show in reruns. Can't say I was a fan, but I could see its appeal--for what it is, it's reasonably well done.

But I had never seen the pilot until recently, when it was on TV Land. Fascinating to see the gang living in the woods, and moving to Beverly Hills. The pilot, by creator Paul Henning, doesn't even get the Clampetts into their mansion. (I assume those famous sets were built only after the show was picked up.) In fact, the second episode is all about the family acclimating themselves to indoor ovens and the "cement pond."

Jed's wealth was so great that, according to the show, he practically kept the third-largest bank in Beverly Hills afloat. How much money did he have? Once again, according to the pilot, somewhere between 25 and 100 million dollars, probably closer to the low number. That's still an impressive sum, but if it were made today--yet set in the 60s--I guarantee the number would be much larger.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Gaming The Show

I've never watched The Apprentice. (The only reality show I watch is American Idol.) I hear, though, this year the "apprentices" will be celebrities. So if I were watching it, I'd probably stop.

I generally don't like it when celebrities get on game shows. For one thing, they tend not to play the game as well as civilians. But what's worse is they don't care--they're not playing for the money. I want to see contestants who care a lot about winning--I want it to be a life and death sort of thing. Celebrity contestants can take it or leave it, and so can I.

Kingmaker

Stephen King has come out for Obama. Not much of a story, but his reasons are illustrative of many backers: "Obama has the least baggage of the two and is willing to try new things. It wouldn't be business as usual. Also it would do wonders for us in the world community to have a black man in the White House."

So his first main reason is change--no special direction to the change, just change, because that's what we need.

Second, our standing in the world. Well, even if others are bowled over by the U.S. electing a black man (because that's one less lie they can tell about us), I doubt it makes a difference. In fact, this argument is never much good. Some presidents may be better in dealing with other nations (though it's extremely hard to guess which ones will), but you generally aren't going to get nations to act against their own interest. More important, what counts most is the President doing what's right for his country, not pleasing other countries. (As I've noted before, the argument that we look bad in front of other nations is a smokescreen. If what we're doing is right and others disagree, it's a p.r. problem and we should fix it, not change our ways. If what we're doing is wrong, then we should stop it no matter how others feel. And if something becomes wrong merely because France disapproves, then we're in serious trouble no matter what.)

(I hope it isn't too unfair to note King seems to have a problem creating convincing black people in his work. They always seems to be at arm's length--magical, mysterious people who interact with the real world, the white world.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Today Would be a Bad Day to be a Day Trader with a Heart Condition

So the market went from 300 points down to 300 points up in about 5 hours. (Imagine how depressing it would be if the opposite happened). Today the Boston Globe featured a story on a woman's eviction/foreclosure that was broken up and halted by 75 community activist types (I'll try to find the right link). The woman claimed predatory lending and that she didn't understand what she signed (I think the adjustable rate increased her monthly payment to more than her monthly income)- Of course the upshot was she worked in a real estate office and dealt with these issues all of the time. Whatever the case- some hotshot mortgage lender originally thought she was a good risk. If you think the subprime mortgage crisis is bad now, just wait and see what happens if lenders can't realize on collateral.

Right Said Fred And Big Mac

I was sorry to see Fred Thompson drop out. I wasn't planning on voting for him, but he sure was better than that nut Huckabee. Many claim his candidacy was a blown opportunity. They have a good case, but then, in politics, blown opportunities are the norm.

Meanwhile, a lot of Republicans are moving over to John McCain. This is partly because of the absurd but classical reason that people like to back a winner. But there's another common reason that may be even worse--many view him as the most electable.

Forget any Repub versus Dem poll right now, they're meaningless. No one has any idea which of the major candidates has the best chance to win. (Except Huckabee--no chance.) It's not until we're coming out of the conventions, and the public is paying attention while both sides are attacking each other full-bore, that you start getting an honest idea of how your candidate plays.

Let's Get Ready To Rhumba

Regarding this week's Democratic debate, the headlines everywhere said "The Gloves Are Off." I think they missed the real story.

Of course Obama and Clinton (and Edwards) clashed--they're in a tight race. The real scary part was when they all agreed with each other.

The Phantom Menace And The Real Problem

Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin recently took a potshot at Bill Clinton over his Obama statements while the former President sat 20 feet away. Some say this is a foreshadowing of the dangerous path the Clintons have taken in going after Barack. It may help them get the nomination, but could hurt them in the general election with blacks.

I wouldn't put much stock in this. I don't know too much about what will happen in the Presidential election, but I do know this--African Americans will vote for the Democrat, no matter who.

On the other hand, Franklin's comments could be a dangerous omen for Obama if he wins the nomination. If black Americans see him as "their" candidate, it might not play well with the rest of the electorate. They won't relish four years of any criticism of the President being met with such counterattacks.

Nodding At The Nods

The Oscar nominations are out. Not too much to say because there weren't too many surprises.

Tommy Lee Jones and Johnny Depp for Best Actor are a bit of a surprise, but I can't see either winning.

No surprise to see Philip Seymour Hoffman, though a bit of a surprise that of the three films he was in, Charlie Wilson's War did it for him. (I think the Academy got it right.)

Cate Blanchett's nomination for Supporting Actress was expected, but the Best Actress nomination for her Elizabethan flop was not.

Sort of interesting that three of the five Best Song nominees are from Enchanted. (That might mean they'll split the vote and leave room for the song from Once to take it)

To no one's surprise, the most nominations went to films that had Oscar written all over them--No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood followed by Atonement and Michael Clayton. (See my movie roundup if you want to know my opinions of them.)

There weren't too many obvious slights. I suppose some felt Amercan Gangster should have done better. And I did feel Into The Wild was snubbed. It got a Best Supporting Actor nomination, as I predicted, but nothing for Best Actor, Director, Screenplay or Film.

Heath Ledger

When I saw Heath Ledger's picture on TV I assumed it was some promotional thing for Batman. Like everyone else, I was shocked to hear he died--and at 28, younger than I'd have guessed.

When Brad Renfro died last week at 25, it was certainly a surprise, though he was known to be troubled. But Heath Ledger was a much bigger star still at the height of his celebrity, and while he had split from his wife last year, there hadn't been reports of major inner turmoil. (As I write this, no one is sure why he died.)

I'd generally liked Ledger, even if I didn't like most of the films he was in. He had an interesting career, with both big Hollywood movies and smaller fare.

He first came to notice in 10 Things I Hate About You. It wasn't bad for a teen film, but Ledger wanted to be more than this year's beefcake for screaming girls. He next played supporting roles in The Patriot (a big Mel Gibson production) and Monster's Ball (a smaller, Oscar winning film) that moved him forward, if not necessarily upward.

Then he played romantic leads in films that didn't quite work, such as the weird rock and roll jousting movie A Knight's Tale, and a poorly done remake of The Four Feathers. He did better with highly varied work in such films as Ned Kelly and Lords Of Dogtown, even if thet weren't big hits.

Then came the breakthrough--a highly respected movie that was also a big hit, Brokeback Mountain. The gay cowboy film became part of the zeitgeist, and Ledger's role, the soft-spoken Ennis Del Mar, held it it all together. He finally got to show what he could do, and was nominated for every award there was, including the Oscar.

The film was beautifully shot and had some memorable scenes, but I had trouble with the central conflict. I thought it was all external--the men's love was perfect and the only problem was society disapproved. But the performances, especially Ledger's, were well-observed. And while everyone noted the stuff between the cowboys, I was more impressed with the scenes of Ennis and his family.

In the few films he had left, nothing topped Brokeback. He got good notices as a drug-addicted poet in Candy and as a Dylanesque celebrtiy in I'm Not There, but these films didn't get nearly the same attention.

There'd been a lot of buzz about his last completed role, the psychopathic Joker in this summer's The Dark Knight. Fans have been awaiting the release of this sequel, especially to see how Ledger would handle Batman's greatest villain. No one knows how it'll play now.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Now You're Talking

I always enjoy reading the Becker-Posner blog since they don't give a damn. They discuss big issues through the prism of economics (their version of economics) and come up with answers that are anathema to most politicians.

For instance, this week they're asking why did black Americans make so much progress before modern civil rights laws, but seemed to have stopped that progress in the last couple decades.

Even the question is rarely discussed (or its premise believed). Their solutions? School vouchers, legalized drugs, abolition of the minimum wage, that sort of stuff. These things have little or no chance of happening, but it's so nice to hear this instead of the typical Washington solution--more money for more of the same.

Florida Fun

The last three polls taken in Florida show Romney, Giuliani and McCain ahead. This is gonna be cool.

See It My Way

Cloverfield, the low-budget monster hit, is reminiscent of many others films, though most people are reminded of The Blair Witch Project--both are self-filmed stories of a small crew traveling into danger. (And all that herky-jerky camera movement gives you a headache if you sit up close like I do.)

But I was reminded most of 2005's War Of The Worlds. Spielberg's stated goal was to show a huge catastrophe from a small, threatened group's limited point of view. I didn't think Cloverfield was entirely successful, but I thought it succeeded in this goal better than Spielberg managed.

Not Bad

AMC, formerly the network that shows old movies which I don't watch because they have commercials, has become the go-to spot for new drama.

Last year introduced Mad Men, about the ad game in the 1960s. While I thought it was sometimes long and decor and short on plot, overall it created an interesting world.

The latest debut is Breaking Bad, starring Malcolm In The Middle's Bryan Cranston, who plays it straight here. The show's description sounded absurd--a quiet high school chemistry teacher who's just turned 50 learns he has inoperable cancer and so starts a methamphetamine lab. But the pilot was actually pretty good, and Cranston (I've always liked him) even better.

I'm curious to see what's going to happen next. If you missed the pilot I'm sure they'll be repeating it all week.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Stimulate Me

I doubt the stimulus package being discussed these days will help the economy much. On the other hand, if the President wants to send me an $800 check, I'm willing to take that chance.

Is That Possible?

I just saw an add for Flomax. Among the side effects are decreased semen and a runny nose. That's a very suspicious combination.

Perceptionless

Roger Ebert reviews Persepolis, one of my top ten from 2007. In the first paragaph: "Whenever I read another story about the clerical rule that now grips Iran, I think of those people, and millions of other Iranians like them, who do not agree with the rigid restrictions they live under, particularly the women. Iranians are no more monolithic than we are, a truth not grasped by our own zealous leader."

There's nothing like the ignorance of people who claim George Bush is ignorant. The Bush administration has, of course, regularly and openly stated the Iranian people are not the same thing as their theocratic government. In fact, it's rather central to how we approach Iran.

Primary Problems

Regarding the Republican primaries, reader Larry King states "if this is a close race through February, then there will be a complete overhaul of the state primary calendar before 2012. Of course, such an overhaul has been talked about for many years -- but I predict it will really happen if the Republican race isn't essentially over after Super Tuesday."

The parties always talk about changing the system, especially when they lose the general election. (It's never the party, it's the system.) They certainly tweak it on a regular basis. To me a more interesting question is if the Democrats have a close race, will all those superdelegates (who make up about 20% of the voters at the convention) seem, well, undemocratic? They're Dem leaders placed there to make sure the party doesn't go off the rails, but if they actually get to decide who becomes the candidate, rather than "the people," I'd imagine there'd be outrage.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Emily's Gone Home

Suzanne Pleshette has died. (Her husband Tom Poston died last year.) In the late 50s and 60s she appeared on stage, TV and movies, often playing the ingenue. The first thing I remember seeing her in was Disney's The Ugly Dachsund where she played Dean Jones' suspicious wife.

Pleshette was cute and charming, but she rarely played straight out sexy roles. She was better as the wife than the gal the guy cheats on his wife with.

The role she's remembered for is Emily, Bob Newhart's wife on The Bob Newhart Show in the 70s. I thought she and Bob had one of the most adult marriages ever shown on network TV. For one thing, they slept in the same bed, which hadn't been done. But it was more. They were in love, sure, but there were plenty of times they seemed exasperated with each other. They struck me as two people who'd been together for years and didn't need to constantly reaffirm their love (and sometimes didn't entirely feel it).

Pleshette's greatest moment, easily, came more than a decade after the show left the air. Bob had another show, Newhart, and after eight years, the final scene showed him in bed again with Emily--the whole thing had been a dream. It's the greatest finale ever.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Dick And John

Dick Morris adds his name to the list of pundits calling on Edwards to drop out. Morris believes it's all about "ego." In a very short column, he says over and over that Edwards can't win. ("He manifestly can no longer win..." "Edwards has fallen irreparably behind..." "The votes already cast and the polls of coming primaries all tell the same story: Edwards can't win." "...his chances for victory vanished." "...he has lost any realistic chance of winning....")

I have a question: what's it Morris's business? If Edwards, or anyone, wants to keep running, it's up to him. If the people don't like it, they can vote for someone else. (I'm on record as despising Edwards, but I'll admit he represents a certain constituency.)

So why is Morris doing this? It's pretty obvious. He desperately wants Hillary to lose (I'm not reading minds--he said so) and thinks Edwards hurts Obama.

Yet, even if this were true, it's far from clear that Edwards is guaranteed to lose. What's Morris's evidence beyond mantra-like repetition? National polling puts Clinton at 41 percent, Obama at 35 percent and Edwards at 15 percent.

So what? Popularity can, and will, change. If Clinton or Obama stumble, Edwards could be around to pick up the slack (assuming he doesn't take Morris's advice).

More important, look at the poll again--no one is near, much less above, 50%. If those polls don't change much, as Morris assumes, let's not forget Tsunami Tuesday will be here in a few weeks. The Democrats, in their wisdom, have no winner-take-all primaries. (In addition, about one-sixth of the delegates are superdelegates and thus not officially committed). A brokered convention is hardly out of the question if Edwards decides to stay in.

And what would that mean? If the fight between the Obama and Clinton forces gets ugly, Edwards could be seen as a compromise candidate. More likely, Edwards will be the convention's power broker (something he could be well before the convention, assuming he sticks around and picks up enough delegates). He can deliver his delegates to the highest bidder. We know he's been willing to run as a Veep, after all.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Bobby Fischer Has Died

Perhaps later I'll discuss this intriguing yet revolting figure. Until then, enjoy "The Game Of The Century."

About Time I Wrote About America Idol

Looks like one of my predictions is wrong already--American Idol, while still a huge hit, is not getting the viewership of previous years. Can't say I'm entirely surprised--I thought that prediction was pretty dangerous. Last year--the sixth season--the ratings seemed to have peaked. Hit shows often grow the first two or three years, but the few who make it to year seven are usually on the way down.

But it's not just a general trend, I think it's about the content. Last year was the dullest so far, with the least interesting contestants. It became easier to miss the show, or catch a bit of it while switching around. And when that happens, the ratings are usually going south.

Perhaps they'll turn up more compelling characters this time around, but it sure seems like we've seen it all before. (I might add that the first few weeks, where they weed out the losers, is my least favorite section of the show.)

Two Degrees

Cass Sunstein, friend of myself and Obama, explains why the latter is a unique politician in "The Visionary Minimalist."

America, judge for yourselves.

Who Gives A Fig?

Newt Gingrich is saying the Reagan Era is over. I can't say if this is false or true since I don't know what he means. Is it over despite what we wish? Is it over, good riddance? Is it over and we just haven't noticed? I'm not even sure what he means when he says "Reagan Era."

I am pretty sure the Newt Gingrich era is over, though, so it's easy enough to ignore what he's saying.

The Best Offense

"Joke Leave's Em' Gasping." Apparently some guy made a racial joke at a VIP event. I had to read on just to see how horrible it was.

Here it is: "I have a telegram from the White House....They're going to have to change the name of that building if Obama's elected."

Here are a couple of reactions: "...there's just no way to defend what he said." "I think it was uncalled for and atrocious." And so on.

That little line? It's not funny, but offensive? It's a stupid pun about colors, not based on any racial stereotype. In fact, black political leaders have been making pointed comments (not innocuous like the one above) about the "White" in White House for decades.

It's sad that people are either professionally offended, or, worse, they've internalized so much nonsense that they actually do feel offended.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Something New

I just got Dave Marsh's The Beatles' Second Album. It's a small book--really an extended essay--on an album only released in America, one that was essentially thrown together with very little thought out of bits from various British releases.

I love Marsh's concept. Anyone could write about, say, Revolver, or the White Album, but most Beatles fans couldn't even tell you what's on Second Album. It's been superseded by the original British albums, available to all for years on CD.

Yet Marsh is able to make a case that for someone growing up in America in 1964, when the Beatles were new and everything was still open, that this short (about 22 minutes) elpee made a definitive statement about what the band, and its music, stood for.

Northern Disclosure

Canadian publisher Ezra Levant has been called before his government to answer charges he's committed what amount to thought crimes. That's frightening. That many American want our government to have the same power is even more frightening.

On the other hand, his defense, though it's unfortunate he needs to mount one, is stirring. Check out his website, which includes videos of him explaining himself before a government official.

Dumbfounded By The Unfounded

I recently caught Bill Maher on Jay Leno. (I was waiting for Rickles on Letterman and they were in a commercial.)

He said "People are hurting" and I thought Uh Oh. When someone says that, demagoguery is likely to follow. People are always hurting, and you rarely note this because you're about to appeal to the intellect.

Then he said he's surprised how people vote against their own interest--which broken down means he's shocked people have the nerve to disagree with him at the ballot box. It's a common complaint from the left about the great unwashed (the great unwashed being everyone who isn't ultra-rich) who don't demand greater income redistribution (though note when people who say this sort of stuff vote "against their own interest," they're not class traitors, they're simply "enlightened").

He finally gets specific and wonders why do people want to vote for Mitt Romney. Don't they realize poverty is caused by greedy rich people hoarding all the money? (I am not exaggerating. What he said was actually worse--I wish I could find the transcript.)

Wow! I thought snarling fat cat capitalist bosses in top hats smoking cigars while holding down the proles went out with 1920s Soviet melodrama. Does Maher actually think there's just some pile of money out there, no one knows where it came from, and the rich have grabbed more than their share and spend what they have to ensure no one else gets any?

Does he really believe that someone who creates a successful company hurts our society? That someone who manages a company well hurts us? That someone who works extra hours, or spends extra years in school, hurts us? That someone who invents a new product or service, or who figures out how to deliver something at a lower price or higher quality, hurts us?

It's frightening that some people don't get Montgomery Burns is a caricature.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Getting It Completely Right And Completely Wrong At The Same Time

I've got Landsburg's book by my bedside. I borrowed it from a friend, meaning to read it in the hope that it's even half as good as Freakonomics, which was freakin' excellent. This piece, however, is discouraging enough that I'm thinking of returning it unread. Yes, outsourcing is a net good for the country that outsources its jobs. No, there is no "moral mandate" thereby created for retraining.

But he fails to then ask the third, crucial question: given those two answers, is subsidized retraining a good idea for the country? I would say yes. The best parallel I can come up with is the G.I. Bill, which can be thought of as subsidized retraining for otherwise under- or unemployed working age men who have been trained to do nothing but fight wars, and thus would be somewhat dangerous to leave around idle. It's certainly not nearly as dangerous to have a large group of under- or unemployed working age men and women who have been trained to do nothing but manufacture sitting around doing nothing, but still not a great idea for the stability of your society.

Wild But Not Crazy

I was infatuated with Steve Martin from the start. Before his movies (which were never as good as his stand up), before "King Tut," before SNL. Here was a comedian with a new sensibility, both smart and silly, off the cuff but studied, wild but not really crazy.

His first film was The Jerk, but that wasn't his true persona (though director Carl Reiner thought it was). My friends and I saw him as one of us. Sure, more polished and professional, and with a lot more material, but someone who saw the world as we saw it, who communicated the absurdity of things and was able to be comic by commenting on comedy. As he puts it in his new book, Born Standing Up, his approach was to get the audience in "the helpless state of giddiness experienced by close friends tuned in to each other's sense of humor." Balloon animals and an arrow through the head weren't funny, but pretending they were, was.

His act was different, but the world caught on (or at least jumped on the bandwagon--I'm not sure if they all got it) and he became as big as you can get. His book mostly talks about the many years it took to get there, and how he found his persona through conscious search as much as instinct. I got the book last month and held off cracking the spine since I feared if I started I'd read it all in one gulp. I was right.

Say No To Michigan

The Michigan Democratic ballot is a sham that was rigged by Hillary Rodham Clinton, her husband and her supporters to give the nation the impression that she’s the leading candidate in Michigan, an angry former Sen. Don Riegle said Monday. [....] “What happened in Michigan is not very different from what used to happen in the old Soviet Union,” Riegle said. “The Clinton machine manipulated the ballot. They don’t care how they win, only that they do. It’s wrong and people need to know that.”

Riegle's always been an embarrassment and it's interesting to see him come out of retirement to remind us.

Here's what happened and it couldn't be simpler. Michigan, tired of its primary not mattering, scheduled it earlier, breaking party rules. As punishment, the national Dems (childishly, in my opinion) decided not to count the delegates chosen in the vote.

This was the perfect opening for two of the three main candidates, who knew they were in for a tough race against the front-runner, to costlessly wimp out and not run. (They could even pretend what they're doing is noble.) If anyone "manipulated" the ballot, it was Edwards and Obama.

Say Yes To Mittchigan

After many pseudo-experts cavalierly dismissed his candidacy (some even after Iowa!), Mitt Romney handily took Michigan, increasing his lead (yes, lead) in delegates. The trouble with these experts is they didn't see the big picture--they're still looking at years past, where you had incumbents and two-man races, and if someone seriously faltered he could be through like that. (Watching these crestfallen pundits receive the news that the guy they'd counted out just KOed McCain, I noticed some tried to dismiss Giuliani because, dammit, they've got to dismiss someone.)

Look, we've got five Repubs who regularly poll between 10% and 30% nationally. They all appeal to certain groups and regions, and they all have significant flaws. There's simply no clear, obvious winner in the field. The truth is, as long as they have the will and the money (not even a lot of money), they can keep going, at least until February 5th. Mitt, who has all the money he needs, could have finished second in Michigan, in fact, and he'd still be in the running. He may yet lose in South Carolina and Nevada, but the point is until the Super Tuesday shakeout, we really don't know where we stand.

And that's the way I like it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

How Can They Put "Love Is All Around " At #437?--It Should Be At #229!

Here's something worth looking at for several hours--oldies station K-Earth top 1001 songs of all time. Even just the top 100 is full of surprises, good and bad.

(For those of you who won't click on the link, I'll give away the ending: #1 is "My Girl." The rest of the top ten isn't too surprising, except for #2.)

Vote Veto

"The Myth Of Voter Fraud" by Jeffrey Toobin, it said on the cover of The New Yorker. Great, I thought. For years now, a lot of people--especially the left on Ohio and Florida--have been vastly exaggerating these claims. It's about time that someone took them on.

Imagine my disappointment when it turned out to be a hit job against voter ID. Worse, while giving (one-sided) arguments against voter ID, it turns out Toobin accepts, apparently as a matter of course, the damaging paranoia about other kinds of voter problems.

PS The comic highlight of Toobin's piece is when he describes Demos as a "nonpartisan research insitute." Peruse their website and decide for yourself how nonpartisan they are.

PPS For an interesting discussion of related legal issues, check out Stubborn Facts.

The Wisdom Of Chuck Berry

While the Republican candidates have been tearing at each other for quite a while, the nasty intra-Democrat fights have only just started. One reason is the Repubs actually have serious differences. But I think the main reason is things have shaken out a bit and it's clear how close and tough a fight this is.

Unfortunately, when the Clintons attack Obama, a number of leaders in the African-American community see this as racially tinged. While it's amusing to watch Bill and Hillary being accused of this--as Democrats they probably figured they had a lifetime pass--it is a silly charge. More distressing is Obama's camp quietly and happily letting the accusations fly. (Though there are now claims that both sides are trying to calm things down--we'll see how this plays out.)

I have to wonder if this is a good strategy. Looking victimized because of his race may get him sympathy from African-Americans, who are a huge chunk of the Dem base, but this sort of stuff doesn't play nearly so well with whites, especially those who signed on with Obama because they figured he'd free them of their guilt.

Chuck Berry was once asked why he wrote songs for white people. He replied "are there more whites or blacks?" Whites are still the majority in this country, even among the Democrats. I doubt Obama letting this fester will help him get the nomination, and even if it does, I could still see it hurting him in the general election.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Film Year In Review--2007

Welcome to my annual film roundup. You can read it straight through or browse. I end with my top ten, but what's the rush?

2007 was a decent year. Perhaps not as great as what some of the critics are claiming, but better than the average. (Admittedly, while I see a fair amount of film, no one's paying me to do it, so I see a lot less than professional critics do.)

As always, let me note I will only discuss 2007 theatrical feature films. Not shorts, not TV movies (nor TV shows--no Sopranos here), not re-releases, not classics on TCM. The films had to first be released in 2007 (or perhaps released in 2006 and made widely available in 2007).

Here's the order: 1) Awards, 2) Rankings and 3) The Top Ten

One more thing. Occasionally I'll see a film written by, directed by or starring a friend. In such cases, it's hard to judge it objectively and I usually leave it out. But let me put in a plug for a film a friend directed, The Man From Earth. With a sci-fi script by the famous (and no longer with us) writer Jerome Bixby, though it's a small in scale, it's got a lot of power. Available on DVD.

AWARDS

Man Of The Year: Second runner-up, Josh Brolin, who gave two breakout performances in two major films, No Country For Old Men and American Gangster. First runner up, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who acquitted himself well in three films, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, The Savages and Charlie Wilson's War. Winner: Michael Cera. I wouldn't have guessed his soft-spoken act in Arrested Development would lead to anything, yet here he is, starring in two of the year's biggest comedies, Superbad and Juno. I still wonder if he can go much further, but he'll always have 2007.

Biggest Disappointment: Runner up, Hot Fuzz. I loved Shaun Of The Dead, which mixed horror and comedy so well. This follow-up tried to mix action and comedy and served neither. Winner: The Heartbreak Kid. The remake had a few moments, but this reunion of the Farrelly Brothers and Ben Stiller, who made one of my favorites, There's Something About Mary, just didn't work. Must be something about lightning striking.

Buy The Premise, Buy The Movie: Knocked Up was one of the biggest hits of the year, and helped make Judd Apatow king of comedy, but I didn't buy it. That a beautiful, accomplished, successful woman like Katherine Heigl would be with, and then stay with, a loser like Seth Rogen prevented me from enjoying much of the film.

Knock Me Over With A Feather Award: Across the Universe. Did I really want to see a whole film of Beatles covers? (It's been done before, and I'm still shuddering.) Okay, the first half was better than the second, and they could have cut a half hour, but I was surprised to find I enjoyed a lot of it.

Mickey Mouse Award: Last year, Flushed Away. This year, Ratatouille. Must we continue to feature animated vermin?

As Good As Three Episodes Strung Together: The Simpsons Movie

Borat Award for Creepiest Film: The Great World Of Sound. It's about two guys who fronted a scam where they'd audition bands in their hotel room and offer to sign each one, IF the band would put up some earnest money to help make a recording. Fine, except the film's selling point is many of the acts were real and thought this was a real audition. Watching the scam operate (though I'm sure the bands signed waivers after and were probably happy for the exposure) made me cringe.

Pity The Poor Showrunner Award: Two films satirized the process of getting a series on the air, The TV Set and The Nines. (What, you didn't see them? You never heard of them?) It showed what a miserable process it is, though most people I know who try to work in TV wish they were failing at this level.

Best 1/6 Of A Movie Award: Cate Blanchett as Dylan in I'm Not There. (The worst 1/6 is Richard Gere).

Just What We Need, Another Arty Western Award: The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. This Brad Pitt film flopped everywhere. Brad Pitt films do not flop everywhere.

Crazy People Are Funny: Lars And The Real Girl, King Of California

High People Are Funny: Smiley Face, Weirdsville

Dead People Are Funny: Wristcutters, Death At A Funeral

Seemed Like A Good Idea At the Time Award: Grindhouse. Two moves from two hot directors for the price of one. How could it fail? It did.

Best Shot Of The Year: Dunkirk in Atonement. Showy, sure, but impressive. It lasts for several minutes as we cover a lot of ground, with plenty of action and dialogue.

House Of Sand And Fog Award For The Most Miserable People Doing The Most Miserable Things Until It All Ends In Misery: Before The Devil Knows You're Dead.

Worst Trend: Anti-war films. Not the idea of anti-war films, but the ones I saw. Okay, you don't like the war in Iraq, we get it. But even if you want to get out this message (because it's so hard to hear otherwise), try to wrap it up in a decent story.

Most Pro-American Military Film: 28 Weeks Later, and I'm surprised no one caught this. In fact, most saw it as a metaphor for Iraq, but watch the film closely. Note that the Americans are incrediby efficient at dealing with a crisis, and their tough rules are absolutely necessary. The one time someone breaks the rules, even for what seems like a noble motive, the entire world is doomed.

Most Paranoid Film: Shooter, with politics straight out of the mid-70s. The world is run by conspiracy. Near the end I swear there's a scene where rich guys smoke cigars, laugh diabolically and then raise their brandies in a toast to Evil.

Most Annoying Score: A tie--There Will Be Blood and Atonement. Both took me out of the film.

Most Storied City: Vegas, where Lucky You, Next and Smokin' Aces are set. (Or was the last one in Lake Tahoe--oh well, same difference.)

Worst Sequel: As always, plenty to choose from, Shrek 3, Ocean's 13, Spider-Man 3, etc. Guess I'll go with Pirates Of The Caribbean 3, which had me longing for the brilliance of 2.

Worst First Film In What Will Be A Series: Wild Hogs

Film That Will Not Be Part Of A Series: The Golden Compass (though I hear it's doing well overseas).

Farce Is Hard To Pull Off Award: Death At A Funeral

Whimsy Is Hard To Pull Off Award: Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

Jerks On The Road: The Darjeeling Limited and Margot At The Wedding. Why should I care about these people?

Most Dramatic Story After The Credits: It's New Year's Eve and cops are out in force looking for drunk drivers. I was pulled over for a rolling stop. The officer asked if I'd been drinking. I said no, I just came from Santa Monica where I saw a movie (true, by the way). He wanted to check out my story so he asked what movie. Atonement, I said. He asked what was the movie about. I said it's about someone who makes a mistake and asks for forgiveness. He let me go.

Bad Acts: The three films on the most top ten lists are No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood and Zodiac. While my reactions varied, they all seemed to me to have serious story problems. ("But this is art, there are no rules.") I hear No Country follows the novel quite faithfully, but you just can't have 90 minutes of cat and mouse and not show the payoff. There Will Be Blood already had a strange enough story, but I'm not sure what the point of the final act is. And Zodiac, like the actual case, starts with some dramatic murders and then simply peters out.

Where's The Arc? Award: In Rocket Science, we start with a confused, troubled teen, and we end with a confused, troubled, teen. In Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, we start with Natalie Portman believing in the magic of the emporium, and the plot turns out to be about how Mr. Magorium has to teach her to believe in the magic of the emporium.

Double Dose Of Stephen King: 1408 and The Mist

Biggest Waste Of Talent: The Bucket List.

Smart And Dumb: Michael Clayton is a smartly done film, and I salute it, which is why I'm disappointed that it relies so much on cliches--the evil corporation, the hidden microphone, the holy fool who's gone crazy because he speaks the truth. The whole plot turns on a secret incriminating memo--the sort of plot device that was old-fashioned in the 1800s. Is it impossible to make a smart film without falling into these traps? The film wants to show us the moral gray areas, but when it comes to the big bad company, suddenly everything is in black and white.

They Looked The Same To Me Award: I actually enjoyed two major motion capture films, 300 and Beowulf, about the same, so why was the former a much bigger hit?

Most Tired Example Of A Tired Genre: American Gangster

RANK

Better than Expected: 300, Next, Blades Of Glory, Breach, Live Free Or Die Hard, Transformers (Very low expectations--what surprised me is I liked the humans--it was the Transformers that bored me), King Of California, Michael Clayton, Across The Universe, Weirdsville, Dan In Real Life, Wristcutters: A Love Story, Beowulf (in 3D)

Worse Than Expected: Zodiac, The Lookout, Hot Fuzz, 28 Weeks Later, Shrek 3, Pirates Of The Caribbean 3 (not easy to be lower than my expectations), Shooter, Rocket Science (though Anna Kendrick is fine once again as the bad girl), I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With (I hoped for so much more), The Heartbreak Kid, Rush Hour 3, Margot At The Wedding, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, The Darjeeling Limited (Wes is less), Hitman, The Great Debaters, The Kite Runner, The Bucket List

About What I Expected: Smokin’ Aces, Letters From Iwo Jima, The Last Mimzy, The TV Set, Grindhouse, Fracture, Lucky You, Waitress (liked the pies), Reign Over Me, Death At A Funeral, Knocked Up, 1408, The Bourne Ultimatum, Delirious, Harry Potter And The Order Of the Phoenix, Hairspray, 3:10 To Yuma, The Great World Of Sound, Lars And The Real Girl, Gone Baby Gone, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, Smiley Face, The Mist, The Golden Compass, August Rush, I Am Legend, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, There Will Be Blood, National Treasure: Book Of Secrets, The Savages, Atonement

Better, Worse And About What I Expected: I'm Not There

I Don't Care What the Critics Say, It Was Boring: Once, La Vie En Rose

Fun: The Hoax (though unrelated to reality, I've been told), Ratatouille, The Simpsons Movie, Eastern Promises (fun in that I enjoyed the movie--plenty violent, of course), Enchanted, The Band’s Visit, Charlie Wilson’s War

No Fun: Epic Movie, Norbit, Wild Hogs, Spider-Man 3, Ocean’s 13, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, American Gangster, Control (but then, the point of a film about Joy Division is it's no fun), Alvin And The Chipmunks


THE TOP TEN

Bubbling under the top ten:

Helvetica: A bit dry, even for a film about a typeface, but it makes you take a second look at something you hardly took a first look at.

The Life Of Reilly: A fairly straightforward taping of Charles Nelson Reilly's autobiographical one-man show.

Into The Wild: I haven't read the book, and I don't know how insane this guy was (I'm guessing the film is more sympathetic to him), but an intriguing story well told, shot and acted.

No Country For Old Men: The critics' favorite, and it is pretty good. It just has that missing third act, not to mention Tommy Lee Jones, who never really fits into the story. This stuff may work in a novel, but movies have different rules.

In The Shadow Of The Moon: Best to see all the space footage on the big screen, but that's probably not possible any more.

The Top Ten in alphabetical order:

The Diving Bell And The Butterfly: AKA My Left Eye. "Inspirational" films usually leave me cold, but Julian Schnabel (who's now three for three) does a good job getting inside the head of a stroke victim (because that's where all the action is).

4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days: Tough to take, but then, so was life under Ceausescu, whether or not you wanted an abortion. Some powerful acting, and, considering the low budget, fairly accomplished filmmaking.

Juno: Delightful. Such a surprise smash that the backlash is already in full swing. Smart, with sweet yet realistic characters, and a plot that isn't telegraphed.

The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters: Boy did I love this one. Obsession in general fascinates me, but when it's about something as seemingly trivial (yet fun) as video games, it hits kill screen level. And this documentary had probably the greatest characters in any movie of 2007 (even if they were tweaked a bit for public consumption, as I've read).

The Lives Of Others: Okay, it won an Oscar for 2006, but wasn't released wide in the U.S. until 2007. Another great film about life under communism, this time East Germany. (In case you think I just like these films because of their politics, note I didn't much go for The Kite Runner, even though it has a worthy message).

The Nines: By writer John August, this came and went so fast most never heard of it, but it really got to me. Not unlike Go, the film that got August noticed, The Nines features three intertwining stories, but each is a different genre and told in a different style. It's somewhat surrealist--imagine a David Lynch film where everything is explained at the end.

Persepolis: Based on the graphic novel, it's one girl's journey from pre- and post-revolution Iran to Europe and back. Ratatouille (a good film) was more technically accomplished, but this simple, mostly black and white animated feature showed that story still counts the most.

Show Business: The Road To Broadway: Maybe not a brilliantly shot documentary, but the behind-the-scenes development of a handful of Broadway musicals (even when I knew how they'd turn out) was compelling. (At least to me, who finds the subject of great interest.)

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street: I heard a lot of people got angry when they paid to see Johnny Depp's latest and he started singing. Some were also shocked by all the blood. Where have they been? Anyway, it's fine source material and director Tim Burton doesn't screw it up. (It wouldn't be the first time that happened to Sondheim). They cut a fair amount, even some good stuff, but it was necessary. (Though the already threadbare romance between the juvenile and the ingenue became gossamer). Also on the negative side, the mix of melodrama and high-flown music seemed more at odds onscreen than onstage, and I thought Depp played the character a bit too depressed (though it paid off in one of my favorite songs--"By The Sea"). My main fear was the two leads couldn't sing, but they could, well enough anyway, and as Sondheim has noted, he doesn't write opera, where it's all about the voices--he writes for character and plot.

Superbad: Probably the funniest film of the year. Comedies don't have to be R-rated, except when they do.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Best Scalia Mask

This has to be the funniest thing I've read in awhile.

Basically, we have Dave Kopel writing Dave Kopel's view of the Second Amendment, purporting to use a book by Stephen Breyer to show that the conservative view of the amendment is the right one, going so far to conclude that Breyer's work "strongly suggests that the D.C. gun bans are unconstitutional."

Nevermind that Breyer's book doesn't address the question.

Here's the method: Breyer's book asserts GOOD THINGS. GOOD THINGS includes what I think.

Ipso ergo QED.

Thanks, Dave. At least you didn't waste any ink.

Past Performance Sometimes Does Predict Future Results

In 2004, smarting from the election results, some lashed out. Jane Smiley, for instance, had some nutty stuff to say. I figured the hyperbole was due to the huge loss, but even small losses--such as an attack on John Edwards--can set her off. Here she is, over three years later, still delightfully batty (and I even agree with her general point).

Past Performance Is No Guarantee Of Future Results

Here's an interesting collection of predictions from Paul Krugman, professional Bush-doubter.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

This Is The End

I just watched what will probably be this season's final episode of My Name Is Earl. It had sort of a cliffhanger, but was still not the most satisfying way to end things.

One thing about the show--pretty much every regular has a "funny" voice. Usually a bad sign, but it works here.

I also watched the final 30 Rock, which ended quite nicely on a rendition of "Midnight Train To Georgia" by the entire cast. If you gotta go, you might as well go with a production number.

Most shows are either out of new episodes or about to be. Even the eight new Lost episodes waiting for us are gonna leave us high and dry in the middle of the season. I just hope Battlestar Galactica has all its scripts ready.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Is there a statistician in the house!?!?

When funny coincidences happen, some folks yell conspiracy, corporate election tampering, etc. etc. Others find the standard deviations and test the differences of the means, to estimate the probability it happened by chance. Then -- when appropriate -- they yell conspiracy.

Because He Died

Sir Edmund Hillary is gone. I don't really have anything to say about it. I just thought we should note his passing.

Reading List

On my table, next to my computer, I can see two magazines that I haven't gotten around to yet.

One is this week's Parade, which features a nice shot of Benazir Bhutto and the quote "I Am What The Terrorists Most Fear."

The other is the February edition of Reason, with a noble-looking photo of Ron Paul and the cover story "Scenes From The Ron Paul Revolution."

"Populism" Goes The Weasel

A friend, speaking of a candidate for President, asked what's wrong with a little economic populism.

While I sometimes agree with allegedly populist political programs, I do have a problem with populism itself. The reason is simple. By definition, populism pits the "people" versus some elite. It tends to appeal to the worst in people--to their resentments, prejudices and paranoia.

It's trying to rile up a group by blaming someone else (generally by blaming someone who's not entirely at fault, sometimes not even slightly at fault). It's telling the folks "you're good and decent, and you aren't responsible for your own problems--there's a conspiracy of powerful, evil (usually rich) people plotting against you, just so they can screw you over more."

Populism tends to be anti-intellectual and all too often racist, and even when it's done with the best of intentions--even when there's some truth in the message--it's not the politics of reason, but of hatred.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Truth In Advertising?

I'm going to break from the presidentials for a bit before my head explodes- did see an interesting item in the Boston Globe about one of People Magazine's most eligible bachelors being on trial for a sex assault . He's a criminal lawyer and this is not the first such charge. Check out the first two headings on the "Sexual Crimes " page of his website.

Pajama Guys Calls It

A year ago, we guessed the winners of New Hampshire. Don't believe me? Check this out.

First Blood

Now that New England Guy has stopped hearing political ads, I just heard my first one. And it was for...

...(drum roll)...

Ron Paul!

Prediction For 2008

We've already gotten New England Guy's prediction for 2008, and who knows, maybe some other Guy will do his. Until that day, here are mine.

Iraq: Bush will continue getting his way in Iraq. Iraq will continue to see significant progress. However, terrorists and insurgents, hoping to get a Democrat in the White House, will try their hardest to keep up the violence.

Terrorism: Osama Bin Laden will be considered to be dead.

World Politics: In an effort to burnish his legacy, Bush will work feverishly to get agreements on paper, such as in Israel and North Korea. However, whatever deals he strikes will not mean much.

American Politics: The Dems will hold the House and gain seats in the Senate. It's foolish to predict the Presidential race since we don't have a clue even after Iowa and New Hampshire who the candidates will be, much less what issues will matter. But looking at a bunch of potential face-offs, I puts the Dems' chance on taking back the White House at 5 out of 8.

Meanwhile, the Dems will not pass much major legislation. If they try to go too far, Bush will successfully veto. There will be no major tax or immigration legislation.

Popular Culture: Just as Spencer Tracy won a Best Actor Oscar for his imitation of Chico Marx, so will Daniel Day-Lewis win one for his imitation of John Huston. Julie Christie will defeat Ellen Page for Best Actress. (If Day-Lewis and Christie hadn't won already, these contests would be total locks.) The sentimental vote will not be enough and Javier Bardem will beat Hal Holbrook for Best Supporting Actor. For Best Supporting Actress, Amy Ryan will beat out Cate Blanchett.

Meanwhile, the writers' strike will not be resolved by April (though I sure hope I'm wrong.)

American Idol will continue to be popular, regardless of the strike.

Sports: New England will win the Super Bowl. If you think that's too wimpy, how about this: the Celtics will have the best record in basketball but will not win the championship. The Tigers will not finish first. The Wolverines will have a winning record (which, considering all the changes, is a brave prediction).

Economics: I don't even like predicting it, but the economy will likely go into recession.

Law: For all the big cases the Supreme Court has been hearing (even on the Second Amendment), there will be no hugely controversial decisions coming down.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

It Had To Happen

Whenever the election goes the wrong way (and it always does for someone), the charge of fraud comes out.

Kind of makes you wonder if those Bain deals were really any good.

From the Mittster-

" He points to his victory in the Wyoming caucuses Saturday as evidence of his national appeal."

"[Romney] told them he's received "more delegates than anybody else." An AP analysis of primary results shows he is second in the delegate count, with 19. Mike Huckabee has 31."

LAGuy tsk tsks: Why do you quote these silly numbers. As I note below (do you read my posts?), Romney is the leader in delegates. Check the CNNpolitics website: Romney 30, Huckabee 21, McCain 10, Thompson 6, Paul 2 and Giuliani 1.

NE guy counters the propaganda: I read your posts every morning. Apparently different media outlets are saying different things. Just trying to keep us balanced. The article from which this is printed also notes that Romney has pulled his ads in Florida and South Carolina and had a testy call with his backers trying to keep them from jumping ship.

Polls Are Crap

Well I expected Hillary to pull closer and claim "comeback" and like I did in Iowa with Obama, underestimated the surge in support on the day of actual voting. At 7 pm last night, most pollsters (and apparently both campaigns) were preparing for a double digit Obama victory. Maybe it was the seeming interminable run-up and then the compression of activity to a small period of time and perhaps the wider availability of polling data and punditry which has led to large short term swings which have rendered polls very suspect and unreliable. Also these early results show how meaningless the concept of "momentum" is in any sort of race or contest. (I believe this is one of the other Guy's favorite bugbears, so I'll leave it to him to discuss it someday)

I think Hillary won because the Organization and Boomer Navel-gazers decided that their candidate just couldn't fall yet- much as happened with the promotion Kerry in '04 when they felt threatened by Howard Dean (not so much the candidate as the untethered uncontrollable support that had gathered around him). Clinton won with seniors and lifelong democrats while Obama cruised in the young and independent categories and the gender gap also reared its head. This is not a good split in terms of the party's ultimate chances-If these two go at it viciously (which we are beginning to see glimpses of), the Dems will suffer. I also think Obama let the rockstar/messiah symbolism go too far and pissed some people of. There is a theory that some of the the independents decide to go off and support McCain since he seemed to need it more (the headlines in NH on election day were "Obama on the way to winning and McCain-Romney in heated battle").

Still while NH resulted in immediate gains for Hillary and the Establishment, it might be showing widening fissures (Also, while I think she did get a cry bump- one woman I talked to,not a NH voter, said she looked like your typical mom who has been run ragged by an ungrateful family and no-win schedule and she felt for her- I can sort of see that but its not a repeatable type of appeal- one time is authentic, the second time is whining). Of course, if both these candidates "care so much" as they state, they would figure out a way to confound the experts and join forces now before the vituperation sets in. Don't think thats very likely for reasons best expressed in Monty Python's Life of Brian. (in case thats too obscure, there's a footnote below)*

McCain as expected rolled over the zombified Romney depite Romney's millions and geography who if he couldn't win in NH, can't win anywhere except Utah Mitts dead but apparently doesn't realize it yet- perfect quality for VP candidate?. (Romney wouldn't work as Giuliani's VP- apart from the geography, both are strong crisis managers and who both looked less than impressive as executives in normal routine administration. Still think this race will be Giuliani v. McCain down the stretch but we will get more Huckabee next week as the race moves south. Paul getting less than 10% in a state made for him takes some of the air out of his balloon (is this what FOX wanted?)

* Footnote The part where the People's Front for Judea cared more about defeating the Judean People's Front than fighting the Romans.

BB and AH on CR

I watched a bunch of pundits doing a New Hampshire postmortem on Charlie Rose.

Boy, I'd forgotten what a pompous jerk Bill Bradley is.

It was fun, however, watching Arianna Huffington trying to spin the results as positive for Obama.

(Speaking of which, here she is on her website:

The results from New Hampshire represent a crushing setback. Not for Barack Obama -- after all, only three weeks ago he was 12 points behind.

Yes, and three days ago he was 12 points ahead.

This was obviously a great night for Hillary Clinton and her running mate, Bill.

Was that a shot?

But also a very good night for [...] the long-term prospects of Barack Obama. The voters clearly want the nominee they pick to have fought for it. They don't want a coronation. And now Obama has a chance to prove to the skeptics his mettle under fire.

Lucky Obama, getting to prove himself rather than winning easily.

And were it not for the over-inflated expectations puffed up by the pollsters, Obama coming within two points of Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, which has long been Clinton country -- with a superb organization and the support of the state's Democratic establishment -- would have been seen as a great showing.

Those nasty pollsters. Of course, she did cite (earlier, less meaningful) polls in the first paragraph when it served her purpose.)

Behind Every Great Leader

As I've stated, the only Big Three Democrat I find totally unacceptable is John Edwards. I can't say if I'd rather see Hillary or Obama get nominated, so, to break the tie, I've looked at their supporters. And I must say I find Obama's backers more obnoxious, so I guess I'll just enjoy the New Hampshire results while I can.

You Wanted Change, You Got It

Not liking the candidates much, for some time all I've been hoping for is an open convention. So I thank the voters of New Hampshire for keeping things alive.

McCain beat Romney (everyone else far back) by around 5% and, in the shocker of the night, Hillary took down Obama.

How did Hillary win after polling suggested a double digit victory for Barack? There are a number of theories.

1) A woman's tears: Hillary (almost) crying, not to mention being picked on by the boys, got her the last-minute sympathy vote.

2) Independent independents: The independent voters thought Obama's victory was a done deal, so they voted for McCain instead.

3) A race-based race: All the polls, even the exit polling, were off. Is this because, as we've discussed on Pajama Guy, whites got scared by the specter of a black man winning, or, perhaps more likely, they didn't like telling pollsters they're not voting for the black guy? Whatever happened, there's something wrong with the polls--perhaps the modeling, perhaps the people.

4) Good old Yankee perversity: New Englanders didn't like Iowa deciding who's the winner, and decided to teach them a lesson.

5) Good old organization: Say what you want about the Hillary, the Clinton people know how to get out the vote--it was pretty close and that made the difference.

Regardless, Hillary, who looked finished 24 hours ago, is now at least the co-front runner. Edwards is over, but since he vows (as of this writing) to stay till the end, and since Democratic primaries award delegates proportionally, an open convention is still possible. (By the way, Hillary's victory speech was horrible, but that's for another day.)

On the Republican side, this certainly keeps McCain alive, after he'd been written off not that long ago, but the people who are saying Romney is dead are nuts. Some are even saying it's between Huckabee and McCain, which is also nuts. (Can you win without New Hampshire? Sure you can, just ask Clinton and Bush.)

Huckabee has a solid core of support, especially from evangelicals, but a large portion of Republicans can't stomach him. As for McCain, there's hardly a subgroup within his party that he hasn't ticked off big with one or another of his "maverick" positions. McCain may get a lot of support from independents (who don't get to vote in most primaries), but you need your own party's backing to get the nomination.

Let's look at the numbers. First, Romney actually has the most delegates and is the only candidate who's demonstrated a solid base in every state that's voted so far. He also has all the money he needs to keep going.

But more important, there's simply no clear leader among the Republicans. If you took a national poll, you'd find McCain, Huckabee, Romney and Giuliani all bunched up with around 15% to 20% support. And Thompson and Paul pull in another 15% combined.

We've now got a while till the big votes--I don't think Michigan and South Carolina (even if all their delegates counted) will decide anything. The media can't crown anyone and I see little slingshot effect this time around--the season is shorter and the candidates all have their own base and their own problems. It's not until Florida late in January when you can gauge the Giuliani effect, and soon after Super Tuesday in February, when you'll really be able to see how things shake out. (And most states are proportional, not winner take all--though a few are, such as New York and New Jersey, and that may help Rudy.)

So nothing is settled. Good news for me.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

This Is Why They Presume

While LA Guy is worried that cries of racism will be used to stifle criticism of Obama ( I agree it will be used but I don't think that much stifling will occur), its probably helpful to remember that that these cries don't necessarily come out of thin air- even on "Pajama Guy" posts. See comment no. 1

Addenda-Of course my title makes more sense if LA Guy had titled his post "Presumptive "Racism"" which is how I had misread it. Sorry-I'm too tired to think of another one.

LAGuy clarifies: My point is not that they cry racism to stifle criticism. My point is that some people are so obsessed by imagined racism that they can't even wait for the false cause to happen before they start to accuse others. I doubt anyone who doesn't want to vote for Obama has much to worry about in a secret ballot. If anything, calling them racist beforehand will just annoy them.

Preemptive "Racism"

People are already starting to talk like it's over, Obama's got the nomination sewn up. Maybe they're right. So it's time to start a preemptive racism baiting watch. What I mean is people claiming if Obama has any trouble in his path to the presidency, and if anyone has the nerve to vote against him, it must be due to racism.

I've seen several pundits make this sort of statement already. Heck, we've even had it at Pajama Guy. Look at the fifth comment to this post.

Lost In Translation

I recently saw The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, based on the story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered a stroke and could only communicate by blinking his left eye.

Someone would read the letters of the alphabet and he'd blink when the letter he wanted was spoken. The film is in French, so it raised an interesting question for the translator. (Which reminds me, the letters are in descending order of popularity, and, unlike in English, which starts E-T-A-O-I-N, the first six in French are E-S-A-R-I-N--I assume they've adapted their version of Scrabble to this order. A "Q" probably isn't worth ten points in France.)

Anyway, the problem is as Bauby picks out each letter, should the subtitles say the letter he actually chooses, or the English letter that will help spell the word he wants in English? The film chooses the latter, which I found a bit jarring. I heard him say "M," why does the subtitle read "D"?

This reminds me of a translation problem I once had in a different direction. I saw a play that was set in France. The characters spoke English to each other but we understood it was actually French. No big deal until one asked another if the cousin he saw was male or female. In French, of course, they have a different word for male and female cousin, thus the question would never have been asked.

Deja Vu

Last year, OSU started with a roar in the BCS championship game. This year, they did the same, scoring almost immediately and soon jumping out to a 10-0 lead. Looked like it'd be a blow out.

It was, but in the other direction. LSU got control of the game (partly thanks to a dropped OSU pass in the end zone) and was leading 24-10 by halftime. They were in control for the rest of the game and ended up winning 38-24.

All around a pretty embarrassing game for the Buckeyes, who on paper should have been good enough. I'm not sure why they fell apart--maybe after the Michigan game they had nothing left.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Dispatch From the Northern Front

Monday at 5 PM EST

I have to say I am almost embarrassed to be so caught up in the contest- maybe its the writers strike. In New Hampshire, its almost pure horse race analysis now and issues are spoken of only in context of tactics. While flipping between the football playoffs and news analysis over the weekend, it was sometimes hard to tell which contests were being discussed (Item for John McCain- learn from the Steelers on Saturday- much like his candidacy, they suffered early missteps and had a roaring exciting comeback late in the game but then blew the lead and the game by going conservative on offense and soft on defense)

Living and working in two states neighboring New Hampshire, I have had the opportunity to see lots of TV ads on the Boston and Portland stations over the past three or four months. Hard to believe they are going to disappear after tomorrow. Recently there have mainly been offerings from the moneyed- Romney and Clinton and alot from McCain (more on these below). Have not seen anything for Huckabee. A few offerings from Giuliani last month (9-11 and 9-11 some more) and Obama and Edwards ran safe soft ads mainly full of still black and white photos and boring hopeful music (though Edwards threw in a few lines about"corporate greed" and seemed to suppress his college football coach accent a little). Saw one Ron Paul ad and it was just bad.

As a I wrote in a comment to an LA guy post yesterday, Hillary's ads are screaming desperation and seem to be written by lawyers/pollsters and are getting harder to understand. Her ad explaining why she is for change but is experienced which resulted in a lot of change in the past and therefore she is the voice of experience for change is a bit dense and requires full attention and repeated viewings to parse through. She along with McCain have also opted for showing scary news footage (looks like suicide bombings from Iraq) with ponderous music and the candidate's name at the end (Though McCain also quotes Romney's line about not needing foreign policy experience to be President)- Clearly not an attempt to appeal to reason (but what ad can really?).

Today, Hillary is reported to have cried on the stump while talking to a small group of women voters and they reacted positively and supportively- it will be interesting to see if this is replay Ed Muskie moment or another new non-traditional aspect of this campaign- praise for accepting and expressing one's emotions (maybe this will get the girl votes back from Obama)

Romney's ads appear to hike up meaningless mush to new level- he has adopted the "change" theme by saying he will change things in Washington, accompanied by pounded fist- now since he's running for Bush's job his point must be that Bush is crappy at being President and things need to change but this doesn't square with Romney's attacks on Huckabee and McCain for criticising Bush. Also his ads seem to make him sound like a tattletale. Although for all these shortcomings, his ads have clearly rattled McCain-who's reputation for "straight talk" is being undermined by his not-very-well-hidden anger at Romney and immigration questions. (McCain, Clinton and Obama all look exhausted and Romney seems more robotic than usual-with so much happening so quickly in the process, I guess no one can afford to rest. Interesting- do we get a better picture of the candidate by watching them in extremis- Giuliani has a reputation for excelling in that kind of environment, bet he wishes now he was in the middle of it)

As of now, It looks like Obama separating from Hillary by 10 points or more (though if she gets the organization out, and gets the "cry" bump and loses by say 5 or 6 %, she might talk about a "comeback") and the McCain, Romney race is tightening but with McCain in the lead. Huckabee will be lucky to beat Ron Paul (he is already talking about 4th place as a "strong showing") and Giuliani has stopped campaigning but could zoom into 3d place purely due to name recognition (though I suspect his ignored supporters will go for McCain instead). Fred Thompson doesn't appear to be doing much. If all of the 3d place and lower spots recieve 10% or less, it may not matter how the bottom tier finishes.

No Thought Left Unexpressed.

2007 Awards

Okay, it's a week late, but let's look back at the previous year. I invite readers and the other Guys to add their own awards.

Biggest Winner: Mike Huckabee. He may not continue his winning streak, but going from nowhere to the social conservatives' darling in 2007 was quite a rise. (By the way, if you check my post from last year, you'll see Barack Obama was the winner, so these awards get results.)

Biggest Loser: Larry Craig. Started the year a respected Senator, but will now be remembered forevermore as the guy with too wide a stance.

Biggest Loser, International Division: Hugo Chavez. First King Juan Carlos tells him to shut up (for which the King gets the Best Political Argument Award, by the way). Then his people tell him to shut up when they vote against his bid to gain unprecedented power through a constitutional referendum.

Biggest Outing: Not Senator Craig--he still says he's not gay. Dumbledore.

Biggest Non-Outing: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Columbia explains there are no homosexuals in Iran.

Story Of The Year: As it's been for the previous two years, the violence in Iraq--though this time the news was positive.

Biggest Stealth Story Of The Year: The subprime crisis. Okay, maybe not so stealth, but it's full effects have yet to be felt.

Worst Reported Story: The Jena 6. No one knew what was going on and what they did know seemed to be wrong.

Biggest Celebrity Meltdown: Britney, shaving her head--though she and her sister could also take several other spots in the top ten. I like how she got some tattoos afterwards--nice touch. (And she's already in the running for 2008.)

Biggest Non-Player: Nancy Pelosi.

Most Premature Ejaculation: Harry Reid screams the surge is a failure--before it's even started. He later has to backpedal. Tied with Chuck Hagel, who said the surge is "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it's carried out." No wonder he's on Barack Obama's short list.

Most Amusing Addition To The Debate: On the Republican side, Ron Paul. On the Democratic side, a surprise--not Kucinich, but Gravel.

Best Non-Story: Still no major terrorist attack inside the U.S. We should be counting our blessings, not taking it for granted.

Biggest Celebrity Comeback, Tragedy To Farce Division: O.J.'s back in the news for allegedly stealing his own memorabilia from a Las Vegas casino. He also comes out with the bizarre book If I Did It.

Most Important Statement On Education Award: Miss Teen South Carolina.

In And Out Award: Just as Tony Blair is leaving office, Nicolas Sarkozy is elected.

Quote Of The Year: "Don't Tase Me, Bro!"

Good Sports Award: Goes to steroids. Bonds, Clemens, even Marion Jones--it seemed everyone (allegedly) was finding better living through chemistry.

Biggest Failure Or Success Depending On How You Look At It Award: The Congress and the Prez try to pass comprehensive immigration reform and are stopped in their tracks by a popular uprising.

Biggest Media Story That The Public Doesn't Really Care About: The torture debate.

Silliest Award Award: Al Gore wins a Nobel for talking about global warming.

Biggest Technology Hit: Wii (okay, it started in 2006).

Most Abrupt Ending Award: The Sopranos

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