Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"Former Monster President Indicted"

[headline from Wednesday's on-line Wall Street Journal-see here (subscription required)]

These dangling modifiers drive me nuts--is the president a former monster or is the monster a former president? I do like the vision of an impeachment trial run by angry villagers with torches.

Coming Next Fall On NBC

So Jimmy Fallon will replace Conan O'Brien when Conan moves to Jay Leno's slot. Why would NBC do this awful thing?

I Thought Everyone Knew

Here's an interesting correction from The New York Times:

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the location of McGill University. It is in Montreal, not Toronto.

This may not sound like much to an American, but to a Canadian, this is the equivalent of saying Harvard is in New York.

Another Myth

At the end of chapter 17 of Mythmaker: The Life And Work Of George Lucas, author John Baxter discusses the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special (which I've seen, by the way): "Lucas hasn't ever permitted its issue on videocassette, though bootleg copies circulate widely of the only commercial and artistic disaster to bear the name 'Star Wars."

That sentence was written about ten years ago. Okay maybe there's been no commercial disaster since then, but otherwise, perhaps Baxter needs an update.

A Sad Refrain

The point of the verse-chorus structure is contrast. When a song goes from one mood to another, it's a satisfying change of pace (if done well)--it's one of the reasons the change in a chorus is called a "release." The movement also sets up a sense of tension as we wait for the return to the main theme.

I think rap has changed this, and not for the better. The idea in rap is the beat and the groove. Once you've got something going, repeating it over and over is acceptable. And so it's not uncommon nowadays, even with melodic songs, that the verse and the chorus don't contrast properly.

I was thinking about this while listening to two huge hits from the past few years, "Hey Ya!" and "Crazy."

"Hey Ya!" has a melody of sorts, but look at the harmonic structure--it doesn't vary from verse to chorus. "Crazy" is an even better example, since it's more extensively melodic, yet the verse and chorus share the same chords.

I got nothing against grooves, but where's my release?

Movin' On Up

The media regularly note Barack Obama's appeal to youth. I suppose there's something to it, but one bad argument I've heard is that even if he doesn't win in 2008, he'll be back bigger than ever in 2012, since the 13-17 year olds will be of voting age, so his cohort will be even larger.

Well, for one thing, youth are fickle, and this year's model might not play so well in four whole years.

Second, who the heck knows what life will be like four years from now? If the President is popular, certainly another four years is likely. Plus some new star may rise among the Dems, or some personal problem will bring down Obama.

Most important, the teens will grow into voters--but the college aged will start working their first regular jobs, and those with jobs may start getting raises and promotions, while other young voters will get married and raise families. (Plus, someone, somewhere must be moving from "youth" to "middle age" or at least into "late youth" over the next four years.) All these transitions may lead them away from Obama.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Get It Write

While watching Family Guy with the CC on, I noticed when one of the characters said "rein in," it was spelled "reign in." I'm used to seeing the "rein/reign" mix-up informally, but really, shouldn't a professional closed captioner working for a network get this right?

Get It Wright

So the Reverend Wright appeared before the National Press Club to explain his prior statements. And to no one's surprise, he had not been taken out of context earlier. As he explained in minute detail, all the ugly, stupid things it was claimed he believed, he actually does believe. He's just unhappy that we're not aware of the rich history and complex detail that's behind all his hateful nonsense.

Irony, Man

David Denby in The New Yorker is unhappy with Iron Man. Early in the film, Tony Stark (the cool exec with a heart of steel who becomes Iron Man) is captured by terrorists, and what happens next? They "waterboard Tony Stark, which, considering what some American interrogators and their surrogates have done to suspects recently, is enraging to watch."

This actually makes David Denby mad. Apparently, there is to be no waterboarding in any film unless Americans do it.

Denby then adds "it’s worth noting that, possibly, more Americans will see this dunderheaded fantasia on its opening weekend than have seen all the features and documentaries that have labored to show what’s happening in Iraq and on the home front."

I don't agree. It's not worth noting.

Bad Timing

Pity the poor journalist who works at a daily. He's got to grab his reader in the first line, and even with multiple layers of checks and balances, the editing can still leave something to be desired.

For example, the latest LA Times has a piece on the band She & Him. It starts:

Neither member of She & Him has a tremendous amount of time to dedicate to the band: Zooey Deschanel, the singer, is an actress with upcoming roles in M. Night Shyamalan's "The Happening" and the Jm Carrey vehicle "Yes Man,"...

And here's the third paragraph:

"As an actor, you have a lot of free time," Deschanel, 28, explains over lavender tea at a Brentwood cafe.

Then in the Health section, we get this first sentence in an article about Salvia, a legal hallucinogenic:

It's been almost 50 years since a generation of young people were urged to "turn on and tune out" with the aid of psychedelic drugs.

Almost 50 years? The phrase was first popularized in 1966. Just how many young people does the writer think were into psychedelics in the 50s?

Can't Help Myself

I may have misheard this, but a recent NPR piece on Justice Scalia talked about what states might do if they weren't held in check by the 14th Amendment, and one of them was "compulsive sterilization."

Now I know in the past some states were into compulsory sterilization, but compulsive sterilization would be overdoing it.

Defamation Lawsuits Are Always A Great Source Of Petard-Hoists

"Clemens reportedly told Pettitte that he didn’t have sex with adolescent girls, but he did, on occasion, bring them home for his wife."*


*not a real quote. you know, just like The Onion isn't real either.

Today's The Day

Just as it was last year. And the year before that. And the year before that.

PS I have a question. Why would anyone put sparkly or glittery stuff in my birthday card that falls onto my carpet when I open it? That's just rude.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Three Way

The Crawford case challenging photo IDs for voters has been handed down. The court declared, 6-3, the burden is acceptable. What intrigues me is the breakdown of the vote:

STEVENS, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an
opinion, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, J., joined. SCALIA, J.,
filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which THOMAS and
ALITO, JJ., joined. SOUTER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which
GINSBURG, J., joined. BREYER, J., filed a dissenting opinion.


So really the vote is 3-3-3. Scalia supports a somewhat different standard which is, I suppose, easier to meet, and while he doesn't exactly reject the majority's reasoning, he does support an argument which he believes should supersede it. Still, I often wonder how such fractured opinions play out as precedent.

PS Of extra interest is Breyer's dissent, since he's so interested in promoting Active Liberty.

He's Come Home

Woo hoo! New House.

It's Not Just Me

For weeks I've been wondering if I was the only one intrigued by the weird "$5 Footlong" jingle Subway's been using. In particular, the odd C to Ab chord progression.

And now I see it's caught the attention of others.

Dead To Rights

"The parents of a 21-year-old soldier killed in Iraq are suing an online retailer for including their son's name on antiwar t-shirts that list the names of thousands of military personnel killed in the war."

Legally speaking, I'd say the retailer's protected by the First Amendment. But just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.

You're The Top

Pretty bizarre top 100 films list from the Telegraph over in the UK. Is this what they think in Britain?

Sure, there are plenty of recognized classics, but then you keeping running into titles like Manhattan Murder Mystery, Zoolander, and Stir Crazy. It's hard enough to claim these are even good films.

You Funny Little Good For Nothing Meme

Here's an article that claims Richard Dawkins' "Selfish Gene" concept is being reconsidered, and scientists are once again looking beyond genes and onto kin and group selection. The trouble is there's nothing in Dawkins suggesting all that matters are genes, even in regard to selection. His idea was merely that rather than focusing on the individual, as most biologists were, it would be useful to look at evolution at the level of the gene and see how things work that way. (And starting with the gene, as Dawkins explained in The Extended Phenotype, the book he thought his most important, the entire world is changed.)

This doesn't mean that evolution can't work on other levels at the same time, any more than physics denies chemistry which denies biology, or microeconomics should replace macroeconomics.

In fact, the trouble with concepts like the "selfish gene," or Stephen Jay Gould's "punctuated equilibrium," is not that they're so radical, but the opposite. They're not especially revolutionary ideas, and fit quite well into how biologists understand evolution. But because they've been popularized, they're sold as being bolder than they are.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Let's Get Going

A very intense and extra-religious episode of Battlestar Galactica--plus a double helping of Tricia Helfer, which is always nice--but not a lot of forward motion. (Obviously I'm about to discuss the latest episode, so there'll be spoilers.)

The four hidden cylons are starting to crack, but no one still living has discovered their secret. Baltar is getting more messianic, and his cult seems to be growing, but we don't know where that will ultimately lead. (I'm not sure what to make of Baltar overall, including just what relation Six plays. For that matter, I'm a little confused as to how human/cylon the secret four are.) Roslin got a little sicker, but is still hanging in there. Lee is as annoying as ever. (I sure hope he isn't the Fifth Cylon.)

Meanwhile, no clash with the Cylons and no progress in getting to Earth. In fact, we didn't even see the Cylons off Galactica, even though they're in the midst of a civil war, and we only caught a glimpse of Starbuck's mission. I assume we'll get back to this stuff next episode.

Two sidepoints. 1) Edward James Olmos directed the episode. It didn't look that different from most episodes, though there was a little more "arty" cross-cutting. 2) I've always felt the creators of Lost know where they're going, but I often feel the creators of BG are flying by the seat of their pants.

Laugh, Clown, Laugh

At first I thought Nikki Finke was joking when she wrote "funny films swept the Top 3 as the obvious antidote to rising food bills, astronomical gas prices and the constant tide of bad news these days." I mean it sounds like a parody of the silly idea that comedies do better during "bad times." But reading it a second time, she seems to be serious--even her headline says "Comedies Rule Because Of Bad News."

Nikki's been writing about show biz long enough to know this is nonsense. The top three films are comedies now because the biggest and best three films released in the past two weeks are comedies. (And note none of the three will make $100 million domestic.)

I guarantee next week the news will be just as bad and the biggest hit film will be Iron Man.

The Streets Of Los Angeles

The latest Lost had some interesting dialogue (spoilers, of course):

Ben to Sayid "Bakir was last seen five days ago, in Los Angeles, caught by a traffic camera speeding away, speeding away from the corner of La Brea and Santa Monica."

Sayid: "That's three blocks from where Nadia was killed."

1) I live three blocks from the corner of La Brea and Santa Monica!

2) For a guy from Iraq, Sayid sure knows the streets of Los Angeles well.

3) I thought they disconnected those traffic cameras. (Though the one at Cahuenga and Sunset is still on--I saw it flash yesterday.)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Obama To The People Of Indiana: "Bowling Sucks"

Ok, fine, so he didn't say that. But actions speak louder than words.

People In Trouble, [Fill In The Blank] Doing Too Well

According to Obama, "It isn't right that oil companies are making record profits at a time when ordinary Americans are going into debt trying to pay rising energy costs."

It always gives me the creeps when a politician is mad because a corporation is doing well. Unless he can prove they're making their money dishonestly, it's none of his business. Oh, but he'll make it his business, won't he?

What's New On The Rialto

Hollywood may be long past the glory days of the 20s and 30s, but it's made a comeback from the dark, seedy place it was a couple decades ago. And so you never know what you're gonna see when you stroll along.

For instance, there was a huge line going up the block and down the next at Amoeba Music. (Sorry, never did find out what it was for. Last time there was such a crowd was when the Violent Femmes played live. I was in that line.)

But, up two blocks and half a mile to the left, I did see Michael Eisner get a star on the Walk Of Fame. First ceremony I've seen since I sat in a pizza place and noticed Sigourney Weaver being introduced by James Cameron across the street.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Are Jokes Still Funny When They Come True?

Why did this article about medical school graduate & cave-dwelling murderer, Ayman Zawahari, whining about how the world's preoccupation with 9-11 conspiracies insults his organization by wrongfully stealing credit, strike a chord of memory? Because, once again, The Onion has has prefigured the issue.

[Note for certain anonymous readers - The Onion is a joke paper]

DNAt do it

The thorniest problem in all insurance is long term illness. Everyone knows the moral hazard of insureds lying; most people know in their gut the equally important problem of insurers lying. It's just as much in their interest to not pay known claims as it is for insureds to not know known claims, as my buddy Don might say.

It's a problem, for governments paying health care and regulating it, for insureds, for insurers. What do you do when someone has a chronic, years-long condition? Unless they had a good policy at the beginning of it, then what they have is a debt, not an insurable condition.

Now the feds say insurers have to issue insurance when diseases are known.

That's fine, but it makes as much sense as having insurance companies cover our automobile debt. Maybe we should offer them the choice.

Warby's? Endy's? Wenby's?

Triarc Cos. Inc., which already owns Arby's, just bought Wendy's. Nothing to add, except to say, boy that's a lot of meat.

Committed

According the UCLA's Daily Bruin, the "Commitment" party has "swept every office in the Graduate Students Association elections."

All I can say is if I were still in school, I would run from any group named "Commitment." They're clearly taking student government too seriously.

Not Cool

Apparently, Al Qaeda is having trouble maintaining its popularity. Gee, why do I keep hearing the exact opposite?

Sniping

Action star Wesley Snipes just got sentenced to three years in prison, plus a year of probation, in his tax case.

The jury had acquitted him of felony counts, but did convict him on three counts (out of six charged) for failure to file. This is a misdemeanor and the judge gave him the maximum--a year for each, to be served consecutively.

I don't know if this sort of sentencing is normal, but I sure hope the judge wasn't specially harsh just because Snipes and his case are so prominent.

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream

Tom Hayden outdoes himself with his attack on Hillary in The Nation. (I do like the title: "Why Hillary Makes My Wife Scream"--I bet a bunch of readers will check in just to hear some pillow talk about Jane Fonda.) Hayden, like many Obama supporters, thinks Hillary should stop trying so hard to win. Doesn't she see Obama is a unifier, so shut up and agree with him already.

He hates how Hillary's minions are attacking Obama (as opposed to the glory days when they were doing righteous work attacking Ken Starr). He notes "Because they circle the wagons so tightly, they don't recognize how identical, self-reinforcing and out-of-touch they are." I wouldn't touch that line with an ironic ten-foot pole.

Hayden seems most angry that Obama's being attacked for his assocation with radical elements such as Bill Ayers and the Reverend Wright. He notes Hillary's background with leftist causes in the 60s and 70s, so how can she fault Obama for these associations?

There's an obvious problem with the argument. Those days are way back in Hillary's past and she has at least a reasonable claim, based on her record, that she's not quite as far left as she once was. Meanwhile, Obama's recently had, or even still has, long-time close relationships with unrepentant radicals. It's at least worth discussing, as much as Obama supporters would love for it to be out of bounds. (And guilt by association is not the issue--we judge a politician by her ideas, and trying to find out who she supports and has supported can be relevant.)

In addition, Hayden wants to have it both ways. He thinks Hillary should be proud of what she's done--"All these were honorable words and associations in my mind"--but then he doesn't want Obama to be tied to any such "honorable" associations as long as they may hurt him politically.

And no piece in The Nation would be complete without a little paranoia:
It is abundantly clear that the Clintons, working with FOX News and manipulating old Clinton staffers like George Stephanopoulos, are trying, at least unconsciously, to so damage Barack Obama that he will be perceived as "unelectable" to Democratic superdelegates.
(His slippery language allows you to think the Clintons are working directly with Fox, though he never quite says it.) So when the media finally ask Obama a few (seemingly) tough questions about issues people are talking about, it's a conspiracy.

At the bottom of the piece is this message: "If you like this article, consider making a donation to The Nation." I wasted five minutes reading this piece--can you send me something for my time?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Must See

Wow, the NBC comedy lineup combined with new Lost--it's like how Thursday TV used to be.

Wrong Man, Wrong Time

Whenever I read an article saying the Dems should pick Al Gore as their nominee, I immediately look at the date it was written, since I assume it must be either 2000, or April 1st.

Real Life Game

I was browsing the IMDb looking up some stuff about Diner when I recalled for weeks I wanted to find out who directed The Last Boy Scout (don't ask). However, I was holding a half-eaten apple in one hand and had no place to set it down.

Then I realized Kevin Bacon was in Diner. Perfect. I clicked on his link, went to Hollow Man, co-starring Josh Brolin, went through Josh Brolin to Planet Terror, which brought me to Bruce Willis who starred in The Last Boy Scout, directed by Tony Scott.

You may think of difference ways, but all it takes is one hand on a mouse.

You're Just Jimmy's Type

I don't have too much to add to what's already been said about Jimmy Carter's meeting with Hamas, but I did find this paragraph in The New York Times interesting:

Mr. Carter said in the interview that he found the Hamas leadership, including Mr. Meshal, to be clear-thinking, educated people who gave no sign of fanaticism, although he did condemn in harsh terms their use of violence. During his meetings, he said, they did not break for prayer or talk of holy land or God. “It was secular talk,” he said.
So as long as they support terrorism and the destruction of Israel for secular reasons, that means they're rational.

Someone Has To Win

During the mindless chattering accompanying the numbers during the Pennsylvania primary, someone on CNN started going off about what a great political campaigner Barack Obama is. Well, maybe, but the most important factor in these things is still luck.

Sure, you need the ambition, and persistence, so you're in the right place at the right time. And you need to have the talent and intelligence to seize the opportunity when it presents itself. But no one gets elected without a dollop of serendipity. Change the rules just slightly, and Clinton destroys Obama. (Perhaps even Edwards could have won, though I can't imagine what it would take beyond some sort of plague to make Kucinich a winner.)

Look at the man called the greatest politician of the last generation, Bill Clinton. How did he get elected President? Well, George H. W. Bush looked so unbeatable in 1991 that the top opposition of the time, like Mario Cuomo and Al Gore, refused to run. It left the field wide open for guys like Clinton, who many thought was running for the experience, so he could go at it seriously in 1996. And then, once he entered, someone had to win, and he still had trouble shaking the other B-list Dems even though the schedule (and the media) favored him. Then the memory of the successful Gulf war started to fade (if Bush had waited a year to invade, he could have had two terms) and the economy started to look bad. Plus Clinton had Ross Perot self-destruct during the Dems' national convention. (He still ended up with 19% of the vote.) Any nominee who wasn't hopeless would have won then.

Now look at Clinton today. Since the time is right for Obama, Clinton--the most successful Democrat of our lifetime--is practically treated as a pariah, and everything he says is greeted with derision. Why can't he turn it around, isn't he a great politician, after all?

Obama may be talented, but he didn't look like much of a candidate when he had six weeks and limitless funds to take Pennsylvania. But what he has had, all along, is amazing luck. And that goes double for McCain.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Obama Waffles

Maureen Dowd picks up on the waffles story. If this is what Obama supporters think, is he in trouble? (He's lucky this is happening after he pretty much wrapped up the nomination.)

By the way, Obama ate his waffles in a Scranton diner. So did he have a chance to drop by the offices of Dunder-Mifflin?

PS I can't help but be reminded of my favorite headline (real or not), "British Left Waffles On Falkland Islands."

The Real Reason Cass Sunstein Is Going To Harvard

Don't read this if intellectuals in love make you feel queasy.

Before The Onion Beats Me To It

"Clinton Keeps Hopes Alive By Killing Hope"

White Men Cannot Be Relied On

I realize that I'm a couple of days late coming to this party, so I apologize if this is rehashing an old subject. On the one hand, the statement above is one of the stupidest things I've ever read and proof yet again that just because you may have a talent (i.e. writing, singing, acting, etc.), it doesn't mean that you're smart.

On the other hand, Nora Ephron's statement, not to mention her delicious codicil ("...as all of us know who have spent a lifetime dating them"), is the feminist spin on Leftist Philosophy 101. It's her version of Obama's "bitter" statement. And in a way, it also provides an answer to LAGuy's post on Causality below.

If you take the statement (white men cannot be relied on) and substitute "people" - or "the masses", if you will - you have leftist philosophy in a nutshell. Right now the Democratic Party is dominated by this philosophy and both their candidates for President embody it. People cannot be relied on: To vote for the right person. To believe in Global Warming. To surrender in Iraq. To accept income redistribution and higher taxes. To stop smoking. Or drinking. Or getting fat. Or believing in God. Driving SUV's.

Or, most importantly, to realize that government - specifically a government led by either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton - is the answer to everything that's wrong with their lives.

In this world view, the individual is the enemy. The collective is the answer.

In LAGuy's post, he argues that questioning motives rather than policies is reasoning backwards. While I understand and agree with his premise, at least insofar as it applies to George W. Bush, when it comes to the Left, things get a bit stickier. Certainly, you can make the argument that W. is using the War on Terror as an excuse to erode our civil rights. However, with the statement that the Left is using environmentalism to bring us socialism, there is no argument.

Oh sure, you can argue the semantics: socialism may be putting too fine a point on it. But there is no arguing the intent. For the Left, the answer is always the government. The question is really irrelevant.

Only the government can be relied on.

Contract

I was reading Jan Herman's biography of William Wyler, A Talent For Trouble, and came across this on page 393:

MGM guaranteed him eight percent of the gross revenues [of Ben-Hur] or three percent of the net profit--whichever was greater..."

That's a choice?

Wrong Page

I recently saw on page 3 in the LA Times a piece about Iran that was purportedly a news article, but darned if I could find any news in it. It was about how Iran is watching our election.

It notes, for instance "Iranians know the new U.S. leader will inherit an overextended military in Iraq, a declining dollar, high oil prices and a sub-prime mortgage crisis that are straining the American economy." Now that's news, telling us what foreigners know--and apparently what they know is taken from an Obama or Clinton ad.

But don't worry. As the article makes clear, as long as a Democrat is elected--preferably Obama--there's a good chance our foreign policy will improve tremendously and life will be better for the world overall.

About Last Night

A few observations about last night.

First, the live coverage was weak. A bunch of superfluous talking heads saying nothing of substance while we waited for the only thing that mattered--the numbers. When the vote was about 25% in, and Hillary was leading by 6%, here's what I wanted to know--are the votes in from the urban areas yet, or not? But (flipping around the channels--perhaps I missed someone discussing it) as far as I could tell, all they were saying were empty things they could have said yesterday and will say tomorrow.

Second, once again, Obama overperformed in the exit polling. (Luckily, two Democrats are running so you won't see a lot of stories about a stolen election.) Furthermore, everyone seemed to expect this and downplayed the polls. If you know about the phenomenon, can't you take it into account when you gather the numbers?

Third, Hillary got the solid victory she needed. She's still a long way from taking the nomination, but this was enough to continue. And she's got a pretty strong argument that she's the one her party should go with. It goes something like this.:

Here's a list of the seven most populous states, in order--California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio.

Now no one knows if the upcoming election will be close, but the smart money is to plan on it, since the last two came down to a single state, we haven't seen a true blowout in over two decades, and the polls are showing no one is running away with it. The Republicans have a strong foothold in many less populous states and it's the big states cutting for the Democrats that saves them. They can expect to win California, New York and Illinois. The Republicans expect to win Texas.

So it's the big swing states that matter. (This isn't guaranteed, but there's no reason to think it won't continue to be so). Above all, it seems likely whichever party can take at least two of these three states--Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania--will win the election. Hillary has now convincingly won these three. Pennsylvania, in particular, had over a month to look at Barack very closely, and he outspent Hillary about 3-1, but, in the end, they rejected him, and rejected him pretty strongly. Why would the party want to take a flier on such a candidate?

In fact, it's even worse than that. The only reason Barack is ahead in delegates is because of the weird caucuses and representational delegate system they have. In the general election, no caucuses, no representational electors--it's winner take all. And Hillary wins that contest against Obama hands down.

Furthermore, a central reason Barack is doing so well is he gets a monolithic black vote against Hillary. But if Hillary is the candidate in the general election, while the turnout may drop a bit, she will get that black vote. Meanwhile, there are certain Dem blocs who have a lot of trouble with Obama, and may bolt in large numbers--Jews (to some extent), blue collar "Reagan" Democrats and Latinos. This combination gives McCain a much better chance at taking the big swing states, and may even give him a shot at such Dem strongholds as New Jersey and perhaps California.

It still looks pretty bad for Hillary getting the nomination, but if she can win another major Midwestern industrial state--Indiana--and not lose too big in the high-African American state of North Carolina, then I wouldn't be surprised if the superdelegates give her a second look. (On the other hand, I doubt they have the guts.)

One final point. My guess is no matter what the Dems do, this primary may have been a turning point for Repubs. They may now believe Hillary will be the tougher candidate to beat.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

All Paul

I finally got around to seeing Black Book, Paul Verhoeven's 2006 return to foreign language film.

It's the story of a Jewish woman stuck in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands during WWII. (It actually has a framing device so we know from the start she'll survive, which I think is a mistake.) Because it wasn't made in Hollywood, or in English, somehow I thought it would be like an art film.

But I forgot, this is Verhoeven, who made pretty wild films (on much lower budgets) even before he came to Hollywood. I mean this isn't just the guy who made Basic Instinct, Total Recall, Robocop, Showgirls and Starship Troopers, he also made Spetters, Soldier Of Orange and The 4th Man.

So Black Book is a rare European film I recommend due to all the cool sex and violence.

Causality

When you start doubting people's motives, rather than arguing about their policies, you get stuff backwards.

I can't say how many times I've heard George Bush is using the war on terror as a pretext to destroy our civil rights. So he was always planning to pass the Patriot Act, it just got a lot easier after 9/11? If he is destroying our civil rights, he's doing it because he believes it'll help fight the war on terror.

On the other side, a common line from conservatives is the Left is using environmentalism to bring us socialism. It sure seems to me thaf if they're bringing in socialism, it's to fight global warming and the rest, not as an end in itself.

Not Without Flaws

I just finished two books about ways of looking at the world. Both are worth the read, but not without flaws.

First is David Sloan Wilsons' Evolution For Everyone. Wilson believes you don't have to be an expert to understand the simple yet profound concept of natural selection. And once you start looking through that prism, your understanding of the natural world is changed, and you start asking interesting questions. You can also generate useful experiments and testable hypotheses. (One of Wilson's strong points is his ability to convey the excitement of scientific discovery.)

He talks about lots of specific, intriguing work being done, from microbes to beetles to fish to chicken to apes. He also talks quite a bit about the evolution of cooperation, in insects and also humans. Sometimes I think he goes a bit too far afield regarding the latter, but his attitude is why not see how far we can go--too many disciplines have been undernourished because they haven't been willing to apply evolutionary insight.

Second, there's The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb's follow-up to Fooled By Randomness. Taleb believes that we concentrate too much on the bell curve. Sure, we're not surprised by events (and can often predict them within certain limits) 99% of the time, but the stuff that really makes a difference, and that we try to ignore, are blacks swans--highly improbable moments that change everything. And this is what we need to know more about. The bell curve can't save you in the real world.

Taleb has an entertaining style, and he writes with an eccentric and thus forgivable arrogance. The main trouble is there's not much here that isn't already said or implied in his previous book.

(He also has a short paragraph attacking Richard Posner. It ends thus: "If you run into him, please make him aware of these things." So I sent it to Posner, who replied he has no idea what Taleb is talking about.)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Log Line

From the LA Times TV listings:

Deal Or No Deal - "President Bush makes a surprise appearance"

Not any more.

Let's Vote Already

The numbers have been going up and down in Pennsylvania since Obama closed most of the gap a few weeks ago. They now look pretty close. But the real story is it's been seven weeks since Super Tuesday. Let's vote already. This is getting ridiculous.

Aging Well

Clicking through the channels yesterday, I caught a glimpse of Can't Buy Me Love, a forgettable comedy from the late 80s. What struck me was the lead, Patrick Dempsey, playing--no two ways about it--a nerd.

How is it this guy who in his twenties was not exactly considered Brad Pitt has somehow, in his forties, blossomed into a heartthrob? (Meanwhile, Amanda Peterson, the hot chick in the film has disappeared.)

Numbers

Expelled, the movie that supports intelligent design, made about $3 million this weekend, but the filmmakers are claiming it's no more than $6000.

New Age Seder

I attended a Seder at a friend's house over the weekend. We had a good time, but his modern, touchy-feely Haggadah was weird after being exposed to decades of the original. There was less about being freed from slavery and more about spreading love and peace.

The most startling difference was the questions from the four different types of children. In particular, the question from the wicked child. The Haggadah provides answers to deal with any type of kid regarding the Passover service. What the "wicked" child asks is "what's this service mean to you?" It's the "to you" part that's so bad--in saying it, he removes himself from the community.

The traditional answer is "well, since you're not part of the community, guess what--if you'd been a slave back in Egypt, you wouldn't have been saved!" The answer in this new Haggadah was "well, you feel you're not part of the community, so why not join with us and learn a little more and maybe you'll think differently?"

I don't know. I like the first answer better. Put him in his place.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Whistle While You Work

I was at a pizza place recently when I heard the dough spinner--who looked to be in his twenties--whistling. I listened for a few seconds and was shocked to recognize the tune: "Begin The Beguine."

Who knows this tune any more? I guess the sort of guy who still whistles.

No S

I picked up at the latest copy of The Onion and was surprised to see due to some problem at the printers that the capital S was missing.

This made reading in the back section about Forgetting arah Marshall, staring Jason egel and directed by Nicholas toller a bit off-putting.

On the other hand, it was interesting to see a review of a 2 Live Crew concert which featured songs like " uck My Dick."

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Shape Of Things To Come

Start the countdown. Only six days till new Lost. Though thanks to the latest promos (SPOILER ALERT) I think they've answered the question as to who shot Karl. It was one of the freighties, probably Keamy.

It's Good To Be The King

I have a lot of sympathy for Justice Stevens' view of the death penalty, but in the recent Baze v. Rees case on the constitutionality of lethal injection, we get this from his concurrence:

I have relied on my own experience in reaching the conclusion that the imposition of the death penalty represents "the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes[...]"

Interesting, his personal experience. How about, oh, I don't know, precedent? Or, faillng that, maybe a little evidence.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Font Of Wisdom

From Virginia Postrel's site, here a tricky quiz on fonts. The first time I took it I got 18 out of 34. The second time (knowing no more, but really taking my time), I shocked myself by getting 25.

Bitter

I read the titles and teasers of these two pieces and I thought, they can't possibly be as bitter as they sound: WaPo's Tom Shales' In Pa. Debate, The Clear Loser Is ABC and SFChron's Robert Scheer's The man who would be Bush, the lead sentence of which is, "Are Americans unusually stupid, or is it something our president put in the water?"

Phew. Some Americans are unusually stupid, anyway.

John And Paul

David McCullough's biography of John Adams helped raise our second President's profile. Adams had always run, at best, a pour fourth among his contemporaries (after Washington, Jefferson and Franklin).

Now the HBO adaptation is spreading the message even further. Though after watching Paul Giamatti fret his way through the role, my guess is Adams will now be remembered as the most perpetually annoyed of the Founding Fathers.

Flapping His Wings

Edward Lorenz, the father of chaos theory, has died. No one has any idea what effect his death will have.

Profs Need Proof

I'm going to talk about the content of a film I haven't seen. I usually don't do this, but from the statements by the filmmakers alone, I feel pretty confident the information I have is accurate.

From what I've heard, the thesis of the Ben Stein-hosted movie Expelled is that big bad science is close-minded and afraid to allow "Intelligent Design"-supporting critics of evolution to have their say.

No doubt 9/11 truthers could make a similar claim about how they're shut out of the academy, even though they have a whole roster of major thinkers on their side.

Apparently, the film's creators use Michael Moore-style editing to make their points. It's also reported they borrowed some moves from the Borat playbook, misrepresenting to the scientists they interviewed what the film was really about. All this suggests the movie might be entertaining, but will definitely be dishonest.

PS Now that I've read the Wikipedia entry on the film, it sounds even worse than I thought. The movie seems to claim evolution has caused all sorts of evil, including Nazism.

PPS An interesting piece in Slate on the movie and skepticism in general.

PPPS There are now quite a few places on the internet discussing the dishonesty of the film. There's even a website devoted to it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Don't Make Your Customers Have To Work

I just received an email from a local golf course operator that started with: "If you are viewing this email with gmail, please use Internet Explorer for best results." I replied with: "If you are having trouble crafting an email that can be read using gmail via Firefox, please hire new staff for best results."

The Long Run And The Long Ball

Ken Griffey recently hit his 595th home run. My guess is he's a more popular player than Barry Bonds. And if only he hadn't lost a few prime seasons, he'd likely have around 700+ homers now. As long as someone's got to hold the record, it might as well be Griffey, and that looked possible not too long ago. In fact, around 2000, I'd have put some money on it. That's why career records in baseball are as much a testament to longevity as anything else.

And The Survey Says...

An informal survey of 109 "professional historians" shows 98% believe the Bush presidency has been a failure and 61% say it's the worst ever.

I don't think this tells us too much about Bush, but it sure speaks volumes about professional historians.

Yes, The New Yorker

But Obama’s devotees, who have an unattractively worshipful tendency to blame his mistakes on everyone but him, would do their candidate and the Democratic Party a favor by acknowledging the damage he’s done to both. It wasn’t accidental. Obama betrayed his own and his Party’s essential weakness, and in the process handed the opposition a great gift.

Taken from a surpisingly astute analysis--considering the source--of Obama's comments.

Sergeant Carter

Wouldn't it be funny if Jimmy Carter were taken hostage by Hamas?

PS A friend suggests Obama, who wants to talk to our enemies with no preconditions, should be asked if he supports Carter's talks. I think a better question is would he have supported engaging with South Africa 25 years ago?

Bill Is Due

A lot of people are incensed by Bill Maher's recent statements about the Pope. I'm not going to comment except to say Maher is notoriously opposed to religion, so why anyone is surprised?

But I will note one bad argument on this controversy that I've heard a lot. It's claimed he'd never say the same sort of things about Islam. In the past I've discussed the weakness of argument by analogy, but that's not even necessary here--Bill Maher has been attacking Islam through the years with as much passion as he attacks any other religion.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Badvertising

I think I just found out what the guys who designed Ron Paul's NH primary ads must be doing now. Last night I heard an ad from a local, I think, mattress discounter. In true low-budget used car dealer-style, the commercial included amateurs- probably help from the store- chanting the store's name in an annoying singsongy manner. The store also contained typical mattress advertising- about being able to lie down comfortably on something hard or soft as your needs dictate.

The name of the store-"Bedderest" I know the pun they were going for was "Better Rest" but thats not quite the connection I heard. (Say the name quickly five times to yourself).

Reminds me of a story, may well be apocryphal or a joke, of a noted well-respected academic personage who died and had been rumoured to have strange predilections and had apparently been denied some governmental appointment because of it. Supposedly at the memorial service or other remembrance, someone had to correct themself, "...I mean, a leading pedagogue..."

Pitchy

Some have wondered how Barack Obama could be so tone deaf as to make his unpopular "bitter" comments. Except the select San Francisco crowd he said it to thought it was great. Like any politician, he modified his message to fit the audience. In fact, I think he was glad to be around his sort of people so he could actually say what he really believes. His problem (like Nixon's?) was he didn't know he was being taped.

Will it hurt him in Pennsylvania? Some polls suggest it will, but who can tell--still a week to go before the voting. In fact, with that much time left, even if he's in trouble he's got a shot at turning things around.

So Far Away

Headline from the LA Times:

"Iran says U.S. aids rebels at its border: The violence may be driving Tehran's efforts to back its own allies in Iraq."

Because after all, Tehran wouldn't be bothering us otherwise.

Five paragraphs down, we get this: "None of the groups appear to pose a serious threat to Iran..."

But why let this get in the way of a good story about two countries that simply have different interests.

PS The title of this post comes from A Flock Of Seagulls, not Carole King.

60,000!

Thanks to a recent Instalanche, we hit 60,000 faster than any other 10,000 milestone. Thanks to all you readers out there. We couldn't have done it without you. (Now there's a tautology.)

And please let others know about our site. We're always glad to get comments from new readers who think we're nuts.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

On Conversations About Racism: Or, Why I Love NYC -- Reason #435

This morning I was riding a #4 express train downtown from Grand Central to Bowling Green. At 14th Street, a mid-50s, reasonably well-dressed black woman got on the train along with lots of other folks. The next stop, City Hall, takes about 4 minutes to reach. As soon as the doors closed, the woman started loudly complaining about two local trains passing this so-called express. Everyone else on the train put on headphones if they had them, raised their books or magazines a bit higher, or else just put on the closed-off face that New Yorkers have ready for these situations.

Our Street Preacher ("SP") soon moved on to the ills of our city, our government, etc. SP gradually raised her volume and tone to fire-and-brimstone preacher mode, and switched over to the subject of race. Calling herself a captive African, saying no African is truly a citizen of this country, and so on.

Nothing new or noteworthy until our SP mentioned that she was taking this train downtown to see her father(?) at the Zimbabwe mission about getting out of this so-called democracy. That drew a polite, European-accented question from the white man standing next to her, who asked "have you ever been to Zimbabwe? I have." SP turned on him and shouted "of course you were, we still have some land and gold left for you to steal!" He replied, calmly, "actually, I was there with Medecins Sans Frontieres." SP responded with "oh, great, another white man's drug company there to sell cures that don't work for diseases you created!"

At which point the young black woman sitting next to me put her book down and said, in a voice loud enough to interrupt SP's screed, "NO, they're a group of doctors who help the poorest people in the world for free. The English translation of their name is Doctors Without Borders, and Africa needs them a hell of a lot more than it needs yet another loud-mouthed know-it all like Robert Mugabe or YOU."

SP was about to get started with her retort when an older hispanic man followed a second later with "besides, Zimbabwe's mission is up in the east 50s -- you're on the wrong train anyway." As though on cue, the doors opened at City Hall, and SP exited the train to laughter and clapping.

Everyone was smiling and happy with the entertainment, except the young woman who had spoken up. She seemed upset or maybe embarrassed, and buried her head back into her statistics textbook. I left her alone until I was getting off three stops later, when I just wished her a nice day, to which she smiled slightly at me above her book, showing a full mouth of braces. I freakin' love New York.

Movie Memories

James Lileks on There Will Be Blood: "I liked it more while watching it than thinking about it later, and I suppose that's what counts."

Really? Some might claim the exact opposite.

How Now Dow Jones?

Sen. John McCain this morning said "greedy" Wall Street investors are partly to blame for what he said is probably an economic recession the nation is now suffering.

"There has to be a modification of the greedy behavior of some of these people," he said, using the word "greedy" repeatedly in remarks to the Associated Press annual meeting at the Washington Convention Center today.

I can now say with certainty that no matter who wins in November, it will be a Democrat.

Do I Smell Sequel?

There's often a big difference between how films perform domestically versus overseas. But it's rare you see so big a difference for a film meant to do well worldwide as with The Golden Compass. Based on a popular series of books, the film was an attempt to create a franchise like Lord Of The Rings. The movie's finale practically promised more adventures.

But the $180 million film flopped in America, stalling at a $70 million gross. Many believe this is because the audience believed, rightly or wrongly, it was pro-atheism. (It also got slammed pretty bad by reviewers.) But overseas, where the books are more popular--and religion often less--it's been a big hit that will soon pass $300,000,000. It's got a decent chance of a combined worldwide gross of $400,000,000. That's blockbuster territory.

The studio that made it (New Line, though they've since been absorbed by Warner Bros.) are no doubt aware of this. A while ago I was confident the franchise was dead, but with numbers like these, I wouldn't be surprised if they gave it another shot.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Bitter End

Obama's minions are predictably spinning away regarding his "bitter" remarks about Pennsylvanians. Their main line of argument seems to be he was simply telling the truth.

Well, he was saying what he thought, but is it the truth? Actually, his elitism, as I've said, isn't what really bothers me. I assume most politicians, for all their talk about the wisdom of the people, are elitists. If they didn't think the were good at running our lives, they wouldn't be running for office.

Trouble is, Obama's elitism ends up with him dismissing ideological opposition as so much confusion and fear. Alas, this is not a new side of the man. In fact, it was what turned me off when he made his well-received speech on race.

Let me go back in particular to one section, where he discusses affirmative action:

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race.

He's trying to be even-handed, but he just can't bring himself to say that any whites haven't been privileged (after all, they've got White Skin Privilege), so all his statements are conditional. He might as well be talking about a child worried about a monster under the bed--the fear is real, the belief is not.

Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch.

"As far as they're concerned." Those lucky whites who sweated to build a life here just don't get it.

They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor.

Ah, now we're getting an inkling of the real problem. Globalization and big corporations. Government-mandated racial bean-counting--or perhaps any major social program--couldn't really make anyone mad. (And what about the millions who oppose such programs but are doing just fine personally, thank you?)

They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

So here we have it, and it sounds just like his "bitter" statement. The real enemies are corporations and the free market itself, not properly reined in by government. And because of these evils, confused white people blame busing (busing?), race-based affirmative action and crime. (He'd later add guns and Bibles to the mix.)

Think of this. There's apparently no principled opposition to "benign" racial preference. If you don't like it, Obama's way of reaching out is letting you know you're simply mistaken. He wants a dialogue on race, but how can we have one if we can't talk openly and honestly about these programs--which might be a bad solution to a problem, even if whites are privileged, by the way.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition.

All those voters the Dems lost to Republicans--it was just a mistake. What's The Matter With Kansas? and all that. If only whites could see things more clearly, they'd know how to vote. Meanwhile, serious reform of welfare and affirmative action is off the table. (Wait, didn't we do the first one? And didn't it work out okay?)

Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends.

Exploitation? Crime is, and has been for some time, a legitimate campaign issue. I admit it's been a winner for Republicans, but does that mean all that talk is merely a cynical ploy?

Let's look at the U. S. crime rates from when Reagan took office to today. In 1980, the murder rate per 100,000 was 10.2. In 2006 (most recent year available), it's down to 5.7. Rape, down from 36.8 to 30.9 (and it might even be better than that since reporting rates have arguably increased). Robbery, down from 251.1 to 149.4. Burglary, down from 1684.1 to 729.4. Theft, down from 3167 to 2206.8. Vehicle theft, down from 502.2 to 398.4.

These drops are stunning. Now there are a lot of potential causes, but it seems to me at the very least, crime is fair game for politicians, and rather than merely exploiting fear for political ends, they seem to have done something about it.

Talk show hosts and conservative commentators

Nothing to say about liberal commentators?

built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Black anger--justified. White anger--false consciousness.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive,

Not mistaken, just counterproductive

so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

So white concerns may be misguided and even racist, but the actual problems underlying them--the problems Barack believes in and wants to talk about--are real. Thanks for starting the conversation.

Name Game

Whenever you have two big stars, you've got a problem. Who should get top billing? An old solution when neither wants to step aside is to have Name A lower and to the left of Name B. But I saw a new one yesterday.

The Forbidden Kingdom teams up the two biggest stars in martial arts, Jackie Chan and Jet Li. (If only they'd done it fifteen years earlier.) In the poster, "Jackie Chan" was written on the top left-hand corner, and "Jet Li" borrowed Jackie's "J" and was written straight down.

Masters?

Watching the entire field fall apart yesterday in the Masters, it made me wonder: what's the furthest behind anyone's ever been in a major tournament at the end of his round who still finished up winning?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Jingle, Jangle

Over at JustOneMinute, Tom Maguire compares Obama's latest gaffe to a slogan he just can't get out of his head:

By November that will be better known than "I voted for the bill before I voted against it." Heck, I think it will be bigger than "Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles onions on a sesame seed bun." And I made a special effort to avoid learning that, yet years later, valuable neurons remain wasted. Or is it ganglia? See, I would know the answer if not for my little sister chanting the McDonalds thing all the time... Sorry.

Well...maybe. But I don't think it will be bigger than "Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't..." or "N-E-S-T-L-E-S, Nestles makes the very best..." or my personal favorite, "HOT DOGS, Armour HOT DOGS, What kind of kids love Armour HOT DOGS..."

Of course, when Obama becomes President, our future may be that of Demolition Man, and all restaurants may be Taco Bell.

The Fifth Cylon

The biggest question right now on Battlestar Galactica: who is the fifth cylon? Now that we know the other cylons have no idea (nor does the fifth cylon, for that matter), it opens it up to pretty much anybody.

My guess--it'll be whoever the writers think would be the coolest and most convenient for plot reasons. Personally, I haven't a clue. Except that I imagine it'll have to be a main character. If it were an unknown, that'd be a cheat. So I'd say it's confined to Adama, Roslin, Starbuck, Apollo or Baltar.

There's a decent argument for each one. Adama was there when the cylons did the original experiments. Roslin has long had visions. Starbuck disappeared and reappeared under mysterious circumstances. Apollo--well, he's the most boring character and they keep trying to throw him new storylines to make him interesting. And Baltar has been consorting with cylons from the start.

I can't imagine it'd be someone like Helo, or Dualla or even Zarek. I heard someone suggest it's Gaeta and I thought can you imagine the anti-climax? The fifth cylon is as likely to be Murray the K as Gaeta.

Worth The Wait?

I thought the first post-strike 30 Rock was okay, though it had nothig as great as what they left us with--"Midnight Train To Georgia."

My favorite thing about the episode was the throwaway gag that made Jerry Seinfeld an executive producer of MILF Island.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

This Can't Be Good, Can It?

I don't know if Barack Obama's getting cocky or just being honest, but his recent stuff about Pennsylvania sure came out sounding nasty:

You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them…And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not.

And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

Isn't this more politically damaging than McCain's "100 years" statement, especially since you don't have to quote it out of context to make the speaker look bad? He seems to be mocking people's atttachment to their firearms and their faith, and calls them racists to boot.

The funny thing is I find the first paragraph more ominous than the second.

PS There have been a lot of blogs discussing this statement. (Whether it'll filter out to the public at large remains to be seen, though you'd think Hillary will give it her best shot.) The pro-Obama blogs and commenters are doing their best, pulling out the same old Wright arguments--he didn't mean it, it was taken out of context, others are worse and let's face it he's right.

The rest of the blogs are concentrating on the second paragraph--no one seems scared of what the first implies.

Maybe the most memorable line comes from Ace Of Spades HQ: "Obama To Rural Pennsylvanians: Vote For Me, You Corncob-Smokin', Banjo-Strokin' Chicken-Chokin' Cousin-Pokin' Inbred Hillbilly Racist Morons"

Friday, April 11, 2008

Passive Aggressive?

Today Bill Clinton decided to issue a passionate defense of his wife's Bosnia comments just as the controversy was beginning to exit the news cycle. He also then showed his lawyer-like ability to plead in the alternative by saying both that her remarks were accurate and then that she misspoke because she was run down and tired (read old) and its not such a big deal anyway. He then proceeded to engage in factual peccadilloes about Eleanor Roosevelt and Pat Nixon and first ladies going to combat zones to keep the conversation going for another few days

If by some miracle Ms. Rodham is the nominee, I don't see him spending much time in the White House

You Don't Read Books?

So we've got the full NBC comedy line-up--My Name Is Earl, 30 Rock and The Office--back. Also, new (and improved) Battlestar Galactica. And before the end of the month, new Lost and House.

Thank goodness the strike is over, or there'd be nothing to watch. I'd forgotten how bad the movies are this time of year.

I've Got A Bad Feeling About This

It seemed like decades. The Tigers were a rotten team. Finally, in the past few years, they turned into a contender (who run out of steam around the end).

So I looked forward to this season. And what happened? Seven losses in a row. Deja vu.

They finally won one, but they need to turn around soon or it'll be over before it begins.

Yoo Who?

There's a spat going on between Megan McArdle and Glenn Greenwald over the lack of coverage of the John Yoo "Torture Memorandum."

GG says the media (for various reasons) trivializes the news and covers foolish items like Barack Obama's bowling prowess at the expense of important stories like the Memo. MM claims the media can't force-feed the public stuff it has little interest in.

In general, I'm with Megan. The media, no matter who you think they are, only have so much sway. The time people have to read about current events is limited. If the media concentrate on stories people don't care about, all that happens is readers (and listeners and viewers) go elsewhere.

Nevertheless, what I don't get is that the Yoo story--especially considering it's fairly technical and about stuff that happened already--got widespread coverage. There were only a handful of stories in the past few weeks that were bigger. (And one of them is not Barack bowling.)

What does Greenwald want? Stop the presses, we're putting out an all-Yoo edition?

The ultimate irony is though Greenwald is outraged that we're not outraged, my guess is if we had ridiculously extensive coverage of this story, with experts on TV discussing its ins and outs 24 hours a day, there's a decent chance it'd be a winner for Bush.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Now That's A Critic

A bad reaction to Funny Games. I'd tell you my reaction but the trailer kept me away.

Two Years Later

Almost two years ago reader Lawrence King replied to a post about Pat Roberston with this:

Well, I probably shouldn't say it, but I just can't help it: It's nice to belong to a church whose leader is cleverer than Robertson. I just can't picture Pat in this picture.

He linked to philosopher Jurgen Habermas meeting with Pope Benedict.

So I have one question. What do you think of Pope Benedict's upcoming meeting with Robertson when he visits America?

I Am Standing Here Beside Myself

There's an squib in the LA Times Calendar section about a remake of Short Circuit, a 1986 film about robot that comes to life. The article claims "They'll also surely factor in advances in political correctness, as the comic relief in the original film [...] was provided by Fisher Stevens, a white guy from Chicago playing a horny Indian scientist spouting enthusiastic malapropisms and stereotypically mangled syntax."

Well first, there was plenty of political correctness to go around in 1986. Second, Short Circuit is no classic, and the only thing that makes it worthwhile is Steven's character. They get rid of that and what's the point?

Condi Can't

People keep asking Condooleezza Rice would she like to be Vice President. She says no, but who cares? She won't be asked.

Some think, being a black woman, she can counteract both Hillary and Obama. But African-Americans are voting Dem no matter what. And women--well, that's a pretty big constituency and cuts a lot of ways.

More important, McCain will be running from the Bush administration, not with it.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Hillary's Numbers

With nothing else to do, Obama's been pounding Hillary in Pennsylvania for the past few weeks. It's taken a toll, and Hillary's huge lead has been cratering. Will she win? Probably, but it's not just a game of numbers (though it mostly is), but a game of expectations.

Right now, if she wins by more than 15%, it's a huge victory, and makes the unbeatable Barack look very beatable.

If she wins 10% to 15%, it's a solid victory and she's looking okay, but still in trouble.

5% to 10%--not good, but passable. She can continue, but it's not too hopeful.

0% to 5%--very weak showing. If she can hardly win on what amounts to home turf, why bother?

If she loses, she'll end the charade and drop out.

Who's Next?

Happy 80th, Tom Lehrer.

Holywood

Hollywood films are often at odds with themselves. The text--beauty is only skin deep, money doesn't matter, crime doesn't pay, etc--is denied by the subtext.

But it's rare a film is so at odds with itself as Holy Man, which I watched last night. What's Holy Man? A long-forgotten flop starring Eddie Murphy and Jeff Goldblum. Can't say it's a good film, but it's always fascinated me.

Murphy plays a mysterious charcter, G, who walks into harried executive Jeff Goldblum's life. Goldblum works at a home shopping network, while G is a simple, spiritual (but not necessarily religious) guy who almost seems to have magical powers. (Murphy is playing a magic negro here, but really anyone with star quality--say, Brad Pitt--would fit in the role.)

They become friends and G starts appearing on the network. And here's where the film gets really bizarre. G's message couldn't be clearer--consumerism is bad, enjoy the simple things in life and stop worrying about getting more--but his message somehow sell products and saves Goldblum's job. Sure, by the ending, everyone figures out what really matters. But the balancing act along the way (script by Hollywood veteran Tom Schulman) is impossible.

The film also has what I call the Network problem. It's vision of TV viewers is essentially we're suggestible idiots. Is that how Hollywood sees us?

Brain Scan

General Petraeus's testimony in front of the Senate was interrupted by a man shouting “Bring them home! Bring them home!”

Whenever I see something like this, I'm reminded of a friend who while driving home from work got stuck in traffic due to protesters. He swore as soon as he figured out what they were protesting, he'd send money to the opposite side.

What did this screamer think he was accomplishing? He can't think he's convincing anyone of anything--he's not even botherlng to make an argument. He can't possibly think he's raising awareness when there were other people around holding signs, and the Senators themselves were already discussing the issue of withdrawal. He can't be stupid enough to believe he's showing public opinion when he's just one guy--and an obnoxious one at that. So what does he get out of it?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Back On Track

I greatly enjoyed the start of the latest, and last, Battlestar Galactica season. Last season I thought they stalled a bit. They'd intentionally grounded themselves on New Caprica. A nervy move, but when the show wasn't moving, the momentum was gone. Also, they got stuck on side issues and stand-alone episodes. On top of all this, everyone got too chummy with each other, and knew too much about each other.

Now the show is back. They've seen Earth (well, Starbuck has) and that gives them a clear destination. The Cylons' plan, which we've been promised from the start, is finally taking shape. Best of all, there's a sense of mystery again. Four of the crew have a huge secret, and no one can be sure how it'll play out; and, of course, there's still the final Cylon to be revealed. (Plus there's Baltar doing his own crazy stuff.)

Maybe I'm just too happy to have the show back after such a long absence, but I think it's regained the excitement that made it a must-see at the beginning.

The Unification Church

A lot of people complain when Hillary attacks Obama, she hurts not just the party, but the unifying of the country, which Obama represents. So apparently the unification they're talking about requires everyone who has anything nasty to say about him to shut up.

Punt

Reel Geezers put up popular YouTube videos on current films. Their off-the-cuff opinions are generally a lot of fun, but I don't agree with their takedown of Leatherheads.

As readers know, I hated the film. But the geezers central thesis is comedies about football (and sports movies in general) don't work. How can anyone say that?

Werthless

Frederic Wertham led a crusade against comics in the 1950s, which he believed were destroying the youth of America. He's properly remembered in the comic book world as a monster. David Hadju's latest book, Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, discusses this ugly tale.

But over at Slate, Jeet Heer makes a case for Wertham, saying he wasn't that bad. For instance:
Wertham [as defender Bart] Beaty notes, is often libeled as a pop-culture McCarthyite, when he was in fact a progressive scholar who ran a clinic in Harlem, and his research on black children was used in the legal challenges to segregation.
I don't care if he was a progressive or a reactionary, it's his actions I oppose. Labeling them "progressive" doesn't make them any better. (I'm also not impressed with his research on black children, but that's a separate (though not equal) story.)

Also:
The comic-book crackdown, according to Beaty, was caused by unscrupulous publishers who were unwilling to regulate themselves until forced to by a huge public backlash. Wertham, by his account, was the most reasonable voice during this sordid debate.
So comic publishers actually had the nerve to demand freedom of speech, and then deserved to get caught by the sensible Wertham--the very man who helped whip up the moral panic that created the backlash. (Actually, there's an argument that the publishers did respond with a code, but the firebreathing Wertham would have none of it--a purge or nothing, even as he stated, as so many censors do, that he wasn't in favor of censorship.)

Monday, April 07, 2008

MiLKed

On the anniversary of his death, pundits of all sides talk about Martin Luther King's legacy. That's fine, but then they start saying what he'd be doing if he were alive today. (There's even a book out on the subject.)

It's a pointless exercise, and not just because we don't know for sure what he'd think. King was a man, not a god. As great as he was, not everything he believed was right. And if he were still around today, I suppose he'd be making pronouncements on the passing scene, perhaps leading movements, but while we might respect him, it wouldn't mean we have to agree with him. In fact, I'd guess most of the people today who claim him for their own would be disappointed in one way or another, and wouldn't be afraid to make their differences known.

Conventional Wisdom On Christopher Walken

Christopher Walken is generally conceded to be one of the greatest hosts in Saturday Night Live history.

After watching him last Saturday, one note though: Chris, can't you at least occasionally look away from the cue cards and toward the character you're ostensibly speaking to?

Rooting Interest

I saw Leatherheads over the weekend, and what a disappointment. I like the concept, but the execution!

At no point did the plot--either the one about football or the one about romance--make any sense. It's a sign of how disastrously bad the film is that at the climactic football game, there was nothing at stake and no particular reason to care who won.

Charlton Heston

Charlton Heston has died. Certainly one of the biggest stars Hollywood has ever known. He was the post-WWII ideal of what a movie star should be--square-jawed, deep-voiced, tall, handsome, maybe just a little stiff. (In one of my favorite quotes, Cahiers du Cinema film critic Michel Mourlet looked at this beautiful man and observed "Charlton Heston is an axiom of the cinema.")

He first came to notice in Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show On Earth (1952) as the absurdly macho leader of the circus. He runs the place as if they're fighting a war. The film isn't great (though it won the Best Picture Oscar) but it was a huge hit and a star was born.

He went on to be perhaps become the top leading man of the decade, starring in its two biggest hits, The Ten Commandments (1956) and Ben-Hur (1959), winning an Oscar for the latter.

Many movie fans prefer Touch Of Evil from 1958, the last film Orson Welles directed in Hollywood. It's a crime story where Heston plays Mexican police officer Miguel Vargas, married to the very white Janet Leigh. Vargas is a noble guy ("A policeman's job is only easy in a police state") who clashes with the dirty cop Quinlan, played by Welles.

It was not a hit, and Heston has said it's a B-movie--if a great one--but some critics today consider it a classic. (Welles steals the film, but Heston let him. He actually had the power to call the shots but allowed Welles to do what he wanted. In fact, the only reason Welles got to direct is that Heston heard Welles would be involved in the production and assumed that meant he'd direct, and the studio figured they should give the star what he wanted. This is why I'm so disgusted with the scene in Tim Burton's Ed Wood, where Johnny Depp in the title role meets his idol Welles at Musso and Frank's and Welles complains that Heston as a Mexican cop is being forced on him.)

Heston continued starring in Westerns, action films and costume epics throughout the 60s. (He occasionally did comedy, but it wasn't his forte.) Pretty much every one of his films was a major production, but none of them meant too much to me until he made the one that defined him for a new generation--Planet Of The Apes (1968). He stars as the cynical astronaut who makes it to another planet ruled by primates, only to discover (and if you need a spoiler warning for this, you've come to the wong place) it's actually Earth in the future! He acts up a storm, and has the deathless line: "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!" (Way to get in good with the ones in charge.) Then there's his classic speech at the end when he discovers the truth. (Homer Simpson does a bit of the speech in "Deep Space Homer.")

Planet Of The Apes sent him off in a new direction, and he became Hollywood's go-to guy for post-apocalyptic sci-fi films, such as The Omega Man (1971) and Soylent Green (1973). Soylent Green, in fact, has a line that may surpass all the others in notoriety--his anguished cry when he discovers what people in the Ted-Turnerish future are actually eating (another spoiler, by the way, but it will save you the trouble of watching the movie).

Around this time, he also became a regular in the popular disaster films of the decade, such as Airport 1975 (1974), Earthquake (1974), Two Minute Warning (1976) and Gray Lady Down (1978).

By the 1980s he was getting a little long in the tooth to play action heroes, and started appearing more often in supporting roles, not to mention doing more work in TV--including a recurring role on Dynasty--and the theatre. He also showed a talent for self-mockery, making fun of himself in Wayne's World 2 (1993) and Bud Light commercials. In general, he was a highly respected representative of the old guard and would often be used in small parts for his iconic value. He also became somewhat controversial in his later years as the highly visible President of the National Rifle Assocation, and was--unfairly, many say--attacked in Michael Moore's film about gun violence, Bowling For Columbine (2002).

About six years ago he announced he had Alzheimer's and left publc life.

One of my earliest memories of Hollywood is seeing Heston. He did a live appearance at a Cinerama Dome showing of The Ten Commandments. Afterward, he signed autographs in the lobby. He was very gracious, and I remember being impressed with his posture. A lady next to me, who must have been a teenager when the film premiered, was crying. She told her friend that life was more dignified when Charlton Heston was a big star. She may just be right.

(Note: I had to write this twice, as my Road Runner service went out the first time. While waiting for it to come back up, I saw an ad on TV saying how great Road Runner is.)

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Blame Canada

I was a bit surprised at how South Park attacked the WGA in their latest. I realize Matt and Trey are management, and also work in animation, but it still seemed a bit harsh.

Dites-moi Pourquoi?

This is from The New York Times rave review of the South Pacific revival (following last week's rave for Gypsy--should be a good fight at the Tonys):

Notice, by the way, how Mr. Sher implicitly underscores the theme of racism by quietly having the few African-American sailors in the company keep apart from the others. And the production never strains to evoke parallels between the then and now of the United States at war in an alien land.

Having blacks and whites keep apart in the background sounds like one of those ideas that tries to make a point and just ends up being distracting. (It is true that the forces were segregated in WWII--but wouldn't that just mean there wouldn't be any blacks around?)

I'm not sure what the second sentence means. Does the production not strain to evoke parallels to the U.S. at war today because 1) it evokes those parallels so easily or 2) it doesn't try to evoke them because the people behind the show realize it wouldn't work?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

I've Got A Feelin' You're Foolin'

Scott Foundas in his LA Weekly review of Leatherheads: "I suspect that many reviewers will be softer on Leatherheads than they should be."

Actually, the critics have not been particularly kind. Perhaps Foundas should just stick to reviewing the movie at hand.

Too Lazy To Do The Math

Someone finally did the cipherin' that I've been meaning to do. If the Dems had the winner-take-all rules, rather than the (just as arbitrary, seems to me--and don't forget the general election is mostly winner take all) Hillary would have a solid lead in delegates right now and Obama would look like he's the one preventing the unification of the party by staying in.

On the other hand, if the Repubs had adopted the Dem rules, they'd still have a forur-way race, with Ron Paul as spoiler.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Okay, One More

Here's an interesting animated version of of Frank Zappa's "Dont Eat The Yellow Snow." I have no idea who did it.

The music is heavily edited, but I'm sorry that it ends just as “St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast" is starting.

I'm So Excited

What a great day. New Galactica! We're coming down the home stretch. Let's make every episode count.

Suffering From ED

John Edward's is refusing, so far, to throw his support behind either Obama or Clinton. Does he perhaps think he can be a power broker if the convention is close enough? And is it a bad thing for the Dems to have Edwards delegates uncommitted?

Actually, I don't think he can do too much. He didn't have that many delegates and they're now free to vote how they want. I guess he knows this, so maybe he's staying quiet hoping he can get a position in either's administration.

I just wish he'd done a little better. If you really want to have a brokered convention (and I do, for both parties), you need at least three candidates to make it interesting.

Jay-Z

More than once I've heard Jefferson quoted as saying "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism." It wasn't Jefferson, it was Howard Zinn.

In any case, whoever said it, it's kind of silly.

Freelance Big Mouth

Left Wing talk radio network Air America has suspended host Randi Rhodes for comments she made about Hillary Clinton and Geraldine Ferraro at a public appearance.

As chair Charlie Kireker puts it, "Air America encourages strong opinions about public affairs but does not condone such abusive, ad hominem language by our Hosts."

Which leads to the question, has he ever actually listened to Air America?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Do You Hulu?

LAGuy's been talking about YouTube a lot lately. As it so happens, I've been spending a fair amount of time at Hulu.

Anybody else watching? What do you think?

Oink, Oink

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) has released it's latest Pig Book for 2008 and Vermont is ranked #6 this year, up 6 spots from #12 last year. The lion's share of the pork comes courtesy of Senator Pat Leahy, who was recently named the 4th most powerful person in the Senate. It makes me wonder what Vermont will do once Leahy retires, leaving newby Independent Bernie Sanders as the ranking Senator from the state.

You may recall that a few years ago, Leahy tried to get Lake Champlain designated as a "Great Lake" so that Vermont could benefit from additional federal funds. Alas, he failed and Lake Champlain remains just a "pretty good" lake.

So, how's your state rank on pork and how do you feel about government pork in general?

One More

Yet another video I've been enjoying lately. I have no idea who came up with it, but the music is one of my favorite instrumentals, Jonathan Richman's "Egyptian Reggae."

Too Good To Overlook

A lot of fellow bloggers have been quoting from this amazing interview with Harry Reid where he says, over and over, that our tax system is voluntary. I could comment on the game he's playing, but it's better just to watch. It's about four minutes.

What About Her?

There are a bunch of posters around town with simple, handwritten messages saying nasty things about "Sarah Marshall." They're promotion for the Judd Apatow-produced comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall, of course. Still, I wonder how the hiundreds of real Sarah Marshalls out there feel right now.

Oil!

"Massive Oil Deposit Could Increase US reserves by 10x."

Sounds too good to be true, but even if there's just a little bit to it, it's good news.

By the way, "new horizontal drilling technology"? Sounds like we're about to drink Canada's milkshake.

Nice Guys Can't Both Finish Last

Hillary may have high negatives, but the public seems to like both Barack Obama and John McCain. Yet, after watching them talk to friendly interviewers, it strikes me that neither will wear well once once the campaigning starts for the general election. (This might just be a personal reaction, of course. I'm especially bothered by their economic populism, which actually plays well with quite a few Americans.) So if it comes down to those two, the winner may be the one who ends up being least annoying in the long haul.

By the way, both Obama and McCain have come out against negative campaigning. Who will break that promise first, and who will break it the most? At least if Hillary runs, she'll openly attack her opponents without apology.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Royal Scam

A story I'm sure LAGuy will be all over:

SACRAMENTO -- -- Motorists in Los Angeles County could end up paying an extra 9 cents per gallon at the gas pump, or an additional $90 on their vehicle registration, under proposals aimed at getting them to help fight global warming.

Scopitone

After yesterday's link to some YouTube music videos, someone asked if I can send them to any others. Well, YouTube has countless cool stuff, but right now I'm enjoying a very lively Neil Sedaka and some lovely gals doing "Calender Girl."

Also great is Sedaka's hopeless attempt to be a movie star in Playgirl Killer.

Jules Dassin

Richard Widmark died last week, and now Jules Dassin is gone. Dassin directed Widmark in one of his best--Night And The City (1950). In fact, with films like that one and The Naked City (1948), Dassin was one of the most promising directors in Hollywood.

But Night And The City turned out to be the last film Dassin made before he was, shamefully, blacklisted. He had been a communist, but that was no reason to force him out of filmmaking.

He didn't make another movie for five years, but when he did, it was his best, Rififi (1955). A French heist film, it set the standard. Particularly notable is the lengthy set-piece, done in almost complete silence, showing the robbery from beginning to end. Dassin also made his acting debut in the film.

He acted with his future wife, Melina Mercouri, in his celebrated (though not by me) Never On Sunday (1960). Topkapi (1964), also starring Mercouri, was much better--another heist film, but almost the exact opposite of Rififi. Where Rififi was dark, quiet and tragic, Topkapi was light, colorful and comic.

Many careers were ruined by the blacklist. It's good to know that some were still able to flower.

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