Saturday, May 31, 2008

No surprise.

Well, the Pistons choked, losing 89-81, sending the Celtics to the finals. They fell apart in the fourth quarter and were outscored 29-13. On paper, there's no reason the Pistons couldn't take it. I guess they just didn't have it in them.

Harvey Korman

Harvey Korman has died. (I seem to be writing more obits than usual lately.)

Korman, second banana on The Carold Burnett Show, was the last of the old-fashioned sketch artists (the kind SNL was trying to put out of business). There was a time when variety flourished on prime time, often starring comedians who cut their teeth in Vaudeville or burlesque. By the time The Carol Burnett Show ended in 1978, the form was all but dead. Burnett was a not just the final example of the form, but one of the best.

Korman, along with Burnett herself, could do anything, at least for the length of a sketch. He could play it light or play it broad. He could sing, he could dance. He could put on any accent, any costume, any makeup.

He started in TV in the early 60s doing lots of guest shots. He also did an occasional movie--in particular I'm a fan of his eccentric work as the nervous high school principal in Lord Love A Duck. But when he got hired for Burnett in 1967, he'd finally ended up where he was meant to be. He was nominated for seven Emmys for his work on the show, and won four.

He's also remembered for some of his movie roles, especially in Mel Brooks' films, particularly as Hedley Lamarr in Blazing Saddles, but I always felt these parts were just a continuation of the work he did every week on TV.

Let me end on a controversial note. Korman became well-known for cracking up at the antics of his Burnett co-star Tim Conway. Even if he honestly couldn't help himself, I hated it. It was amateurish, and worse, it was a cheap ploy to get the audience involved, since the show wasn't taped live and the producers didn't have to show it. I don't mind a little screwing around on an outtake reel, but when the show's on, try to be professional.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Potrzebie

I missed that Will Elder died a couple weeks ago. There were a number of excellent illlustrators who gave Mad Magazine its original look, but none greater than Elder. No one helped establish the look of Mad more than he did. He was a master at aping other styles without losing his own. And, of course, he was a master at putting in all those little background jokes that helped set Mad apart.

Ism Schism

Hillary Clinton says sexism is a bigger problem around the world than racism. I agree. But is it a bigger problem in getting the Democratic Party's nomination? I have no idea.

(Let's look at it another way. When the race started, the top three candidates were a white man, a white woman and a black man. Who got knocked out first? Does that tell us anything meaningful?)

Plug

A friend of mine has just started a blog about being a Jew in the modern world. You might want to check it out, even if you're not a Jew, or even if you don't live in the modern world.

Where's Baltar's Test When You Need It?

Others have noted that John McCain may secretly be a cylon.

Well, now there's Huma Abedin, Hillary's Clinton's close aide. I've never seen her and President Laura Roslin's aide, Tory Foster, in the same room.

Down For The Count

I just caught the HBO movie Recount. It's a very entertaining retelling of the Florida 2000 election aftermath. I'd definitely recommend it.

Of course, it's partisan. The Republicans are often underhanded and cynical, and employ goons and thugs to get their way, while the Democrats are hard-working guys who just want to get at the truth. And when the Repubs raise an argument, the Dems are usually allowed to respond, while Dem arguments are treated as definitive.

But the person who has the most to complain about is Democrat Warren Christopher, who's seen as too ineffectual to fight against the cutthroat Republicans. (Democrats often depict themselves this way--as losing because they're too decent.) Katherine Harris is pilloried, but her portrayal is such a caricature that I don't think anyone will take it seriously. (And those who would have already made up their minds, anyway). It actually hurts the movie. As odd as Harris may have seemed in real life, she's the only character in Recount who comes across as fictional.

One thing I don't get. The film has a Raiders Of The Lost Ark ending, where we see boxes and boxes of uncounted votes, sitting in a warehouse. Can't the show at least recognize a newspaper consortium looked at the ballots and determined if the Supreme Court had not ended the recount that Bush would have won.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Make It Stop

The latest Newsweek cover story: "Obama, Race And Us." Yet another thumbsucker on the subject. I thought the whole point was Obama would help us transcend race. It'd almost be worth voting for him if it would mean an end to these pieces.

Something Old, Something New

There are a lot of outrageous moments in the new Indiana Jones film, but nothing more unbelievable than when Indy, in 1957, says "same old same old."

But I hear they cut some worse anachronisms in editing. For instance, when Indy's on the nuclear testing sight, he says "dat's da bomb," when he meets Mutt he says "who's your daddy?," when he first sees Marion he goes "schwing!" and when he sees all the ancient artifiacts he exclaims "check out the dope bling-bling, dawg."

Courage

Alexander Courage has died. He wrote the Star Trek theme. Or sure, he did a lot more, but that one melody is more famous than everything else he did put together.

Not many people know the Gene Roddenberry lyric. Here it is--feel free to hum along.

Beyond the rim of the star-light
My love is wand'ring in star-flight
I know he'll find in star-clustered reaches
Love, strange love a star woman teaches
I know his journey ends never
His STAR TREK will go on forever
But tell him while he wanders his starry sea
Remember, remember me

(Actually, it's pretty inappropriate to reprint this in a tribute to Courage, who hated Star Trek's producer for writing a lyric, since he thought it was no good (he's got a point there) and it meant forever after he and Rodenberry would split the royalties.)

Serve The Servants

No matter who's President next year, one thing is clear. They both believe we should support something higher than ourselves--themselves. And their fans can't get enough. They want a new ethos of self-sacrifice in the directions they support. As two progressive supporters of Obama wrote: "True patriots believe that freedom from responsibility is selfishness; freedom from sacrifice is cowardice; freedom from tolerance is prejudice; freedom from stewardship is exploitation; and freedom from compassion is cruelty."

I see others have picked up on this message, but no one has noted it more eloquently than Matt Welch at Reason:

Lord, how I despise every inch of this conversation. There is something juvenile yet creepy [...] with the spectacle of people who wake up in the morning dreaming up new ways to draw the precise boundaries around what it means to be sufficiently patriotic. [...] And there's something both authoritarian and myopic with the bizarre notion, mouthed constantly by politicians, that the most authentic manifestations of patriotism are military service, government employment, and "community organizing"... as opposed to say, hitchhiking around the Americas, or getting (maybe even creating!) a damned job doing something you love. As for pining for presidential candidates to wow the nation with calls to sacrifice that you yourself will never make...I'm sure there's a word for that, but it sure the fuck ain't "patriotic."

Together, Whatever

Patti LuPone was on Wednesday's Good Morning America with Gypsy co-stars Laura Benanti and Boyd Gaines. As you'd expect, they did "Together, Wherever We Go" since it's the only song with all three.

They performed the rarely heard third chorus, but had a new finish. Originally, it ends

ALL: We go in a group/ We tour in a troupe
We land in the soup but we know
The things we do, we do by threes/ A perfect team—
ROSE: No this way Louise!/ Together
HERBIE & LOUISE: Wherever
ALL: Together wherever we go!

Instead it was

HERBIE: When the audience boos
LOUISE: We don't drop our cues
ROSE: We always can use what they throw/ the fruit may fly but why complain?
HERBIE & LOUISE: tomato sauce goes great with chow mein
ROSE: Together
HERBIE & LOUISE: Wherever
ALL: Together wherever we go

I doubt they performed a special lyric just for GMA, so I assume this is the version they do on stage. The question is did Sondheim write it? And did he write it just for this production? I find it hard to believe they'd replace his words with another's. But when I saw Bernadette Peters in the 2003 Gypsy they were still singing the original lyric. And if it is Sondheim, why did he add an extra syllable right at the start--that's not his style.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"Watch What You Want"

Before you read any further, try to determine what message that title is trying to convey. OK here's the background - I picked up an old pen in the office with the words above appearing in black letters against a yellow background with no further information.

Without anything to judge it against, I thought it might mean the following:

  1. An admonitory warning like "Be careful what you wish for." I thought maybe this was from a religious organization or some "live lightly" eco-friendly group telling people they want the wrong things or should want less.
  2. An advertisement for a luxury goods shopping or celebrity channel designed to let people gawk at things they desire but can never afford - a sort of updated "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous"
  3. Intentionally meaningless or provocative post-modern gibberish (like those buttons they sell in underground record stores "US Out of North America!""Support Chocolate Chip Cookies")
  4. Something to do with selling watches but that was a harder fit.
Context is everything. Actually #2 was the closest- I found another pen where the business address hadn't rubbed off- it was for a local video/DVD rental place (somebody in the office must have a relative taking home pens). Also the phrase had an exclamation mark at the of it which I hadn't seen. So mundane and obvious now- I liked it better with the mystery.

Old Friends

The New York Times often has ideological opponents review political books. It can make for lively criticism, but just as often degenerates into caviling.

For instance, here's Victor Navasky reviewing two books dealing with William F. Buckley. He starts out claiming, as editors of political magazines, they're actually brothers under the skin:

Let me explain: I despised Buckley’s rationalizing role during the McCarthy period, his early and arrogant opposition to integration, his radical conservatism and all the rest, but a part of me identified with his struggles as the proprietor of his little money-losing journal of opinion. (Despite Buckley’s commitment to free enterprise, which would have ordained an early death for National Review, he often excused his annual appeal for support by observing, “You don’t expect the church to make a profit, do you?”)

As the above quote exemplifies, there's little fraternal feeling in the review. Even his parenthetical remark undercuts what little positive he has to say about Buckley.

I wouldn't mind if Navasky had a bigger view of things, but his complaints are generally petty. Perhaps the Times thought they'd get fireworks. Instead they got carping.

Race To The Bottom

For 14 years, the law has been that a child's adoption can't be delayed or denied based on race or nationality. Sounds good to me, but this riles people who feel race should play a central part in our decisions.

So a new report from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, an advocacy group, claims we're not helping kids when we fail to take these factors into account. This was manna to a bunch of groups who couldn't wait to sign on--the Child Welfare League of America, the Adoption Exchange Association, the National Association of Black Social Workers and Voice for Adoption and the Foster Care Alumni of America.

But even accepting the advocacy group's evidence, they don't seem to have identified a major problem. As The New York Times notes, "[t]he report points out that transracial adoption itself does not produce psychological or other social problems in children, but that these children often face major challenges as the only person of color in an all-white environment, trying to cope with being different."

So they have trouble coping with being different. Like most kids, one way or another.

Here's a spokesperson from the Adoption Institute: "The idea of being color-blind is great, and we’d all like to get there. But the reality is that we live in a very race-conscious society, and that needs to be addressed.” So it's the same solution as always. Our society is too race conscious, so let's pay more attention to race.

The fact is, black kids are disproportionately represented in the pool of potential adoptees. Because of the de-emphasis on race, more are being adopted. If the law were changed, I strongly question if it would be in the best interests of minority children.

Blowout

Here's the opening of an article about the possibility of a McCain victory:

It sounds crazy at first. Amid dire reports about the toxic political environment for Republican candidates and the challenges facing John McCain, many top GOP strategists believe he can defeat Barack Obama—and by a margin exceeding President Bush’s Electoral College victory in 2004.

Bigger than Bush's electoral victory? I would hope so. Bush's win was paltry. It all came down to one close state, Ohio. True blowouts, like LBJ, Nixon II and Reagan II, don't depend on one state, or five states, or even ten states.

The piece goes on to say:

McCain could actually surpass Bush’s 35-electoral-vote victory in 2004. Though they expect he would finish far closer to Obama in the popular vote, the thinking is that he could win by as many 50 electoral votes.

As many as 50? Here are the electoral margins of victory in some non-blowout elections of modern times:

1968: Nixon by 110

1976: Carter by 57

1980: Reagan by 440 (okay, it wasn't close, but I still read leftists claiming it was no blowout)

1992: Clinton by 202

1988: Bush by 315

Winning by 50 or less is a hair's breadth.

I have no idea who will win, or by how much, but since both candidates have odd appeal, it's not hard to imagine that someone could take off and win by more than 100 electoral votes.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sydney Pollack

Syndey Pollack has just died of cancer. I hadn't even heard he was ill.

He started as an actor but soon moved into directing, first on TV, then in movies. He was a highly respected helmer who specialized in drama but whose best movie was a comedy. He was also known for working well with big stars.

One of his earliest films is The Property Is Condemned (1966), which starred Robert Redford, who would become Pollack's favorite star. In 1969 he made his first really good film, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, a dark film about desperate people in a dance marathon during the Depression.

In the 70s, he became a strong commercial force with Redford hits such as Jeremiah Johnson (1972), The Way We Were (1973), Three Days Of The Condor (1975) and The Electric Horseman (1979). These films also features big names like Barbra Streisand, Faye Dunaway and Jane Fonda. Other actors he worked with around these years were Robert Mitchum, Al Pacino and Paul Newman.

Then, in 1982, he made his biggest hit by far, and the film he deserves to be remembered for, Tootsie. The story is pretty simple--an unemployed actor pretends to be a woman to get a role on a soap opera and falls in love with its leading lady. You'd think after Charley's Aunt and Some Like It Hot, there weren't many original variations to be wrung out of cross-dressing, but somehow this film manages to go from one hilarious scene to the next, and never lose sight of the heart behind the farce. He and star Dustin Hoffman fought over many things, but it was a fruitful collaboration. It also helped that they had a number of good writers, including Larry Gelbart, Murray Schisgal and Elaine May.

While Hoffman holds the film together, Tootsie is a banquest of great supporting performances. Jessica Lange (who won the film's only Oscar) as the love interest, Teri Garr as the spurned friend, Bill Murray as the sardonic roommate, George Gaynes as the soap's ham, Dabney Coleman as the arrogant director, Charles Durning as Lange's amorous father, and Sydney Pollack as Hoffman's agent. Pollack, who hadn't acted in over two decades, was wooed by Hoffman to play the part, and he's magnificent. It's not stunt casting, he really pulls off the frustration and madness of his scenes, which are some of the funniest in the film.

Pollack's next film, Out Of Africa (1985), was his most honored, winning seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. I admit I find it tough going, and certainly too long. Meryl Streep, showing off a new accent, is fine, but Robert Redford grates as the great white hunter with modern, new-agey feelings.

Pollack's career would never again reach the heights of this one-two punch. His next film, Havana (1990), sort of a Casablanca set in Cuba during the revolution, was a disastrous miscalculation. Starring Robert Redford as a (too old) playboy and gambler, the film thuds along where it wants to be romantic. It was an expensive flop. Pollack rebounded a bit with a Tom Cruise hit, John Grisham's The Firm (1993), but no one would claim it's much more than a professionally done thriller. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

The last few movies he made didn't do much to burnish his reputation either--Harrison Ford in Sabrina (1995) and Random Hearts (1999), and Senn Penn and Nicole Kidman in The Interpreter (2005). In fact, the revival of Pollack's acting career in the 90s is probably more interesting. He did fine work in films such as Woody Allen's Husbands And Wives (1992) and Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut (1999). He also appeared in guest shots on a number of TV shows, including Frasier, Will & Grace and The Sopranos. Just last year he got positive reviews for his scenes with George Clooney in Michael Clayton. He's even in a film out right now--Made Of Honor. I hadn't planned on seeing it, but maybe I'll check it out now. Or maybe I'll just stay home and watch Tootsie again on DVD--I think he'd want it that way.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Best President, The Worst President -- Same Guy?

My life is so much simpler when the Bush administration takes positions that are blatantly wrong, if not actively destructive of our Constitutional protections. Special shout-out to the federal judge who "questioned why there was such anxiety over the policy. After all, there have been no mass roundups of citizens and no indications the White House is coming for innocent Americans next." Dude, you fail at history.

But then I'm listening to NPR and hear about how that same administration is considering creating "some of the largest marine reserves in the world — far larger than national parks like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon." As a scuba diver who has seen the degradation our few U.S. coral reefs have suffered during my lifetime, this would be almost indescribably happy news.

Talk about your intense ambivalence....

Wax That Moustache

In the latest Pringle's ad, the Pringle's guy does some disco dancing. I remember a few years back a Pringle's commerical used "I Put A Spell On You," and in another, rap.

Now we all know what Mr. Julius Pringle (sometimes called Julius Pringles) looks like, and sorry, but he should not be associated with any music except barbershop quartets.

Format Wars

Both Leno and Letterman seem to have an unbreakable rule that they end the show with a music act. Does it have to be this way? Why not put the act in the middle, occasionally? Or maybe have no music and end with some stand-up. I'm tired of the formula.

Idealogy

There's a common belief these days that the Republicans are out of ideas and that's why they're in such trouble. Not just liberals are saying this--conservatives seem to believe it.

Nonsense. Whether or not they have new ideas, I can't say, but that's not why they're going to take a beating this November. It's simply because the public is unhappy about how things are going, and blame the Republicans. If the war were over and the economy humming, the Republicans would be sitting pretty.

It's not new ideas that are called for. And all the rebranding in the world won't help, either. What they need is to fix these problems. Of course, since these things, for the most part, aren't under their control, they're pretty much screwed.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Dick Martin

Dick Martin, half of Rowan & Martin, has just died. (Rowan died 20 years ago). Though Martin made a career for himself as a TV director starting in the late 70s, it's as the sillier, wilder, dumber half of R&W that he'll be remembered.

The two formed a comedy team in the early 50s, but didn't reach national fame until the late 60s. They did star in a pretty bad comedy western in 1958, Once Upon A Horse, but no one noticed. (If you ever do see it, check out a young Mary Tyler Moore as one of the showgirls.) Not unlike The Maltese Bippy (1969), made at the height of their celebrity, the film had them playing characters and all but ignored their stage personae. (A mistake never made by their original inspiration, Martin & Lewis.) Dick also had a recurring role on The Lucy Show in the early 60s, but mostly played it straight, and was little more than window dressing.

Then, in 1968, the duo started hosting Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In on NBC. (Good thing it was them or the title wouldn't have worked.) It was a national phenomenon, shooting to the top of the ratings. It's hard to describe the fast-moving, colorful, loosely-structured mix of sketches, sight gags, out-takes, go-go girls and production numbers. It captured the zeitgeist, somehow mixing the new and old, the hippies and the borscht belt. (The title was a nod to the Be-In.) It was "now" but it was palatable.

It also managed to be political without taking sides. In fact, the producer George Schlatter was a Nixon man, and many credit Nixon's humanizing appearance on the show as a decisive factor in his becoming President. (Meanwhile, the Smothers Brothers on CBS were truly political, and got canceled for their trouble.)

The show introduced a bunch of new stars, such as Goldie Hawn and Lily Tomlin, and a ton of new catchphrases: Sock It To Me, Here Comes The Judge, Look That Up In Your Funk And Wagnalls, You Bet Your Bippy, Very Interesting and others. Nothing like it had ever been on prime time.

It hasn't dated well. Not only is a lot of the comedy topical, but the hipness is long gone, revealing the jokes to be, generally, second-rate. What holds up best, in fact, are Rowan and Martin: Rowan, the suave, smart one--sort of a mix of Dean Martin and Bud Abbott--and Dick, a clear descendant of Gracie Allen ("Say Goodnight, Dick"), only a bit more sly. They did excellent cross-talk routines that make me wish I could have seen their nightclub act.

The show ended after six seasons and the two went their separate ways in 1977, with Rowan all but disappearing from show biz. Martin, however, in addition to taking up directing, kept working in front of the camera. In the 80s he was a regular on game shows and in the 90s did guest shots on shows such as Coach, 3rd Rock From The Sun and The Nanny. He was a genial presence, but I always felt someone was meant to be standing to his right.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

There You Go Again

The LA Times has a history of front page pieces where they interpret their own polls in highly partisan and misleading ways. I was going to note this with a recent poll on gay marriage, but I see Patterico has beaten me to it.

PS And once again, Kaus links.

PPS And Volokh picks up on it, too.

Hello, Goodbye

I stumbled across another sister blog (i.e., one that shares our template), Assorted Lunatics, though it looks like AL moved onto bigger and better things a year ago.

Is Blogging Undignified Too?

An interesting discussion from Steven Pinker on the (mis)use of dignity in ethical arguments.

By the way, the President can choose his Council on Bioethics, but if he picks a one-sided group, it makes it that much easier to ignore them.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Line of the Day

In response to this post, Glenn Reynolds replies:

"Well, there's more to manliness than where you put your wingwang."

Well said, well spoken.

Soul Man

Stuck in traffic today, I noticed the bumper sticker on the Civic in front of me: "Sell Your Luxury SUV/ Buy Back Your Soul!!!"

Seems to me it's the owner of the Honda that needs to do a little soul-searching.

Life Imitates Art

When we last left Entourage, Vinnie was playing a famous, violent, Spanish-speaking killer in an art/action movie that laid an egg at Cannes.

Now the big talk at the real Cannes Film Festival is Che, the Steven Soderbergh film starring Benicio Del Toro as a famous, violent Spanish-speaking killer, and, if you go by Todd McCarthy's pan in Variety, it's laid an egg, too. (To be fair, the film has many champions.)

Lost Numbers

The Lostpedia notes in its "Bloopers and continuity errors" section on the "Cabin Fever" episode that

[t]he single of "Everyday" by Buddy Holly and the Crickets [which Emily, Locke's mother, listens to not long before giving birth] was recorded in May of 1957 and not released until September 1957, over one year after Locke's birthdate of May 30, 1956.

A simple oversight, I suppose. But this week when they replayed "Cabin Fever" with pop-up information, they said Buddy Holly died in 1958. Actually, he died in 1959, so I guess this proves that Lost takes place in a universe same as ours, except one year earlier.

Tangled Webb

Senator Jim Webb (whom I'd have guessed is on Obama's short list) has made some waves for saying the following regarding Barack's lack of support among some white voters:

We shouldn't be surprised at the way they are voting right now. This is the result of how affirmative action, which was basically a justifiable concept when it applied to African-Americans, expanded to every single ethnic group in America that was not white. And these were the people who had not received benefits and were not getting anything out of it.

I question if this is what's affecting the voters, but in any case I don't think Webb's distinction is sustainable. Webb is trying to split the difference, saying it's acceptable to take the race of African-Americans into account, but not anyone else's race, ethnicity or sex. Seems to me once you get in the business of noticing these things, there's no clear line regarding where you have to stop.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Cup

I accidentally had to watch a hockey game the other night (a crowd of bulky guys crowd around the goalie and then everyone throws their hands in the air-GOAL!- I don't get why it never took off as a TV sport) and discovered that my home town team is in the Stanley Cup finals (featuring former Lewiston MAINEiac and pride of the Quebec Major Junior League and now a star of a junior major sport, Sidney Crosby) against LA guy's home town team, the Red Wings. While we are not known as Pittsburgh Guy and Detroit Guy these days, a little badinage about the respective rust belt burgs we fled is in order.

Here
is a fine comparison of the two city's relative merits from the City of Champions' perspective.
(Notwithstanding hometown loyalty, however, I make no claims about Donnie Iris being in a league with Iggy Pop although I do agree "Ann Arbor" would be a good name for a porn actress)

Best quote I read somewhere from a Pitstburgher who went to the 2006 Super Bowl- something like "I like Detroit, they're just like Cleveland but they don't try to lord it over us."

Finally, Some Excitement

Okay, I admit I was shocked when Cook beat Archuleta, but it was still a long two hours waiting for that moment. (Actually, I spent most of the time watching the Lost reruns, getting ready for next week's big finale.)

Welcome Back

The word is in--it doesn't stink!

Good to see you again, Indy.

Off Track

Really polls don't matter too much right now for the general election. You shouldn't even look at them till after Labor Day. But because Drudge linked to this Reuters poll that has Obama with a bigger lead than usual over McCain, 48-40, millions may think this is a useful snap shot of the race.

I saw the poll, too (even before Drudge linked), which I guess means I don't take my own advice. But even as an indication of how things are now, I quickly realized this poll isn't very useful. As you can see from this listing of recent polls, Reuters/Zogby is not exactly in line with the others.

Look, for instance, at the Obama-Clinton matchup. Rassmussen tracking gives Obama an 8 point lead, Gallup tracking gives Obama an 11 point lead. Both these margins are a bit wider than usual, and may reflect the growing feeling that Obama's got the nomination sewn up. But now look at the Reuters poll--Obama has a 26 point lead over Clinton! Considering how badly Hillary has recently beat him in some major states, this number isn't plausible.

So I'd guess the Reuters poll, and perhaps the Reuters modeling, overestimates Obama's strength. The only question is by how much.

Does It Work In Theory?

I'm not sure when sitcoms started being serials, but maybe it was in the 80s with Cheers, where the central dramatic arc was whether Sam and Diane would get together. And the most famous and popular on-and-off relationship, which ran from beginning to end (way too long), was in the 90s between Ross and Rachel in Friends.

The latest sitcom a la soap is The Big Bang Theory, where the whole premise is will Leonard, a nerd, have a chance with Penny, the cutie next door. The finale ended with them going out. How will the date go? Guess we'll find out next season. Do I care? No. In fact, if they get run over by a bus, that might improve the series, since they're the two least compelling characters.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Making Waves

I've been meaning to comment on this for a while:

[Sean] Avery made headlines across the hockey world Sunday night when, during a 5-on-3 power play, he stood with his back to the play and waved his arms in front of Brodeur to distract the goalie. At another point, he also held his stick in front of Brodeur’s mask and waved the stick back and forth in another attempt at distraction.

Two things intrigue me about this:

1) What's wrong, Avery, a 5-3 advantage isn't enough?

2) In the 90 years of the NHL, why had no one thought of this before?

Who Will Win? Who Cares?

Here's an article that says what everyone is thinking--this season is American Idol's dullest. Part of it is simple fatigue. Few shows can last this long without taking on water.

But what counts most is singers with personality, and this year, they're a pretty dull bunch. And knowing David A. would make it to the end took away much of the suspense.

One disasgreement with the link--the theory put out is the "contestants" "were good but not memorable" which "made for mediocre television." I'd say if the singers weren't memorable, then they're not good.

Thumb On The Scale Law

This is something Barack Obama had to say about the Constitutional interpretation as quoted at The Volokh Conspiracy:

I think the Constitution can be interpreted in so many ways. And one way is a cramped and narrow way in which the Constitution and the courts essentially become the rubber stamps of the powerful in society. And then there’s another vision of the court [sic] that says that the courts are the refuge of the powerless. Because oftentimes they can lose in the democratic back and forth. They may be locked out and prevented from fully participating in the democratic process.

I don't want to read too much into what he said (to a highly politicizied audience), but whether you think the proper interpretation of the Constitution should be "cramped" or expansive, is it really a Justices' job, to favor one side or another, the powerful or the powerless (even assuming she can tell the difference)?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

We've Got A Situation

I just watched the Mary Tyler Moore Show reunion on Oprah. It wasn't the first MTM reunion I've seen, but it was the first time I thought while watching it that the grand tradition Mary started almost 40 years ago seems to have ground to a halt.

The 1970s was a great era for sitcoms, with Mary's being the best. For most years since then, sitcoms have been at or near the top of the ratings. But now the form is almost dead, and the few good sitcoms around are either one-camera (i.e., not live on tape) or animated.

I wonder what would it take to see a return to former glory? I can't say, but I'm pretty sure it starts with the writing.

Always Something There To Remind Me

When Obama recently said "We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times ... and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK", I felt I'd heard it before, though I wasn't sure if it was Jimmy Carter or Ban Ki-moon.

But when he said "Lay off my wife," there was only one person that could be--Bill Clinton.

House Closing

The penultimate episode of House's first season, "Three Stories," is a classic. It broke the format and was where we learned how House hurt his leg. The show deservedly won an Emmy for writing.

Trouble is, now House tries to top itself at the end of the every season, and come up with a story where some major life-changing event occurs. The regular episodes are usually better.

That's how I felt about the week's finale. We saw (spoiler alert) a recurring character, the calculating Amber, die. (Also, House went into a coma and Thirteen learned she had Huntington's.)

They shook things up a bit this season by bringing in new blood, and I applaud that. But big, operatic finales don't excite me, not if they're big just to be big.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Without so much as a tip of the cap to Bill Safire

Frank Rich's latest wholly-predictable op-ed did deliver one pretty good line about President Bush: "Now that his disapproval rating has reached the Nixon nadir of negativity, even a joyous familial ritual isn’t enough to make the country glad to see him."

Pretty good, that is, until you re-read the original Safire line that he's playing off of, as delivered by Spiro Agnew: "In the United States today, we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4-H Club -- the "hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history." Now that's some alliteratin'.

Slamming Doors

A revival of Boeing-Boeing just opened on Broadway. Well-reviewed, it's received six Tony nominations.

The play is a farce about a man who juggles relations with three different stewardesses in one apartment. In the 1960s it was a huge hit in both Paris and London, but flopped in New York. A recent hit revival in London was enough, however, to make the producers give it another shot on Broadway.

I recently watched the 1965 film version, starring Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis, which was not especially well-received. But even if it were better, there's invariably trouble adapting stage farce to film. What makes a farce work live is the split-second timing and sense of mounting hysteria. Having it canned, with numerous takes and editing, removes a certain sense of danger, the feeling that the whole thing may fall apart any second.

Another problem is with regular stage comedies, opening them up--adding scenes in other venues--doesn't necessarily hurt the mood, but what makes a stage farce so exciting (when done well) is seeing it all done at one time in one place. (That's the classical unities for ya.) Moving outside, or elsewhere, can kill your momentum.

I'm not saying no one should try to make films of good farces. I'm just saying they have to figure out some filmic equivalent to keep the pace going, and it's never easy.

New Jersey Love Affair

In the LA Times, David Green, a professor of history at Rutgers, reviews The Age Of Reagan by Sean Wilentz, a professor of history at Princeton, and it's a lovefest.

Green loves how "Wilentz is utterly fair" and "analytical" and "doesn't come off as partisan." For example, Wilentz focuses on three "challenges to the nation's constitutional order" since Watergate. And what are they? Iran-Contra, the Clinton impeachment and Bush v. Gore. Or as Greenberg puts it, "three right-wing power grabs." But that's not the whole "utterly fair" story, since, according to Greenberg, "each had a flip side of strong liberal resistance."

Here's Wilentz discussing Republicans in the Clinton years: they "established a new standard whereby the House might impeach a president for any alleged crime at all, so long as a majority of members saw fit to label it as a high crime." How's that for impartial analysis? I might have thought perjury and obstruction of justice were already high crimes. In fact, I'd be willing bet money Wilentz believed that before Clinton was elected, since Democrats have tried--and succeeded--in chasing Republicans out of office using such charges.

Or look at Greenberg quoting Wilentz on the Bush decision: "...the high court's short-circuiting of the effort to learn the election's actual winner amounted to a rejection of 'the basic American democratic principle that, messy as it might be, popular sovereignty is the bedrock of our political institutions'."

Hmm. I thought the Electoral College decided the election, regardless of the popular vote. Besides, don't we have another bedrock principle, which is that we follow the rules, and don't change how votes are counted after an election? And another thing that might be considered is after you've had a couple recounts, perhaps you shouldn't have yet another, especially when it amounts to partisans making judgment calls on a bunch of ballots.

Thank goodness Wilentz is impartial. Can you imagine what the book would be like it he weren't?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Where's The Office Pool?

There were some unexpected omissions, and an awful lot of British nominees, but, overall, the Tony nominations weren't too surprising.

The best face-off is Kelli O'Hara in South Pacific and Patti LuPone in Gypsy. Very reminiscent of the classic battle almost fifty years ago between Mary Martin in Sound Of Music and Ethel Merman in Gypsy. Martin, shockingly, won. I'm guessing they'll reverse the verdict this time around.

I can't see South Pacific losing best musical revival. (Compare the revivals to the new musical nominations--pretty sad.) I'd like to see Rock'n'Roll win for best play, but I don't think it's Stoppard's year.

Having seen too few of the productions it's hard to say much more, though I hear Patrick Stewart was spellbinding--perhaps Macbeth will be a lucky play for him.

Latest on BG

A few notes on Battlestar Galactica.

1) As reader Irene Done has noted, the show used to be about escaping from the Cylons and finding Earth. Now it's about finding all the Cylons to get to Earth.

2) As reader Lawrence King has noted, the problem with the show is the exact opposite of Star Trek: TOS. That show was about treating whole planets like small communities. BG is about treating what is essentially a small community in space as if it were a planet.

3) I don't need to hear Gaeta sing any more.

4) Boy, Sharon sure shoots people at inopportune moments.

5) I like that they're leading to some exciting moments, but I think they're getting there a little too slowly.

6) I can't be the first to notice how similar the Hybrid is to Samantha Morton in Minority Report.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Goodbye, Alyssa

Pretty odd and mostly unsatisfying finale for My Name Is Earl.

The show had a great premise--Earl has a list of bad things he's done and each week he rights an old wrong. It allows for a new plot without any further ado.

But I guess creator Greg Garcia wanted to mix things up, so this year he sent Earl to jail. It wasn't necessary, but the episodes weren't bad, as Earl did good deeds while incarcerated.

Then Earl got out, found his true love, Billie, got hit by a car and went into a coma. This twist wasn't as successful. While his friends tried to help him, and do good deeds from the list, he was stuck in an imaginary sitcom with an imaginery Billie (who, by the way, was also in a coma).

Next, he and Billie recover and, after a few problems are sorted out, get married. This was the worst idea yet. This isn't a domestic sitcom. So we had to wait around to see how they'd resolved the situation.

The final hour was pretty weird, and not in a good way. We saw Billie go from termagant to human agent of karma to psychotic to ascetic for no particularly good reason. At least when the series returns next year she'll be out of the picture.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Not Talking About People Who Will Talk To People We Shouldn't Talk To, Part Two

Maybe President Bush actually was criticizing both Obama and McCain for being willing to talk to the specific terrorism-sponsors that Bush doesn't want to talk to?*

*Not to be confused with the terrorism-sponsors and nuclear proliferators that Bush does want to talk to.

Pride Goeth

The nets have announced their fall schedule. Of course, these days, with all the competition, prime time doesn't mean what it once did.

Still, looking at it, I see something worth checking out (or zipping through, anyway), almost every night.

First, no Lost. That doesn't come till winter.

But I see on Monday The Big Bang Theory is back, as well as Heroes (they better snap out of their downward spiral, though).

Tuesday, House. (Eli Stone is back? How'd that happen?)

Wednesday, and Friday, there's Deal Or No Deal (which takes me about ten minutes to watch).

Thursday, while America watched big guns like Grey's Anatomy or CSI, I'll be checking out the NBC comedy night lineup of My Name Is Earl, 30 Rock and The Office. Against all odds, NBC has brought (semi) must see TV back.

Nothing on Saturday, but you should try to get out one night a week.

Sunday, you got The Simpsons and Family Guy.

I'll admit TV's a bad influence. Better to take a walk, or read a book. And I promise to do that--maybe in the half hour between The Simpsons and Family Guy.

Uncommon Law

By a 4-3 vote, the California Supreme Court has declared a state ban on gay marriage is illegal. When I read this I immediately checked Eugene Volokh to see the slippery slope implications, and I wasn't disappointed.

The question here isn't whether gay marriage is a good idea or not, but whether the issue should be decided by judges or legislators. Of course, gender issues are so often constitutionalized I can't say the decision is a surprise.

Against The Odds

A rather condescending editorial about polling in the LA Times by philosophy professor Crispin Sartwell. While I favor anything that demystifies the process, Sartwell's main point seems to be that when pundits say one group--Latinos, soccer moms, evangelicals, whatever--is decisive in an election, actually, if it's close enough, a lot of groups are decisive.

Did anyone not get this already? It hardly means pointing out strong or weak support among certain groups is meaningless. (He's apparently unhappy so many are noting working-class whites seem to have a problem with Obama. Are we not supposed to mention this?)

Not Talking About People Who Will Talk To People We Shouldn't Talk To

President Bush, at the Knesset, spoke out against negotiating with "terrorists and radicals." It confers legitimacy on them without furthering our interests. "We have an obligation to call this what it is--the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."

Though he didn't mention anyone by name, Democrats reacted with fury. (And the linked CNNPolitics.com had no trouble saying in their headline this was a slam at the Dems.) Both Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi called on John McCain to denounce the statement. What exactly for? Because we should talk to terrorists, or because they don't like the implication that Dems--not including their former leader Jimmy Carter, who did it last month--would ever do that?

Barack Obama, called it a "false political attack" and that he has "never supported engagement with terrorists." He has, however, supported talking to Iran with no pre-conditions, so it sounds like it's only stateless supporters of terror he won't talk to. (Former Obama advisor Robert Malley favored meeting with Hamas. When it was discovered earlier this month he'd been in regular contact with them, he was let go.)

My guess is the Dems aren't mad so much as thrilled that they were attacked--scratch that--can claim they were attacked by an unpopular President. It's always easier to fight back against Bush than anything else.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

So Close

This is from a Michelle Malkin piece:

Barack Obama better hope his bitter half has a change of attitude if she expects to assume the title of first lady in November. She's been likened to John Kennedy's wife, what with her chic suits and pearls and perfectly coiffed helmet hair. But when she opens her mouth, Michelle O is less Jackie O and more Wendy W - as in Wendy Whiner, the constantly kvetching "Saturday Night Live" character from the early 1980s.

What rotten parallel structure--Michelle O and Jackie O, only to let us down with Wendy W. And what makes it all the more painful is I was sure she was setting us up for a discourse on how Barack Obama's wife is just like Wendy O. Williams.

No Wordplay In This Headline

The front page headline in the LA Times said digging out from the earthquake in China would be a "Herculean task." A rather Western term for an eastern problem, seemed to me.

Lower down, the second story on the quake said this was also an "opportunity." This seemed to be a nod toward the old (and incorrect) saw about "crisis" in Chinese being made up of the words for "danger" and "opportunity."It not only seemed a bit of a stretch, but even untoward, considering how grave the situation is. (It could have been worse. The could have written "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On'.)

A Night Out East

I went to Pasadena to see Matt Welch, editor of Reason, give a speech on his book about John McCain. Matt talked about the many myths of John McCain--for instance, how he has the "Straight Talk Express," but prevaricates as much as any politician, or how he's painted as a man who won't take us rashly into war but, after having seen the light about a decade ago, has been a leader in supporting preemptive strkes. McCain, he explained, isn't especially ideological. The one point he cares about most, no matter how it's expressed, is that we should live for something bigger than our petty self-interest. That wouldn't be so bad if it didn't mean that McCain wants to have the government take care of this problem for us.

He predicted Obama would win the election, but then said he's always wrong about these things

I went out with Matt and his wife Emannuelle (who is seven months pregnant) afterward. Matt is glad to see Obama versus McCain--not because he's thrilled that we've got two big government candidates, but because it at least represents an unusually stark choice. Matt, as you might guess, is no great fan of McCain. He admits the best argument for him is gridlock.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Same Twenty Nine Percent?

According to the latest Rasmussen poll, 29% of Democrats say Hillary should make an independent bid for president if [cough, when, cough] she loses the nomination. "I'm John McCain, and I approve this message."

I wonder how much overlap there is between that 29% and the 29% who approve of Bush's presidency. I mean, is it not possible that 29% of polled Americans just like to make stuff up to jerk pollsters around?

But Is He Funnier?

Mike Myers will soon be out with The Love Guru. Isn't this the same character as Conan O'Brien's "The Interruptor"?

But How Does It Taste?

I recently saw an ad for McDonald's new (to me, anyway) "Southern style chicken sandwich." I've only been to Chick-fil-A once (they don't have any within a 20 mile radius), but isn't this a blatant rip-off of their signature chicken sandwich?

Uh Oh

A lot of economic conservatives have enough trouble voting for McCain already, but now there are rumors he'll pick Mike Huckabee as his running mate. Isn't that just telling them he's taking them for granted?

Universal Problem

After the old one served me well for three years, I had to get a new universal remote. I'm sure I'll eventually get used to it, but for now I'm all thumbs. Right is left, up is down. It's like speaking a new language.

Blow Out Before The Bow Out

West Virginia isn't exactly Florida. Still, how must Obama and his supporters feel, losing to Hillary by more than 40 points. It's too late to deny him the nomination, but if he can't do better than that it doesn't bode well for nearby states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Will Permission for Dirty Dancing Be Next?

Apparently a Vatican official has stated that its OK for Catholics to believe in extraterrestrials.

Of course, the interesting part was the rationale:

[The Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory] said that ruling out the existence of aliens would be like "putting limits" on God's creative freedom.
Uh-oh . Wasn't imposing limits rather the point of the whole enterprise?

Swing High, Swing Low

No one thinks the Hillary blowout today in West Virginia will mean much, but if nothing else, it'll help people calibrate their polls.

Mano A Mano

Both My Name Is Earl and A Prairie Home Companion recently punned on the term "mano a mano." Unfortunately, the puns were based on the idea that the term means "man to man," when it actually means "hand to hand."

Man To Man

David Denby enjoyed Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay. So did I. He compares the team to a post-racial Abbott & Costello. It's a weak analogy, since Abbot was a fast-talking con man trying to exploit his partner, while Harold is more exasperated than anything else. Costello was more confused and troubled, while Kumar is the opposite. A better comparison would be they're a post-racial Amos and Andy, if such a thing is possible.

Sold American

Interesting story in the LA Times about naming films. I often wonder how much titles make a difference in the gross. My guess is less than the "experts" think--I think the movie makes the title. It'd be easy enough to check. Just release a major film under two different titles in two comparable cities.

In accompanying captions only available in the paper copy, they compare successful titles versus unsuccessful ones by using after-the-fact justifications. One of their examples is the hit American Gangster, where they say: "American" plus almost anything sounds cool. See also American Graffiti, American Splendor, etc.

Actually, "American" can lend a generic feel to the title (plus may not play well overseas). In 1992 we had American Heart and American Me. Remember either? American Gangster--which will not be long remembered anyway--was a hit because it had a great trailer and two major stars. American Splendor (a minor indie success at best) is an ironic title taken from Harvey Pekar's comic, and doesn't really say much about the film. Oddest of all, they bring up American Graffiti, a gigantic hit, but one of the most confusing and misleading titles of all time, which George Lucas had to fight to keep. If it hadn't been the early 70s, he probably would have lost that fight.

Oy!

Obama versus McCain will open up different states that weren't much in play last election. Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, Wisconsin and others might change their color.

But, if it's close, and it sure is close now, it'll still likely come down to a handful of swing states. And the biggest of these by far is the fourth-most populous state, Florida. It'll be hard for Obama to win the election without taking the Sunshine State.

According to the latest polls, Hillary beats McCain in Florida, while Obama loses.

There are a number of reasons, and one of them is that Obama doesn't get the same level of Jewish support. Why mention this? Because despite what a lot of paranoid people around the world believe, Jews have very little say in our national elections. There are only six million or so in the U.S., and about two-thirds of them congregate in four states--New York, New Jersey, California and, of course, Florida.

Since the first three states are safely Democrat, the Jews hardly make a difference there. But if they turn away from Obama in Florida, that matters. In the last four Presidential elections, they've voted 75% to 80% Dem. A drop to 60% could be devastating.

That's why I expect Barack to spend a lot of time (he's already started, some would say) and money rebranding himself.

Monday, May 12, 2008

All The Way

Reminder: First class stamps are now 42 cents. Get new one penny stamps, unless you already got "first-class forever" stamps. Or just use email.

This Is The Question

In the latest Battlestar Galactica, Baltar, preaching over the radio , mentions "the undiscovered country."

I suppose it's possible he came up with it on his own, but it sure seems more likely, though he's never been to Earth, that he was quoting either Shakespeare or Star Trek.

Fair Trade

There are rumors that Barry Bonds might go to the Tigers. I personally think that would be cool.

Too Much Life

I was listening to This American Life--an excellent hourlong piece on the housing crisis--in my car. When I got home, I turned on the TV and there was Ira Glass again, on Showtime.

There's no rule that say you can't have a radio show and a TV show, but now that I've been catching both, I'd have to say if it's too much work, Ira, quit TV.

Reason To Believe

Barack Obama, in what I assume is a pivot toward the center now that he figures he's got the nomination sewn up, is denying he ever said he'd meet with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unconditionally. Of course, as other blogs have noted, he did this very thing in front of millions of people. So which Obama to believe?

In these cases, I tend to accept the latest pander, unless there's a reason to think he decided to tell the truth at any given time (in particular, if it's a statment made off the cuff, or in private, or against interest). Same goes for McCain, of course, or any politician.

PS I would not accept as a tie-breaker anything on the candidate's website. (Obama's still claims on his he'd meet without preconceptions.) There's no reason to believe the candidate wrote any of it, or even read it.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Roger That

Here's Roger Ebert on David Mamet's Redbelt:

It never really pulls itself together into the convincing, focused drama it promises, yet it kept me involved right up until the final scenes, which piled on developments almost recklessly. So gifted is Mamet as a writer and director that he can fascinate us even when he's pulling rabbits out of an empty hat

This encapsulates the problem with many film critics (who gave Redbelt a 70 positive score at Rotten Tomatoes) and Mamet. They're so impressed with his theatrical credentials that they put up with ridiculous plots and dialogue that would guarantee a thumbs down from anyone else.

A Little More Lost

"Cabin Fever" was a good episode, but (Lost spoilers coming up):

1) More eyes.

2) Locke is still my favorite character, but I don't like how others are watching over him and giving him advice. It makes him weaker, as if he's not the one controlling his destiny. It also makes his adventures on the island less, not more, important, since they're not based on what he decides to do. (Very similar to how Lucas weakened the original Star Wars movies by having everything planned and everyone close together from the start int he prequels. Lost is halfway to having midi-chlorians.) I have similar problems with the inability of Michael to be killed, since this cuts down on free will.

3) Doug Hutchison made such an impression on me as Percy Wetmore in The Green Mile that it's hard for me not to think of that when he plays Horace.

4) Interesting to see Hurley and Ben speaking to each other, since these are the two who spin their dialogue the most.

5) I don't know who'll survive the finale (actually, I do know some of them), but I'd guess the shortened season considerably hurt the parts played by Fisher Stevens and Zoe Bell.

6) Michael sent a message to Desmond and Sayid not to trust the Captain. Looks like he was wrong.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Zat So?

Here's an odd statement from Concurring Opinions:

When Bush v. Gore was decided in December of 2000, everyone thought it was a hugely significant case.

No, they didn't. Sure it was important in that the Supreme Court took a case dealing with an ongoing (when it was supposed to be over) Presidential election, but as law, I don't recall anyone saying it was significant. In fact, the Court itself stated due to the circumstances it was a one-off with no precedential value.

The Pick

The talk among Dems now is will Hillary be Obama's pick for Veep? My guess is she'd take the offer, so the question is will Obama extend it.

Sure, you might think he'd choose someone who appeals more to the center, and has military experience, like Jim Webb. But the smart money says Hillary, since she's got tremendous popularity among some sectors, and those sectors just happen to be the ones Obama needs to shore up.

Now let's assume Obama hates Hillary, and that he's a prickly type. Even so, I think he'd choose her. Heck, they're not getting married (make up your own joke about Bill and Hillary), it's just a hook-up of political convenience. If he's elected, he doesn't have to talk to her any more. And probably wouldn't.

They'll Burn Down Twice As Many Houses

I grew up in Detroit, a real sports city, with major league baseball, football, basketball and hockey. We'd have big winners every now and then, but I don't ever recall two teams having a shot at the championship at the same time.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Summer (Movie) Lovin'

Okay, here's my top 5, in no particular order:

Indy 4
Iron Man
Narnia: Prince Caspian
Wall-E
Dark Knight

After that, the crystal ball gets a bit murky. Hancock, The Happening, Wanted, and Zohan should do well. The Mummy sequel will probably round out the top 10, with a possible nod to a sleeper like Tropic Thunder or Pineapple Express.

I agree with LAGuy that most of the other big summer releases (Sex and the City, Speed Racer, Hulk, Get Smart, Mamma Mia!, X-Files, Love Guru, etc.) will do less than expected. And after watching the Kung Fu Panda trailer, I see it as this year's Surf's Up.

All in all, I don't see any box-office records this summer.

Mahmoud the Clown

Israel turns 60 and Ahmadinejad gets all frothy:

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad here on Thursday labeled the Zionist regime as a "stinking corpse" and said those who think they can revive the corpse of this fabricated and usurper regime are in mistaken.
Lambasting the 60th anniversary of establishment of the Zionist regime, he said those who attend such a shameful ceremony should bear in their mind that their names will be listed as Zionist criminals.

Oh, Mahmoud, you're such a kidder!

Could Be Worse

Over in Tucson, vandals are messing with the city's red-light cameras. While I don't approve, as vandalism goes, this is about as good as it gets.

Typical

Some have wondered if Barack Obama was an "affirmative action" hire for the Harvard Law Review. I doubt it, and I don't care anyway. But here's what he had to say about it:

I have no way of knowing whether I was a beneficiary of affirmative action either in my admission to Harvard or my initial election to the Review. If I was, then I certainly am not ashamed of the fact, for I would argue that affirmative action is important precisely because those who benefit typically rise to the challenge when given an opportunity.
But that's the problem with raced-based preferences. The beneficiaries don't "typically" rise to the challenge--not at the same levels as those who would have been chosen otherwise. What's typical here is Obama employing liberal happy talk, the kind that prevents serious dicussion of the issue.

Dems Demos

The Tuesday primaries showed a starkly polarized Democratic party. Obama got 90+ of the black vote, Hillary 60+ of the white vote.

Really the results were no different from what we saw in Pennsylvania. Obama seems to be a weaker candidate than he was a month ago. (Hillary is obviously weaker than she was a few months ago. She used to get widespread African-American support. Could it be Bill Clinton's remarks in South Carolina that so offended the black community were the turning point?) He has strong support from blacks, and solid support from elite whites and the youngest voters, but even after tremendously outspending his opponent, he still lost by large margins with whites in general.

No doubt, though, once he officially sews up the nomination, the Dems will rally 'round. Exit polls showed one in five Hillary voters would choose McCain over Obama, but that number should heal quickly. In fact, practically his only job from this point on is reaching out to those voters, and a few Independents and Republicans in the center.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

"Livin' La Vida Loca," "Beat It," "Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree," "Hello, Dolly" "How High The Moon" And That's Just For Today

Here's a cool website that I'll be checking out a lot. Find out what song was #1 at any date for the past century+.

Within Shouting Distance Of Chicago

Some people are trying to claim dirty vote-counting in Lake County, Indiana, but I don't think it'll fly. Thank goodness this is between Democrats--if it was Dems versus Repubs, we'd never hear the end of it.

About Time

Let me congratulate the Dead Kennedys, whose 1987 album Give Me Convenience Or Give Me Death has finally gone gold. (Note Daughtry has sold eight times as much in one-tenth the time.)

1461 Days

It was just about over before Tuesday, so what is it now?

Anyway, I remember how I felt four years ago--it didn't seem either candidate offered much. Except I consider both McCain and Obama far worse than either Bush or Kerry. It's so odd that Obama (and to a much lesser extent, McCain) gives rise to optimism. Sure, since his campaign is based on empty cliches ("Change we can believe in," anyone?) and little of substance, it's possible he'll be a big surprise. Trouble is, it's doubtful the surprise will be positive.

There is one hope I cling to--that the country runs itself, and a President can only do so much. (Though he sure can do a lot more with a pliant Congress. It's sad when you're rooting for gridlock, but it won't be the first time.)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Sign of the Times

Last night when I filled up, I noticed a new sign above the gas gauge: "Contains 10% Ethanol". I asked the attendant about it and she said they'd just been put up yesterday.

Anybody else seeing these at the pump now?

Congratulations Dittoheads

Obama has attributed Clinton's squeaker in Indiana to Rush Limbaugh's mindless minions intentionally screwing with the nominating process. Interfering with another party's nominating process is more than a bit tasteless, but not quite like wasting your actual vote. Besides, an open primary is an open primary, and letting independents vote has certainly benefited Obama elsewhere. In the end it won't matter -- she's as toasted as the neighbor in There's Something About Mary. The only question left now is after which primary Hillary will shout "the Black Knight always triumphs!"

No Love

According to TV Guide, Jennifer Love Hewitt is the "Sexiest Woman On TV." Huh?

It's A Gas

Clinton and McCain have both backed a gas tax holiday. It's a cheap stunt, and I think most people recognize it as such. Nevertheless, it's small potatoes compared to the bigger energy issues--which I don't see any candidate seriously addressing.

Summer Will Be A Little Early This Year

I guess I better start making some predictions about the big summer films before it's too late. (I expect Vermont Guy might join in as well.) After all, with Iron Man's huge opening, it's already the film to beat.

So let me go over the major releases of the next few months and guess how well they'll do. I admit the whole exercise is silly, because despite what a lot of people think, the biggest factor is still does the audience like the film--you can't force a blockbuster on the public--and I haven't seen any of these except the first one.

Iron Man is already a blockbuster, and I assume it'll have legs. I'd guess it'll make over $300 million (all figures domestic) and be the #1 or #2 film of the year.

Speed Racer, opening next week, will be a disappointment. Neither fish nor fowl, I'd guess it'll have trouble beating Iron Man's second weekend.

The last Narnia film was a surprise blockbuster. It was expected to do well, but it almost performed at Harry Potter or Lord Of The Rings level. Those films had (and will have) sequels that keep bringing them in, and while I expect the latest tale of Narnia, Prince Caspian, to do well, I still expect a big drop since its story isn't that closely related to the first. It has a shot at the lower rung of the top five.

Next, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. Has time passed Indy by? Looking at the Star Wars sequels, I'd say no. It'll do well, and unless it really sucks, I would expect it to be in the top two or three of the summer.

Sex And The City: The Movie. Hmm. TV to film (with the same cast) is always tricky, and the estrogen factor limits the audience. I think it'll have trouble making $100 million.

Kung Fu Panda. Looks like fun, though even with fine voice work, it's the story that counts. I see it doing okay, but I don't think it'll be huge.

You Don't Mess With Zohan. Adam Sandler is pretty reliable--except for an occasional turkey, his comedies always break the $100 million mark. This one will too, though it won't get anywhere near $200 million.

The Happening. Certainly one of the question marks of the summer. M. Night Shyamalan had his first disaster, since he hit it big, with Lady In The Water. The Happening seems to be a return to form--or at least at attempt at it. I think it'll at least get back some of his crowd, and gross more than The Village and less then Signs.

The Incredible Hulk. I don't think, after the last one flopped, that the audience is ready for a new Hulk. It'll perform below expectations.

Get Smart. This is a film the audience wants to like, but won't deliver. A decent opening with no legs.

The Love Guru. Mike Myers wants to create a new character. It'll develop a cult--look at the name--but with the same sort of gags he always has, it'll do okay but come nowhere near the numbers he gets with Austin Powers.

Wall-E. I'd be a fool to go against Pixar. It'll be in the top five, and do better than Cars.

Wanted. Another question mark. Angelina Jolie has scored in action before, and James McAvoy is an up and comer, but with all the familiar names playing elsewhere, they might have trouble breaking through. Still, I think it'll do alright--over $100 million, under $200 million.

Hancock. Maybe the biggest question mark of the summer. Will Smith is the most reliable moneymaker in movies right now, but will people buy him in a superhero comedy? If it flies, it'll be huge, but I see it having some trouble taking off. Still, I can't see him doing less than $100 million, but I wouldn't expect more than $200 million.

The Wackness. Actually, no one is expecting this to be a major release. I just chose one of many smaller films to note that every summer something seems to come out of nowhere and hit it big. Could be this one as easily as any other.

Hellboy II. Was anyone really that excited by Hellboy I? A major director and a built-in name, but expect it to fade fast.

The Dark Knight. People are waiting for this one. And Heath Ledger only makes it bigger. It'll make over $200 million and be in the top five. (I haven't given out more than five in the top five yet, have I?)

Meet Dave. The latest Eddie Murphy comedy. He has his audience, but it's not as big as it used to be. The concept is weird, but let's say it ends up somewhere around $100 million.

Mamma Mia! This may play well as a live show, or in Europe, but do Americans really want to see something scored by Abba? Not a major hit.

Step Brothers. People are Will Ferrelled out. Will not make $100 million.

X-Files 2. Is this the 1990s? Will get the fans on the first weekend and then die.

The Mummy 3. Another sequel people don't need to see. It'll pass $100, but its glory days are over.

Pineapple Express. Sounds ridiculous, but it's hard to bet against the combination of Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen. It shouldn't have much trouble making over $100 million.

Tropic Thunder. A different sort of comedy with Ben Stiller. Definitely a question mark. Is it too little too late? Only a couple weeks left in the summer--maybe its best chance is everything else will be played out. But since Stiller's not playing the lovable loser, I'm not sure the audience will go for it. On the other hand, it's not only got Stiller, but Jack Black and the newest big star, Robery Downey Jr. I'd say it's got a 50/50 shot at breaking $100 million. (There's a worthless prediction.)

Bangkok Dangerous. Another Nicolas Cage action film. I don't think anyone is too excited--will have trouble reaching $100 million.

Babylon A.D. They're releasing this Vin Diesel sci-fi flick at the butt end of summer. I don't see it doing too well.

Okay, I'm on record. Let's see how it works out.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Another Country Heard From

Who doesn't like Tom Hanks? As an actor, anyway. As a pundit, he leaves something to be desired.

In his YouTube endorsement of Barack Obama, Hanks doesn't really give any reason to vote for the man except that apparently it'd be cool to have an African-American as President. Not good enough, Tom.

Still looking forward to Toy Story 3, though.

Too Far Gone

I'm often amazed with what Family Guy gets away with each week. Last Sunday's episode made fun of the O.J. Simpson murders, had two extended gags about dead pets and another two about feces. But that wasn't the most offensive part. They actually made fun of Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's disease. Can they do that?

Simpsons Already Did It

The Simpsons latest episode, "Any Given Sundance," was about Lisa and Nelson entering their movies in a film festival. It was okay, but it sure was reminiscent of a better episode about regular characters entering a film festival, "A Star Is Burns."

I guess when you've done over 400 episodes, it's hard not to repeat yourself. Maybe they figure there's a new generation out there, might as well do the old favorites.

Nuff Said

I recently heard someone putting down the old, cheesy, 60s cartoons of the Merry Marvel Marching Society. Fine, but then he went too far and mocked the theme songs.

Sorry, but those short pieces are works of art. The lyrics were sophisticated and the music got the point across in less than 20 seconds.

In the past I've expressed my admiration for the stunning interior rhyme of "Captain America":

If he's led to a fight and a duel is due /Then the red and the white and the blue'll come through.

Cole Porter would be proud. Or look at "Hulk":

Wreckin' the town with the power of a bull /Ain't no monster clown, who is as lovable?

Reminiscent of Sondheim--or is it the other way round? (Sondheim from 1970's Company: "When a person's personality is personable/ He shouldn't oughta sit like a lump./It's harder than a matador coercin' a bull / To try to get you off of your rump.)

Or listen to "Thor". Not one of the best, but even it has this nice touch of interior rhyme:

You'll behold in breathless wonder /The God Of Thunder, Mighty Thor!

Then there's the hero of the hour, Iron Man. His theme song gets across what this guy's all about with effortless wit. To show "cool exec" Tony Stark, they use cool jazz, and to show his more heroic, martial, "Iron" side, they essentially use march time, and then combine the two to show how he brings them together.

It doesn't get any better than that.

Monday, May 05, 2008

More Irony

Like millions, I saw Iron Man over the weekend. It was one of the better super hero films I've seen in a while. One thing surprised me, though.

Last week, I noted critic David Denby was offended that the filmmakers had the nerve to actually have terrorists waterboard hero Tony Stark. Don't they realize we Americans are the waterboarders!

Well, maybe I missed it, but all I saw was them do the old gag of forcing Stark's head underwater for a while. That's not waterboarding.

Closer

Hillary better hope she closes well. The latest Zogby poll suggests Obama will easily take North Carolina and might even take Indiana.

BRRR

I recently saw a coupon offering 2 for 1 Sundaes at Baskin-Robbins. Sounded like a good deal, but I checked and their Sundaes cost around $7.25!

Now I hadn't been to Baskin-Robbins in years, so I have a question. Are the prices always this high, or did they double them just for this promotion?

Staying Mad

Barack Obama strong pull for many superdelegates is the fear that blacks will desert the Dems if he isn't running. (Okay, not desert so much as stay home.) My guess is the vote will be a bit depressed, but with nowhere else to go, they'll come around for Hillary. Remember, she was beating Obama in the black vote before they figured he had a chance.

Sure, we see bizarre things like this:

Michelle Moore, an Indianapolis housewife, is less gentle: "Hillary Clinton would not even still be in the race if Obama was a white man," she said.

But every Democrat will have months to cool down. It's hard to stay angry that long.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Lost Versus Battlestar Galactica

Lost, which still has 36 episodes to go, is doing it right. They've got a wide-ranging story and every week we learn new, exciting, revelations. I wish I could say the same for Battlestar Galactica.

BG is still a good show, but though it only has a handful of episodes left, it seems to be stalling. The latest episode, "The Road Less Traveled," hardly moved the story forward at all. The secret Cylons are still at the breaking point, but no one has found out about them (who's still alive) and they sure haven't told anyone. Baltar's cult continues to grow, but it was growing last week. Starbuck is still going crazy trying to find Earth, but she didn't really get any closer. We didn't even see Six, Adama, Lee, Roslin or the Cylon civil war. And we sure didn't learn who the fifth Cylon is.

I'm in it till the finish, but come on guys, let's move this thing forward.

PS I always thought the point of finding Earth was to have a place for humans to settle far away from the Cylons. Isn't working with the Cylons to get there sort of missing the point?

Game Change?

Polls show movement toward Hillary in the primaries, even in North Carolina. I'd say she has next to no chance in that state, but if she did somehow manage to win, along with Indiana, she would suddenly look like a contender it'd be hard for the superdelegates to ignore.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Oversight

Here are the top 50 US political pundits, according to the UK Telegraph. For some strange reason, I can't find Pajama Guy on the list.

The Eyes Have It

As much as I love Lost, they've really got to stop opening episodes with the close-up of an eye.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Some Guys Just Have a Thing for Tuxedos

BBC reports that a rambunctious, lonely and possibly confused young seal in the Antarctic redently spent 45 minutes attempting , unsuccessfully, to mate with a King Penguin. Apparently this type of interspecies behavior is unusual (we're not talking about people). What was interesting and evidence of how cultural assumptions play into scientific research is that the Brit researchers referred to this activity as "sexual harassment" which on the plain meaning of the words, I guess it was. However the use of word with widespread legal and negative connotation throws a whole different spin on the article. If the seal had instead killed and eaten the unfortunate bird, it would have been called "dinner" and treated as normal behavior- not as a denial of essential rights of penguinhood.

Good Work

D.C. Madam Deborah Jeane Palfreyn has apparently committed suicide. She was facing a rare federal prosecution that featured the testimony of many high-profile Washington figures, with a possibility of up to 55 years in prison.

Well, looks like the prosecutors hounded a women to her death for arranging consensual sex. Would it have been that much better if they'd only succeeded in putting her behind bars?

Take That, Bronx Bombers

The Tigers sweep the Yankees. Maybe there's hope for the team yet.

We're Number 2!

Los Angeles is no longer America's sootiest city. The new winner: Pittsburgh!

Maybe They Meant Charley Weaver

According to my TV, Sigourney Weaver is about to appear on new episodes of both Conan O'Brien and Craig Ferguson in about ten minutes. Since one tapes in New York and the other in Los Angeles, it should be an interesting trick.

Stand Tall

The redoubtable (i.e., you should doubt him twice) Andy Klein reviews Errol Morris's Standard Operating Procedure, a documentary on Abu Ghraib.

From the first paragraph:

But his focus here is not merely on the notorious events at Abu Ghraib prison, but on the photographs that exposed a world of abuse and made the American people realize, if only briefly, what the rest of the world already knew – that the Bush administration has brought forth all that is worst about us and has destroyed any claim our nation may have had to moral stature.

Yes, of course, that's how things work. The actions of a few people over a short period of time decide a nation's moral stature. That why, after World War II, when we killed many POWs without trial, firebombed and nuked hundreds of thousands of civilians, and put our own citizens in internment camps for years--all because of those lunkheads FDR and Truman--we had no moral stature left.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Just When You Thought It Was Safe

I thought the Lyndon LaRouche people had disappeared, so imagine my surprise when I saw a LaRouche-backed poster on the street yesterday. It had a caricature of Al Gore and, as far as I could tell, condemned him as a mass killer and a British agent to boot. Lucky he's not running.

Ethel's Turn

I just read Brian Kellow's biography of Ethel Merman. I have to say, it's a pretty boring life.

I mean for all the success she enjoyed, there's just not that much there. She seems to have been a somewhat nasty, not especially bright person with little inner life, who had a voice like a trumpet and decent if limited acting chops. Professionally, she went from one hit to the next, and personally, from one failed relationship to the next.

I did learn a few new things, though. For instance, Merman (born Zimmermann) was not Jewish. Also, the stage lore about how the then unknown team of Lindsay and Crouse rewrote the book of Anything Goes because the original by Bolton and Wodehouse was about a shipwreck and would have been considered tasteless at the time, is actually a cover story. In truth, B and W had done a substandard job and their script was tossed, but because they were big writers, the producer kept their names associated with the show.

Anyway, perhaps the lengthier bio by Caryl Flynn is worth checking out, but I'm not sure if I'm willing to give it a shot.

Not For Very Much Longer

Obama knows he has to watch what he says about the Reverend Wright. He still has to deal with people like John Nichols in The Nation:

As Wright has illustrated over the past several days, in a remarkable appearance Friday on PBS' Bill Moyers Journal and in speeches to the Detroit NAACP and the National Press Club in Washington, he is the opposite of the caricature of an angry, America-hating false prophet that has been so crudely attached to him. Deeply grounded in biblical tradition, nuanced in his understanding of race relations and historically experienced in his assessments of America's strengths and weaknesses, he has much to say to this country at this time.

Or Ruth Conniff in The Progressive.

Wright is a scholar, and he brings layers of meaning and a nuanced understanding to the great themes he addresses. But that is quickly lost in a cable news report.

As long as a significant portion of his base actually agree with angry, America-hating false prophets like Wright, Obama has to worry about them. Luckily, it's too late for anyone to get to the left of him, and once the general election comes around, they'll have nowhere to go.

PS My favorite part of Conniff's piece is this:

To be sure, Wright's refusal to denounce Louis Farrakhan, his angry-sounding declaration that Farrakhan didn't put him in chains or "make me this color," his assertion that "yes, I believe our country is capable of doing anything" in answer to a question about whether he thinks the United States deliberately infected black people with AIDS will be held against him. But the audience of his friends and supporters ate up his strikes back against what has surely been a racist and unfair campaign against him.

She can't even condemn him at his most outrageous--she can only note others won't like what he's saying--but has no trouble calling his critics racist and unfair.

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