Sunday, August 31, 2008

Rebuilding

Looks like it's gonna be a tough season. Michigan almost caught up, but lost 25-23 to a Utah team that most years it would have blown out.

There are a lot of problems, but the main one is lack of offense. No serious quarterback, and a compromised offensive line. Most of the starters are freshmen, and you can't expect them to be ready. Meanwhile, the defense started shaky but settled down in the second half. Whether they're good enough we'll find out in later games, but at least there's some hope there.

Michigan hasn't had a losing season in 40 years, and even if Coach Rodriguez needs to start building up a new team, I'm sure he gets that the school won't put up with him being a loser for too long.

It's Not The Heat

I've been hearing from various places that this summer was cooler than the last few. Well, I don't know if LA was cooler this summer, but I'm certain it was muggier. Does that have something to do with global warming?

Maybe I Think Too Highly Of Critics

I took Anthony Lane to task for not recognizing Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder. But now I see this in Roger Ebert's "Answer Man" column:

Q. I saw "Tropic Thunder" tonight, and read your review afterward. I was curious when you said it was "much enhanced by several cameo roles, the best of which I will not even mention. You'll know the one, although you may have to wait for the credits to figure it out." I didn't stay for the credits, and don't know which cameo you are speaking of.
Paul Gowan, Chico, Calif.

A. Spoiler alert! Maybe I was simply dense, but I, for one, did not recognize Tom Cruise.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Unbelievable

I can't believe it, but Meeeechigan football today!

It may only be Utah, but there are no gimmes this season. (We should have learned that last year.)

I Want To Believe

LOS ANGELES (AP) - David Duchovny has entered a rehabilitation facility for sex addiction. In a statement released Thursday by his lawyer, Stanton Stein, the actor said he did so voluntarily, adding: "I ask for respect and privacy for my wife and children as we deal with this situation as a family."

His series on Showtime, Californication, will have its second season premiere before long. In it, he plays a sex-obsessed writer. I don't doubt him, but this sure sounds like a publicity gimmick.

Wow!

Well, McCain sure tore things up. Not that his Veep pick was entirely unexpected. Overall, I'd say Sarah Palin is a positive, though I doubt she'll make much difference. (Not making much difference is a good thing--I think it's easier to lose on a Veep pick than win.)

The two most obvious positives are pretty good ones. First, she truly seems to excite the base, something McCain needed to do. (At the very least, he didn't need to make a pick that gave them the finger, like Lieberman.) Second, she appeals to women, a group McCain needs to make gains in.

New England Guy writes the pick is bad because it "looks to be desperately pandering to disappointed Hillary-backers." No matter who McCain picked, she'd have to appeal to SOMEONE. This is generally considered a positive in a Veep. Should McCain have picked another aging, white, male Republican from the Southwest to show he was above "pandering"? (By the way, how can a pick be risky and pandering at the same time?) For better or worse (worse, I'd say), a lot of people are extra-excited about Obama because he's (half) African-American. Almost as certainly, some will be excited that a women might sit in the second-highest executive slot.

The truth is there are a fair amount of embittered Hillary voters (and just as many non-bitter women in general) who are not guaranteed to vote Democrat--for the McCain campaign to try to appeal to this important demographic is a smart move. That she sends a scare into Obama's people is shown by their reaction. They immediately sent out a nasty, dismissive comment about her, and a few hours later responded in a more muted tone, realizing, after the battle with Hillary and the Biden pick, they don't want to tick off women any more than they have to.

There are other positives but they're fairly minor: this steals the spotlight from the Obama speech and the Democrats' convention in general, and turns Labor Day weekend into a warm-up for the Republican Convention; it ratifies the belief that McCain is a maverick and not an establishment figure; it gives us an attractive, refreshing figure with many positive qualities and a good story that should play well; it gives a patina of freshness to the McCain ticket that was missing, and, when considered with the Biden pick, makes it almost as forward-looking as Obama's campaign.

But there are negatives, of course: McCain's campaign wasn't going badly, yet this is the kind of shocking move that usually comes out of desperation; presumably she's been vetted, but being a relative unknown, maybe she has skeletons in the closet; there's still some number out there that don't want to vote for a women (though, like race, it may be more than made up by those who actively do--plus this is only for Veep); she's from a small (electoral college-wise) state McCain's already won.

But all these are insignificant next to her level of experience. She obviously doesn't have too much--not enough to be President, many would say. And since McCain has made a big deal about Obama's lack, doesn't this take away one of his strongest weapons?

Well, yes and no, mostly no. McCain's people will have to tread lightly in this area, but it still plays. After all, we're talking about a Veep. Unless McCain dies in office (which is unlikely), she won't be taking over. And even if he did die in office, unless it was early in his term, she'd have a few years of the best possible experience for the job. In any case, if she were suddenly President (something I admit I've never thought about for any Veep before), she could pick her own Veep, and get someone with lots of experience.

But more important, her inexperience is a trap for Obama. McCain has to watch out, but this is twice as true for Obama (or Biden). Every time his side brings it up, the unspoken answer is "okay, she doesn't have enough experience, but neither does Obama--now which is worse, a Prez who doesn't know what he's doing, or a Veep in the same position?"

Friday, August 29, 2008

He's Totally Checking Out Her Butt



I thought I imagined it when I watched it live, but this confirms it.

Actually, he's probably reading along on her teleprompter, but it looks really bad. Particularly when it came out that, like Cindy McCain, she was a beauty pageant runner up.

Rom Bomb

The word is Romney's out. We'll know soon enough. The best argument against him, aside from the Mormon speed bump, is the Dems could use all that footage of Romney and McCain calling each other names.

Time Shift

I was driving by a Johnny Rockets yesterday and it struck me that there have been nostalgic 50s diners twice as long as the time between the 50s and the time they started putting them up.

Shut Up, He Explained

Whether or not you like the ads that tie Barack Obama to William Ayers, Obama's response is pretty revolting. Threatening those putting out the ad with criminal prosecution (on an argument so weak I'm not sure I'd even call it flimsy) is ridiculous. I hope this isn't a preview of the way he runs things if he wins the election.

Is It Over?

Can I start watching television again?

I know, there'll be another one soon, this time in Minneapolis.

Tell you what, just let me know when the new House starts and I'll be fine.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Up In Smoke

Weeds, which started out as a comedy about Nancy Botwin, a young widow who sells marijuana to make ends meet, has turned into one of the nastiest shows ever on TV. The characters always had their jerkish side, but they're now almost uniformly nasty and cynical, except for the ones who are just stupid. It looks like the show may be trying to redeem Nancy, but it's too little too late.

Less Than Half The Equation

Roger Ebert ends his review of I.O.U.S.A. with "Any politician who tries to win votes by promising to cut taxes is digging our country's grave."

Okay, but isn't it odd that Roger sees a film about how in debt we are and can't add something about not voting for politicians who promise huge new programs?

Noodge

I heard my old pal Cass Sunstein interviewed yesterday. He was discussing the new book he's written with economist Richard Thaler, Nudge. Their thesis is our lives are filled with many decisions, and they're rarely in neutral settings--without more information, we tend to let things stand, so the default position ends up winning.

This is where what they call "libertarian paternalism" comes in. That is, we should still have freedom of choice, but those in power should create settings that favor the better outcome. A classic example is an employer automatically signing up employees to the 401(k) program while allowing them to opt out, rather than the other way around.

There is merit in this concept. People don't have time to weigh every argument so it makes sense, after someone has done research into an issue, that those in power use the information to help put people on a useful path. But the potential problems are great.

First, let's assume government (and that's what we're really talking about--when we're nudged privately, we can at least walk across the street) knows what's best when it comes to things like finance or health. It'd still be hard to stop mission creep, as this gives government a new tool to make us do what they want us to, and to get into areas of morality where they otherwise might not tread.

A common example of a good nudge is an organ donation program we must opt out of. Even if you believe organ donation is a good thing, this is a pretty heavy-duty commitment these paternalists want us to make passively. We may be filled with both caution and inertia in general, not wanting to try certain things which are good for us--or society--but I still see a major difference between being nudged in one direction when actively choosing A or B, and being forced into a big commitment unless I take active measures to stop it.

And the more widespread the nudging is, the more morality is likely to play a role. (I realize almost every issue has at least some moral component to it, but I'm talking about issues where your position depends heavily on your sense of right and wrong.) Sunstein wants cafeterias to nudge us into eating more salads (which may or may not make our lives better), but would he want the government to try to nudge us into deciding whether or not to have an abortion? Or whether a library should carry a book? Or whether or not to own a gun? Just being scolds would be annoying enough, but it seems to me "nudging" could become a powerful political tool, allowing the government to get its foot in the door in all sorts of ways that we used to think wasn't really their business.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Four Is Company

American Idol has added a fourth judge. I realize ratings were down a bit last season, but it was still the number one show. This can't be a good idea, can it?

After a while, you get some deterioration in the numbers. If you want to improve things, get more interesting singers.

Newshound

I grew up around the Detroit area, but I've been gone a long time. So it was amusing to see this page sent by a friend to vote for the hottest news babe in town. I don't recognize any of them, of course. Where's Marilyn Turner? Where's Doris Biscoe?

PS I've also been informed that sports babe Katrina Hancock caused a huge controversy when she said Pittsburgh hockey fans are better than Detroit hockey fans. Now there's a movement to get her fired. Did she know she was being taped? By the way, I can't speak for the fans, but I know which team is better, and isn't that what counts? (And I'm not biased. The Red Wings is the one major Detroit team I've never rooted for.) Or perhaps Katrina just wants to move to a different market and is signaling where she wants to go.

He'd Make A Monkey Look Good!

Unlike Virginia Postrel, I know nothing about glamor, but even I've heard of Max Factor. Still, I didn't know what a fascinating life he'd led until this John Updike review in The New Yorker of a Max Factor bio.

BO MD?

I'm not that much into the speech delivery side of politics. What counts are good ideas, not whether the candidate can deliver them in a resonant voice.

Still, we've had a surprising number of candidates lately who are really bad at it. Gore, Kerry, Hillary, Lieberman and our Prez, to name a few. Occasionally, we get a guy who's good at it, like Bill Clinton, of course.

That said, I've never gotten why people say Obama has such a good voice. Maybe I'm immune to the rhetoric, or tone-deaf to the feeling, but he sounds pinched to me, with a halting delivery. In fact, the closest politician I can remember with a similiar speaking style was Michael Dukakis.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Left Coast

Don't know if I agree with them, but I gotta admit it's fascinating to see Richard Posner and Gary Becker take on my town, and try to explain why Hollywood is so full of liberals.

Even For Madonna...

...this is pretty stupid.

(The spirit of ColumbusGuy has taken over--you can't understand this post unless you click on the link.)

No More Floridas

A pro-Obama friend sent me an email in favor of hand-counted ballots. Apparently, this is a widespread sentiment among Democrats. I don't understand why anyone would want this hassle, and understand less why it's become a partisan issue.

I know that computers can make systematic errors, and that should be worked on, but most people should know better than to subscribe to conspiracy theories about massive voter fraud through computers.

Handcounting, even if you don't believe in stolen elections, seems to me to be far more open to corruption and error. Partisans are known to count the same ballots differently. Once those ballots are in their hands, especially if they know what's at stake, anything is possible.

If we want to avoid what happened in Florida 8 years ago, we need less handcounting, not more.

Insult

I saw a piece on SportsCenter about Brett Favre joining the Jets. It started with the host quoting the song "New York, New York." He noted it was written by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by "two people you never heard of."

Why did he assume all ESPN viewers are stupid? Betty Comden and Adolph Green (whose words were being quoted, not Bernstein's music) are show biz legends. They wrote the lyrics and often the book for over a dozen Broadway musicals (including their first, On The Town, where "New York, New York" comes from), and shared seven Tonys. They also wrote screenplays, including two of the best MGM musicals, Singin' In The Rain and The Band Wagon, and got two Oscar nominations. And they were charming and accomplished performers in their own right.

Notice I didn't give the name of the ESPN guy. But even if I did, he'll be forgotten long before Comden and Green.

Look Back In Anger

Fine episode of Mad Men this week. But I wonder if it's going to follow the Lost pattern of flashbacks. The first season had a running backstory about Don which, actually, I thought was one of the weaker parts of the show, even if it had a nice payoff.

This season, and apparently later seasons as well, starts about a year and a half into the future. This naturally leads to a lot of plot developments, but also questions as to how we got here. This week's show gave a lot of information about what happened to Peggy during the interim--and answered questions people have been asking (and some they haven't been asking).

I think it can work, but it's an odd structure--each season starts in one place and we spend the rest of the episodes figuring how we got here. (Which sounds like Lost's season 4.)

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Race Card, Part Deux

It's official: I'm a racist.

Deep Glamour

You should check out Virginia Postrel writing about glamor on her new blog. Of courses, you should check out anything she writes.

Deadly

I recently saw "The Deadly Years," one of the more dramatically inert (but still fun) Star Trek episodes. The crew beams down to that week's planet where they pick up some radiation that ages them rapidly. Kirk in particular starts forgetting things and is removed from command. He's cured just in time to save the ship.

A few notes:

1) Chekov panics really quickly when he finds an old, dead guy on the planet. While this is an important plot point, it also suggests he's not the best guy to bring on a landing party.

2) McCoy works around the clock to find a cure. But he's also got the disease. Couldn't they find someone else? For that matter, they let sick Scotty go back to his post. Surely someone can handle engineering for a few days.

3) One of the ways we see he's aging is Kirk gets a pain in his shoulder. After this scene, there was a commercial with a guy who had a pain in his shoulder. No kidding. I don't think this was planned.

4) We get to see what Kirk will look like when he ages 40 years. Doesn't look that much like Shatner aged 40 years.

5) An awful lot of screen time is spent on a hearing to declare Kirk unfit to command. It's pretty useless. All they do is repeat everything we've already seen--and this while Kirk and the gang don't have much time. The Commodore aboard should just declare he's in charge and sort things out later.

6) Like all Federation guest stars, the Commodore proves himself to be ridiculously incompetent. He wants to get to Starbase 10 quickly so he goes right through the Neutral Zone. a) What kind of funky Zone is this that it's in the way of a straight line to a Federation base? b) How does the Federation manage with people like the Commodore?

7) There are a lot of stray women in the plot. First you got Lieutenant Arlene Galway of the landing party, who only exists so a woman can get the disease, and also so they can overdo the old-age makeup. You wouldn't want to cover up Kirk's lovely face with too much rubber and plastic. Then there's old flame Dr. Janet Wallace, who seems to be a leftover from a previous draft. Plus there's a hot new Yeoman and a hot new nurse who are both featured more than usual for such characters.

8) The best writing in the show is how Kirk gets the Enterprise out of the pickle the Commodore has put them in.

9) They go Warp 8 at the end. (Everyone literally holds on. As I've noted before, if you're traveling faster than the speed of light, unless the damping is pretty much 100%, you can forget about it.) Is this the fastest Kirk has ever ordered?

I'm Game

Over the weekend I attended a "Game Night" party where all we did was play games. It was a lot of fun, but what fascinated me was how frustrated the host got when people weren't paying attention to the games.

You may think this is silly, but I agree with his general attitude. Okay, it's only a game, but unless you pay attention, and play by the rules, it's no fun. You can take things too seriously, but if you're not going to take it seriously at all, why bother?

Never Happy

Here's an odd complaint, sent to the LA Times.

A lot of people have been complaining about Tropic Thunder (which I'm sure pleases the producers)--both for Robert Downey Jr. playing an African-American and depictions of retarded people. But listen to this:

...my wife and I were completely offended by the character played by Tom Cruise, a foul-mouthed movie mogul who was the true white man in blackface. His bumping, grinding and air-spanking to a vulgar hip-hop song was nothing more than dancing a jig à la the minstrel shows of days gone by. We walked out of the theater angry at the "racial sleight of hand" we experienced.

They seem to be offended on behalf of African-Americans, but Cruise was parodying all those white guys who like to act black. Maybe it's offensive to rich Jewish movie producers, but no one else should be too troubled.

Barr None

I've been insisting that Obama's secret weapon this year is Bob Barr. No one else seems to think he'll make a difference, but I'd guess he takes a fair number of votes from McCain, and if the election is close, that matters.

Sunday's ABC/Washington Post poll suggests I may be right. Actually, they did two polls--one with and one without the other name candidates. Obama versus McCain head-on has Obama ahead 49-45, but when Barr and Nader are added, Obama gets 48 and McCain 42, while Barr and Nader both get 3.

Third party support often evaporates as you get close to the election, but if Barr and even Nader can be polling anywhere near those numbers, I think it'll hurt McCain.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Now They've Gone Too Far

I was waiting for this to happen. With commodities going up, Hershey's and Mars are raising the price of their chocolate. People would rise up and march about this if they weren't so out of shape.

I was going to call this post "Toll Hike On The Hershey Highway" but that seemed like too much.

Biden's The One

Joe Biden is a thoroughly uninspired choice for Veep, but an understandable one. Biden helps fill the experience gap, and, more important, signals that Obama is not too radical.

Biden is the choice of a man who's not playing to win, but playing not to lose. Perhaps that's the way to go, but I can't see anyone getting too excited.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

With Help Like This...

Susan Estrich writes that she knew, even when Dukakis was way ahead in 1988, that he was a goner. Wow! She must have been a horrible campaign manager to think that. (Or perhaps it's hindsight. Yeah, I think that's it.)

Sometimes you can look at the numbers, and doom stares you in the face. [....] By the summer of 1988, the country had turned from believing we were on the wrong track to thinking we were on the right track. They thought my candidate, Governor Dukakis, was more conservative than he actually was — that’s what beating Jesse Jackson every Tuesday will do for you.

Amazingly, Mickey Kaus misinteprets what she means, even after a reader corrects him. The point she's making is that once the voters figured he wasn't so conservative, he'd naturally start dropping in the polls. Mickey reads it as saying they were turned off by him because they thought he was too conservative.

How Soon They Forget

The Emmys are taking nominations for TV's most memorable moments. A squib in the LA Times notes "there are some strange omissions. Frasier, for example, won more Emmys than any other series yet isn't represnted on the ballot."

No, that's not strange. What's strange is that Frasier has won more Emmys than any other series.

No Harm

Steven Bochco has a new show coming out, Raising The Bar, another legal show.

Watching the preview, I noticed Jane Kaczmarek is playing "Judge Kessler." How can we take her seriously in the role when we already know her as the harsh Judge Constance Harm on The Simpsons?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Going For The One

I hate to appear dumber than usual, but I honestly don't get Maureen Dowd's latest, where she conjures up a secret meeting between McCain and Hillary as part of a campaign to bring down Obama. Is she mocking the paranoia of Obama supporters, or partaking in it?

Mr. MR

John McCain's an ornery guy, so I won't even guess who he'll pick as Veep. But I'd say the best choice would be Mitt Romney. He's got experience, is popular (especially with the base), helps in Michigan, is handsome (can't hurt) and rich.

The biggest negative is his religion. Polls show people generally don't care about sex and race, but there are a fair amount bothered by someone being a Mormon. If it weren't for that, he'd be the perfect choice.

Aristotle Did It Better

A number of law professors are blogging about the deficiencies of the Socratic Method. My take is if you want to teach law, lecturing is the way to do it. The Socratic Method wastes a lot of time and lets you spread out one day's lesson over a week. It's like hazing--it exists at present not for good reasons, but for historical ones.

The only argument I can see for it is it forces students to be prepared, but I think exams do that well enough.

D:I DOA?

I've checked out the new version of Dinner: Impossible, hosted by Michael Symon. I was a big fan of the previous host, Robert Irvine.

How is Symon? Not bad, but it's just not the same thing. Irvine was a high-pitched, excitable type who gave a strong energy to the show. Also, though this is a tricky call (that I'm not qualified to make), I think Irvine is a better chef.

I might still check it out, but it's no longer appointment TV.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Stinky Idea

This November there'll be a ballot proposal in San Francisco to name a sewage plant after President Bush.

I wonder if its backers realize this makes them look bad, not Bush.

Hartening

This week's episode of Mad Men featured Don and Betty dancing to a crooner's version of "Blue Room." Sounded like Perry Como, but a couple reviews claimed it was Bing Crosby. It didn't help that Don says ""He makes everything sound like Christmas." So I checked the closed captioning, and even that said it was Bing Crosby. Guess I was wrong.

Happily, as confirmed in Variety, turns out it was Como. That was close. Thought I was losing my ear.

Stop The Presses

Here's the headline: "Petite, leggy women with big busts are the most sexually attractive, study reveals"

How do you get paid to do such research, and where can I apply?

According to the study, men are attracted to "low body masculinity." Is this real science, or are they just making stuff up?

Life Imitates The Onion

"Obama's Hillbilly Half-Brother Threatening To Derail Campaign." The Onion, August 13, 2008.

"Senator Brack Obama's long lost brother has been tracked down for the first time living in a shanty town."
The Telegraph, August 20,

No Longer A Dark Horse

I said I'd ignore the polls until after Labor Day, but the latest polls showing McCain ahead--which I don't quite believe--are relevant in how they effect events today.

Obama, as far as we know, hasn't decided who will be his Veep yet. Now that he must believe the race is very close, isn't it more likely he'll swallow his pride, do what I think he should have done in the first place and choose Hillary as his running mate?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hope It's Not Too Unpleasant

There have been a number of films based on Robert Heinlein's work, and though I liked Starship Troopers (which turned the message of the book inside-out), I'm not sure if any have been entirely successful. For years Hollywood has been trying to make a movie of his most famous work, Stranger In A Strange Land, but so far, nothing. Meanwhile, lots of silver screen SF might not be directly from Heinlein, but definitely inspired by him. (For instance, it's hard to deny a lot of stuff has been based on The Puppet Masters.)

Now it's been announced that Phoenix Pictures will adapt Heinlein's "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag." (I italicize novels and use quotation marks on stories. This is a novella, so I'm not sure what to do.) It's an odd but well-done story about a man who hires a detective agency to find out what he does during the day. Whether it will make a good movie or not I can't say, but I'm not sure if it's the best Heinlein plot to adapt to the screen. He has other stories with a lot more action. Still, the story is pretty original, so if they can pull it off, they'll have something special.

All Over But The Counting

John Heilemann has a piece in New York magazine about how Obama is doing poorly in the polls because of...racism.

Obama leads among African-Americans by more than 9 to 1, and among Latinos 2 to 1. Meanwhile, McCain leads among whites 5 to 4. (All numbers approximate.) What more proof do you need?

Manny Farber

Manny Farber has died. I didn't know he was still alive. Starting in the early 40s, he was one of the better film critics around. While most were impressed with the sort of middlebrow films that win Oscars (things haven't changed that much), Farber was willing to champion tougher, wilder films.

In his 1957 essay "Underground Films" he gave a second look at a bunch of Hollywood directors whose work had been dismissed, or at least not taken too seriously. (He was one of the first American critics to recognize something special about Howard Hawks.)

"White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art" in 1962 is probably his best-known essay. In it, he compares grand, high-flown attempts at something significant versuse those whose aims may seem small but are all-enguilfing.

Farber, I think, will be remembered as a smart, perceptive and unconventional film critic at a time when almost everyone else was mostly recapping plots and saying whether or not they liked the movie.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

High Class Problem

I just saw Starter For 10, a period (1980s is now period) comedy from England. It's a title that means something to the British--a catchphrase from University Challenge--but nothing to Americans. Not unlike Chariots Of Fire.

It's a small film, very enjoyable. But I couldn't help notice it features the same dilemma so many Hollywood films have--the lead (James McAvoy) spends the movie chasing after the hot blonde, only to realize he should be with the very cute brunette who was by his side all along.

PS. I thought Rebecca Hall, who played the brunette, and is presently featured in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, looked a lot like Maggie Wheeler, of Janice fame on Friends.

Moral Maureen

Maureen Dowd's column on Russia is such standard anti-Bush rhetoric she probably created most of it by cut-and-paste. But it does have one new bit, making it extra ugly--comparing the U.S. and Iraq with Russia and Georgia.

A lot of people try to pretend that everyone used to fight the good fight against the Soviets in the old days. But not only was the cold war full of people claiming moral equivalence--we can see this type of thinking still hasn't gone away.

(Christopher Hitchens has a piece in Slate on how this is nothing like Kosovo.)

Slim Chance

I just read Slim Keith's memoirs. I was mostly interested because she was married to one of my favorite directors, Howard Hawks. Turns out he was a liar, a cheater and a cold fish. Oh well.

Born in 1916, she had nothing going for her except her charm and her looks. She came to Hollywood in the mid-30s, though she had no interest in breaking into movies (which actually gave her a leg up). She soon became friends with all sorts of stars, like Cary Grant and William Powell, not to mention all those invites to William Randolph Heart's place.

Then she met Hawks and, once he got a divorce, they married, though he was twice her age. The marriage may not have gone well, but Hawks wanted to create his perfect woman on screen, and he modeled her after Slim. In fact, Lauren Bacall (whom Slim brought to Hawks' attention) is called "Slim" in her debut, the Hawks film To Have And Have Not.

Soon she was stolen away by agent-producer Leland Hayward--her great love. Of course, he had to get out of his troubled marriage to Margaret Sullavan first. (Slim was never anyone's first wife.) The marriage lasted for a dozen years till, in what you might call poetic justice, Hayward left her for Pamela Churchill Harriman.

At loose ends, she married Sir Kenneth Keith, a rich British businessman. There was no love in this marriage, and, after running a British manor for a few years, she left him and lived out her years in New York.

She knew everyone--Clark Gable, Ernest Hemingway, William S. Paley, Truman Capote, Mary Martin, Jerome Robbins, Charles Lindbergh--everyone.

She traveled around the world in luxury, and never wanted for anything. But what sort of existence was this? She obviously had something going for her, but she never worked a day in her life (not official work--she did try to set up more than one household--with the help of servants), and seemed to get her prestige, not to mention her dough, from her husbands. She did have one child, a daughter, Kitty, with Hawks, and she was her pride and joy. Still, I'm not sure I'd call her life glamorous or gruesome.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Does This Need A Spoiler Alert? Cause I'm Not Giving One

This is from Anthony Lane's New Yorker review of Tropic Thunder:

[...] the head of the studio hosts a video conference to whip the film back in line. He is a doughy, balding monster with big spectacles and even wider hand gestures, all his power distilled into profanity [....] It took me half the running time to realize who was playing this new beast, and it was only his voice that triggered the recognition; I suspect that there will be gasps during the end credits, as people see his name and find themselves rethinking the whole movie, marvelling at what could have inspired so stiff an actor to unfurl and bounce around.

You know, Anthony, I doubt hardly anyone's gonna gasp. In fact, I'll be shocked if any more than a handful of stragglers need even a minute (much less half the running time!) to recognize it's Tom Cruise. Sure, the makeup hides him, but his distinctive voice gives him away the second he opens his mouth.

Beat The Rush

As I've already stated, I'm sick of watching the Olympics. Well, I just want to say, preemptively, I'm already sick of the Dem and Repub conventions. I won't be watching a second of either, if I can help it.

Wake me when they're over.

Cause You've Got Personality

I always love reading Walter Scott's Personality Parade. This is from the latest:

A "Cooper Laiden" (is that a name, a job or a disease?) from LA notes Eddie Murphy's latest, Meet Dave, flopped. Is he through? Oh no, Scott says. He's had flops before, but is still one of Hollywood's most in-demand actors.

I agree the guy's still a star who can carry a movie. I even think he's a good actor. But a couple more flops like Meet Dave and he won't be so in-demand any more.

Kate Murdoch of Provo says she hear's Keira Knightley will play Eliza Doolittle in a new My Fair Lady, and wants to know if she can sing.

Yes, Scott is glad to note. But an inside source says Keira has not signed on yet. "It depends on the script and other factors." It depends on the script?! Okay, movie adaptations can change things a bit (thought George Cukor's 1964 version didn't), but it's not as if this role, with songs by Lerner and Loewe and dialogue by George Bernard Shaw, is an unknown quantity.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

What The Heck Does That Have To Do With It?

“The insinuation from the Obama campaign that John McCain, a former prisoner of war, cheated is outrageous,” [a McCain spokesperson] said.

Heck, if you're going to bring up irrelevancies, we know McCain is capable of cheating -- just ask his first wife.

Enough Already

I don't know about you, but I'm already tired of the Olympics taking over TV. I just want them to be over and regularly scheduled viewing to return.

At least we've got Mad Men on Sundays.

Palin Drone

Some are saying John McCain, being behind, needs a bold choice for Veep. I don't agree, since he's not that far behind, and the Veep pick doesn't really make that big a difference.

Still, McCain could work on his appeal with women. Someone like Sarah Palin (not but Condi Rice) would be pretty cool and shake things up a bit.

Lately the biggest buzz has been about Joe Lieberman. That would certainly shake things up. And when the dust settled, Obama would be President.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Jerry Wexler

Just a quick goodbye to Jerry Wexler. Along with Ahmet Ertegun, he helped build up the Atlantic label, and put out some of the greatest soul and R&B recordings of the 50s and 60s. Wexler, in fact, created the term "rhythm and blues" when working at Billboard. (When you think about it, not the greatest term, but better than what it replaced: "race records.")

Moment In The Sun

"Clinton's Name Will Be Placed in Nomination." No surprise. It's in Obama's interest to be as accommodating as possible to Hillary, who still commands a loyal following, including many of the swing voters he'll need to win.

The only question some are fretting about is will this take away some of the spotlight during that infomercial known as the Democratic Convention. I don't see how this can happen. He's the star of the show, and nothing, not even grandstanding by one or both Clintons, can change that.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Exciting New Diet

Best story from the Olympics--Michael Phelps eats 12,000 calories a day.

Breakfast: "three fried-egg sandwiches loaded with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise." plus "two cups of coffee, a five-egg omelet [the guy's into eggs],
a bowl of grits, three slices of French toast topped with powdered sugar and three chocolate-chip pancakes."

Lunch: "a pound of enriched pasta and two large ham and cheese sandwiches slathered with mayo on white bread [he's a white bread guy]" plus "about 1,000 calories worth of energy drinks."

Dinner: "a pound of pasta and an entire pizza" plus "another 1,000 calories worth of energy drinks."

For some reason the energy drinks are the part that sound like he's overdoing it.

Anyway, this is a guy who in training exercises strenuously five hours a day. (Does he go in the pool an hour after he eats?) There'll come a time when he drops this regimen. When he does, I hope he cuts down to, say, no more than 6000 calories a day.

The Dog That Hasn't Yet Barked

The arrest of Aafia Siddique suggests Al Qaeda is still out there and planning more attacks. So the question becomes why haven't they been able to hit us hard on our own soil since 9/11?

I doubt it's because they're waiting for the right moment. If they could, they would have hit us already. (They don't like America in general, and the idea they'd give George Bush a pass is silly.)

So it's probably they were either not much of a threat in the first place, or one we've been successfully holding down and taking apart.

Consider The Alternative

I can't agree with Kent Sepkowitz of Slate on alternative medicine when he writes:

Both ["alternative" and "traditional" medicine] have much to offer and plenty to be embarrassed about. To date, neither has established an all-encompassing operation so wondrous that it should demand monogamy from patients.

Sorry, but whether it's alternative or traditional, one size fits all. Proper methods to test whether something works or not are the same no matter what you call it. Western ways of measuring success apply to all therapies, even if "alternative" backers want to think otherwise.

I understand that federal money can't go to all approaches, and considering the track record of many alternative approaches, we should be wary of funding them. My point is that if something is going to be accepted, no matter whether it's an age-old method, or something new and high-tech, it should be judged and tested the same way.

Sepkowitz fears if we ignore alternative medicine, we "ignore[ ] the observations of thousands of people over thousands of years as well as the true pace of medical progress, which is at best herky-jerky and aimless."

False. Ever since we started properly testing to see if stuff works--less than a century ago--medical progress has been swift. Let's not jeopardize that.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

This Is The End

The latest New York Times Magazine cover asks a question, in huge white on black lettering:

IS OBAMA THE END OF BLACK POLITICS??

Since the answer is no, I was intrigued to see how they could string out a whole feature on it.

Turns out Matt Bai's piece is more about the generational conflicts in black politics--a worthwhile subject, but why the bait-and-switch title?

Who Taught J. R.?

J.R. Jones is at it again. He starts his review of Swing Vote thus:

If you’re as hooked on coverage of the presidential campaign as I am, you’re probably aware of a pernicious new euphemism that’s crept into the political lexicon: low-information voters. As an abuse of the English language, this may not rank with advanced interrogation techniques, but it still raises my blood pressure every time I hear it. I believe the more precise terminology is ignorant clowns. That may sound cruel, but if the media showed less sensitivity to such people, perhaps there wouldn’t be quite so many of them. Unlike blindness or retardation, ignorance is easily cured.

1) Not everyone is equally interested in the campaign. Some people like to lead their lives differently, and that's a good thing.

2) Guess what--even if these people spent all their time educating themselves on the issues, they're just as likely to vote one way as the other (though J.R. may not believe this) so what's the point? A highly-informed voter seems to be about as likely to vote stupidly as someone who just gets the basic messages of the candidates.

3) As opposed to the plot of Swing Vote, your single vote doesn't actually matter that much. It's quite rational not to be overly informed if all you're gonna do with that information is vote. Better for you (and the nation at large) to spend your time doing stuff that makes you money or brings you pleasure.

4) If the media paid more attention to this phenomenon, I doubt it would make much difference. (I suppose it might teach people like Mr. Jones not to be so concerned about this issue.) Even if you thought the media could do a good job impartially informing voters, let's recall the voters you're referring to are already avoiding this information. In fact, all the information anyone would want is out there, and more easily attainable than ever before--has that helped?

5) There's always been a fair amount of ignorance among voters. (There's been more self-interest--is that bad too? Because if you think it is, might as well give up on democracy.) In fact, the more of its citizens America has allowed to vote--and that's been the trend throughout our history--the more "ignorant clowns" are allowed to vote. (This is likely so on a percentage basis--it's certainly so for raw numbers.) If you truly want less ignorant clowns voting, what you want is to limit the electorate to, say--I don't know--white male landowners?

A True Giant

Sandy Allen has died, at only 53. You may not know the name, but if you've been a reader of the Guinness Book Of World Records during the past 30 years, you've probably seen her picture.

At 7' 7", she was the tallest woman in the world. Alas, like many giants, her growth was due to a tumor on her pituitary gland, which was rough on her body. In later years, just standing up was hard, and she got around in a wheelchair.

I'm sure it was no fun being that big, but she made the best of it. She appeared in a number of movies and TV shows, often just as herself, which was remarkable enough, but occasionally playing a role. Her most memorable work was in Fellini's Casanova. Fellini often chose actors for their unusual physical appearance, so Sandy was right up his alley. The part isn't much--she's just a giantess (squired around by a couple of little guys--Fellini liked dwarfs as much as giants) who catches Casanova's attention for a few scenes--but I'm glad her size made some positive things possible for her.

I actually met her once, if that's the word for it. For a number of years she worked at the Guinness Museum in Niagara Falls. While I was in town, I noticed a crowd outside, and there she stood, head and shoulders (and then some) above everyone. It's hard to believe someone could be so tall--you kept thinking she was standing on something.

I didn't talk to her, but then, I don't know what I would have said. I'm sure she'd heard "how's the weather up there?" enough times. Well, I hope she's enjoying the weather up there right now.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Not There Yet

Highly unconvincing piece by Steven Warshawsky on why Obama will lose. He explains that Obama is too young, too liberal and too race-conscious for the electorate. The trouble is, these have already been factored in by the public, and Obama is ahead.

It is true that a switch of a few percentage points from Obama to McCain could swing the election the other way, but anyone who claims McCain will win is going to have to explain why that switch will take place.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

One of my favorite Who songs is "Pictures Of Lily." It's about a boy who can't sleep until he puts some pin-ups on his wall.

I'd always assumed Lily was just a name they picked at random, but it recently occurred to me maybe it's a specific Lily. Then it hit me--could it possibly be famous turn-of-the-century pin-up Lillie Langtree?

The only clue in the song is when the father tells the son "she's been dead since 1929." I checked and, sure enough, Langtree died in 1929. Gotta be. (I've since discovered I wasn't the first to guess this.)

EW!

Part of the attraction of Mad Men is not just all that smoking and drinking they did in the early 60s, but a chance to watch a world with different sexual politics. Or is it so different?

What got people talking in particular in the latest episode was the moment where Don Draper, the lead, who needed a comedian to apologize to a sponsor, got fed up with his manager-wife's demands, pulled her head back by the hair and grabbed her by the private parts and told her he'd ruin her husband if she didn't come around.

On the Ain't-It-Cool-News talkback, a lot of the guys seemed to be glad that for the first time this season Don stopped being such a wimp.

But the gals didn't seem quite so happy. For instance, Karen Valby who blogs on Mad Men at EW.com wrote "It was about as crass a scene as there's ever been on Mad Men, and some of my deep affection for Don dried up." The Mad Men recap at buzzsugar had this: "The biggest ick moment of the night for me came from how violently Don treated his new mistress, Bobbie Barrett, at Lutece. His manhandling of her after she threatened him on behalf of her 'client' was uncomfortably sexual and made me a bit fearful of Don..."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Girl You Know It's, Girl You Know It's, Girl You Know It's...

Neither Fab Morvan nor Rob Pilatus could be reached for comment on this breaking story. In other, more interesting, opening ceremony news, the infamous BSOD also made an appearance.

Not So Mad

The latest episode of Mad Men was entitled "The Benefactor." The main plot was about getting a comedian to apologize for insulting a sponsor, and its relation to the title is fairly obvious.

One of the subplots was about looking for a sponsor for a controversial abortion episode of The Defenders. I don't believe they named the episode, which is the way to handle it. It's called "The Benefactor."

Traffic Tales

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) is a bestseller with a self-explanatory title. Apparently it has stuff about all the time wasted searching for parking in Westwood. The suggestion--make it harder to park on the street there so people won't waste so much time avoiding paid parking.

As someone who's spent a fair amount of time searching for parking there, all I can say is the experience is already miserable enough without making it worse.

In an unrelated story, "a motorcyclist dropped a canvas bag full of cash on the San Bernadino Freeway" last Sunday. Motorists stopped to grab bills. They stopped and got out of their cars.

I was on the 10 just a few hours before the incident. Bad timing.

Inside Man

McCain claims he's a maverick, while Obama tries to paint him as a Washington insider. How did it get to this? I know Jimmy Carter was elected when America was looking for an outsider after Watergate, but now it seems like running against Washington is an automatic stance.

Was it always this way, or is this a modern phenomenon? You might think knowing your way around D.C., understanding how to get things done, would be considered a positive. (Not that it is necessarily a positive--I'd rather have a neophyte try to pass laws I like than an old hand pass laws I don't.) Furthermore, you might think that both McCacin and Obama, who are members of a pretty exclusive club, are insiders.

But every election, we get this running against the establishment thing. Hey, aren't we the establishment we've been waiting for?

Monday, August 11, 2008

It's A Fair Question, Actually

A Georgian farmer, asked me: “Why won’t America and Nato help us? If they won’t help us now, why did we help them in Iraq [and Kosovo]?” Particularly now that Russian ground troops reportedly have invaded the wholly-undisputed part of Georgia. Though purely as a PR matter, you may not want to stand in front of the statue of your "most famous son," Josef Stalin, while making that point.

Just A Theory

I've been getting a lot of phone calls trying to sell me something. They're far more annoying than email spam. Here's the part I don't get. Not only am I on the Do Not Call Registry, but at the end of these calls, they tell me to press a number to be taken off the list. Yet I keep getting more calls.

I have a theory that if you actually press the number, you're put on a list of people who wait till the end of the message and respond to what's said, and thus are perfect for further calls.

Oh Them Dudes

Pineapple Express features a prologue set before World War II where the military is testing marijuana on a soldier, played by Bill Hader. While high, he complains that the army is full of "dudes," i.e., males.

This is an anachronism. Anyone using "dude" in the 1930s, and for some time after, would have been referring to either someone very well dressed or a clueless Easterner out West (or both).

All I can says is...Dude!

Isaac Hayes

Isaac Hayes just died. He was a great soul songwriter and performer, and yet is probably best known today as a voice on a cartoon.

In the 60s, the two poles of soul were slick, well-produced sound of Detroit's Motown the grittier Stax Records from Memphis. Hayes worked at the latter, first as a session player, then as a songwrite-producerr. With David Porter he wrote Sam & Dave's "Hold On, I'm Comin'" (title inspired when Hayes wanted Porter out of the bathroom) and the immortal "Soul Man."

In the late 60s, Hayes started recording his own music, and in 1969 had a huge hit album with Hot Buttered Soul. He mostly covered other hits, such as "By The Time I Get To Phoenix"and "Walk On By," but he'd do slow, gospel-inflected versions that turned the songs inside-out.

Then, in 1971, he had his biggest hit with the score to and theme from Shaft. The album and the song went to #1. More amazing, Hayes beat out legends Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini, among others, to win the Best Song Oscar.

Later in the year, Hayes would continue his streak with his top ten album, Black Moses. He'd continue having hits through the 70s, but was never as big again, and by the 80s, stopped charting.

Which makes it all the more surprising that he became more famous than ever in the last decade of his life. He became the voice of the popular character Chef ("Hello there, children!") on Comedy Central's enormous hit South Park. Chef, based on low-talking soul singers from the 70s (as much Barry White as Isaac Hayes), was the one the kids turned to when they were in trouble, and he regularly dispensed valuable advice.

Hayes was involved in a controversy a couple years ago when he quit South Park. After years of making fun of everything in sight, he thought the show finally went too far when it spent a whole episode mocking his religion, scientology.

Though Hayes made a hasty exit from the show, he'll be remembered by Chef, and, I'd guess, even after that's forgotten, for all his great soul music.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Don't Get Me Started On How Hard It Was

Beatles fans know the band recorded "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You" in German, but I never knew they did "A Hard Day's Night" in Yiddish.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

That Would Be Cool

For the first time in what seems like forever, we don't have a President or Vice President as a candidate in a Presidential election.

It made me think, we have had Presidents run against former Vice Presidents (Reagan versus Mondale, for instance), but what would be really interesting is if, in our modern era, a sitting Vice President ran against his own President for the party's nomination . It would be a tricky switch, of course--if the President is so unpopular, how popular could his Veep be? Still, it'd be cool.

Who Cares About The Olympics?

John Edwards finally admits he had an affair, but not paternity. (I was using a "Billie Jean" reference here, but I see Matt Welch beat me to it.)

Meanwhile, Clay Aiken has a child.

Time for two paternity tests.

And oh yeah, Russia's in a war.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Key

I'm looking at my keyboard right now.It's fairly new, yet I notice the "e" is almost completely worn out. The "s" and the "r" aren't doing much better.

Here's an idea. Keyboard manufacturers should make the more popular letters harder to wipe off than the rest.

Vanity Plate Of The Month

I was driving behind a Lexus yesterday, driven by an elderly, white-haired gentleman. His license plate read "EMENEM." What could that mean?

Are his initials MNM? Does he like M&M's? Is he a fan of Eminem but doesn't know the proper spelling?

Guess I'll never know.

If A Ballot Has Your Name On It

Over in Georgia (we have no Southern Guy, so I'll take this), Jim Martin easily defeated Vernon Jones in the Democrats' runoff to get a candidate for the Senate.

I found Jones' response fascinating. He said his loss was part of Heaven's design. He accepted his defeat, stating the Lord Himself "knows what's best for me."

Do you really think this defeat was handed down by Providence? Sure seems to me it was the voters who did it.

Happy 8-8-8

Remind me next year when it's 9-9-9.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Halt!

More than once I've heard The Dark Knight described as an unstoppable juggernaut.

This is redundant. A word that comes to us from Hindi, the essence of a "juggernaut" is it's unstoppable.

Clinton Clams Up

Bill Clinton has nothing to worry about--he won't be running for office again. Sure, he wants his wife to be President (I assume), but his place in history is secure.

So I'm a bit surprised that he won't swallow and say that Obama is ready to be president. I don't know how he truly feels, but you'd think for the sake of the party he'd at least say it. We're about to have two conventions where we'll hear little but fulsome praise for the top man, mostly from people who know better. Is it that big a deal, Bill?

The Best Thing About This Planet

One of the most noticeable things about Mad Men, set in the early 60s, is how much everyone smokes. Anyone who watches TV from this era knows they got it right.

For instance, I just saw "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?," a pretty good 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone. It's set in a diner, where one of the patrons is an alien, but no one knows who. But boy do they smoke. What else are you gonna do in a diner?

At the end, the Martian is revealed, the first of a group of colonizers. And what does this alien like most about Earth? Tobacco! Can't wait till the others get down here so they can learn about how wonderful smoking is.

A Good Leader Knows How To Delegate

Seeking closure of the bitter dispute that rocked Florida's Democratic primary, presumptive nominee Barack Obama asked the national party Sunday to let the state's and Michigan's delegates cast full votes at the convention in Denver.

Obviously this is the right play, especially as Florida and Michigan are swing states. Just as obviously, it's an empty gesture, since Obama is guaranteed the nomination. If he'd allowed these delegates to vote when it made a difference, that would have meant something. (I have no doubt Hillary would still try to win at the convention if there were any chance, but there isn't, so put that out of your mind--though it would have been fun to see what would happen if Obama were taking a beating in the polls, and the superdelegates were nervous.)

I'm reminded of the Florida recount in 2000. A (Gore-voting) friend told me he had the perfect solution--they should split the delegates. He was being serious. Leaving aside that this wasn't legal, it also would have had the effect of handing the presidency to Gore. But it's a fair way to deal with a state where no one knows who won, he said. I said how about this, we'll split it down the middle: give Gore all the popular votes, and Bush all the electoral votes.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Future Argument

Yesterday I was discussing a topic--doesn't matter which--with a friend, and he made a curious claim. He said the public didn't yet realize how morally significant his argument is, but they will. He analogized his cause with fighting against slavery or for women's suffrage--not that long ago no one cared about these issues, but they were unstoppable moral imperatives, and when the time was right, the public got the message.

He may very well be correct, but this is closer to astrology than logic. Perhaps he's right that things will change in his favor, but there are no guarantees. Until then, does he expect me to be convinced by historical analogies? Further, even if public sentiment does change, that wouldn't even mean his cause is just, and I thought that's what the discussion was about.

A Stretch

The Haunted Smile: The Story Of Jewish Comedians In America came out several years ago, and I finally got around to reading it. A worthwhile subject, but a disappointing treatment. While I enjoyed the trip down memory lane, the analysis of how comedy and the Jewish experience related to each other was shallow and sometimes downright silly.

For instance, here's a bit on the mirror scene from Duck Soup: "Harpo was trying to hide by imitating someone else, just as many immigrants and their children believed they had to hide their true selves to imitate Americans."

Come now.


Debased Debate

I recently saw a production of Speed-the-Plow. While it's fun, and full of David Mamet's highly artificial "naturalistic" dialogue, it does have a major weakness. (The same flaw is found in Oleanna--and no, I don't mean needlessly obscure titles.) The female character, and the argument she represents, is too weak.

The play is about two Hollywood producers who are going to become rich and powerful by making a by-the-numbers action film. But a temp secretary convinces one of them to instead greenlight a serious novel about the end of the world.

Now there are plenty of possibilities here to contrast art versus mindless entertainment, but Mamet doesn't make it a fair fight. The two male characters are awful people--crass and narcissistic--but they've got life and are fun to watch. Meanwhile, the woman is fairly annoying and inarticulate when it comes to explaining how she feels. Worse, what we hear about the novel--it's all poetic nonsense about radiation and high-flown feelings--makes it sound ridiculous. Mamet should have at least made it appear the book might make a good film, rather than something so pretentious we'd long for a bad action film.

(I thought Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze handled this problem better in Adaptation, where Donald Kaufman's script-within-the-film may be crass, but we can almost believe it's the kind of thing that Hollywood, and Robert McKee, would approve of. And we can question is "Charlie Kaufman" knows so much more than his brother.)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Do you think he knows?

Does John McCain realize that the Miss Buffalo Chip pageant is essentially always contested topless, and sometimes bottomless?

“I was looking at the Sturgis schedule and noticed that you have a beauty pageant and so I encouraged Cindy to compete. I told her, with a little luck, she could be the only woman ever to serve as both the First Lady and Miss Buffalo Chip,” he said to cheers.

The Dark Prince

Robert Novak, diagnosed with a brain tumor, has retired. I guess this would be a good time to recommend his book from last year, The Prince Of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting In Washington.

He's full of great war stories, and takes no prisoners. It would have been a fun read in any case, but the way he was involved in the Plame Affair made it extra timely.

In a happier story, let me congratulate my friend Virginia Postrel, who seems to be doing great a year after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Still Got Grace But Not As Slick

I saw an interview on TV with this elderly lady who looked like Maureen Stapleton. Turned out it was Grace Slick. It can be quite a shock when you rediscover a star of your childhood.



She was still as loudmouthed as ever, though, and that's why we love her.

No Confidence

Adam Scott plays Will Ferrell's successful but jerky younger brother in Step Brothers (why two words?). I knew I'd seen this actor before playing a jerk, but I couldn't place it. Then, last night, I saw him as the annoying artist in Art School Confidential.

I've written about this 2006 film in passing, but watching it again, I could see its better qualities, as well as why it failed--with the critics and the audience. (There'll probably be spoilers ahead, though I doubt anyone cares at this point.)

The movie is based on a fine comic by Daniel Clowes, but one that has no plot--it's just a nasty look at art school. So to make the movie, Clowes and director Terry Zwigoff (who'd done Crumb, Ghost World and Bad Santa) had to invent one. They decided on a Candide-like story of a young, innocent art school student who's high hopes are brought down by the real world.

There is a fellow art school student who early on guides our hero through the school, essentially mouthing Clowes gags straight--aside from that, he's barely a character. But there has to be more to fill a movie, so they turn it into a love story, and then throw in a serial murderer subplot. This is where most people gave up, and they have a point. It doesn't seem to mix, either with the main plot or the general tone. Only in the final act do we see it fit in, providing both the climax and the resolution, but it still seems absurdly melodramatic. Perhaps it could have worked, but it would have to be woven in better.

But worse is the hopeless, dark tone. The story often seems little more than our boy's hopes being raised again and again, only to be crushed each time. I realize Zwigoff is using our expectations--in conventional films, the hero usually goes from one triumph to the next--against us, but it gets tiresome. Besides, going against formula can become a formula itself. And once you throw in that the vast majority of characters are liars, jerks, chiselers, etc., and that the thesis of the movie is that the whole art world is one big scam, the story becomes too cynical--there's no room to breathe.

Also working against the film is the lead, baby-faced Max Minghella. He looks ten years younger than everyone else, and his descent into a hardbitten, worldwise character is hard to buy.

But that said, there's a lot to recommend this film. As you might expect, coming from insiders, the stuff about the art world being a racket (and that's what most of the film is), while cynical, is often well-observed. The students represent various art school archetypes, all united in their pretentiousness.And John Malkovich is especially good as the professor who desperately wants to be recognized for his art but just as desperately doesn't want anyone to know how desperate he is.

Then there's Jim Broadbent, one of the finest character actors around, as another disappointed artist who has become an alcoholic and, it turns out, a murderer. His character is well done, though the whole murder subplot is just too much.

In the end, the protagonist is mistaken for the killer, which is the best thing that could happen to him. After having all his work thrown back in his face, being thought a criminal makes him a hot artist, and everyone who shunned him wants a piece. (Very similar to The Bonfire Of The Vanities.)

Matt Keeslar has an interesting part as the student who doesn't fit in because he seems too normal. In the last act it's revealed he's an undercover cop. (The cops, by the way, are treated as cynically as the art people--a very dark film) Along the way, Keeslar has to turn in artwork and becomes the star of the school.

Now that's an interesting story. Perhaps if they made him the lead, the movie would have worked better.

Monday, August 04, 2008

I'll giphth up my rubber ducky when they pry ith from my moistht thticky handth.

"Congress moves to ban phthalates from toys"

Debating Points

The New York Times has an interesting piece on Obama and his views on affirmative action. He has always supported race-based preferences, but has also suggested we might need to look at class. This is enough to alarm some supporters.

The Times does see some good coming out of this:

His ruminations about shifting the balance between race and class in some affirmative action programs raise the possibility that, if elected in November, he might foster a deeper national conversation about an issue that has been fiercely debated for decades. He declined to comment for this article.

1) There's a "possibility" he "might" foster a deeper national conversation. Hard to argue with that.

2) So we've had a fierce debate for decades, but I guess it hasn't been that deep.

3) After saying Obama might create a deeper national conversation, I love the irony of the last sentence. I guess the debate only starts after he's elected.

4) I certainly favor a national conversation, though my guess is the most significant thing Obama would do, if he got the chance, is replace one of the five conservative votes on the Supreme Court, which would make our law do another 180 on the subject.

5) Is class-based affirmative action becoming more popular because the public is rejecting race-based affirmative action, and class (along with "diversity") is a useful proxy for race?

6) The Times idea of a deep national conversation seems to be getting someone elected who calls race-based affirmative action "absolutely necessary" arguing with people who support it even more. Since the majority of the public opposes race-based affirmative action, and votes it down every chance they get, it seems to me a truly deep national conversation should at least have someone in there (perhaps the guy who's elected President) representing this point of view.

Why Does This Bother Me So Much?

You know what drives me crazy? Being in a line where the first guy moves up, but someone else along the line--but still in front of me--doesn't move. I know it doesn't make any real difference, but I can't stand it when it doesn't feel like there's any progress.

My Dear Watson

James Watson's The Double Helix is a classic--a first-hand account of the discovery of the structure of DNA, it's more an adventure story than a science book. (Some feel this is a criticism. It's also been criticized for getting things wrong, but why let the facts get in the way of a good tale?)

That book came out in 1968, and now Watson has a new one (okay, published last year) about his life, including those amazing years in the early 50s, entitled Avoid Boring People (note the double meaning). He goes through each phase (and phage) of his past, ending his chapters with the lessons he learned that he's now passing on to prospective scientists.

While the personal history is interesting (if not quite as stirring as in The Double Helix), I don't think the lessons are too helpful. As advice, they're mostly vague and cliched ("Keep your intellectual curiosity much broader than your thesis objective," "Teaching can make your mind move on to big problems." "Stay in close contact with your intellecutal competitors"). Some of the rest is actually too particular, such as you should buy, not rent, a suit of tails when you win a Nobel Prize.

Also, the writing is often stiff. In fact, the best stuff is when he shows his irritation, such as his contempt for the old, hidebound Harvard biology department, or his complaints about his low pay. (Watson, who's been a big name in biology most of his life, seems to be a prickly character.) Nevertheless, I'd recommend it--but not until after you've read The Double Helix.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Damon Runs On

Last year there was talk of bringing the hit London production of Guys And Dolls to Broadway, but that fell apart. Now it looks like Des McAnuff will direct a new production for 2009.

At first I thought: didn't they just have the Nathan Lane-Faith Prince version, good enough to make some Broadway veterans forget the original? But then I checked, and it ran from 1992 to 1995. McAnuff's production will be the fifth revival Broadway has seen. Since the show opened in 1950, that means there's been one about every 12 years, so why not?

As far as I'm concerned, Guys And Dolls should be playing on Broadway all the time.

Stuff You Notice

"That's Amore" was the only big hit Dean Martin had in the decade he teamed with Jerry Lewis. Not that Dean's influence then should be downplayed--Elvis allegedly wanted to sound like him.

It was introduced in The Caddy (Jerry, in his book Dean And Me, claims he personally paid songwriter Harry Warren to make sure Dean had a hit).



Watching it recently, I noticed when Dean comes to the line "When you walk in a dream but you know you're not dreaming, signore," since he's singing to a lady, and a married one at that, he sings "signora," making sense but ruining the rhyme (though he does end the stanza with "amora"--is that a word?).

Note, though, how they save the line the next two times.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Semi-Dark


I've read interviews with Christopher Nolan, writer-director of The Dark Knight (now ranked greatest film ever at IMDb--silly), and he pretty much shares the anti-Iraq, anti-Bush attitude most have in Hollywood.

But I'll give him credit. His Batman film, which most concede comments on the war on terror, has enough ambiguity that it can be read in different ways. Nolan may even believe it has a specific message, but because he's mostly avoided being too on the nose, there enough breathing room for people to claim Bush is Batman (and Batman's good), or even that the whole plot is too confused to say anything.

(Another possibility is he's using the superhero genre to say certain things, and the genre is fighting back.)

Friday, August 01, 2008

Don't Call It A Comeback

Interesting essay by Daniel Mendelsohn in The New Yorker about the latest translation of Herodotus. Sounds like this year's stocking stuffer.

I remember encountering Herodotus in college. One student asked the question we all wanted to know--"Are we responsible for all these names?" The professor nodded, sending a chill up our spines.

I also remember, like Mendelsohn does, how Thucydides was considered so much hipper. But who wouldn't love Herodotus, Father of History, master of the digression, who set the rules, and whose work influenced everything that came after?

So I'm glad to see he's in fashion again. I didn't know he ever out. (And extra points to Mendelsohn for not making cheap parallels with present-day politics. Few writers could resist.)

Organ Recital

Here are five athletes that failed the gender test for the Olympics. Perhaps it's time we created a third category they can compete in.

Lost Snap

Some Lost fans have complained (SPOILERS) that it makes no sense that Jack Shephard would hide the truth about the island the Oceanic Six were on, but a talkbacker over at Ain't It Cool News called "INWOsuxRED" had a pretty good response, explaining what he'd have to say if he didn't lie:

"Hi, I just got off a magic island. Yes, I have no proof, and couldn't possibly help you find that island. I know you found my plane and all the passengers dead, but they actually didn't die. That was a fake plane crash to make it LOOK like we were dead...yes, I did say magic. What is so strange about that? There was this guy who couldn't walk and then when he got to the island he COULD walk again. No, he decided to stay there because he loves it there, so obviously I have no proof about him either. Yes there is a monster on the island, it is made out of smoke and chases people. It killed the pilot. Then for a while we found this hatch in the ground and we had to push a bunch of buttons or the world would get blown up. Then we stopped pushing the button and the sky turned colors. Did the sky turn colors out here? No? Okay, well it must have only happened on the magical island. Oh, there is also another island across from our island. You probably won't be able to find that one either, even though the whole world has been mapped. What do you mean you think I'm crazy??? I haven't even gotten to the part where they kept us in polar bear cages and blackmailed me to perform spine surgery!"

What A Card

Okay, here's what Obama said: "What they're going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, he's not patriotic enough, he's got a funny name, you know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills....he's risky."

What's interesting is what happened during the ellipsis. The "dollar bill" line created a huge whoop of laughter followed by prolonged applause. The other claims about his opponents' scare tactics got little or no reaction.

This is the side of politics I really hate. The ugliness, which both sides have, of feeling such moral superiority that you never respond more than when your candidate reminds you of how nasty the other side is.

PS Some have noted Obama's gaffe in stating there's more than one President on the dollar bill, but we get what he means.

PPS Obama's spokesperson said he wasn't referring to race, which only compounds the insult.

PPPS You can tell as much about an audience by what they don't cheer as what they do. I'm reminded of Obama's big speech in Berlin. When he said we must reject torture and support the rule of law, wild applause. When he said we have to defeat terror and extremism, nothing. Let's face it, Obama's European fans don't want to hear him attack the enemies of the West, they want him to rip into America.

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