Monday, November 30, 2009

No Comment

The latest from Indonesia:

Communication and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring said that there were many television programmes that destroyed morals.

Therefore, the minister said, natural disasters would continue to occur.

His comments came as he addressed a prayer meeting on Friday in Padang, Sumatra, which was hit by a powerful earthquake in late September.

He also hit out at rising decadence - proven, he said, by the availability of Indonesia-made pornographic DVDs in local markets - and called for tougher laws.

Military Money

Representative David Obey and Senator Carl Levin have put forward the idea of a war tax. As the papers put it:

Two senior Democratic lawmakers said they want to impose a new "war surtax" on Americans to pay for any additional armed forces deployed to Afghanistan under Obama's forthcoming decision on the strategy for the eight-year-old war.

"What we are saying is, if this war is worth fighting, then it is worth paying for," Representative David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, said Monday.

I realize this has no chance of passing, and Obey and Levin are trying to make a point, but I think it's a great idea. I think we should have a separate, itemized tax for every main category in the budget. We should know what we're paying for. And if you don't like what you're paying for, vote the bums out.

Obey has suggested this tax just be for the wealthy, but that's repugnant. Defense is a public good, so everyone should pay. Besides, does he want everyone else to be ignorant of what the government is doing?

Shoring Up Lucas

House has been a hit for six years now, and it's nowhere near out of steam in the ratings. The basic formula is still the same--patient of the week with a mysterious illness--but the producers have tried to mix things up by hiring a lot of new regulars along the way.

I generally find the "arc" stuff less interesting than the weekly mystery, but I guess they gotta do something. And sometimes the new characters are pretty good. The three new members of House's team--now broken up--weren't bad. Even better was Amber, the "cutthroat bitch" who didn't make the team but came back as Wilson's love interest (before being dispatched).

But one character who didn't work was Lucas, the private investigator House hired in season five. He was supposed to be a new sounding board for House, but I don't think the audience wanted someone who gave as good as he got--that's House's job.

So I was surprised to see him return this season, cuddling with Cuddy. I find the whole House/Cuddy thing boring enough, so making it a triangle with a character I didn't care to see again makes it twice as bad.

Lucas is played by Michael Weston. According to his Wikipedia profile, House "creator David Shore is planning a spin-off show with Weston's character as the lead." That would explain why they're featuring him. I hope they spin him off soon.

Everything Is Fine

I showed Eraserhead to a friend recently. It's one of my favorite films, but not easy to recommend. Luckily, my friend liked it, though we had completely different interpretations.

I don't think I've ever written about Eraserhead on this blog. Maybe I'll discuss it at greater length some other time. Suffice it to say it's David Lynch's surrealistic first feature, and while some declare it a masterpiece, others think it trash.

For instance, here are how some people described their comments at IMDb:

If there was a verb for raping ones psyche, it would be called "eraserhead"

Having Your Pre Frontal Lobes Massaged By Edward Scissorhands,

The reason I can't sleep at night...,

And those are people who liked it. That's an old punchline, but true in this case. Here are comments from those who couldn't stand it.

The worst film ever made. Ever. Ever ever ever

I wasted time from my life on Eraserhead; maybe I can save you from the same mistake

It's kind of like having a mutated unicorn claw at the inside of your stomach

I'd rather kick myself in the balls than watch this again

Any film that gets reactions this strong must be worth something.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Great Opportunity

The International Buster Keaton Society is offering a 2009 Porkpie Scholar grant. The deadline for the grant is in a couple weeks, so it's not too late, and they're still waiting to hear from people.

If you have any projects regarding Keaton, or can come up with one quickly, now's the time. Check to link for futher details.

You Don't Want To See That

I live a block away from a local branch of the the Department of Motor Vehicles, and so regularly see student driver cars.

But yesterday I saw something I'd never seen before, though when you see it, you figure "of course." At an intersection, a student driver car had slammed into another car.

I felt pretty bad. (Though I also felt "isn't that cute--the first accident.") I hope this doesn't put that student off driving forever. Or would that be a good thing?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Daly Show

I was recently watching "University," a third-season episode of The Sopranos. It's an episode noted for its ugly violence, but I noticed something else I'd missed the first time around (understandably).

We meet the father of Meadow's boyfriend. He's a high-powered entertainment attorney, and he mentions talking to Tim Daly. Later, Daly would play a recurring character on The Sopranos.

Has this ever happened before? There have been plenty of shows that mentioned an actor who'd then appear as himself, but has an actor ever been mentioned on a show and later had a fictional role on it?

Left-Handed Compliment Of The Month

David Denby in The New Yorker:

But if “Me and Orson Welles” isn’t as witty as “Shakespeare in Love,” which, after all, had a script shined up by Tom Stoppard, it’s much better than “Cradle Will Rock,”...

Cradle Will Rock was a disaster from start to finish. For that matter, Shakespeare In Love was pretty overrated.

Friday, November 27, 2009

My Fair Pygmalion

I recently watched the 1983 TV version of Pygmalion, starring Peter O'Toole and Margot Kidder. At first I was put off by their performances. O'Toole seems to think Higgins is a shouter, and Kidder struggles with her accent(s). The whole production seemed a travesty. But then I let the play take over. The leads may be a bit eccentric, but the story's pretty good and the characters have a lot of wonderful things to say.

This is not a great version of Pygmalion, but enough of it shines through to make it worth watching.

Stray Thoughts

If I had a talk show, I wouldn't let any guest set up a clip. That's dead time. I don't care if the clip causes confusion. In fact, if it does, good--we'll have something to talk about after.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Everyone's Gone To The Movies

Everyone's on vacation anyway, so posting will be light over the long weekend.

No Thanks

I caught the Heroes "Thanksgiving" episode. It had three separate groups--the carnival folk with Hiro, the Petrellis and a hidden Sylar, and Noah's family--sitting down to the feast. Every now and then something threatened to happen, but nothing did.

Turkey Day

Have a happy Thanksgiving. And remember, when frying your turkey, safety first.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Post Modern

Modern Family has gotten good reviews and ratings, so I gave it a second chance. Community is still my favorite new comedy, but MF isn't bad. Worth watching, anyway, if not exactly appointment TV. I still find The Office-style filming offputting. The intentional shaky cam is an annoying affectation in general, and talking directly to a camera is a non-sequitur (and a cheap device) for a situation where no one would be making a documentary.

I also see Bored To Death has been picked up for a second season by HBO. Maybe they'll try some plots this time.


I haven't tried Brach's Malt Balls in years. I'm not even sure if they sell them in Los Angeles. But I recall they were the best malt balls around.

So I'm distressed to read Brach's has been bought out and the malt ball formula has been changed. And it's obvious. Word is getting out they suck. Worse than Whoppers.

I don't know why the change. Cheaper ingredients to save money? Penny candy wise, poundcake foolish.

PS Now I read "Brach's has changed the formula tocloser [sic] to the original taste!" There's hope yet.

What's The Difference

From Der Spiegel:

When he entered office, US President Barack Obama promised to inject US foreign policy with a new tone of respect and diplomacy. His recent trip to Asia, however, showed that it's not working. A shift to Bush-style bluntness may be coming.

I'm not sure if this gets it right. I think the differences between Bush and Obama are more of substance than style. In fact, both of them strongly believe/believed in certain ideas, and are/were willing to force them on people. (Obama perhaps more than Bush--look at domestic issues, where Bush reached across the aisle in his first year more than Obama has).

The difference is that when push came to shove (and 9/11 was push coming to shove), Bush believed in things that many opinion leaders in Europe didn't like. Bush may have been just as willing as Obama to listen to others, but, ultimately, decided against what a lot of people in Europe wanted. This made them think, of course, he wasn't listening.

Meanwhile, Obama takes the European outlook on many issues--the need for much stronger environmental laws, the idea that Israel is an enemy of peace in the Middle East, the concept that the American military does a lot of harm in the world. If you share people's mindset, you may seem more open and tolerant to them. But to those whom you disagree with, well...Obama has turned his back on Poland, snubbed Britain, couldn't wait to meddle in Honduran politics (on the side of Hugo Chavez fans), made demands on Israel, etc. If you're on his bad side you might end up thinking he's arrogant and stubborn just like Bush.

I'm not saying there's no difference in their styles, and even that different styles may get different results (would you rather be feared and create resentment, or be loved and treated like a chump?), but I think a lot of what's attributed to style is actually a difference of politics.

Good Ol' Charlie Darwin

An "On Faith" column in The Washington Post lists "A dozen reasons to celebrate Darwin." While I think Darwin should be celebrated, the reasons they give are a bit odd.

For example, they note Darwin was a loving, caring father, a hard worker, and not an atheist. I suppose if religious people are frightened of Darwin, this could be helpful, but these aren't the real reason to celebrate the man.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

No Sense

At Pajama Guy we're always on the lookout for sister sites that use the same clownish template we do. We chose it because it's reminiscent of Pajamas, but who else would?

Well, Some Small Sense would. Or did, anyway. It looks like the site's been abandoned, but when it existed, it seemed to be about a short woman discussing how she deals with the world from below.

Here's hoping she's moved on to bigger and better things.

Kate The Great

I'd heard this week's Big Bang Theory would feature Katie Sackhoff. Previously, the show had a guest shot by Summer Glau. I was worried they might be straining credulity by having the guys run into too many sf hotties, but it turned out a very sexy Sackhoff played Howard's imaginary tub-mate.

I wonder who'll be next?


In Slate, Katha Pollitt discusses Gail Collins' book on the gains women have made in the past 50 years. There's no question America has changed considerably, and women are much freer to decide their own destiny. But, like any activist, Pollitt feels we're not doing enough, and that progress has slowed, or even stopped. Maybe reversed.

When did this happen? After the gains of the 60s and 70s, there's been trouble: the book goes into the 1980s, the arc of the narrative takes a downward turn. The movement culture dissipates [...] the sour economy pushes into the workforce women who don't want to be there. Soon feminism is popularly understood as professional women trying to "have it all"—and, before you know it, it's the l990s and women are, maybe, resigned to "settling for less." And that is where many still are today.

Is this lack of progress, or reality? The "sour economy" stuff is nonsense. More women are working, whether there's a good or bad economy. When women can work outside the home more easily, and there's an expectation they should take care of themselves (and men aren't as likely to believe it's their duty to support them), of course there'll be plenty of women "pushed" into the workforce. There are plenty of men who would love not to have to work, too. This isn't settling for less. This is life.

Pollitt has a predictable solution--more government.

By appealing to American principles of fair play and individual merit at a historical moment of unusual openness to liberationist ideals, feminists were able to knock down formal, legal barriers in a very short period of time. But what they couldn't do—and it wasn't for lack of trying—was to enlarge the social-welfare state.

American women, alone among those in Western industrialized nations, have no paid maternity leave (let alone parental leave) or (as of yet) national health care. Care of dependent family members—children, the elderly, the sick—is women's unpaid labor. Workers have few rights. Aid to poor families—including mothers and children temporarily poor due to divorce—is humiliating and stingy. Feminists hav not even been able to eliminate the sexism embedded in the minimal welfare state we have: Unemployment insurance, the income tax, and social security are all structured around dated ideas about gender and work that disadvantage women.

You know, I could swear the social-welfare state has been enlarged quite a bit in the past 50 years. Exactly how many trillions of dollars have to be spent before we no longer have a "minimal welfare state"?

The original problem was women were held back by a whole culture, fully backed by the laws of the land. The legal blocks were removed, and the culture changed, but the ensuing freedom didn't fully lead to Pollitt's desired results. So what's her solution? Rather than letting citizens find their own way as independent agents, let's bring back more laws telling people what they can and can't do. Thankfully, with the culture changed, this time around they'll have to dance to our tune. Also, time to stop treating men and women equally--laws must once against reflect a separate status for women.

Look how well this strategy has succeeded in other countries:

Americans, including many women, might recoil from "government spending" and "bureaucracy" and scorn as anti-meritocratic proposals to use quotas to increase the number of women political candidates or corporate board members. Such measures, though, go far to explain why Scandinavia always comes out on top of those international surveys of women's equality and why the United States is stuck in the middle of the pack. The struggle over health care reform, with or without the Stupak amendment banning federally funded abortion coverage, shows how difficult it will be to move up on the list.

So if internationl survey measures the quality of women's lives by A, and Sweden adopts A, Sweden is better for women. QED. Or maybe there are other, better ways to measure how well women are doing. Ways that Pollitt, stuck in the past, can't get her head around.

Pollitt clearly needs a little consciousness raising.

Reverse The Curse

It was a good season for Curb Your Enthusiasm. But it was more than that. It was a twofer. Not only was it a fine season finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm, it was also the decent Seinfeld season finale we were denied 11 years ago.

Not that we saw a full Seinfeld episode. As David has noted on CYE, reunion shows never work. The moment has passed, the actors and the characters have moved on, and what you gain in nostalgia you lose in relevance and, invariably, humor.

Instead, we got to see the actors reuniting for a reunion show, which works better. They were good as both their old characters (the little we saw of them) and as characters on CYE.

We also got to see--somewhat fictionalized, of course--something we never could on the original show: the close relationship of David and Seinfeld. Their sitcom was built on that, and we could see, with them playing off each other, how naturally they fell into the rhythm of both Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

They whole cast was good, but, as always, Jason Alexander stood out. He's a fine actor--nothing like George Costanza, of course--so it was fun to see two not-so-great actors, David and Seinfeld again, mocking Alexander's craft.

At the end, it looked like David might get sentimental, with Cheryl returning. But, as with Seinfeld, we had nothing to fear. He'll still be the same Larry David, who can never leave well enough alone.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Locke Lost

I just want to note I had an post in this place (with a picture and everything) about my theories regarding Locke, after watching season 5 Lost reruns. I deleted it by mistake, so I guess it will never see the light of day.

No big loss, I suppose, though if I turn out to be right I won't be able to link to it and say "Pajama Guy does it again."

By George

From Variety's review of the New York City Center production of Girl Crazy:

Today's audiences know George Gershwin mostly for "Porgy and Bess," "Rhapsody in Blue," and his later film songs.

Ridiculous. Sure, people know the stuff listed above, but they also know the Gershwin songbook, which includes more songs from his early Broadway musicals than any other source.

What songs do I mean? You know, stuff like "Swanee," "Fascinating Rhythm," "Oh, Lady Be Good," "That Certain Feeling," "Sweet And Lowdown," "Clap Yo' Hands," "Do, Do, Do," "Someone To Watch Over Me," "The Man I Love," "Strike Up The Band," "I've Got A Crush On You," "Funny Face," "'S Wonderful," "He Loves And She Loves," "My One And Only," "Bidin' My Time," "Embraceable You," "I Got Rhythm" and "But Not For Me."

Or has Variety forgotten all that?

Hamlet 2 The Second

I didn't particularly like Hamlet 2 when it came out. Watching it on TV, I've warmed to it a bit. It's still not good enough, but there are parts that aren't bad.

The movie created a stir at Sundance in 2008. Though it sold at a high price, it's still a weird little film that was never going to catch on big.

The plot has a high school drama teacher in Tucson putting on a controversial, self-written sequel to Hamlet. The gags are hit and miss, mostly miss, but the thing that holds it together is Steve Coogan's lead performance. His character Dana Marschz (no one can pronounce the name) is amazingly foolish and given to great self-doubt, but is also irrepressibly optimistic. Even when the material is weak, Coogan's sweet loopiness keeps the film moving forward.

Future Tense

NBC has turned late night into a disaster. They'd been on top for over a decade, but in forcing out Jay Leno for Conan O'Brien, they lost their lead at 11:30 and got rid of a success at 12:30 (not to mention saddled themselves with low ratings at 10).

But the worst thing is what the move did to Conan. In making it bigger and more for mass appeal, he's lost a lot of what I liked. Some of the quirk is gone, as is some of the intelligence.

For instance, one of his signature bits was "In The Year 2000," where Conan and a guest, over unsettling, futuristic background music, would muse on the bizarre things that'll happen on that far-off date. The sketch started not too long before the actual year 2000, and part of the joke was the homage to the silly futurism of old, cheap sci-fi and horror films. If anything, it got even funnier when they continued past the year 2000.

But since moving to 11:30, they've changed the routine to "In The Year 3ooo." I'm sure they had some meeting and decided the whole concept/homage was too confusing. So they've "updated" it and made the concept less funny. (It doesn't even make sense, in its own way, since the jokes often deal with what characters alive today will be doing.)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

It's Over (For Now)

A rotten ending to a rotten season. In many ways, worse than last season. The irony is the Buckeyes were terrible. In fact, Michigan probably should have won. But you can't win when every time you're moving you turn the ball over.

We're last in the Big Ten, and with the exception of a patsy team, have done nothing but lose for months. A better QB (let's say someone who does throw interceptions or fumble near the end zone) may make a difference, but I don't see how one player can turn the team around. The question is can one coach turn a team around?


This is weird. Ken Ober's dead. Not clear of what.

He was host of MTV's Remote Control, a late-80s game show about popular culture. Or really a comment on game shows. It did not take itself seriously.

The show allegedly took place in Ober's basement (his mom would interrupt from upstairs). The three contestants sat in lounge chairs and when they lost would be pulled back through the wall.

I thought Ober was funny. He kept working when they show was canceled, but like so many pop culture items of that period, he's pretty much completely forgotten.

Does Chris Hardwick know about this?

Danger Will

Will Phillips is a fifth-grader from Arkansas who refuses to stand up for the Pledge Of Allegiance. Why? Because he feels in a country where gay marriage isnt allowed there's no "liberty and justice for all."

He was interviewed on CNN and has received a fair amount of adulatory coverage. It's his right to stay seated, but I can't understand why anyone would make a hero of him. While I wouldn't call what he's done hateful, I don't consider it particular admirable. There are plenty of people who have grievances of one sort or another against the U.S.--drugs are illegal, abortion is legal, illegal immigrants aren't stopped, illegal immigrants are treated too cruelly, the Democrats want to take away our freedom, the Republicans want to fight an illegal war, etc.--and there always will be. To teach your child to hold your grievance is no great trick.

He also told a substitute teacher who was mad at him to go jump off a bridge. Maybe his parents could also teach him some self-control.

Queen Of The Bass

Today we celebrate the birthday of lovely Tina Weymouth. Chris Frantz is a lucky guy.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ageless Question

Nestor Carbonell, Lost's Richard, as Khan? Why not? If J.J. Abrams wants to raid the Lost larder, that's his business.

To me the bigger question is should Star Trek bring back Khan to begin with.

End Of An Era

So we come to the end of a second disastrous season for the Wolverines. Beating OSU would in some ways salvage the season (and even get us into bowl game), but no one really cares. I'll be watching (though did they have to schedule the game early?), but nothing much is at stake, and I don't believe Michigan can win anyway. I wonder if the game will ever matter again?

Time to start following basketball again.

Think Before You Speak

Responding to the Ft. Hood massacre, General George Casey said "Our diversity ... is a strength." Ann Coulter takes him to task for what amounts to, at best, an inapposite statement. She goes on to state, after listing a bunch of violent conflicts between two peoples sharing the same land, "'Diversity' is a difficulty to be overcome, not an advantage to be sought. "

As often with Coulter, underneath the invective, there's a decent point which she takes too far. "Diversity is our strength" is a mindless statement. In some cases diversity is good, in some cases it isn't. More important, it's become a code word meaning a whole bunch of things, but not necessarily diversity.

"Unity is our strength" could also be a good motto. In some situations. But if you said it no matter what, it would be pointless.

A Load Of Bullock

The Blind Side, where feisty Sandra Bullock adopts a big black kid and helps him become a football star (or something like that--I've only seen the trailer) came out yesterday. I've written about this sort of film (sorta), and it's not exactly my favorite genre.

Still, I think the LA Weekly goes a bit far:

...The Blind Side’s Michael “Big Mike” Oher (Quinton Aaron) is mute, docile and ever-grateful to the white folks who took him in. Directed by John Lee Hancock and based on a true story recounted in Michael Lewis’ 2006 book of the same name, The Blind Side peddles the most insidious kind of racism, one in which whiteys are virtuous saviors, coming to the rescue of African-Americans who become superfluous in narratives that are supposed to be about them.

Really now, racist? Even better--the most insidious kind of racism? (Insidious is a great word--it allows you to claim something is even worse if it's hardly there at all.)

This sort of movie is usually filled with tiresome uplift, and, especially when the racial angle is added, can come across as condescending. But the Weekly's review is just kneejerk namecalling. Racist should really be reserved for actual racism.

PS Here's a conservative claiming the film is okay in Hollywood because it takes a gratuitous shot at George W. Bush:

Hollywood is not money or profit-driven. This is an industry engaged in an ideological war with traditional conservative America that doesn’t mind making a profit, but never will at the expense of the cause. Everyone involved in the making of “Blind Side” knew an unnecessary partisan shot at Bush would turn people off. They all knew they were insulting the very audience the film was marketed at for no reason other than to insult them. But there was absolutely no way in hell this thing was going to see the light of day without something for the Hollywood bigots to snicker over.

I think this guy's thought about it a lot more than the filmmakers did.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Lost Expectations

Here's something I used to see a lot, but I figured I wouldn't hear again. From a comments section on a post about Lost:

... I came to Lost in a concentrated fashion- I watched the first four seasons in June and July 2008, and while I really like the series, after the fifth season, I started to get the queasy feeling that the writers have never really had a plan for how to end it, and I suspect that they will end up throwing up some half-assed story that doesn't really tie up the loose ends in a satisfying way. I am preparing to be disappointed.

How odd. During the first season, and especially in the second, a lot of fans thought they were being taken for a ride. But as the answers started coming, and the action became clearer, the pieces started clicking into place. By the fifth season, I don't know how anyone could doubt they knew where they were going. For that matter, looking back at the first season, even the pilot, it becomes obvious they were setting things up for the finale.

Was there patchwork? Did the seams occasionally show? Certainly. There's no way to avoid that with a story and cast so large. Not everything fits together perfectly. Furthemore, it's possible the ending will be very disappointing. But they know their destination. Fans can only hope it was worth getting there.

PS For a long time I considered Lost to be my Wednesday reward for making it halfway through the week. I remember thinking if only we could go straight from Monday to Wednesday, things would be so much easier.

Well, the next best thing has happened. The final season of Lost has been moved to Tuesday. Fans had been speculating where it would end up on the ABC schedule, especially now that the net is building a Wednesday comedy block. It'll be weird not getting Lost in the middle of the week, but now it'll be the bridge that gets me to Humpday.

Will it be beaten by American Idol? Yes, badly. But there are enough hardcore fans to keep it afloat. Anyway, who cares, it's not like they're gonna cancel it.

Looking Forward

The trades are always full of stories about upcoming projects, most of which never amount to much. But you never know. Here are two items that caught my eye. They're both a little inside, but sound like they could be fun.

Chris Elliott will star in a live show on the Cartoon Network:

Eagleheart," from Conan O'Brien's Conaco Prods. and Dakota Pictures, centers on a low-level television executive sent to Texas to produce the action series "Eagleheart." He finds himself stuck in a never-ending power struggle with his temperamental star/creator/exec producer (Elliott), a veteran action star past his prime who uses the show as a soapbox for his right-wing politics and conservative paranoia.

Clearly based on Chuck Norris.

Meanwhile, Larry Charles and McG have teamed up to create a comedy for NBC:

Untitled project centers on a group of sci-fi fanboys in a small town who shoot their own version of a canceled TV show. Charles is onboard to write, exec produce and direct the project.

Sounds like it could work--for me, anyway. Most fanboy-centered stuff hasn't done so well. Fanboys make great fans, not great protagonists. The main warning signal to me, though, is the series will be "semi-scripted." I know that's how Larry Charles has worked with Sasha Baron Cohen, but hey, this is shorter than a movie--write a whole script.


I've been checking out reruns of L.A. Law. It feels different today, since when I first watched I wasn't living in LA and a program that showed the ins and outs of a law firm was relatively fresh.

Anyway, I recently saw an episode from the early 90s, where a guy who wears a Homer Simpson suit in a theme park is fired. The character is played by Dan Castelleneta, the voice of Homer Simpson. It's a good gag. (He does the voice, but only inside the Homer head.) But I just wondered back then if Dan thought a guest shot on L.A. Law was a step up from The Simpsons.

You Deserve A Break

Here's a case worth watching--McDonald v. Chicago. It's a challenge to a handgun ban, with petitioners arguing for the Second Amendment to be incorporated to the states. (Last year's Heller case was about the District of Columbia.) That's certainly a big deal, but there's a lot more at stake here.

The Supreme Court is considering overturning the Slaughter-House Cases. We're taking about precedent from the 1870s. Back then, the Supreme Court had a limited view of the 14th Amendment and declared its Privileges or Immunities Clause didn't apply the Bill of Rights to the states. Only much later, through selective incorporation, was the Court able to apply the supposedly fundamental parts of the Bill of Rights to the states.

I think the original decision was wrong and the later incorporation doctrine was a cheap way to do what should have been done with the P or I clause. But I can't imagine the Court is ready to overturn such ancient precedent. If it is overturned, it could mean a lot more than just the Second Amendment applies to the states.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I recently read Tom Davis's memoir, the reasonably enjoyable Thirty-Nine Years Of Short-Term Memory Loss. Davis is the lesser-known member of Franken & Davis, the least-loved comedians to regularly appear on Saturday Night Live. The narrative is fractured, and goes more into Davis's travels and attraction to the Grateful Dead that I cared to read. But if you're into SNL, save a spot on your shelf.

It's rare I've laughed at anything coming out of Al Franken's mouth, so let me admit he came up with a good line, on the spot, well before he was famous. According to Davis, some guy he was caddying for was having a terrible round, and blamed Franken. When it was over, he said "You must be the worst caddy ever" to which Franken replied "That would be too big a coincidence."

Schmucks With Underwoods

I believe I've mentioned Marc Norman's What Happens Next, but I haven't said what an excellent book it is. It's the story of Hollywood screenwriting, but really it's a history of Hollywood through the prism of screenwriters. If it has a weakness, it's that the book starts to run out of steam in recent times when the story becomes much more familiar.

I'd say it's the best book in its genre, but really it's the only book of its kind.

The Big Payoff

For years I've been throwing excess quarters into an empty drawer in my kitchen. I finally decided it was enough and put them all in a plastic bag. Actually, a double plastic bag--quarters are heavy.

I must have over $100 worth of quarters. The bag is now in my car, and whenever I go to buy anything, I bring the bag into the store. I've gotten good at counting them out quickly.

And the bag is helpful if I get mugged.

Understanding Tragedy

Here's a meme I've seen a lot lately. It's expresser here in a comment about Eric Holder's Senate testimony:

The "tragic shooting" at Ft. Hood. What happened at Ft. Hood was a jihadist massacre — a terrorist act, not a tragedy.

I think I get the point (or do I?). Tragedy is foreordained--events combining in inevitable but horrible ways to bring about disaster, even though good people may be behind them. So some guy going off on a shooting spree is an event that maybe could have been prevented, certainly didn't have to happen, and doesn't rise to ennobled, tragic heights.

But that's just one meaning of tragedy, and a pretty specific one. The word is generally used to mean something like this:

A disastrous event, especially one involving distressing loss or injury to life...

So when people say something's a tragedy, they're not making a political comment, they're just saying something really bad happened. And they're using the word correctly.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Oh, Lou

Yesterday I noted Bill Maher's justification for his anti-vaccination stance (pardon me--his quest for an open conversation on the topic) was too incoherent to bother to unravel.

Well, the internet is a big place, so someone else did it. Over at Collective Imagination, Orac gives Maher the lengthy takedown he deserves.

Here are a couple more takedowns.

PS I wasn't aware the Huffington Post was a hotbed of anti-vac activity, though I might have guessed from the some the comments Maher got.

PPS Maher tells what is certainly a made-up story about Louis Pasteur renouncing germ theory on his deathbed. It's reminiscent of the nonsense about Darwin renouncing evolution on his deathbed. I guess if you're going to make up something, it might as well take place on a deathbed, since it'll look as if it's the subject's final word, and you know you won't find any later writings that contradict it. Mind you, even if Pasteur had denied his earlier claims in his later years, it wouldn't prove anything except maybe he'd gone round the bend.

I can actually name a famous person who shared Maher's crackpot view that it's the body being healthy that counts, not the infectious diseases that attack it--George Bernard Shaw. (He also had trouble with Darwin's natural selection.) But then, Shaw was a vegetarian and a socialist, not a biologist.

Not Too Sharp

Some fans have complained about Joe Jackson selling out, giving his song "One More Time" to Taco Bell, where it's currently being used to pitch the Cheesy Gordita Crunch.

I don't like classic tunes in ads. I prefer to associate songs I like with my own images. But I'm still amazed, thinking back at how commercial radio so often balked at new wave and punk, to think such music is now being used to sell stuff over the airwaves to the public at large.

Easy As Pie

Here's the original definition of "cakewalk":

A 19th-century public entertainment among African Americans in which walkers performing the most accomplished or amusing steps won cakes as prizes.

It may have been fun, but was it that effortless? Sounds like it could be pretty tiring. (Though not as bad as a Turkey Trot.)

On the other hand, it does explain the phrase "take the cake."


When "Expose" (accent aigu on the last "e") first aired, Lost fans felt mixed. It was the episode that concentrated on the hated Nikki and Paulo, but it was also the one where they bought the farm. Watching it now, it's a lot easier to take, since it doesn't mean we have to wait a week to get back to the main plot.

It's not clear if Nikki and Paulo were meant to play a larger part in the show, and the producers offed them because they were so unpopular, or if this was always the plan.

The episode, removed from the series, is actually a lot of fun. It's the most self-referential by far. We get to explore the last two and a half seasons of Lost from the point of view of a couple minor characters (who threatened to be major).

Within the Lost universe, Expose is a mystery show (which Hurley loves and Locke watches) on which Nikki makes a guest appearance. "Expose" is an episode of Lost that offers its own self-contained mystery plot. In Expose, Nikki dies, which, she notes, is the fate of guest stars. In "Expose," Nikki and Paulo, two minor characters, end up the same way.

Back in Sydney, Nikki and Paulo killed the producer of Expose and swiped his diamonds. There are a lot of nasty characters among the castaways, but N and P are probably the worst. And once they get on the Island, they only get nastier, if that's possible. (I guess Jacob figured there was no reason to visit these two when they were younger.)

A lot of dead characters come back to life in the flashbacks. We spot a quarreling Boone and Shannon in the airport. Nikki says to Paulo let's make sure we never end up like them. But of course, they not only quarrel, they end up buried next to the two. We also see Arzt (who knows a lot about spiders) and Ethan.

One of the first big things Nikki and Paulo did was take a trip to the Pearl Station with some of first season regulars. While the others were watching a video, Paulo went to the bathroom. Among some fans, he was dubbed TASG--Take A Shit Guy. But Lost, even when it's a cul-de-sac, is a clever show, and this episode explains that Paulo actually had a reason to be in the toilet.

What bothered me most about the show when I first saw it was how these two discovered certain things first--the Pearl and the plane. In fact, Paulo says he wouldn't climb up to check out the plane or it'll fall, which is how Boone died. I thought this cheapened what Locke and Boone had done in the first season. Locke was a discoverer, now he's just getting seconds. Plus he's dumber than Paulo. But there is another way to look at it. N and P were offered a shot at redemption, like everyone else. Instead of taking it, they didn't appreciate what the Island offered. They see the Pearl and the plane, and while this opens up an amazing world to Locke, who gets the Island, they just shrug it off, and fight over the diamonds. Compare them even to Sawyer, who realizes by the end of the show (while he's burying the two alive) that the diamonds aren't worth anything.

This is maybe symbolized by Locke's meeting with Paulo. Paulo is trying to hide the diamonds from Nikki--still plotting--and Locke tells him whatever he's hiding, it won't stay buried on the Island. This literally means the tide will eventually wash away what Paulo's doing. But it also means that on the Island, your true self will eventually show through.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Opacity Capacity

I'd heard Bill Maher was an anti-vaccination nut, but maybe it was just a rumor. So when I noticed he wrote an article to clarify his views, I figured I'd give him a chance and see what he really believes.

But after reading the lengthy "Vaccination: A Conversation Worth Having," I've thrown up my hands. The guy has plenty of stupid things to say, but he doesn't put them together clearly enough for me to properly summarize his "argument."

He wants a conversation. Okay, I'll start: write the piece again, but try to be coherent.

It's Not Just A Job

A number of people I know have been sending this around, so I figured I'd link to it. It's (allegedly) questions that have been asked in Google interviews.

The tone and title of the piece suggests these questions are a bad thing, but I think they'd be a refreshing change of pace. Some of the questions I think I'd do pretty well on, while I wouldn't have a shot at others.

Do these questions help determine your fitness for the job? Well, do any asked in job interviews?

Only The Lucky Survive

2012 isn't bad for a disaster movie (though the third act needs work--or excision). I can see why it's such a big hit. It delivers. There's no time for more than broad strokes when it comes to plot and character, but the scenes of destruction are impressive.

The trouble is even in the action genre, things shouldn't get too silly. We like to see outsized adventure, but we still enjoy the protagonists getting by on their talents and their wits.

Alas, in 2012, the heroes succeed almost by coincidence. They may be smarter, faster and more pure of heart, but it doesn't matter. The fact they avoid disaster by a hair's breadth, not once, not twice, but hundreds of times by chance (e.g., fiery rocks from a massive volcano either hit you or they don't), gets ridiculous. It's funny the first few times, but a whole movie of it gets tiresome.

PS On Sunday there was a short jolt of an earthquake. It occurred to me a bunch of people watching 2012 just felt that.

EM In The PM

Against all odds, Tuesday, which used to be dead to me, has become my big sci-fi night. First I watch V. Then I switch to the G-4 network where they repeat yesterday's Heroes at 10, which is new to me. (On Monday I watch House instead.) That's followed by an episde of Lost, season 5. It's the first time this season has been repeated.

This also means I get a double dose of Elizabeth Mitchell.

That Smarts

Perhaps you haven't heard, but Sarah Palin's come out with a book. Palin doesn't mean that much to me either way, so I'm amazed at the interest--and venom--she inspires.

I read a review in The New York Times. (They were amazed the McCain campaign would pick such an inexperienced politician to run for Vice President--forgetting the presidential candidate on the other side shared the same problem). Apparently she spends a fair amount of time attacking the McCain campaign. I realize they may have held her back, and said nasty things about her, but this still seems kind of petty, as they're also the ones that made her famous.

A lot of opponents denounce her for her alleged lack of intelligence. While she performed dismally in interviews, I really don't know how smart or dumb she is. I'm sure I disagree with her on a lot of things, but that doesn't make her stupid. (You'd be surprised how many people make this elementary mistake.)

But the bigger point is there's an unspoken implication that the smarter you are, the better a leader you'll make; that if you're smart enough, you can figure out the solution to problems facing your consituents. While intelligence is a desirable trait in a leader (and you want a certain amount no matter what), it's trumped by ideology. "This candidate is really smart so no doubt she'll do the right thing" is a non sequitur. A brilliant leader would be a disaster if he believed, say, communism was the way to go. (Some might say if he were that brilliant, he wouldn't think that. See the paragraph above.)

I hope I'm not belaboring the point by noting people don't start fresh when dealing with a problem. They have underlying beliefs--about freedom, about government, about whatever--that help lead them to conclusions. Even if they surround themselves with experts who differ significantly (which is overrated, and usually doesn't happen anyway), they'll still most likely go with the opinions they have sympathy for.

Leaders either make good decisions or bad decisions. How they come to them doesn't matter to me. What matters is predicting which ones will make the good decisions. No one can be sure how well someone will lead until she's tested. But knowing how intelligent that person is (beyond a certain level) is less helpful than commonly believed.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Only Needed Bill Murray's Lounge Act

Went to see "Star Wars In Concert" this week-end with the New England Heir (age 13) at the Fleet Center/TD BankNorth Boston Garden. (the multi-named place where the Celtics play) Thoroughly enjoyable except for the seats- the skyhigh view was great but stadium seats really uncomfortable. Got there early and took in the exhibits- a number of character costumes under glass and bunch of storm troopers, clone troopers, jedis, a darth vader, imperial officers) and others walking around for photo ops (forgot camera- got one of the boy with threatening storm troopers on my phone before battery quit- bad dad syndrome).

Big screen and sound was great and completely synched with a giant screen projection of scenes of the six films. Made me wonder if the music was pre-recorded- but there were 100+ musicians on the stage- bowing and blowing and banging appropriately so probably not. Great lights, lasers and occasional fire balls. The crowd was very mixed although lots and lots of very young kids born after the 2d trilogy was released (maybe their parents were fans too- this was the afternoon not the evening show). Some costumes in the audience- mainly little kids but someolder guys too. Lots of light sabers and light saber key rings in the crowd- fun to see them all when the lights went down and of course we saw a fair number of little boy light sabre fights too. Wouldn't call the crowd geeky at all- fair number of attractive adults without kids. My generation (late forties) was about the oldest in the joint (makes sense- the original movie came out when we were teens). My son really liked it too.

Anthony Daniels was an earnest narrator to bits and pieces of the stories. The music was great and loud. Funny moment at the end. All the parents with the tykes were streaming for the exits but C3PO ignored his eyes- "I can see you're not ready to go home- you want more of the dark side!" & the orchestra duly played an encore (the evil music again- the best or at least most stirring stuff). Ridiculously expensive but lots of fun

Write Spelling

In Commentary online we get a report on how Republican Senator Lindsay Graham's polls are going south since he's cooperating with the Democrats on the cap-and-trade bill. They quote (from a report on another site) an anonymous consultant:

“A chunk of the GOP has always detested him, but in the last month a damn has broken.”

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced they spelled it right.

Lazy Sunday

It's weird, Sundays being Mad Men-less. And no Breaking Bad till March. I see they've now got The Prisoner remake on AMC, but the idea doesn't grab me.

Most of what I've seen about the remake has been negative, but here's a positive review. However, it includes this questionable statement about the original:

For decades the show was considered little more than a McGoohan vanity project (reportedly it was done on a handshake deal with British TV titan Lew Grade), but fans and most critics agreed that television needed more of this kind of vanity.

Good or bad, the show was considered a lot more than a vanity project.

I [Heart] NY

I can't believe I forget Neil Young's birthday last week. There aren't many artists who've done it as long and as well as Neil.

Bringing Mohammed To The Courthouse

So Attorney General Eric Holder has decided to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other 9/11 conspirators in New York's federal District Court. It will be interesting to see how this plays politically. And this will have a long New York run. I assume the process will go on for the next few years. That Eric Holder announced it on a Friday news dump (while the President was out of the country) suggests he knows this is trouble.

Mohammed will no doubt get top-notch representation, and it's expected the defense will try to make this trial about America, not Mohammed. (In fact, some think this is why Holder made the decision--as a roundabout way to put the Bush administration on trial.) That's one of the things that makes this so odd. KSM is not a normal criminal, and was not treated as such. He was not arrested and held by the police--his capture and treatment was an intelligence and military matter. Furthermore, his importance wasn't just as a captured criminal, but as a top terrorist leader who possessed valuable information. How can we go back now and act as if he's just another defendant? Furthermore, much of the information about his case may be classified--how can you have normal discovery? The time to try him, if there ever was a time, was right after his catpure.

So now we're going to have a massive political trial which Mohammed and the others can use as a soapbox. (They can if the judge lets them--who knows what will happen. Perhaps Mohammed will refuse to recognize the court's jurisdiction and simply not participate--in which case his lawyers can take over.)

Is this truly what justice is about? People think in certain categories, and may simply assume justice means a full criminal trial with Sixth Amendment protections. But maybe the question isn't about whether or not we support the Sixth Amendment, but what the Sixth Amendment applies to. Look at the Fifth Amendment--more rights for criminal defendants, but note the Founders wrote into it when it comes to mlitary situations, all bets are off.

This isn't some U.S. citizen being tried for murder, rape or burglary. We're trying a foreign enemy in a civilian court, a guy who's waged war on the U.S., is the principle architect of the 9/11 attacks (only the top item on a long rap sheet), and who's already confessed and asked to be executed. I'm not sure if justice, as we understand it, will be served here.

And what if he's acquitted?

Boxed In

I posted on how I'd heard Pirate Radio, set in the mid-60s, plays fast and loose with the era. Having seen it, it's worse than I thought. There's a lot of talk about the spirit of rock and roll, but I never felt the movie was happening back then.

It didn't help that a number of phrases spoken did not seem to be from that era. In particular, early on, one character tells another to "think outside the box." That simply wasn't in common parlance then.

I guess it could have been worse. Someone could have said their ship is stuck in a Kobayashi Maru.

(It raises the question how do you capture a period to begin with? Clothes and decor, certainly, but is it possible to get into the mindset of the time--and would it confuse the audience if you did? Movies by their nature have to be selective. It's also odd, because of movies, how we have a reasonable idea what life was like for much of the 2oth century, but before that it's a blur. Let's say you made a movie about Jane Austen--how many could say "that's ridiculous, people didn't act like that in 1795, that's much more like 1835.")

Sunday, November 15, 2009


The latest episode of South Park took an odd turn. It seemed to be a parody of Glenn Beck and suddenly became a rip on James Cameron's Avatar, or as they call it, "Dances With Smurfs." (It also had a bit about unfair attacks on Sarah Palin, if I'm not mistaken.)

My guess is they had two plots, figured neither was big enough, and slammed them together.

Oh Mr. Grant!

Happy 80th, Ed Asner.

Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show might be the greatest creation television has ever seen. Here's the scene that made the pilot:

Top Thirty

Here's the A.V. Club on the best TV series of the past decade. I have a few quibbles, but all in all, a pretty good list, and a decent argument that it's been a good time for TV.

Here they are, with some quick comments.

1. The Wire (Heard a lot of great things about it, but haven't checked it out yet)

2. The Sopranos (About as great as TV gets)

3. Arrested Development (A fine sitcom that never caught on--maybe ranked a bit high?)

4. Freaks And Geeks (Never got around to watching it, which is odd since I've met Paul Feig a few times and he grew up in Detroit like me--maybe I'll do a marathon some weekend)

5. Mad Men (Really good show, but it's not even halfway over)

6. Breaking Bad (If anything, better than Mad Men)

7. The Office--U.K. (Fine, but tough to watch)

8. Lost (Maybe my favorite show of all)

9. Deadwood (Watched a couple times, never got into it--same for Oz, Carnival, Rome, Band Of Brothers and other premium fare)

10. The Shield (Never watched it--I'll check it out after The Wire)

11. The Office--U.S. (Good, though they've stretched it, and Michael Scott is still too annoying)

12. Battlestar Galactica (Started great, faltered aong the way)

13. 30 Rock (Fun, but not quite classic)

14. Futurama (Clever, but no Simpsons or Family Guy--speaking of which, where's that?)

15. Veronica Mars (Heard good things, never saw it)

16. Friday Night Lights (Never got into it, but did get tired of hearing how great it was)

17. Firefly (Saw the movie, never saw the show)

18. How I Met Your Mother (Seen a few episodes. Reasonably well done, but I'm not into it, whereas I liked Big Bang Theory right away.)

19. Big Love (Didn't get into it)

20. Tim And Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! (Haven't watched it)

21. Curb Your Enthusiasm (Best non-animated comedy of last decade?)

22. Six Feet Under (Watched a few episodes. Seemed sort of dull.)

23. Undeclared (Wanted to watch it but didn't. Maybe I'll do a marathon one night.)

24. Dexter (Watched a few minutes. Didn't seem for me.)

25. Buffy The Vampre Slayer (Have some friends who are devoted to it. Haven't seen it, though I did see the movie.)

26. The Venture Bros. (Never watched it--where's Robot Chicken?)

27. Flight Of The Conchords (A bit too spare and deadpan, but I watched 'em all, so it must have something)

28. Eastbound & Down (Didn't like it at all)

29. Wonder Showzen (Never seen it)

30. The West Wing (Impressive in many ways, though I wonder if it would hold up. By the way, the list also gives examples of essential episodes, and mentions 'The Two Cathedrals," which I thought was excrutiatingly bad.)

Note of all these shows, only six could (very charitably) be considered prime time network hits. And none of them except maybe Lost were ever considered blockbusters. (What's a true blockbuster? CSI, Desperate Housewives, American Idol.)

Anyway, if it hadn't happened already, this was the decade the action on TV moved to cable. HBO alone is responsible for 8 of the shows on this list.

Babi Lav

Today is the birthday of Anni-Frid Lyngstad, one of the A's in ABBA. I'm sure you're dying to see her Diana Ross.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Calling BS

Yesterday I linked to Ken Levine's tribute to TV writer extraordinaire David Lloyd. Today I was reading the comments and noted this from Brian Scully, an old friend and TV writer himself:

David Lloyd was such a wonderful writer and we will not see his like again. And your tribute to him was very moving, Ken. What a wonderful way to say "goodbye" to a friend... or to introduce a friend to people who may not have known his name, but knew his work.

Sounds fine to me. But "Anonymous" below wasn't so thrilled:

Dear Brian Scully:

"David Lloyd was such a wonderful writer and we will not see his like again."

Sounds heartfelt, Brian. Now go back to writing your AIDS and incest 'jokes' for "Family Guy", and continue to ruminate on the declining standards of television comedy.

By the way, I like Family Guy and its jokes just fine.

Ready When You Are, CB

I missed Carl Ballantine's death last week. He's best known as the tall, skinny Gruber on McHale's Navy. But to aficionados, he was one of the first, and one of the greatest, comedy magicians.

Here's a short version of his act he did on Bill Cosby's show:

Let George Do It

George Clooney is the lead voice in Fantastic Mr. Fox, which just opened. Last week he starred in The Men Who Stare At Goats. In a couple weeks his Up In The Air opens.

I like George Clooney, but isn't this a glut in the market?


Ladies and gentlemen, the new Michigan fight song, "The Wolverine Blues."

Friday, November 13, 2009


Don't look now, but it's Friday the 13th. I don't care, I feel lucky.


Pirate Radio (aka The Boat That Rocked) is being released in the U.S. today. It's got a great subject--the unlicensed offshore radio broadcasting that brought so much new music to Britain in the 60s.

I'll check it out, but I've already been warned not to expect historical accuracy. Apparently, Kenneth Branagh plays a member of the Conservative Party who tries to shut down the station. As my friend Jesse Walker notes:

Making the Conservative Party the villain of this story is like making the Republican Party the racist enforcers in a tale set in 1950s Alabama. Not only was Wilson in power at the time, but Radio Caroline regularly attacked the Labour Party. The Tories not only failed to lead the charge against the pirates, but some of them bought ads on the offshore stations (as did some Scottish Nationalists).

This happens all the time, of course--using today's political templates on yesterday's stories. I suppose the filmmakers figured it would just take too much explaining any other way.

Movie Madness

A few months ago the LA County Museum of Art ended its film program. A great shame. Their program, at the Bing Theatre, was the best in town. They had wonderful retrospectives, and often brought in guests who worked on the films. I can't count how many great film experiences I had there.

I suppose video killed the program (even though they showed stuff not available elsewhere). But this is Los Angeles, and LACMA is a world-class museum. It should be a place for moviegoers.

The last film I saw there, Bigger Than Life, was pretty packed, so I'm surprised they can't keep things going. LACMA's recently expanded, so why are they leaving one of the best things they have behind?

I see there's a petition to get it going again. I wish them luck.

David Lloyd

Sitcom showrunners like Norman Lear, Gary Marshall, Larry Gelbart and James L. Brooks got a lot of attention in their day, but, despite the title, needed a staff of writers to keep their shows running. In fact, years ago, writers probably had more freedom to create their own vision without interference--today scripts are often more a result of the table than some writer typing away by himself.

Anyway, a great sitcom writer just died. I'm talking about David Lloyd, who may not be as well known as the names above, but to TV writers was a god. He always symbolized to me the heights of what could be accomplished within the form.

He's best known for coming up with what many consider the greatest 30 minutes of TV ever, "Chuckles Bites The Dust" on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. But over his 40-year career, he wrote or consulted on hundreds of episodes of television, and always maintained a high standard

His best work probably was for Mary Tyler Moore, where he wrote over 30 episodes, many of which are on the same level as "Chuckles." But he also did great episodes for The Bob Newhart Show, Taxi, Cheers and Frasier. He even worked in the dramatic format, turning out several hours of Lou Grant.

I have all the MTM episodes on tape. Maybe I'll pull some out tonight and do a tribute.

PS Ken Levine is a writer who knew Lloyd well. Here's what he had to say.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Switching Channels

Two hours in, I'm still enjoying V. I'm not sure if they can keep up the mix of action and paranoia, especially since the executive producer has been replaced, but I've got my fingers crossed. (The numbers dropped a bit the second week. This is somewhat to be expected, but if the drop continues, who knows how long the show will be on.)

Anyway, in the pilot, TV reporter Chad Decker scored a coup and got an exclusive interview with Anna, the leader of the aliens who have just come to Earth. In the second show, we discover the telecast got a huge rating--80 million viewers.

These days, a quarter of that number would make a top show. But still, only 80 million?! For the first good look at the representative of first-contact aliens? Why would anyone be watching anything else? What was the interview up against, So You Think You Can Dance?

Camille On Claude

I gave a semi-negative review of Claude Levi-Strauss. Camille Paglia is much tougher. No surprise, actually, since much of her life's work has been attacking modern French intellectuals. Levi-Strauss was the anthropological wing of a philosophical movement she has no use for.

This time it's personal:

I was appalled at the sentimental rubbish filling the air about Claude Lévi-Strauss after his death was announced last week. The New York Times, for example, first posted an alert calling him "the father of modern anthropology" (a claim demonstrating breathtaking obliviousness to the roots of anthropology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries) and then published a lengthy, laudatory obituary that was a string of misleading, inaccurate or incomplete statements. It is ludicrous to claim that Lévi-Strauss single-handedly transformed our ideas about the "primitive" or that before him there had been no concern with universals or abstract ideas in anthropology.

Beyond that, Lévi-Strauss' binary formulations (like "the raw and the cooked") were a simplistic cookie-cutter device borrowed from the dated linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure, the granddaddy of now mercifully moribund post-structuralism, which destroyed American humanities departments in the 1980s. Lévi-Strauss' work was as much a fanciful, showy mishmash as that of Joseph Campbell, who at least had the erudite and intuitive Carl Jung behind him. When as a Yale graduate student I ransacked that great temple, Sterling Library, in search of paradigms for reintegrating literary criticism with history, I found literally nothing in Lévi-Strauss that I felt had scholarly solidity.

I generally agree with the criticism. Far from being the father of modern anthropology, the whole field could have gotten along without him. And it's true, the binary formulations were a tiresome sort of trick that meant nothing.

I once had a biology professor who was very impressed with the concept of yin and yang. He kept reminding us everything had its opposite--as if this were some sort of deep truth. That semester The New York Times reported physicists had determined that underlying all matter were three basic particles. Three, not two. That was a great day.

It's Not Easy Being Funny

NBC will be putting out "green" messages on a number of prime time shows this week. I generally don't like this sort of thing. It's hard enough to be entertaining without having to carry a message. (I won't get into accusations of conflict of interest some say this represents.)

I'm reminded, on a less political note, when NBC wanted every comedy on its Thursday night lineup all set in New York to have a citywide blackout figure in the plot. Friends (in its first season, I believe) did a reasonably funny episode, the two shows no one remembers did the same sort of weak shows but with a blackout theme, and Seinfeld, a major hit at the time, told NBC to go screw themselves.

Anyway, here are some of the green plots we can enjoy:

...on "30 Rock," corporate boss Jack Donaghy tells the late-night show's staff it has to cut its carbon footprint by 5 percent, and puts Kenneth the Page in charge of getting it done [....]

In the comedy "Community," the college is renamed "Environdale." College students think they're hiring the band Green Day for a gig, and instead gets the Celtic combo Greene Daeye. Dwight in "The Office" takes the role of "Recyclops" in that comedy. "Heroes" features cast members filling a truck with recyclables and talking about the importance of giving back to the earth.

Trainers on "The Biggest Loser" will instruct their clients to buy organic produce and bring their own mugs to the coffee shop.

The first three examples sound neutral, so far. But if they get too heavy, it will negatively effect their comedy footprint. The Heroes stuff sounds unbearable (except a lot of that show is already unbearable). I don't watch The Biggest Loser, and nothing I see above makes me want to.

Beth Colleton, corporate Veep in charge of the "Green is Universal" campaign...

...said there was no attempt to be heavy-handed and interfere with the creative process.

"We make sure we don't dictate to the show," she said. Producers decide the best way to absorb the message in a way that's appropriate for their audiences, she said.

First, this is heavy-handed by its very nature. And as far as not dictating to the show, you are requiring them to put forward a pre-set message. I'm not saying anyone should be anti-green, but certainly a show that suggests certain parts of the green agenda may be questionable would not be allowed.


Here's a (questionable) reading of Paranormal Activity, seeing it as a parable for domestic abuse. Let me warn everyone the essay gives away major plot points.

But what caught my eye was this: "A psychic is invited into their home on two occasions. He is characterized as being ridiculously ineffective though."

Funny, I thought he was portrayed as assured, rational, completely with it. Yes, he recognizes his limits--he understands ghosts, demons, etc., but is not qualified to remove them--and recommends another paranormal expert for further aid, but he also fully senses what's going on, in ways the main couple does not.

I guess I reacted that way because in real life such psychics are nutcases and frauds, and to see, in a "realistic" horror film, such a character being completely correct struck me as absurd. But I suppose in a world where you do, in fact, have supernatural events openly occurring, people like the psychic wouldn't be creeps and crackpots.

(This reminds me of the problem I had with The X-Files. I real life, Scully the skeptic would be right every time, while Mulder would be a kook who shouldn't be allowed to hold any position of responsibility. But in the world of the show, the only thing that makes no sense is how Scully can remain a skeptic.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

It's All Greek To Them

The Wikipedia entry for actress Ivana Miličević notes she attended "Athens High School in Troy, Michigan."

I grew up near Troy but I can't recall Athens High School, though it's a fairly big place. But more important, why name a school Athens in Troy?

Place Matt

I recently saw two trailers in a row for movies that, as far as I can tell, both starred Matt Dillon and both featured robbing an armored truck. Is he not getting enough offers?

Sorkin Workin'

I recently caught The American President (1995). Hadn't seen it since it was in the theatres. It's an enjoyable film (probably better than Dave, Primary Colors or The Contender--other films about the White House), and a passable follow-up to the previous Aaron Sorkin/Rob Reiner collaboration A Few Good Men.

The plot is weaker--the Prez and his gal play footsie and fight over policy, all while the evil Republicans try to take them down. But Sorkin's dialogue is snappy (though, as always, everyone sounds the same) and things move along okay. Sorkin's hawkish liberalism is front and center, but it goes down easy enough.

At the time, it was funny to contrast Hollywood's ideal liberal with the real thing. Michael Douglas's president is a stand-in for Bill Clinton, and the plot couldn't be clearer--it's Sorkin and Reiner telling him not to compromise on liberal issues like global warming and gun control, and letting him know if he'd just state how proud he is to be a liberal, the nation would be stirred. (Though they did cut some nasty anti-Reagan stuff that was in the script--probably because Reagan announced he had Alzheimer's while the movie was in production.)

Meanwhile, Bill Clinton tried to force too many bills through without Republican support (when he had Congress) and learned very quickly to compromise or face ruin. Soon he was signing welfare reform and denying he was a liberal. That's how it works in the real world.

Watching it today, the thing that strikes you most is it's a dry run for West Wing. It's got the same situations, the same characters (smart, super-competent, and so ready to help the nation that they can hardly stand it), even many of the same actors (Martin Sheen plays the Chief of Staff--he'd soon be kicked upstairs). In fact, if you chopped this up into two hours of TV and dropped it into West Wing reruns, I'm not sure anyone would notice.

Ivey League

If there were a vote, I think Phil Ivey would be elected best poker player in the world. So seeing him eliminated at the final table of the World Series Of Poker took a lot of fun out of the game. All the people left put together didn't add up to one Phil Ivey. But with thousands trying to win the bracelet, it's rare even the greatest players can make it to the end.

He's got a lot of years ahead of him, but the odds of him making another final table aren't great.

Phil bet his last hand properly. Sometimes the cards don't come.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mercy Killing?

Here's a claim that Heroes is not doomed. Really? The ratings are way down, and they've been on a downward trend every year since the first. The show is expensive (though they seem to have cut down, just like Star Trek's third year), too. Why pick it up for a fifth year when things won't get better?

PS A friend says the show is big around the world, so it'll keep running. This makes some sense, since it has a multicultural cast and a lot of action. I'm sure it's bigger than a very American product like 30 Rock. The same friend says this season has picked up artistically. If it has, it's still not enough to go back in the "good" column.

King Homer

Stephen King's latest is set to be released today.

I'm not sure what Under The Dome is about, but the promo art sure makes it look like a novelization of The Simpsons Movie.

No Kidding, I'm A Man

In The Danish Girl, Nicole Kidman will play Einar Wegener, a 1920s transsexual, and Gwyneth Paltrow will play his former (or should that be former his) wife.

I can see why Kidman would want the role. It's an actor's challenge. Felicity Huffman won a lot of awards playing a transsexual in Transamerica.

But I have to ask who decides which direction the casting will go? In both these films, a man decides to become a woman. In both films, a woman plays the role. Were men considered? Who'd be more convincing as a transsexual?

Structural Integrity

I missed the death of Claude Levi-Strauss last week. Of course, I was also surprised to discover he was still alive.

I studied Anthropology at the University of Michigan--one of the top anthro departments in the world--and, I have to admit, though Levi-Strauss was one of the biggest names in the field, neither I nor most of my professors were that interested in his work.

Levi-Strauss was the main proponent of structural anthropology (structuralism--which he didn't originate--as applied to his field), which looks at the meaning of a culture through certain basic practices, searching for underlying patterns of human activity. (One professor I had objected to this, saying what's interesting about anthropology is it can show you how everyone's different, not how everyone's the same.) Levi-Strauss noted opposing dualites, such as the sacred and profane, or, as in the title of his famous work, The Raw And The Cooked. (I'm greatly simplifying him, of course--so much so some would say I'm getting him wrong.)

Even if he got his facts right (which has been questioned), the problem with his work was that it looked at cultures, both intra and inter, through a questionable lens, which led to simplistic judgments that seemed more literary than world-based. (A common problem among French intellectuals?) It seemed to me he missed the trees for the symbolic forest.

But even for those in opposition, he was a giant in his field who did work that made you look at the commonplace and realize something bigger was going on.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Holding The Fort

Cadbury has rejected Kraft's more than $16 billion takeover bid. Good. I don't want the makers of Velveeta anywhere near Cadbury.

No Nose For News

The Senate has decided it will not ask questions about citizenship status in the census. This seems like a pretty big story, both in consequence and interest. I'm surprised it hasn't gotten more play. (Or if it has, why did I miss it?)

Question Of The Day

A debate on the usefulness of the Catholic Church, broadcast (I think) on the BBC, is now up on YouTube. This is the sort of debate where listeners have strong feelings, which usually means no one's mind is changed.

Nevertheless, I'd rather people debate these points than fight over them. The day our enemies allow this sort of debate is the day we'll be a lot closer to a peacerful world. Unfortunately, if anything, the trend seems to be in the opposite direction.

Looking Forward

Here we are at the end of the year, and the holiday movie schedule has started, a time for commerical films, Oscar hopefuls, and combinations of both. Yet, looking at the films coming up, there's almost nothing that excites me. Maybe Avatar, simply because it's the first James Cameron film in 12 years.

I hope something suprises me. Maybe low expectations will help.

Good And Mad

Last week I complained that Mad Men was moving too slowly, and there wasn't enough stuff taking place at the office. So what happens? We get the most eventful show they've ever done.

On the homefront, Betty asked for a divorce, Don learned about her guy, Don moved out and Betty moved to Reno. But that was the B-plot.

I should add I don't feel bad about the breakup. This couple has been in trouble from the start, and both have serious emotional problems. The revelation of Don's past could either have brought them together or split them apart. I do feel bad for the kids, though.

Actually, I've always felt the four central relationships in the show have nothing to do with marriage. They're Don and Roger, Roger and Joan, Don and Peggy and Pete and Peggy. For so many episodes this season, Roger or Pete or Peggy or Joan hardly figured in, so seeing all these relationships in play again was something.

In fact, I'm almost surprised at all the wish fulfillment in this plot, creator Matthew Weiner being of the David Chase/Sopranos school that glories in viewer frustration. After so many of these relationships were torn asunder this season, seeing so many put back together was heartwarming--a rare emotion on Mad Men.

And all because of a plot that almost had to happen, yet I didn't think would. The whole season was about the effect of a British firm buying Cooper Sterling, and it didn't make dramatic sense for it to last much longer. It made the main characters pinballs, batted around by flippers they didn't control. Realizing they were about to lose even more autonomy (it almost happened mid-season, too), the partners took action--finally. They decided to buy their own firm. (Didn't the same plot occur on Thirtysomething?)

It took some doing, including not a little chicanery, with time bought by the slow communications in the 60s. They had a weekend to bring it all together, absconding with what they needed and ensuring they had enough money flow to make it work. Lane Pryce, once again screwed over by his company, was in cahoots, firing the guys to let them out of their contracts and, happily, being fired himself. (Lane has become an audience favorite and I think he stole the show with his "Very good. Happy Christmas" to his British superiors and "You're a smart boy" to his lackey. I wonder if this was Weiner's original plot, or did he realize the character was working and he didn't want to leave Pryce behind?)

So, early on, Don made up with Roger. It wasn't just to get him on his side--he realized Roger did something valuable, something he couldn't do (as he learned, among other things, from Conrad Hilton). I think admitting his past has opened up Don. Usually so cool and in command, in this episode he spent so much time with hat in hand you thought his specialty was apologizing. (And I think they were all honest apologies.) Roger later let slip about Betty's guy, but, more important, they were drinking again, like the buddies they'd long been.

Rounding up the underlings wasn't so easy. Both Peggy and Pete showed surprising attitude. Or maybe not so surprising, considering they'd been kicked around a lot lately, and had offers. But Don was able to admit to both he needed them. From the start both have longed for Don's approval, but it was weird (for them, I suppose, but for the audience, too) to see it showered upon them. The most important scene was probably Don going to Peggy's place and getting her back. She's his protege, and for the first two seasons their relationship was probably the most special in the show. Seeing her split from Don would have been much tougher than seeing Betty leave.

Then, late in the show, Roger asked Joan back. Joan needs the job, but the fledgling firm needs her even more. In any case, it was good to see her back, doing what she does better than anyone else.

The only relationshp not explored was Pete and Peggy. They'll still be working together, even closer than before, but we didn't really see them together this episode.

Meanwhile, they brought along Harry Crane. The job he created for himself, media head, would be central to any firm in that era. Left behind, apparently, were Ken and Paul. Also Kurt and Smitty. (Art and copy teams may be the rage, but not for Don.) How these characters figure in the future (of the firm and the show) is unknown. Maybe Duck can use them? Paul discovering Peggy's empty office, as if the Rapture just hit, was a good moment.

Some fans may also want Sal back. It makes sense, especially considering the complete lack of an art department. But their biggest client is the one that wants him out, so I don't see it happening just yet.

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