Friday, July 31, 2009

Noes For News

At the end of an otherwise intelligent article on the Gates incident, we get this from E. J. Dionne:

Sgt. Crowley should not have arrested Gates, as the police implicitly acknowledged by dropping the charges.

You've got to be kidding. I'm not even going to explain the flaw here, I'm just going to shake my head.

PS We also get this:

...Obama was trying to make the case for universal health coverage [...] and it took only the single word "stupidly" to send everyone scurrying back to that "infinite regress of score-settling."

Dionne makes it sound like the press was nitpicking. The President of the United States, taking time out of an important press conference to discuss this issue, going out of his way to attack the actions of a local police department, and saying something that obviously means a lot to him, is major news.

Video Killed

In a pretty good discussion by Joan Acocella of Michael's Jackson's choreography, we get this:

The “Thriller”-period videos were instrumental in converting MTV from a backwater to a sensation. Jackson consciously aimed at doing that.

A backwater? I'm not denying Jackson's videos, starting in 1983, were a big deal for MTV (and for Jackson himself), but almost from the moment it first went on air in 1981, MTV was a sensation.

The Label Industry or Orville's Dillemma

I was making some popcorn and I noticed--as you'd expect, I guess--there was a food label on the box. I often wonder who comes up with the information on such labels, but for popcorn I had a different question. They say how many calories are in each serving. Now, does this assume every kernel pops, or do they take into account the ones that don't make it? This is not insignificant--sometimes I think I'm getting no better than 50% efficiency.

Courting Disaster

I read Adam Liptak's description of John MacGregor Burns' Packing The Court with amazement.

Burns has trouble with the Supreme Court's activism, starting with the power of judicial review. Fine--it seemed a pretty breathtaking usurpation when Justice Marshall announced it in Marbury. But that's an old argument, and long settled. Burns' idea that the President should defy Court opinions isn't going to fly, either.

It soon becomes apparent that Burns is, quite literally, unprincipled. He only opposes the Court when it decides against what he sees as progressive legislation. But as long as they fight the good fight, any tactics are okay by him.

When he gets to discussing today's political situation, it's even more embarrassing. He's unhappy because he believes the present Court is planning to oppose "a president and Congress elected on a platform of change.”

Is Burns a child? It's a regular event that politicians are elected on the vague promise of change. If it's antidemocratic for the Court to oppose today's change, why wouldn't it be wrong for them to oppose the change of a Bush or Gingrich? For that matter, many proposals of President Obama don't poll that well (elsewhere Burns complains about the court propagating ideologies which the voters have already repuditated)--since Burns thinks so much of the wisdom of the public, what's wrong with the court siding with them over the President?

Liptak calls Burns a "distinguished historian." Why is it when historians start discussing today's politics, they always seem so much less distinguished?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

One City. One Nation. One Beer.

Its been a tough couple weeks to be a member of the Steel City Sportsfan Diaspora. The Pirates will break the record for losing this year ("We're best at being worst!") and continue to trade away even the most marginally interesting players for prospects we suspect will disappear into obscurity and one of its biggest sports stars, Big Ben, is kinda sorta accused of rape (He's definitely been accused but its in a civil case where there's been no criminal complaint and a year's gone by, so its got some murkiness) There are "gambling executives" involved and Ben's denial of the charge sounded a little like Roger Clemens' denial steroid charges and the wackos defending him on sports blogs make him sound guilty of something. (Of course I don't know what an innocent person would sound like, thats probably why defense attorneys make sure their clients clam up).

Now then is an odd time for another Pittsburgh institution to make a big marketing ploy- Pittsburgh Brewing Company, with a marketing budget less than the annual salary of a reserve middle infielder is trying out a national campaign for Iron City Beer.

Two questions come to mind:
-Don't they realize that even people who liked it called it "Iron Shitty"?
- Whats with the scary motto quoted in the title? Did they think that all talk about America going socialist on cable meant National Socialist?

Straight News. Strange Days

The Onion is apparently not even bothering to make things up any more.

Rickey Henderson Disappoints Nation With Humble, Heartfelt Hall Of Fame Speech

Skip That Part In The Middle

Here's a trailer for a film about Charles Darwin. He led a life filled with controversy, but I'm not sure how you make a movie of it. So much of what he did was internal, and what wasn't was mostly panistaking research spread out over many years.

He was a conventionally religious naturalist with an upper middle class background who as a young man went on a journey around the world. Afterward, while going over all that he'd seen and logged, he came up with a theory that would change the world. However, he essentially sat on this theory about 20 years, all the while doing further research to back up his argument. If he hadn't found out another scientist had come up with the same theory, he might have held off even longer.

Will the filmmakers skim over this period, or will it be the heart of the movie? It was central in Darwin's development, but as storytelling, it's down time.


A Professor, A Police Officer And A President Go Into A Bar...

Today is the big White House happy hour where President Obama will host Professor Gates and Officer Crowley. It's a clear sign that Obama recognizes how much he screwed up, but I'd be truly curious to know what Gates and Crowley think.

Does either feel he made a mistake? Did Gates figure he could get away with assuming the officer was a racist and now realizes a lot of people are against him? Does Crowley think maybe he shouldn't have arrested this guy, even if he wasn't responding to Crowley's demands?

They've both had plenty of time to calm down. Has either changed his mind? They'd both like the other to apologize. Will either step up?

Unfortunately, this is a publicity stunt, and I'd guess there's not gonna be much substance here. (Substance abuse, perhaps.) I'd prefer if they actually got together in a meeting no one knew about. Then they could actually say what they believe.

I Like Ike

Reverend Ike, my favorite religious celebrity, has died.

I remember seeing him on TV and thinking now here's someone different. He preached the positive power of proaperity. He believed in profits, not prophets.
This is from a sermon: "Close your eyes and see green. Money up to your armpits, a roomful of money and there you are, just tossing around in it like a swimming pool." Preach it, Rev.

As the AP quotes him: "If it's that difficult for a rich man to get into heaven, think how terrible it must be for a poor man to get in. He doesn't even have a bribe for the gatekeeper." I remember him once talking about prayer, saying when you get down on your knees you're in the perfect position to get kicked in the ass.

Well, I hope Ike has bribed his way into heaven by now.

Richard Rivalry

Richard Posner has his doubts about the use of behavioral economics to guide government agencies. He's talking about the rules Obama's regulatory agencies may use to guide and control financial consumrs.

He refers to the theories at Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in their book Nudge:

Mr. Thaler, whose views are taken seriously by the Obama administration, calls himself a “libertarian paternalist.” But that is an oxymoron. He is a paternalist with a velvet glove—as the agency will be. Through the use of carrot and stick, the agency will steer consumers to those financial products that it thinks best for them, whatever they naïvely think.

I wouldn't say "libertarian paternalist" is an oxymoron. I'd say, instead, pay close attention to which is the adjective and which is the noun. Thaler can modify it however he likes, he's still a paternalist.

Thaler responds people make mistakes and regularly use experts to help them. Why shouldn't the government, which is admittedly imperfect itself, guide regular folks?

The goal of the Nudge agenda [...] was to create decision-making environments in which it is easier for error-prone human decision makers to choose well. The Agency proposed by the administration is a good example of this kind of thinking. Even imperfect experts can help us achieve better outcomes, just as imperfect judges can help us enforce the law fairly.

I don't think the judge analogy works. The courts are needed after the fact when the system, which works smoothly most of the time, breaks down. That's when you need some referee which the government has the authority to supply. What Thaler wants to do is to stop problems before they occur, sometimes offering freedom (though less than you had before) or sometimes creating rules that will simply prevent greater choice.

Yes, private citizens make mistakes, and government officials make mistakes. But government mistakes can be systematic. They can also be heavily influenced by politics. Add up all the information those "ignorant" citizens have and it can be a lot more than the government experts possess. Some people need to make mistakes--that's how we learn--and it's not nearly as costly if the mistakes are bottom-up as top-down.

Bad choices freely made by private citizens can cause plenty of trouble, to be sure, but millions of people at ground level arriving at their own decisions is a feature of the system, not a flaw.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Turkey Place

A sandwich shop opened up not far from where I live. Looked a bit pricey, but I thought I'd check it out.

I went in about 15 minutes before closing and paid for a turkey sandwich to go. After the cashier conferred with the chef, I was told no more turkey sandwiches, would I like anything else. I said I was in the mood for turkey so just give me my money back. Another hurried conference and it was decided I could have a turkey sandwich after all.

So the determing factor was not the food on hand, but how badly I wanted it? I'd think the fact I was there, which demonstrated a willingness to pay a little extra, would be enough.

By the way, the sandwich was okay, but not enough for a return trip, whether or not they're in the mood to serve me.

Fight For Your Right

The Princeton Review's list of top party schools is out. Number One is Penn State. The results are from a survey of 122,000 students. What good is that? The only way to really know is to do in-depth research.

Strange Hate

Anthony Lane in The New Yorker has the only negative review of In The Loop I've been able to find:

Should satire really seek to match the intolerance of its leading monsters? For the makers of “In the Loop,” everyone in politics is either a beast or a dithering dolt, there is no basis for public service other than the foaming rage for power, and anyone who dares to dream otherwise—anyone who enjoys “The West Wing,” for example—is the most credulous mug of all.

Should satire do this? If it does it well, sure. It's possible to be too cynical (I suppose), but it ain't what you do it's the way that you do it. There weren't too many truly admirable characters in Dr. Strangelove, but did that stop it from being one of the best cinematic satires ever?

(On the other hand, one of West Wing's problems was the surfeit of positive characters--their only fault is an excess of nobility, which, gosh darnit, sometimes leads them astray because they're trying so hard to improve America that they lose sight of the little things.)

Eat Your Serial

A few days ago I posted on Lost. (I guess that's always true.)

In the comments, QueensGuy noted:

...to be truly great does a dramatic TV series have to have the same type of clean narrative arc as a great novel or feature-length film? [...] there will necessarily be compromises that can be overlooked -- e.g. I don't particularly care what happened to the Russian mobster lost in the snowy Pine Barrens.

Lawrence King responded:

I think it depends on the genre. A show such as Law & Order is utterly episodic, and I think their occasional attempts to link multiple episodes (e.g., a detective's daughter is in trouble) make the show weaker.On the other hand, Lost, Heroes, and Battlestar Galactica (following in the footsteps of Babylon 5) are attempting to tell a long story. [...] So it is reasonable to demand that the story hold up if you rewatch the entire series after it's done.

Here's how I see it.

Even if you have a good idea of the full story, in the massive, day-to-day enterprise of running a TV show (especially one where for more than half its run you don't know when it's going to end) your main duty is to make each episode entertaining. That's hard enough by itself--you can't always worry about every little piece fitting into the overall vision perfectly.

In fact, many novelists, such as Dickens, did write their novels serially, each chapter being published on its own. And when these chapters were compiled and turned into a novel, generally there was rewriting required. If the creators of Lost were able to reshoot and reedit when they were done, I guarantee the whole project would be much more unified.

By the way, David Chase would defend the Russian mobster as the way he intended to tell the story. Life is full of loose ends.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Your Government At Work

From a recent interview with Nancy Pelosi:

Well, one thing is for sure, if we hadn't done that stimulus package, the unemployment rate would be even higher.

I'll give her credit, she didn't smile when she said it. Here's another bit:

I do think the health care bill is a stimulus package. I do believe that our energy bill was, for the creation of new green jobs, a jump start.

So there you have it--any spending by Congress is stimulus. Really there's no need for a private economy any more.

Meanwhile, John Conyers has a riposte to those who claim no one's read the health bill. He notes reading the bill won't help anyway.

Not Taught

Randy Balko at Reason deals with what should have been the real issue in the Skip Gates incident. Thanks to a lot of other accusations, the "teachable" part of the moment may have been missed.

Cold Comfort

Apparently a lot of record low temperatures have been recorded this month. This means next to nothing as far as global temperature trends are concerned. It certainly means nothing in Los Angeles. Alas, the last week or so has been one of the hottest and, worse, muggiest, in a long time. And reading about lower temperatures elsewhere just makes it worse.

The World Is A Scary Place

The rest of the world is very different from America--insane love of soccer, insane hatred of Israel--but I've honestly tried to comprehend a recent phenomenon and come up empty. I'm referring, of course, to the worldwide popularity of Mamma Mia!, the movie. It's grossed $144 million domestic (too much) but a mindboggling $458 million everywhere else.

This is more than Forrest Gump made overseas. More than The Lion King. More than Transformers. More than any Terminator film. More than any Matrix film. More than any Chronicles Of Narnia film. About as much as The Dark Knight. Mamma Mia! is the highest-grossing movie musical ever.

As you probably know, it's a jukebox musical built around the songs of Abba. I finally saw it. (I'd avoided the theatrical experience, so it was new to me.) The story--a young woman invites three men who might be her real father to her wedding--is beneath notice. As for the music? Well, I don't hate Abba. If I hear an occasional song of theirs on the radio I'm not necessarily going to change the station. But the movie versions of these tunes, as sung by Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard, Colin Firth and others, are lame even by Abba standards.

Yet people around the world, especially Europe, lined up around the block to see this, over and over. We can have diplomatic relations with these people, but I don't know if we can ever understand them.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Wrongly Pegged

Over in the Wall Street Journal Peggy Noonan is writing about ObamaCare:

President Obama appears to have misstepped on a major initiative and defining issue. He has misjudged the nation’s mood, which itself is news: He rose from nothing to everything with the help of his fine-tuned antennae.

As I've said so many times I'm beginning to sound like a broken record (is that turn of phrase still useful?), while I don't deny there's such a thing as political skill, a lot of it is simply being in the right place at the right time. Obama's "antennae" aren't that much better than anyone else's. It was just that he happened to be the one attractive, mainstream candidate who opposed the Iraq War 100% rather than merely 99%. That gave him just enough edge, when combined with bizarre party rules and excellent organization, to put him over the top with the Democrats. Normally, this also would have doomed him in the general election, except, in addition to the public being turned off by the Republicans (and much of them believing the GOP still ran Congress), the economy cratered and became the central issue--a gift that guaranteed any half-way acceptable Democrat the White House.

It's no great skill to sound more moderate than you are while running for office. Pretty much every candidate does that (even if Obama had to do it more than most). Once in office, though, Obama had a choice--take this one chance to enact what he believed, or run the country in a centrist manner. What did Peggy Noonan honestly expect him to do? Sounds like it's Noonan's antennae that need fixing.

Color My World

I've never thought much of Stanley Fish as a social commentator, but he sets a new personal low with his piece on Henry Louis Gates. Without going into any of the evidence (from what he writes, it seems doubtful he's even conversant with what happened), he simply assumes Gates was treated the way he was because of his race.

He even has a big finish:

Gates and Obama are not only friends; they are in the same position, suspected of occupying a majestic residence under false pretenses. And Obama is a double offender. Not only is he guilty of being Housed While Black; he is the first in American history guilty of being P.W.B., President While Black.

I don't believe in guilt by association, but if I were trying to argue the whole story is about race, it'd be embarrassing to know Fish is on my side.

PS There's a comment from Jane Smiley, who I'm guessing is the writer/crazy person:

The police officer would be gracious and generous were he to apologize. He doesn’t have to be “in the wrong” [why the quotation marks, Jane?] to understand that his actions caused pain and that community relations would be benefited if he were to indicate that he regretted that pain. But he has refused to do the generous thing. Whether or not he was acting by the book, he clearly appears to be a jerk.

Sure, he could do a non-apology apology where he regrets any pain he caused, but even if you think that would do any good (and how would it if he continues to believe he did what a cop should do in that situation) the real question is should the community honestly be feeling pain, and for the reasons they do? Giving in to people whom you think believe false things might be a good strategy in the short run, but does it really get us anywhere? We know a lot of cops (and others) are offended by the accusations of Gates, the Governor and the President. Is Smiley demanding they apologize, even if they're not "in the wrong"? (Or does the offense taken only count if it comes from people Smiley agrees with?) If we accept the Smiley standard, doesn't it pay to be easily offended?

Second Coming

I admit word of James Cameron's Avatar is exciting. But hasn't he made a mistake, waiting over a decade after Titanic to make a new movie? How could anything live up to expectations?

Finke Think

Nikki Finke has the blog everyone in Hollywood reads for the inside story. So I was a little surprised to see this about The Ugly Truth:

This Katherine Heigl-Gerard Butler pic, directed by Legally Blonde's Robert Luketic, barely received 15% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and The New York Times' Manola Dargis stuck it to Sony's Amy Pascal for making such anti-feminist crap. But audiences liked it, judging by the surprising "A-" CinemaScore.

First, it's "Manohla."

Second, did Nikki forget that this film was originally planned for an earlier release, but when it tested well, the studio decided to hold it for the summer?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mark My Words

In discussing the Gates fracas, Mark Steyn writes about the Professor's testimony at the 2 Live Crew trial:

..I confess I've been wary of taking Henry Louis Gates at his word ever since, almost two decades back, the literary scholar compared the lyrics of the rap group 2 Live Crew to those of the Bard of Avon. "It's like Shakespeare's 'My love is like a red, red rose,'" he declared, authoritatively, to a court in Fort Lauderdale.

As it happens, "My luv's like a red, red rose" was written by Robbie Burns, a couple of centuries after Shakespeare. Oh, well. 16th century English playwright, 18th century Scottish poet: What's the diff?

Actually, I think Shakespeare's own rose quotation answers that pretty well.

The Pause That Refreshes

Harry Reid has said there won't be any health care vote before August recess. Some have seen this as a serious defeat for the President, who'd been insisting something be passed, and soon.

Ultimately, I don't think it makes any difference. A number of factors have combined to give the Democrats a huge lead in Congress, and that's not going away. I don't see what's going to stop them from passing some sort of health care reform. And once the government can start competing with private insurance, they'll be able to do whatever is needed after the fact to take over all health insurance, no matter what "compromise" the centrists have signed onto.

The only way this pause can cause trouble is if the public continues to turn against the proposals, in ever stronger number, so much so that the Democrats lose their nerve. But having no health care bill would be such a black eye--not to mention a certain amount of Democrats believe it's so important that government take over our health care--that I can't see even public disapproval stopping this.

I Can See The Future (In The Hollywood Reporter)

No Lost spoilers, unless you check the link:

I didn't want to find out, but I couldn't help but see that some Lost characters are coming back for the final season. Okay, but on Lost this could simply mean appearing in a flashback.

The producers are promising the final season will be something different. I'd expect nothing less. Every season has changed and expanded the meaning of the show. Season one (and this'll be spoilers if you haven't seen the show yet) was all about the Castaways on this weird island. Season two added the Tailies and the Hatch. Season three had the Others. Season four added the Freighter Folk. Season five had the Oceanic Six and the old days of the Dharma Initiative.

What will season six be about? Well, that's supposed to be a surprise, but I'd guess it means, if nothing else, we'll finally get the war everyone's been talking about, where Jacob and Blackie will have it out. And I assume selected Castaways--especially those who've been "touched" plus Locke--will be at the center of the action.

Does it mean we'll get a reboot, too? Who knows?

Family Entertainment

Family Guy can be pretty outrageous, which is part of the fun. Now the claim is an abortion-themed episode will not be aired. This is kind of silly. For one thing, the Family Guy audience alreadys knows what to expect. Second, if you stop one particular episode, it implies you find everything else acceptable.

The paragraph that really stood out in this report, however, is:

There were few details offered about the content of the episode, but given the show's penchant for political incorrectness -- it has in the past featured a character wearing a McCain/Palin button on an SS uniform, among other flourishes -- it's unlikely Planned Parenthood would use the episode in a PSA anytime soon.

Huh? The shot at McCain and Palin may have been tasteless, but it certainly wasn't politically incorrect.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Run For The Border

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has criticized Manuel Zelaya for attempting to return to Honduras, calling him "reckless."

Does the represent a shift on the White House policy, that at first was mostly about criticizing those against Zelaya? (Or is it a hint that Hillary is off the reservation?)

Hold This For A Sec

Yesterday it struck me--Atlas is the dumbest character in all of mythology.

See This Poll? Ignore It.

According to the latest Rasmussen poll, President Obama's approval ratings has fallen below 50% for the first time. It should be noted Rasmussen questions likely voters, and so is several percentage points tougher on Obama than other polls.

Should Democrats be concerned? Well, they can't like the trend, but much of it was inevitable. As long as the economic situation continued to be bad, they could can expect trouble. But they shouldn't be too concerned. If it were July 2010, they'd have reason to worry, though even then there'd be time to turn things around. But with well over a year before the next election (and over three years to the Presidential election), now is the time to be unpopular. Now is the time to get through programs people don't like. Now is the time, if there ever was a time, to ignore the polls.

If the public perception of the economy is still bad next year, then they have a lot to worry about. Right now, it's a minor annoyance at best.

Playing Their Parts

White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs says media "obsessions" are keeping the President's statements on the Henry Louis Gates story alive.

No, I think it was the President deciding, during an otherwise obfuscatory and soporific press conference, to comment on a local matter and lace into the Cambridge police that gave this story both its legs and its national prominence.

I love it when the White House creates a story and then blames the media for covering it. Obama has since said "cooler heads should have prevailed." How true.

The President attempted to clarify his statement. (The YouTube commenters don't seem to be buying it). This wasn't enough for the Cambridge police, who want an apology from Obama as well as from Governor Deval Patrick, who's also commented. Meanwhile, Gates wants an apology from Officer Crowley or he might take action, while Crowley is considering suing Gates.

Why don't they rent a room and just have a big group hug?

As I suspected, there's a police tape of the incident. Usually I don't like listening to these tapes--real people in real pain. But in a case where there's so much he said/he said, it would be interesting to get some aural reality.

The black officer on the scene backs Officer Crowley. Does this tell us it's not about race? Or that blue is thicker than black?

By far the best comment on this controversy comes from Santa Monica police sergeant Jay Trisler: ''To make the remark about 'stupidly' is maybe not the right adverb." Now there's a guy who knows his parts of speech.

Friday, July 24, 2009

You Name It

I was just thinking about Truffaut's The Wild Child. This is one of those cases where you'd think the English title came first, but, of course, it's originally in French, and was called L'enfant sauvage. Not nearly as good. (On a related point, isn't it odd how much better than hot dog "chien chaud" sounds?)

Another example is The Icicle Thief, which is a great parody of The Bicycle Thief. The Italian title is Ladri di saponette, while The Bicycle Thief's Italian title is Ladri di biciclette. But they're cheating a bit here, since the English subtitles were changed so "icicle" was put in the dialogue.

Lose The Kid

The Orphan opens tonight. I'm glad. I won't be seeing it, but this means it won't be long before they take down all those creepy billboards with the spooky kid.

Good Read

Here are the reports of the police officers involved in the Henry Louis Gates incident. I didn't realize there were a number of onlookers. If Gates decides to sue, this could make for a lot of fun testimony. (I also read Gates's yelling was heard over police radio--is that on tape?)

Meanwhile, the White House, perhaps sensing the President had gone too far, tried to qualify his statement about the police acting "stupidly."

At the local level, Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons said she sees the incident as a "teachable moment." Please, no more teachable moments. There's too much teaching going on in Cambridge as it is. Just make sure the garbage is picked up on time.

That's My Story And I'm Sticking To It

I was just watching High Society, the 1956 hit musical based on The Philadelphia Story. Like so many great pre-WWII comedies redone in the 50s, it doesn't really compare. Of course, the weaker comedy and drama is made up a bit by some Cole Porter songs. (And one thing it has that you can't find in the original--Louis Armstrong.)

The Philadelphia Story was Katharine Hepburn's comeback film, and welcoming her back in town were two of the biggest stars around, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. High Society also features three major stars, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Grace Kelly (though the first choice was Elizabeth Taylor). The same situations, even the same lines, that are so brilliant in the original just sit there in the remake.

Which made me wonder what would have happened if Hepburn got the original cast she wanted? She requested Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy, two stars at least equal to Grant and Stewart at the time. Somehow, though, even under the direction of George Cukor, I just can't see them working out as well.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Big Mess

Barack Obama was asked to comment on the recent arrest of noted Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The President stated, among other things, "the Cambridge police acted stupidly."

I wouldn't be a bit surprised. But should the President, who can't know all the facts, make such an accusation?

(The police claim Gates told them "you don't know who you're messing with." Now that's acting stupidly.)

On Your Radio

Howard Stern is rumbling about leaving radio when his contract is up in 2011. I don't believe it. First, his whole adult life has been built around his radio show. He wouldn't know what to do without it Second, he's always been a complainer--it's practically his shtick.

On the other hand, let me make a suggestion. If you don't like working at Sirius, come back to free radio, where I can listen to you regularly.

Giving Him The Business

I recently read Jerry Sterner's Other People's Money, a play written about 20 years ago. (It was made into a faithful but not very good movie in 1991.) Larry "The Liquidator" Garfinkle wants to take over an old wire and cable company. He thinks it's undervalued and, if he takes control, will sell off its assets.

The play has five characters and a lot of snappy dialogue. What's surprising is it doesn't take sides. It's common for a dramatic work to set up the two sides in a takeover as a good and a bad one. In OPM, all the characters have reasons for what they do, and all have blind spots.

The filmmakers who create movies about how greedy and corrupt business is are the same ones who will hire a lawyer to demand they get paid as much as possible--often far more than most Americans make in a lifetime. Maybe the reason OPM is a bit more even-handed is that playwright Sterner started out as a businessman.

Dogging It

Nick Gillespie at Reason has this squib about the content they've got at The New York Times these days. In particular, here's managing editor Jill Abramson going on at length about her dog.

Buddy, our beloved, stone-deaf, feisty-to-the-end West Highland terrier, had expired at 15 in March 2007. My two children, who grew up with him but flew the nest years before his demise, joked that Buddy was my one perfect relationship in life.

But don't worry, the hard news angle is she bought a new canine.

There is the special puppy smell, much like the distinctive scent, better than perfume, of a new baby's head. There is the reflexive urge to smother with kisses.

Nick notes "can I simply suggest that this is why the terrorists hate us?"

Perhaps, but it seems to me this is why the terriers hate us.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Lost List

Here's a list from Entertainment Weekly of 15 mysteries Lost must answer. I suppose I should warn if you're not up on Lost, but plan to some day, that these questions themselves are spoilers.

15. What are the whispers?
14. What's Libby's backstory?
13. What's the complete Dharma backstory?
12. Where did The Others come from?
11. Do all the castaways have a secret connection?
10. Who are Adam and Eve?
9. What's the significance of the Numbers?
8. Why are there Egyptian ruins on the Island?
7. Where are stewardess Cindy and the kids?
6. What is the Island anyway?
5. What happened to Claire
4. What was up with Walt?
3. What is the Monster
2. Who is Jacob?
1. Why doesn't Richard Alpert age?

In general, a fine list. A couple--#9 and #1--I think they've already sort of answered, but it's not enough for the viewers.

I'm also in the camp that thinks they need more Libby, but the producers may not feel that way. What they don't need to explain is "the rules" between Ben and Widmore. I get it. You don't kill family. And while we're at it, if they showed no more Walt, it'd be okay with me--he had spooky powers, but they didn't need them or couldn't use them (they captured him during Ben's uncertain leadership, after all). On the other hand, I think we need to see more Annie.

I'm guessing Adam and Eve are Bernard and Rose, though perhaps it'd be better if they're more iconic characters.

I don't think it's where are Cindy and the kids so much as what they're doing with them.

As for the Dharma backstory, I'm looking forward to flashback scenes in Ann Arbor.

The whole show can be seen as a slow unveiling of The Monster--or an ever slower unveiling of Jacob.

Pronounced Difference

A friend of mine from Sweden said when growing up she studied a poem that helped her learn how to pronounce English. I asked her for a copy and she sent me the following. Turns out it was written several decades ago by a Dutchman and appeared (in different versions through the years) in the appendix of a book entitled Drop Your Foreign Accent: engelsche uitspraakoefeningen.

It uses, as far as I can tell, British spelling and pronunciation. I think even people who speak English as a first language might have trouble with some of the lines.

It's entitled The Chaos:

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse
I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye your dress you'll tear,
So shall I! Oh, hear my prayer,
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, beard and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it's written).
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say said, pay-paid, laid, but plaid.
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say break, steak, but bleak and streak.
Previous, precious, fuchsia, via,
Pipe, snipe, recipe and choir,
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles.
Exiles, similes, reviles.
Wholly, holly, signal, signing.
Thames, examining, combining
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war, and far.
From "desire": desirable--admirable from "admire."
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier.
Chatham, brougham, renown, but known.
Knowledge, done, but gone and tone,
One, anemone. Balmoral.
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel,
Gertrude, German, wind, and mind.
Scene, Melpomene, mankind,
Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, reading, heathen, heather.
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.
Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet;
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which exactly rhymes with khaki.
Viscous, Viscount, load, and broad.
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation's O.K.,
When you say correctly: croquet.
Rounded, wounded, grieve, and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive, and live,
Liberty, library, heave, and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven,
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover,
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police, and lice.
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label,
Petal, penal, and canal,
Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal.
Suit, suite, ruin, circuit, conduit,
Rhyme with "shirk it" and "beyond it."
But it is not hard to tell,
Why it's pall, mall, but Pall Mall.
Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
Timber, climber, bullion, lion,
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, and chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor,
Ivy, privy, famous, clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
Pussy, hussy, and possess,
Desert, but dessert, address.
Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants.
Hoist, in lieu of flags, left pennants.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger.
Neither does devour with clangour.
Soul, but foul and gaunt but aunt.
Font, front, won't, want, grand, and grant.
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say: finger.
And then: singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age.
Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post; and doth, cloth, loth;
Job, Job; blossom, bosom, oath.
Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual.
Seat, sweat; chaste, caste.; Leigh, eight, height;
Put, nut; granite, and unite.
Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,
Hint, pint, Senate, but sedate.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific,
Tour, but our and succour, four,
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria,
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay.
Say aver, but ever, fever.
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.
Never guess--it is not safe:
We say calves, valves, half, but Ralph.
Heron, granary, canary,
Crevice and device, and eyrie,
Face but preface, but efface,
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust, and scour, but scourging,
Ear but earn, and wear and bear
Do not rhyme with here, but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, clerk, and jerk,
Asp, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation--think of psyche--!
Is a paling, stout and spikey,
Won't it make you lose your wits,
Writing "groats" and saying "grits"?
It's a dark abyss or tunnel,
Strewn with stones, like rowlock, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict, and indict!
Don't you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father?
Finally: which rhymes with "enough"
Though, through, plough, cough, hough, or tough?
Hiccough has the sound of "cup."
My advice is--give it up!

The Unimportance Of Being Ernest

Ernest Hemingway was born 110 years and a day ago. He was highly regarded in his lifetime, though I think his stock has fallen ever since.

Sometimes you read him and wonder what the excitement was about. Perhaps because he's been parodied so often, his own terse sentences often seem on the edge of parody. And his tight-lipped, stoic moral code hasn't aged that well.

I've read most of his big works--A Farewell To Arms, The Sun Also Rises, For Whom The Bell Tolls, The Old Man And The Sea--and I can't see going back to them. The plots aren't much and I'm not sure they have the depth or complexity (or fun) to be worth rereading. I think he comes off better in small doses. In his short stories, using very few words he could crystallize a moment. No need for a plot to get in the way. But even there, I don't think he compares to the greatest writers of the 20th century.

So happy birthday, Ernest.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sustenance

Yesterday I heard someone on the radio say we need to help farmers who practice "sustainable farming." If we have to help them, doesn't that mean they're doing it wrong?

Han=Ron

Years ago someone convinced me to read the first Harry Potter book. It was okay, but I felt no need to continue in the series. I suppose it's good that J. K. Rowling got kids excited about reading, but the book did not impress me as great imaginative literature. (Though I think I liked it more than Harold Bloom.)

I have been keeping up with the Harry Potter films, though. The latest, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, seemed pretty weak. The critics like it, but I feel the whole series is running out of steam. Sure, the kids are getting older, and the plots are getting darker (and sexier), but haven't we seen all these tricks before--the mix of boarding school and magic, the new professor with secrets, the climax that tests Harry's mettle?

Before the movie, the theatre showed a trailer for the next Twilight film. The audience booed. An audience of Harry Potter fans booing Twilight? Isn't this the pot calling the kettle black?

What surprised me most is Hermione going after Ron. Has this been made clear earlier and I forgot? It seemed to me that in the first story, just as Leia and Luke were meant to be together, so were Hermione and Harry. Then as things went along, the plot moved in a different direction and Han was the guy, as is Ron.

Advice To The Lovelorn

The first two episodes of this season's Entourage have not been too encouraging. The main plot seems to revolve around the romantic escapades of the lead characters. This has always been the least interesting part of the show. It's one thing as a B-plot--front and center, it makes the show drag.

Totally Awesome

I loved The King Of Kong, a documentary about video games. It made my top ten for 2007. Now I've seen Chasing Ghosts: Beyond The Arcade, about the same subject, even the same people, made around the same time.

It looks into the lives of a bunch (around 10--couldn't keep track) of great video game players from the 80s. The wide focus means it's not nearly compelling as King Of Kong, which kept the roster smaller, had good guys and bad guys, and told a single story. But it's worthwhile, if nothing else, as background, or a companion piece.

It's probably fairer, and more informative, but the film gods don't care about that.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Everyone's A Winner

I've never really gotten the ESPY awards. The reason there are awards in the entertainment industry is that movies or music or theatre isn't a competition, but people want to know who the winners are. So they create awards. In sports, you already know who the winners are.

Carter Country

Here's an intriguing editorial in the Washington Post from Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch on Obama's magical realism (i.e., stating you're being fiscally responsible at the same moment you're being fiscally irresponsible).

Nick and Matt don't like the direction Obama's going, but that was a given. The point they want to make is Obama should be worried about the direction he's going.

Whenever I see they've written a piece together, I always wonder who did the typing.

Cut To The Chase

Ever since Chase took over my bank, Washington Mutual, they've been promising to update its system and make it more efficient.

Well, they've made their changes and here's my report. Under WaMu, when I wanted to find out over the phone if a check had cleared, I had to call the number, hit a button twice, give them my banking number and my secret code, then hit a button twice again. After the Chase changes, I have to call the same number, hit a button three times, give them my banking number and my secret code, then hit a button three times again.

This is progress?

Future Futurama

I often wondered what would happen if one of the six major voice actors on The Simpsons died. Would they end the show, or would they get new talent? (Phil Hartman, who was Lionel Hutz and Troy McClure, died and they retired his characters.)

Now we have some idea what would happen. The main voices on Futurama--Billy West, Katey Sagal, John DiMaggio, Maurice LaMarche and Tress MacNeil--couldn't come to terms with the show and were dismissed.

I think a lot of Leela's appeal came from Sagal, and Billy West is one of the finest voice men in the world--who else can do a spot-on Larry from the Three Stooges? (On the other hand, I'm not that fond of DiMaggio's Bender.)

I'm not sure if it'll be the same show without them. On the other hand, their original Zap Brannigan died--Phil Hartman again--and they replaced him...with Billy West doing Phil Hartman.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Whose Big Idea

It's simply become shorthand for anyone, even a fanboy, to believe a director owns a movie. Look at how Capone describes (500) Days Of Summer:

Director [Marc] Webb (working from a script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber) is wise to let us know early that both sides of this love equation are not perfect people, and when their feelings are hurt or they just grow tired or annoyed with each other, they aren't going to hide it.

So Webb made that decision? Shouldn't the sentence read "Screenwriters Neustadter and Weber (in their script shot by director Marc Webb) are wise to let us know early on both sides of this love equation are not perfect people..."?

August Rush

President Obama says we need to pass a health care bill by August. Can he give any non-political reason for this?

With the bailout, there was arguably a need for speed. Even with the stimulus (which takes over a year to have any effect) you might want to get a move on. But when it comes to massively changing how we run things in health care, there's no crisis that needs an immediate response--or if there is, the crisis has been going on for decades.

The Way It Is

Walter Cronkite's death is getting the kind of attention that few others would. Even though the media is mourning one of their own, it's fitting--he was the most significant television newsman ever.

He was also the most admired TV anchor (unless Murrow's considered an anchor). But I've often wondered how much should we admire any anchor, even a great one? Sure, he wasn't just some Kent Brockman or Ted Baxter (who once met Walter Cronkite), but his main job all those years was still just reading the news in that deep, authoritative voice.

I never watched him much. I probably knew him better from imitations, such as Bill Murray's. With Cronkite's stentorian yet halting tones, he was easier to do than anyone this side of David Brinkley. I also remember a very old roast where Jack E. Leonard saw him and said "oh, Walter Cronkite, I didn't recognize you without the world."

My biggest direct memory of him is when Stuttering John of Howard Stern's show interviewed him in the 90s. Here are the questions he asked:

Are you here at this event because you care about the rain forest or because your publicist thinks it’s a good idea?

What did William Daley (sic) do that was so friggin’ important?

Would you ever co-anchor with Howard Stern?

Have you ever passed wind during a newscast?

Walter seemed most offended by the use of "friggin'" and took time out to lecture John on how he'll never be a great journalist if he uses that sort of language.

He was known as "Uncle Walter," and was called "the most trusted man in America." By all accounts, he worked endlessly to get it right, be objective, stick to what's important and polish his copy.

Over the last couple days, we've been shown some of the highlights of his broadcasting career--JFK's assassination (which also helped make Dan Rather), the 1968 Democratic convention, the moon landing, Watergate and so on. Oddly though, he may be best remembered for when he declared Vietnam unwinnable. LBJ famously said if he'd lost Cronkite, he'd lost America. But when you think about it, isn't this a low moment for Uncle Walter? A time when he stepped out of character to give an editorial on the air? Trading in on his trustworthiness, he used a national pulpit to state what was only his opinion, not a fact.

After he retired, still at the top, in 1981, he gave out his opinion on events of the day more freely. In fact, I've taken him to task for things he's said. But the point is, he was a private citizen (if still a celebrity), and no one much cared. I suppose Bush could have said "if I've lost Cronkite then I've lost Roger Mudd."

At his height, he reigned over a circumscribed world where three networks ruled the roost, and he was cock of the walk. Now there's no single voice that has everyone's attention. Perhaps there's rampant editorializing, and maybe it sounds like a cacophony, but I like that better than a handful of guys who all know each other deciding what the news is, and what it means.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Edgy

In yet another attempt to remake the everyday pizza, Pizza Hut as introduced "The Edge" (no relation to U2's The Edge).

As they put it, "We've Kicked Out The Crust To Make Room For More Toppings!"

I like the crust. Leave the crust alone. It's one of the best parts of the pizza. Why is it whenever they want to fix what ain't broken, the first thing they do is go after the crust.

I Swear

Some people are mocking a study which suggests swearing lessens pain, but it makes perfect sense. Honestly, when you hit your finger with a hammer, saying "fudge!" just doesn't do it.

Now, when someone asks "is that language necessary?" you have an answer.

Thrilling

Via a link at Reason Online, here's a helpful discussion of Michael Jackson's--and others'--worldwide sales figure. (This is useful, too.)

In a time when the numbers for movies, theatre and television are at your fingertips, it's surprising how wrong reported numbers can be for music. Whenever the general media discuss record sales, they usually quote exaggerated numbers from pr handouts. It's good to see someone try to set the record straight.

Eschoir

This is from Esquire's "What Neil Armstrong Should Have Said":

On the fortieth anniversary of the Apollo landing, look back at the first words from twenty legends — from Muhammad Ali to Leonard Nemoy — if they'd landed on the moon instead.

Who's Leonard Nemoy? And where are the layers of editors at Esquire?

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Pen Is Mightier

In Anthony Lane's New Yorker pan of Bruno, he writes:

There really is a scene where, with a focus group watching clips of Brüno’s show (which he hopes will screen on American TV), he resorts to flaunting his member—or, for all I know, a schlong double—and twirling it at the camera, like the baton of a majorette. Then, presumably with a little help from C.G.I., it speaks. You could defend this as an update on the dog tattoo, inscribed on Harpo’s torso, that suddenly barks at Groucho in “Duck Soup,” but that was a wild visual pun—listen to the flesh of a mute!—whereas you can’t help feeling, as “Brüno” proceeds, that it is opting for the shock of the gross-out whenever inspiration wilts. To be fair, the two young women beside me howled at the talking penis (not a bad emblem of the average male, they would say), and, if I had tried to explain that the Marx Brothers—sowers of extreme sedition, like Baron Cohen—sustained an entire career of ignobility without displaying a single erection, they would not have believed me. Even so, there was something forced in the women’s laughter, as if they wanted to banish any suspicion of prudery, and to prove themselves far too cool for disgust.



1) I wonder if Lane knows the original gag the Marx Brothers planned was an outhouse door opening and being pulled shut from inside.

2) Why does he doubt the women sitting next to him would believe the Marx Brothers never exploited an erection in their movies? (Actually, they had a number of lines that could arguably apply to the penis, and quite a bit of innuendo otherwise. And we all know Mae West's act.)

3) The women "howled," but it was forced. How could he tell?

4) I found the talking penis weird, but not disgusting. In any case, the point is it's supposed to seem tasteless to the test audience within the film.

I'm Just Mild About Harry

The latest Barbara Boxer contretemps is fascinating. Not for the content--there wasn't much--but for the intent.

Last time, she had no trouble being tremendously condescending toward a highly respected (and respectful) general for an imagined slight. After all, this was a white male, and she suspected he was treating her differently because she was a woman.

This time, a guy tears into her for condescension when she's not particularly doing anything out of the ordinary (as far as racial politics are concerned). But she has to stay her tongue because the accuser was an African-American. Trumped!

Nodding Off

The Emmy nominations are out, and they're not bad. A lot of deserving people and shows got nods. Here's hoping the awards are as good.

30 Rock got more attention than any other show--22 nominations, a record. It's a good show, but not head and shoulders above the rest. Maybe the TV academy should spread the wealth a little.

I'm not sure why, but seven shows were nominated for Best Drama and for Best Comedy. This ensured a lot of worthy shows made it, but isn't five enough? (Actually, on TV, Eight Is Enough, though I thought this was supposed to be a Table For Five.)

The Best Comedy Series nominees are Entourage, Family Guy, Flight of the Conchords, How I Met Your Mother, The Office, 30 Rock and Weeds. Family Guy may be animated, but it deserves it. I got no trouble with The Office, 30 Rock and Entourage being here either. But no love for the now-departed My Name Is Earl, and still nothing for The Big Bang Theory.

None of the shows listed are actively bad, but neither do I have a strong rooting interest for any single one. I suppose it'll be 30 Rock, which TV people obviously love.

The drama nominees are even better: Big Love, Breaking Bad, Damages, Dexter, House, Lost and Mad Men. I got no use for three of these, but since they got the four best hourlongs on TV--Breaking Bad, House, Lost and Mad Men--I'm not complaining. Note the total lack of CSI or Law And Order or The Mentalist or any of those other procedurals. I'm glad to see no respect for the perenially overrated Boston Legal, and not exactly surprised to see no notice of the final season of Battlestar Galactica.

I'll be happy if any of the big four take it, though Lost probably deserves it most. It also has only one more chance. If Mad Men anbd Breaking Bad don't seem so bright and shiny any more, maybe Lost will come through.

For best variety show, all the big names are there--Stewart, Colbert, Letterman, Maher--except the once and future king of The Tonight Show, Leno and Conan. Hmmm.

Skimming through the other categories...

For best actor in a comedy, mostly the big names everyone expects. But there's Jim Parsons of Big Bang--good to see him. Weirder is Jemaine Clement, the deadest of deadpans on Flight Of The Conchords. He's the best thing on the show, but it's quite a burn on his partner, Bret. Wouldn't be surprised to see Alec Baldwin win again--he certainly deserves it as much as anyone.

For best actor in a drama, some tough competition. Bryan Cranston, who won last year, was even better in season 2 of Breaking Bad. Or maybe they're ready to give it to Jon Hamm in Mad Men, though I think his performance is too cool for them. Really the winner should be Hugh Laurie, who for the last five years has been amazing. At least there's no James Spader to gum up the works.

Interesting if somewhat weaker competition for best actress in a comedy. Tina Fey doesn't seem that special in 30 Rock, but she won last year, and I suppose is the favorite again.

TV loves stars, especially names from movies or theatre, who are willing to travel coach, and appear on the tube. That's why one-shot categories pretty much only feature big names, often those who have already won Tonys and Oscars and even Emmys. Look at the miniseries names: Kevin Klien (sic--I blame Variety), Brendan Gleeson, Sir Ian McKellen, Kevin Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland, Kenneth Branagh, Drew Barrymore, Jessica Lange, Shirley MacLaine, Sigourney Weaver and Chandra Wilson. Or guest shots in comedy and drama: Alan Alda, Beau Bridges, Jon Hamm, Steve Martin, Justin Timberlake, Edward Asner, Ernest Borgnine, Ted Danson, Michael J. Fox, Jimmy Smits, Jennifer Aniston, Christine Baranski, Tina Fey, Gena Rowlands, Elaine Stritch, Betty White, Brenda Blethyn, Carol Burnett, Ellen Burstyn, Sharon Lawrence and CCH Pounder. Whew! It's pretty shameless, actually, the bowing and scraping. There are a lot of surprisingly bad performances in that group. On the other hand, I have to admit Tina Fey was impressive as Sarah Palin, and she deserves the win. (For that matter, Justin Timberlake was surprisingly good on SNL, too.)

Supporting actor in comedy continues the tradition of Jon Cryer being here, while co-star Charlie Sheen is playing with the big boys. (I'm sure Jon is crying all the way to the bank.) The big surprise here is former double-winner Jeremy Piven of Entourage is missing. Did he voluntarily take his name out, or was this due to mercury poisoning? Meanwhile, Kevin Dillon, who's just as memorable on the same show, gets another shot. Another big surprise is along with Tracy Morgan, we get Jack McBrayer--boy do they love 30 Rock. I'm almost surprised no Judah Friedlander. Oh well, always next year. (They had no room for Justin Kirk of Weeds, the best reason to watch the show.)

Supporting actress in a comedy has Jane Krakowski coming in under the 30 Rock rule. There's also Elizabeth Perkins, who didn't have the best season on Weeds. Amy Poehler, who didn't receive a best actress nod for her sitcom, gets a consolation prize for her work on SNL, but I think she deserves to be beat by Kristen Wiig, who's become the go-to gal there.

Supporting actor in a drama has more star love, with William Hurt, front and center. It still has a couple stragglers from Boston Legal, including Captain Kirk, who's already got his Emmy. Then there are three interesting nominees. Ladies and gentleman, the only acting nomination on Lost, the show with the biggest cast in TV history--Michael Emerson. Oh well, if you gotta pick one, might as well be Benjamin Linus. I'll be rooting for him. But there's also the excellent Aaron Paul on Breaking Bad, who'd be so easy to overlook, and the amazing John Slattery of Mad Men. If either of those guys gets it, that'd be great.

Supporting actress in a drama has yet more stars who have condescended to appear on TV, such as Hope Davis, Dianne Wiest and Cherry Jones. And look, another nomination for Chandra Wilson. Guess Tina Fey isn't the only women who might need both hands.

Enough, let's cut to the very weird writing categories. Both comedy and drama feature one show getting four out of five nominations.

For comedy it's--you guessed it--30 Rock. I can see one, maybe two, but this is ridiculous. Nothing from Family Guy, The Office, Earl? No Spock's Napkin episode from Big Bang? Then the only other one is from Flight Of The Conchords? I mean, the "Prime Minister" episode was fine, but really?

For drama, as you'd probably guess, it's Mad Men. Now I love Mad Men, and the nominations are generally worthy (especially "Six Month Leave"--though it's odd the bizarre "Jet Set" was one of the choices), and since Matt Weiner had a hand in each, he's gotta be odds-on favorite to take a statuette home. But still, nothing for Breaking Bad, which was amazing episode after episode? The one show that sneaked past the Mad Men monopoly was Lost's "The Incident." I'd say there was better writing in "Jughead," "The Life And Death Of Jeremy Bentham," "LaFleur," and "Dead Is Dead." "The Incident" was the big finale, no question, but it didn't stand out as the best writing of the season.

Anyway, for all my complaints, there's a lot to root for, which is nice.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Election Results

Suffice it to say, if the courts had named boring old Norm Coleman as the Senator from Minnesota, media outlets would not have the excuse to run old Saturday Night bits like this one about the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings in 1991. (I suspect there will be more of this in the future) In what was I remember was maybe not one of the show's best periods, this sketch has always stayed with me. Whats amazing is that almost all of the actors in this sketch went on to bigger things- Al Franken, Dana Carvey, Chris Rock, the deceased Phil Hartman and Chris Farley. Kevin Nealon and even Tim Meadows (I think he's the account rep on the Office that can be bribed by long lunches at Chili's) regularly show up on TV/Cable shows. The only one I am not recalling (and am too lazy to look up) is the actress playing Anita Hill. Was struck by how much the serious but somewhat idiotic-looking staffers milling about behind the main speakers in the sketch were so much like the serious idiots milling about behind the actual serious but somewhat idiotic-looking staffers milling about behind the Senators in the Judge Sonia hearings.

(In the middle of writing this post yesterday, I was forced to evaculate my building due to a large fire at a closeby historic and decrepit old mill building. it was quite the show and if I could blot out the views of the fat guys in shorts who brought out lawn chairs to sit and watch it in the next door parking lot, it was quite a terrifying wall of flame. Flames eventually jumped to another larger abandoned building behind the crowd which forced them (maybe 100-200+ spectators) to flee in a sudden panic which is actually scarier than a fire in some ways. Luckily the peace officers got around to securing the area and the firefighters stopped the fire from spreading and downtown didn't burn down)

Old Names And Old Friends

While watching Hung, I noticed the annoying lawyer who lives next door is played by Loren Lester. It doesn't matter what he does, he'll always been Fritz Hansel, the thinner hall monitor, from Rock 'n' Roll High School.

I'd also recently watched Night Shift (1982) and wondered whatever happened to Gina Hecht, who plays Henry Winkler's awful girlfriend. And there she was as the principal on Hung, and she hasn't even changed that much.

Then while watching Public Enemies, I noticed the annoying guy who gets beat up by Johnny Depp because he wants his coat is played by Don Harvey, an old friend. Good to see he's still working.

And I Thought Patterned Toilet Paper Was Unnecessary

I just saw an ad for Depends for men and for women. I haven't been keeping up on the incontinence market, but is this new? Is this necessary? I mean, different sizes I can see, but a completely different product?

Project Mayhem Syndrome


Some jerk bombed a New York Starbucks. He saw it as an attack on "corporate America" and was imitating what he'd seen in Fight Club.

1) Did he interpret the film correctly? I'm not, of course, claiming this would even slightly justify what he did, but Fight Club got to a lot of people. Some of them started fight clubs, which is bad enough. The last thing we need is a real life Project Mayhem. (Actually, we've had other Project Mayhems well before Fight Club was released--look at the exploits of The Weathermen, for example. There's a long history, in fact, of civil disobedience in out country--the big question is over crossing the line into violence.)

As I've argued before, the explicit message of FC is Project Mayhem is when things cross the line and go way too far. But the implicit message is this is where things will naturally go, and isn't it cool.

2) It's weird how certain companies get stuck with being hated symbols of corporate America--Microsoft, Wal-Mart (both companies that barely existed not that long ago), McDonald's and Starbucks. Meanwhile, other leviathans are treated as positive symbols, like Honda or Google or Apple.

I'm not sure why Starbucks has such an evil rep. I don't drink much coffee or tea, so I rarely go there, but presumably they offered something the public wanted, or they couldn't have grown so fast. Yet, from the way some people talk, you'd think Starbucks is a conspiracy being foisted upon an unwilling public.

Not Forgotten

Just want to note that last year, in November, New England Guy wrote this:

By this time next year, Obama approval rating will be hovering at 45-50% as economy slows and recriminations flow. I think most complaints will come from democrats (possibly from the senator from NY) though as Obama tries to steer a more consensus course (not that this will win him any initial plaudits from the other side). [To be fair to NEGuy, when he wrote this, it looked like the Republicans could hold as many as 44 seats in the Senate, which would mean Obama would have to listen to them at least a little.] As economy turns thereafter, I think the numbers will go up. I also think Obama will be smart enough not to walk off a cliff in his first 60 days and will abandon "card check." (this has been a big TV issue in Maine with the Soprano/Johnny Sack ads)

I do think McCain will be back to his irascible old self and blame his loss on embracing the folks he called "agents of intolerance" 8 years ago and will distance himself from Palin (that may be mutual) and, perhaps, call the choice a mistake by no later than Valentines Day. Being older and having no real future in the party he lead to a crashing defeat, I could see him in a year or so, accepting a foreign policy/defense position (official or unofficial) in the Obama Administration.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Watching Whales

My friend George, who's a scuba diver like me, tells a great story of one time on a dive trip to Mexico when a whale came alongside their boat, and George grabbed a mask and snorkel and dove in. He interacted with the whale for some minutes. Touching, verbalizing, looking into each others' eyes. You can see how deeply the experience affected him when he tells the story. For reasons I won't get into here, George hasn't been diving since 9/11. I just sent George this article. Here's hoping it'll help get him back in the water with us.

Harry Potter And The Time Bomb

The latest Harry Potter film has opened. It can't help but be a big hit. In fact, I believe the Harry Potter films will end up being the biggest series ever worldwide.

The actors have been doing publicity lately and it occurred to me that one thing the producers had no control over when they started was how the Hogwarts' kids would grow up. So far they seem to have lucked out.

I suppose that Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy could have turned out bad, but if Harry or Hermione had Tina Yothers disease it might have seriously hurt the films. I wonder if one of them was a real disaster if they would have recast?

Still No Oscars

I obviously got some bad information.

The prime time Emmy nominations (the ones everyone cares about) will be announced tomorrow, at 5:35 am, by Chandra Wilson (Grey's Anatomy) and Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory).

How will they react if they announce themselves?

Some People Never Learn

Here's an interesting little piece on the left's (or at least some of the left's) obsession with neo-Nazis. For some reason, the left needs to "magnify a tiny, highly marginalized, wacky subculture of racist socialists" into a serious threat. As the piece notes, ironically, outside some of their racism, these Nazi's political views are actually quite similar to those of the far left.

Actually, I'm mostly noting this because it gives me a chance to beat up on one of the silliest films ever to come out of Hollywood, John Singleton's Higher Learning (1995).

The movie's about racial tensions (among other things) on campus. The main white male character has trouble adjusting, and so, naturally, falls in with the local, sizable gang of neo-Nazi skinheads.

I admit I haven't spent a lot of time on campus lately, but I recall back in my day the neo-Nazi lodge wasn't nearly as big and popular as shown in the movie.

Bracketted

Close-Up On Sunset Boulevard by Sam Staggs devotes over 400 pages to the movie. As it is, I think Sunset Boulevard is Billy Wilder's most overrated movie (along with, perhaps, The Apartment), so the length of the book seemed a bit much.

And yet, I was disappointed that so much of the book is given to the aftermath of the film. I don't mean the release, I mean the effect it's had through the years. Pages and pages are devoted to listing any movie or TV show that seems influenced by SB. And 46 pages are devoted to Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicalization. It ended up I wished there were more about the movie itself.

The author does a good job, though, in the half of the book actually about the movie. William Holden may get more screen time than Gloria Swanson, but she's unquestionably the star of the book. Norma Desmond brought her back from obscurity, but then overshadowed her the rest of her life.

Nancy Olson may be the least interesting lead, but she's the only one still living, so she gets a fair amount of time. But it's people like Wilder, or von Stroheim, or William Holden, who are more interesting. SB was Holdens' breakthrough, but I didn't know he was already heavily drinking. Then again, I didn't know his wife was such a nasty person. (Even more amazing, Mamie Van Doren claims Jack Webb drugged her and raped her!)

Staggs is maybe best at reviving the reputation of Charles Brackett, Wilders first major writing partner. He's too often forgotten in our age of auteurs, but he was the senior partner, and once Wilder started directing, Brackett was a producer. (They also were highly enough respected that they'd start shooting a film with only a partial script, writing it as they went along--I'm still astounded they could end up with such well-structured stories.)

It's true that once Wilder decided to leave Brackett, right after SB, he remained highly successful, but Staggs most interesting claim is post-Brackett Wilder is not as good, and more vulgar.

There's no question Bracket and Wilder, together, were one of the greatest writing and then filmmaking teams. Midnight, Ninotchka, Ball Of Fire, The Major And The Minor, Five Graves To Cairo, The Lost Weekend and SB is an impressive list. But even before they split up, Wilder managed to make Double Indemnity without Brackett.

And the films Wilder made post-Brackett and before he met his next important partner, I. A. L. Diamond, are nothing to sneeze at: Ace In The Hole, Stalag 17 (Staggs gets it backwards and much prefers A Foreign Affair--and for some reason seems to think the stalag is just like any other concentration camp), Sabrina and Love In The Afternoon.

Then I. A. L. comes along and you get Witness For The Prosecution, Some Like It Hot (Wilder's greatest in my book), The Apartment and The Fortune Cookie. True, starting in the 70s, their films are pretty weak, but Wilder had a 30-year run--how long is he supposed to be at his best?

I think Staggs may have a point about vulgarity. Secondary characters in Wilder's earlier films seem to be more individual, compared to the burlesque Russians in One, Two, Three or the burlesque French in Irma La Douce. And the plots are more outrageous. It's certainly possible Brackett, older and a respectable Republican, was able to rein in Wilder, while the younger Diamond couldn't stop him or even spurred him on. Or maybe the times were a-changin'.

Regardless, I don't see a significant drop-off in Wilder's films once he leaves Brackett. If I were to name my favorites, just as many were made after as during.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

To Your Health

Of all the potential dangers of government taking over health care, the greatest is how it may stifle innovation. Almost everyone has been a direct or indirect beneficiary of medicines and diagnostic tools that may have been delayed, or never seen the light of day, if we had nationalized health care.

I think Glenn Reynolds' opinion piece makes this point pretty well.

Thanks For Sharing

I don't particularly care what religious leaders have to say about the economy, since I don't recognize them as authorities on the issue. (They're not authorities on a lot of things they discuss, often seems to me.) Even if they want to relate it to moral issues, their faulty understanding makes their conclusions questionable.

For instance, in this LA Times' piece on the religious reaction to our financial problems, one Episcopal Bishop says the excesses we've seen lately "have been biblical in scale. We have overlooked the greed that engendered this crisis, we have [...] been unwilling to share what we know and what we have."

She should be a bit more clear on what these "excesses" are, since the average American has an excess of goods compared to most humans throughout history, and I'd rather people keep their hands off my percentage of the excess. I also don't approve of whipping up envy of those with more, and recognize that the easiest way to prevent "excess" is to hold everyone down through massive centralization of power.

As for overlooking "greed," she coudn't be more wrong. In fact, we've mistakenly concentrated on greed, both misundertanding it and making it a simplistic scapegoat for our problems (and certainly never giving it credit for any bounty we might have).

And I have no idea where she gets this stuff about not sharing "what we know"--we share information more than at any time in history. We also share massive amounts of "what we have"--both voluntarily and involuntarily.

What bothers me is this woman may be receiving more credence than she deserves because...why? Because she's studied the Bible?

That's Just Super

I'm not entirely sure if I understand the point of Dianne Feinstein's opening statement at Judge Sotomayor's hearing. Part of it went like this:

Some nominees responded by assuring that Roe and Casey were precedents of the Court entitled to great respect. And in one of the hearings, through questioning by Senator Specter, this line of cases was acknowledged to have created a "super-precedent.

But once on the Court, the same nominees voted to overturn the key holding in Casey -- that laws restricting a woman's medical care must contain an exception to protect her health.

Their decision did not comport with the answers they gave here, and it disregarded stare decisis and the precedents established in Roe, in Ashcroft, in Casey, in Thornburgh, in Carhart I, and in Ayotte.

"Super precedent" went out the window and women lost a fundamental constitutional protection that had existed for 36 years.

Okay, so she's mad about some Supreme Court decisions. No surprise. The point she's trying to make is justices aren't merely "umpires," but make important decisions based on their politics (or, as she calls it, their "experiences and philosophies").

So isn't this just giving everyone a green light to vote against Sotomayor, regardless of her qualifications, if you don't trust her, or like her politics?

Gay Old Time

Bruno is pretty much the sequel to Borat, where an outrageous character goes into real situations and we're supposed to laugh at how others squirm. I admit it can be pretty funny, but it's still a nasty way to get laughs--most of the people we're supposed to laugh at aren't so bad, they're just stuck in embarrassing situations.

I admire Sacha Baron Cohen's bravery, if that's the word. He's willing to go into places where he could be attacked or arrested, and stay in character. Bruno is closer to a one-joke routine than Borat--the latter could be surprised at practically anything, while the former's whole routine is being flamboyantly, excessively gay. (By the way, Bruno will not do as well as Borat. The audience isn't going for it. Maybe they liked Borat better because as outrageous as he was, he was portrayed as an innocent, unwittingly getting into weird situations, whereas Bruno is an obnoxious guy who tries to get into you face.)

The moment I found most fascinating came out of nowhere, and it wasn't even on screen. Bruno is talking to a "reprogrammer," who's going to turn him into a heterosexual. He starts explaining women to Bruno. He notes how different they are--that they can be irritating and won't stick to the point. At that moment, the men in the audience broke into spontaneous applause.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dahl Does Demolition

Here's my friend Jesse Walker's tribute to the 30th anniversary of Disco Demolition Night, which was part of a good doubleheader for my team, the Tigers.

Jesse notes (but I don't believe endorses) the revisionist take on the anti-disco movement, which claims it was an anti-gay, anti-black and anti-Latino. I find these claims pretty funny, since at the time, if there was any group associated with disco, it was Italians.

Mr. Mitchell

Bob Mitchell has died. He was, among many other things, the organist for a number of years at the nearby Silent Movie Theatre. Many's the classic I heard him accompany.

The amazing thing is he was around long enough that he actually played for some of those silent classics when they first were released! One thing that old films can do is give you a feel of connection to the past (which is why I, and maybe most people, feel so much more comfortable with all of the 20th century compared to, say, the last half of the 19th century). But with him there, somehow, that connection felt a lot stronger.

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