Monday, August 31, 2009

Questions. No Answers

Here's an interesting article on the "New Atheists" that questions their confrontational tactics. The claim is that being more friendly and open will convince more people, rather than just preaching to the choir.

This raises a number of questions.

1) When you argue, are you doing it to convince others, or to put your argument as well as possible? Is a good argument one that convinces others?

2) What sort of argument convinces others? Does it matter who you're trying to convince?

3) Should you actually change your argument if you think it'll be more convincing, even if you find it less convincing? Even if you don't believe it yourself?

PS I see I forgot to link the article. Worse, I've forgotten where the article is. How about this one, though it's not really the same thing. Or this one.

That's Rich

For as long as I've been following college football, Michigan has been a top team--until last year. They've also been a fairly clean program.

Now, under coach Rich Rodriguez, not only are they losers, they're accused of violating NCAA rules by making the players practice too much. While I certainly like a coach who demands a lot from the team, we don't need this.

Makes you wonder if his days are numbered.

We Got The Beat

I have a friend who performs in a Beatles cover band, the Beatunes. They've been together for a bit over a year and play around the LA area.

They play the hits, but they originally formed so they could do the less-performed Beatles songs.

They just put up some videos on YouTube. Here's one.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hillary 451

Here's hoping the long-overdue death of McCain-Feingold is on the horizon. The US Supreme Court has scheduled new oral argument in the case involving the trite and mediocre "Hillary: The Movie" hatchet job. The turning point may have been this:

At the first Supreme Court argument in March, a government lawyer, answering a hypothetical question, said the government could also make it a crime to distribute books advocating the election or defeat of political candidates so long as they were paid for by corporations and not their political action committees.

That position seemed to astound several of the more conservative justices, and there were gasps in the courtroom.

“That’s pretty incredible,” said Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.

The discussion of book banning may have helped prompt the request for re-argument. In addition, some of the broader issues implicated by the case were only glancingly discussed in the first round of briefs, and some justices may have felt reluctant to take a major step without fuller consideration.

Not only incredible, but utterly unnecessary, given that the relevant statute does not apply to books. So it was either a stupid answer, or one designed to force the justices' hands to finally deal with the real constitutional issue. I sincerely hope they go far enough to eliminate this deep affront to our liberties.

p.s. In unrelated civil liberties news, the Fourth Amendment got a boost when the Ninth Circuit forced the government to waive the "plain view doctrine" as it applies to computers. This sounds abstruse, but matters a lot. Given that more and more of our records are electronic, forcing the government to get search warrants that list the contents of the computer they actually want, rather than getting a free-for-all once they're into your computer, is vitally important. Ok, soap box mode off. Time to go enjoy a sunny Sunday in August.

Wait Them Out Till Labor Day

When you buy something at my local supermarket, you're asked if you'd like to contribute to the Muscular Dystrophy Assocation. A fine cause, no doubt, but I don't appreciate being solicited while I'm giving them money.

I noticed a sign that said you get a free two-liter bottle of cola if the cashier forgets to ask you for a donation. That's odd. They get punished for not doing something they shouldn't be doing. I'd never tell on a cashier, anyway--it'd look really bad to walk out with a free coke and not give anything.

You Must Be Choking

The Hollywood Reporter's pan of World's Greatest Dad is pretty foolish, but forget about that. Here's the line that got to me (spoiler warning): "...paging Dr. House, how exactly does a teenager die while masturbating in his desk chair?"

The movie set up earlier that the kid was into autoerotic-asphyxiation, among other things. In fact, there's a scene early on where Williams rushes into his son's room when he thinks the kid is choking. But somehow this was beyond reviewer Duane Byrge? This is The Hollywood Reporter, not some small-town rag. They're supposed to be up on all the latest perversions (though this one actually has a lengthy pedigree).

I Got Plans For You

Now that we have an inkling of Jacob and Blackie's plans, watching certain Lost episodes gives you a very different perspective. In particular, those (and there are many) dealing with Locke's destiny, and, to a lesser extent, Ben's destiny.

We're still not sure where it'll ultimately go, but previously, it seemed Locke was meant to do great things. Now when I watch the same stories, I wonder if the whole thing isn't some horrible joke. That long path that led Locke and Ben to Jacob in the statue--was the whole thing about them being played for chumps?

The only evidence that there's more meant for Locke (and perhaps Ben), is that Jacob thought he was worth visiting, and touching. He even apologized for everything Locke would have to go through. Actually, there's some extra-Lost evidence--why would the producers turn one of their top characters into a shaggy dog story?

Where's The Democrats' George Bush?

Geoff Garin in the Washington Post asks "Where's the GOP's Ted Kennedy?" In other words, Kennedy would make deals with Republicans to get bills passed, but Republicans are blocking health care reform. His examples, however, don't really bolster his case.

First there's the No Child Left Behind bill, which Kennedy sponsored. But that was a popular bill that had no trouble passing. Furthermore, federal education reform is more a Democrat issue, and most of the opposition to the bill came from the right. (There were 53 votes against it in Congress--40 of them Republican.)

Then there was the prescription drug benefit bill. True, a lot of liberals didn't like it, but that was because while it was moving in the right direction, it didn't go far enough. (The benefit will cost well over a trillion bucks, though the Bush estimate at the time was less than half that.) Meanwhile, conservatives had to be strong-armed into voting for it.

The examples Carin gives look more like Bush reaching out, even as he's got a solid lead in Congress. Obama's health care is not, to many Republicans (and some Democrats) moving things in the right direction. We're not talking about accepting half a loaf, we're talking about drinking poison. So what we need is not another Ted Kennedy, but another George Bush--a President willing to truly compromise, rather than cram things down his opponents' throats.

There is another possibility, of course. Democrats under Obama have a much bigger lead in Congress than Republicans had under Bush. They don't need a single Republican vote. If the health care bill is so wonderful, they should be rushing to pass it, happy that the foolish Republicans will be left in the dust.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Leap Century

Sorry I'm a little late for Lester Young's 100th birthday.

The Write Stuff

Stanley Fish is alarmed:

A few years ago, when I was grading papers for a graduate literature course, I became alarmed at the inability of my students to write a clean English sentence. They could manage for about six words and then, almost invariably, the syntax (and everything else) fell apart. I became even more alarmed when I remembered that these same students were instructors in the college’s composition program. What, I wondered, could possibly be going on in their courses?

He goes on to suggest a solution, but I'm more interested in the problem. It's yet another "what's the matter with kids today?" issues.

I remember hearing my generation couldn't write a sentence to save our lives. So how long has this been going on? To put it another way, what was the last generation that actually could write? Once we figure that out, let's just teach 'em today how we taught 'em then.

Star Search

I was watching Blue Velvet on the Independent Film Channel and noticed when I pressed the information button that the film got two stars.

Blue Velvet? The film that won a bunch of awards from critics and at festivals? That was nominated for an Oscar? The film that regularly appears on polls for top ten flms of the 80s, and greatest films of all time?

It may not be perfect, but three stars at least.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Shameless

I have a conservative friend who calls the Democrats shameless. For what? For whatever they're doing at the time. Lately, he's got a lot of his plate.

For example, he complains about the investigation into CIA interrogation techniques. He feels there's no need for a special investigation, of course, but also has a list of other things they could investigate, such as prominent Democrats who broke the law but were given a clean bill of health (Al Gore, Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, Charles Rangel), the New Black Panthers (who were already guilty of voter intimidation in a default judgment when the case was dropped) and even those in the CIA who leaked classified information, which was an unambiguous case of breaking the law, but somehow doesn't interest the Department of Justice. (He also claims--and I agree--that selected members of Congress were fully briefed on CIA techniques and now that the winds are blowing the other way, claim they had no idea what was going on.)

Also, there's Obamacare. Ted Kennedy wasn't even cold before they started exploiting his death and calling it Kennedycare.

Then there's the replacement of Kennedy. In 2004, when Mitt Romney was running the state, Massachusetts changed the rules so that the governor couldn't appoint a temporary senator before the special election. Now with a Democrat in charge, they want to change the rules back.

I admit the last one is pretty blatant. However, hypocrisy is simply the coin of the realm in politics. If you disagree with a policy, fine, debate it. But if all you've got is a charge of hypocrisy, it's so common it's hardly worth noting. (And even if you do note it, it's almost guaranteed those on the other side won't be able to see it.)

Ooo Baby Baby

Katie Roiphe's essay "My Newborn Is Like A Narcotic" has created a small controversy. She takes feminists to task for their attitude toward motherhood (and they respond she's mistaken, or she misunderstands them):

There is an opium-den quality to maternity leave. The high of a love that obliterates everything. A need so consuming that it is threatening to everything you are and care about. Where did your day go? Did you stare blankly at the baby for hours? And was that staring blankly more fiercely pleasurable, more compelling than nearly anything you have ever done?

One of the minor dishonesties of the feminist movement has been to underestimate the passion of this time, to try for a rational, politically expedient assessment. Historically, feminists have emphasized the difficulty, the drudgery of new motherhood. They have tried to analogize childcare to the work of men; and so for a long time, women have called motherhood a "vocation." The act of caring for a baby is demanding, and arduous, of course, but it is wilder and more narcotic than any kind of work I have ever done.

Some of the pressing tasks I do—say, running to the drugstore to buy more pacifiers—are just excuses to think about the baby, to obsess and dwell upon every little thing about him. Here again is the singular fixation that characterizes addiction rather than calm productivity.

I have no dog in this fight. Though it is interesting, for all the obliterative love, and the singular fixation, that she still has the time to write essays philosophizing on life issues.

Michael & Michael Have A Show

I was first introduced to Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter on the sketch show The State, which I found tremendously unfunny. Later, I saw them in Stella, which I was surprised to find I enjoyed.

Now they have a new show on Comedy Central, Michael & Michael Have Issues. The format is not promising. They play two performers named Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter who are very taken with themselves. They star in a sketch comedy show and their arrogance and obliviousness cause a lot of pain to themselves and those around them.

We get to see some of the sketches from their show-within-a-show. This is tricky, doing comedy within comedy, yet the sketches themselves aren't bad. The main comic focus, though, is on their behind-the-scenes lives.

I've watched the first few episodes and, like Stella, I'm a bit surprised to say it's pretty good.

Redemption

I was hoping no one would bring up Chappaquiddick, but it was inevitable. A number of blogs and plenty of commenters attacked Ted Kennedy for what he did. Seems to me the last 24 hours were a good time to lay off this subject.

What interests me more, in a man bites dog sort of way, is some of his defenders brought it up. I guess the best defense is a good offense.

For instance, we have Joyce Carol Oates in The Guardian:

Yet if one weighs the life of a single young woman against the accomplishments of the man President Obama has called the greatest Democratic senator in history, what is one to think?

The poet John Berryman once wondered: "Is wickedness soluble in art?". One might rephrase, in a vocabulary more suitable for our politicized era: "Is wickedness soluble in good deeds?"

This paradox lies at the heart of so much of public life: individuals of dubious character and cruel deeds may redeem themselves in selfless actions. Fidelity to a personal code of morality would seem to fade in significance as the public sphere, like an enormous sun, blinds us to all else.

There are a lot of things you could say, but I'll try to keep it short.

In general, I agree that the personal morality of a politician (or a novelist, for that matter) doesn't really matter. Not to me, anyway. Politicians are hired hands, and while it might be better if they had sterling personal lives, what I care about, ultimately, is what they do in their professional capacity. I'm not voting them in to reward them for their virtue, and I see very little correlation between personal goodness and good politics.

But how far does this sentiment go? Would it be okay if I found out a politician was a serial rapist? And what if his badness is more closely related to his politics--say, he blackmails other politicians so they'll vote his way. I obviously don't approve of the means, but do the ends make me vote for him rather than his nicer opponent who votes the wrong way, or is ineffective? Does greatness excuse everything? Does size excuse smaller problems?

More troublesome, it's easy to take Oates in a more partisan manner. It's easy to read her as saying as long as you're a powerful politicians Oates approves of, you can do whatever you want. I guess just having the right politics in general will get you off for minor peccadilloes. Then there's the corollary--even if you're wonderful to your family and friends, if you vote for bad things, like wars Oates doesn't support, you're a bad person.

I have less to say about Melissa Lafsky in the Huffington Post:

Mary Jo [Kopechne] wasn't a right-wing talking point or a negative campaign slogan. She was a dedicated civil rights activist and political talent with a bright future [....] she got in a car driven by a 36-year-old senator with an alcohol problem and a cauldron full of demons, and wound up a controversial footnote in a dynasty.

We don't know how much Kennedy was affected by her death, or what she'd have thought about arguably being a catalyst for the most successful Senate career in history. [....]

Who knows -- maybe she'd feel it was worth it.

Actually, I have nothing to say.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hello Goodbye

This week's Mad Men starts with the title number from Bye Bye Birdie the movie. Though the film adaptation of this Broadway hit leaves something to be desired, I understand why they open with Ann-Marget. The official leads may be Dick Van Dyke (reprising his stage role) and Janet Leigh (not nearly as convincing a Latina as Chita Rivera), but why would they hold off on Hollywood latest and greatest sex kitten?



The song was written for the movie, and fits quite well into the score. It helps that Adams and Strouse, the original composers, created it.

Tragically Misinformed

Greek tragedy still speaks to us because it deals with basic human themes. Directors and critics, however, often want to add a layer of modernity to these pieces, believing they have to "improve" them to make them relevant. Sometimes this adds something, sometimes it takes something away.

I haven't seen the Joanne Akalaitis production of Euripides' The Bacchae, but I have problems with Marilyn Stasio's review in Variety. She has trouble with the casting of Dionysus.

Since helmer Akalaitis obviously intended the amoral god of licentiousness to be portrayed as a petulant youth with curly locks and torn jeans, it might be argued that [Jonathan] Groff ("Spring Awakening," "Hair") is only doing his job. But even in this context, he doesn't muster the ferocious anger Dionysus turns on the leaders of Thebes for rejecting his claims to divinity and banning his dangerous new religion. Nor is he particularly believable as an Olympian stud capable of driving masses of women into a state of violent sexual frenzy just by breathing into his microphone.

But that's the whole point. Dionysus is not one of those old gods that Pentheus might respect. He's this new guy, with a new style--almost epicene--who comes on the scene and demands, shockingly, that everyone worship him. He's supposed to seem out of place. If he seems scary and ferocious, as you'd expect, then it's not as big a deal. (In fact, this is a theatrical trick that Euripidies used over and over. Look at how sympathetic he makes Medea before she starts doing horrible things.)

As for driving women into a sexual frenzy, how many times in the 20th century (and earlier) did some new force appear (Rudolph Valentino, The Beatles, Leonardo DiCaprio) who drove women crazy and had the establishment shaking their heads at how wimpy these new sex symbols are?

Stasio also has her reading of Agave:

As the cursed Agave, Joan MacIntosh singlehandedly delivers Euripides' other significant theme in this tragedy -- the terrible consequences when women are consistently thwarted from pursuing their natural skills and ambitions. MacIntosh gives a luminous portrayal of Agave expressing her pride and joy at succeeding in the masculine role of a hunter, the height of her exaltation making it all the more tragic when Agave comes to her senses and realizes she has killed her own son.

I suppose the play could support this reading if you insist, but Agave killing her son is horrifying, and it's a bit of a stretch to say we were supposed to be happy about her successful hunting up to that point. A better reading might be this shows how we should be wary of the powers the gods can unleash, as well as the dangers women represent if they're not properly controlled.

Ellie

Ellie Greenwich, one of the top songwriters of the 1960s, has died. She often wrote with her husband, Jeff Barry and also worked with Phil Spector a fair amount. Her songs were probably the best at capturing the spirit of the girl groups. Like so many other great Brill Building songwriters, her name might not be that well known, but her songs sure are.

What songs? Well, for starters, "Chapel Of Love," "Do Wah Diddy Diddy," "Da Do Ron Ron," "Leader Of The Pack," "Hanky Panky," "Be My Baby," "Baby, I Love You," "Then He Kissed Me" and "River Deep-Mountain High."

People Will See Me And Cry

I was walking down Hollywood Boulevard about six hours ago when I noticed a huge crowd ahead. Worse, the sidewalk was closed.

Since this was in front of the Chinese Theatre, I figured there's either some new footprints being set or it's a premiere. It was the latter.

I got to the other side of the road (where even more were gathered, but at least I could walk) and saw it was for All About Steve, the latest Sandra Bullock comedy. Every time someone came out of a limousine, people would scream. I didn't notice if Sandra or her costars were there yet as I moved along.

I don't think I'm jaded by having seen so many celebrities on the streets of LA, but really, is standing around just waiting to see them walk into a movie theatre such a big thrill?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Go Mo

Maureen Tucker turns 65 today. Happy birthday, Mo!

Danger Zone

While I expected the decision to send the Lockerbie Bomber back home to die to be unpopular, I'm a little surprised at how overwhelming the opposition and outrage has been. (Here's a pretty strong official example from the FBI director.)

It makes one wonder if the damage will spread. Will any politicians be voted out? Will this hurt Scotland's relations with America, and the world? Will this even hurt Libya's standing in the word? Will people wonder if Britain, or even the U.S., should have known about this and done something to stop it?

I see this as a mostly symbolic fight (which lends itself to posturing), but that doesn't mean there won't be ramifications.

Soul Patrol

Saw Cold Souls, a metaphysical comedy that didn't really work. It stars Paul Giamatti, playing Paul Giamatti, who has his soul removed so he can get on with his life. But it's never really worked out properly just what the soul does and doesn't do (and there's an escape clause where the soul-removing technique leaves a bit of the soul behind). I realize we're talking about huge philosophical questions, but the movie has to work on a surface level (no matter how absurd) before we can get to them.

I was, however, reminded of a thought experiment from Raymond Smullyan. He said imagine you feel so bad you want to kill yourself, but you don't want to cause any pain to your family or friends. So you got to an establishment that sells you a pill that destroys your soul--you'll feel nothing inside--but on the outside, you do everything you'd do otherwise so no one can tell.

So you take the pill just before you go to bed. What's the first thing you do when you wake up? You go back to that establishment and complain that the pill did nothing.

Found On Lost

Lost has so many characters that you never know if you favorite will appear any given week. So it was interesting to see how many episodes each character has appeared in over the first five seasons.

The names are obvious, but I wouldn't necessarily have guessed this order:

1. Jack - 96
2. Kate - 94
3. Sawyer - 92
4. Hurley - 91
5. Locke - 85 (that'll teach him to move away from the group)
6. Sayid - 83
7. Jin - 78 (didn't look like he'd beat Sun not that long ago)
8. Sun - 76
9. Charlie - 61
10. Claire - 59

Wonder if Ben or Juliet will make the top ten by the time the show ends.

Some other interesting data:

Boone, with 25 appearances, beats Eko, Faraday, Ana Lucia and Miles, who all have 21 (though that may change).

Bernard beats Rose 22 to 21.

Most popular non-starring "Other"--Richard, whose 20 beats Tom's 19 and Alex's 17.

Most popular DI member (not counting Ben) is easily Pierre Chang, though that includes a lot of video appearances where he didn't even use his real name.

Charles Widmore has appeared 13 times while his daughter has only been seen 11.

Of the unaffiliated non-regulars, Rousseau (played by two people) is easily the most popular, with 22 appearances, while Christian Shepherd is second with 18. (Will that change?)

Not that many characters have appeared in all five seasons, but Nadia has--she's in five episodes, one a season.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Way To Go

Attorney General Eric Holder has decided to appoint an investigator to look into CIA interrogations of terror suspects. I have no idea what the investigator will conclude, but I can guess how it'll play politically.

There are two ways to do this. It can be done quickly, furtively and in a partisan manner. Or it can be done proudly, openly and with everyone given a chance to explain themselves.

If it's done the first way, the White House will get away without too much damage. If it's done the second, this could truly hurt them.

PS Here's a sentence in the Washington Post story I linked:

During the Bush years, a team of more than a half-dozen career prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia, which is renown for its expertise in probing clandestine operations, reviewed about 20 cases of alleged prisoner abuse after receiving referrals from the military and then-CIA Inspector General John Helgerson.

"Which is renown"?

Jackie Blew

Nurse Jackie's first season is over and it wasn't much. Most of the show is Jackie at the hospital, with drama we've seen done better, comedy that doesn't quite work, and characters who rarely rise above cliche. Meanwhile, the whole Jackie's secret-marriage thing has been a non-starter.

I admit it was interesting to see Jackie and pharmacist Eddie getting it on ten years after the same actors flirted as mob wife and priest. But the only character I thought really worked was newbie nurse Zoey Barkow, played by Merritt Wever. The other parts are just a collection of quirks, while Zoey actually felt alive.

The show's been picked up. Will it get better in its second season? It just about has to.

Sister Salute

I'm always glad to salute any sister sites that have adopted our clown-like look. The reason we chose it for Pajama Guy should be clear from our name, but when others choose it, it's usually a sign of bravery.

So, anyway, welcome to the club, Mikey HATES Everything!, a blog that eats around LA, by the way.

Lenny

Happy birthday, Leonard Bernstein.

I was looking for a decent version of what I think is his most beautiful song, "Some Other Time," but I couldn't find one, so her are some "up" numbers instead, in chronological order.















Monday, August 24, 2009

Say That Again?

A while ago I noted when Simon Cowell used the British phrase "chalk and cheese" on American Idol, his cohorts treated him like he had brain damage. That can happen when people hear an odd phrase they're unaware of. But there's an opposite phenomenon.

I once said "the proof is in the pudding" (which originally was "the proof of the pudding is in the eating," and is used here and in Britain) and a friend who heard it thought I got it from the South, where she was raised. Sometimes you figure something you hear as a kid is a local locution.

I was thinking about that while listening to Terry Gross interview Loudon Wainwright on Fresh Air about his new album High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project. This is from the transcript:

Mr. WAINWRIGHT: "High Wide and Handsome" is an expression that I heard growing up because my mother, I mentioned, was from South Georgia. I think it's a Southern expression.

Sorry Loudon, this is a phrase used all across America--just not so much as it once was. It was popular enough that it was a title for a big Hollywood musical/Western in 1937 starring Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott.

On the other hand, it is an American phrase, so if Ryan Seacrest uses it, Simon Cowell can raise an eyebrow.

Spinal Surgery

This is turning out to be the weakest season of Entourage so far. It's always been a fairly loose show, but the ups and downs of Vince's (and Ari's) career provided the backbone.

This season, there's little movement on that front. In fact, Vince is grounded when his movie shoot is postponed. Ari's safely in charge of his successful agency. Instead, it's all soap opera: Eric has trouble with his girlfriend, Turtle has trouble with his girlfriend, an agent in Ari's agency is having an affair with another agent. Worse, it's bad soap opera--we don't care about any of these stories.

They're been renewed for another season. Time to figure out where they're going.

Lost In Translation

I don't make fun of people who have a heavy foreign accent since all that tells me is they speak at least two languages. Still, I enjoyed reading the profile of Tereza Budkova, Miss Czech 2009 finalist. I assume she wrote it herself:

* Name: Tereza Budkova
* 18 years (Sezimovo Ústí)
* Zodiac Sign: Weights
* Height: 176 - 180 cm
* Build: skinny
* Hair color: brown

My motto: What you kill, you will strengthen it

I live in Sezimovo Ústí and study at secondary school. At the end of a career model I would like to start a family.

My favorite historical figure is Cleopatra, because his charm and intelligence was able to great things.

Hobbies
* Hobbies: Reading, sports, trips
* Sport: water sports, winter sports

To my pleasure include reading, traveling, swimming and skiing. Best foreign holiday I spent in Kenya, at home, I most enjoyed in the Giant Mountains.

PS She's surprisingly unsure of her height.

PPS Why was I checking out this page? Do I need to explain?

Bucking The 'Buck

Not being much of a tea or coffee drinker, I rarely find myself inside a Starbucks. Nevertheless, the place must have been doing something right to have expanded so much (until recently). So I'm always surprised at the vitriol it inspires.

Is it such a bad place? Then why do people go? There are plenty of other coffee houses around with different "atmosphere," and presumably different prices and products. Is it just the reputation of Starbucks, and not Starbucks itself, that bothers people? (The Coffee Bean is pretty big out here and I don't hear the same condemnation.)

I think the proper thought experiment is this: imagine the Starbucks corporation doesn't exist. No Starbucks anywhere. Now imagine something exactly like a Starbucks opens just down the block. Would you think it's a pretty cool place, or would you reject it?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Get To Know Don Draper

Before I forget, loved last week's Mad Men. Looks like season 3 will maintain the high standard.

I'm a bit surprised it's taking place in mid-1963, since I thought the original idea was each season jumps ahead two years. I guess Matthew Weiner has more to say. Does this mean the show will go on indefinitely? Also, this solves the problems of how to deal with Don Draper's kids.

The other question now is will Weiner go over well-trod ground, and use Kennedy's death? Cynthia Littleton in Variety puts it thus:

We at home, of course, know that trauma that is lurking around the corner (Dallas, the grassy knoll, a convertible limo -- you get the picture).

I guess it shows how successful the conspiracy mongers have been that the grassy knoll, which essentially has nothing to do with the actual event, is used to conjure up the assassination.

Wild Things

I saw the trailer for Where The Wild Things Are. It's weird to see a book you've known as long as you can remember come to life. The strangest part is hearing the voices out load. No matter how they do it, there's no way it'll match what you heard in your head. (And I didn't hear Tony Soprano, that's for sure.)

Replace This

In a discussion of the Rock Band version of the Beatles recently published in The New York Times Magazine, we see this:

Still, the overt selling point of Guitar Hero was less participatory music experience than rock-god fantasy. It leaned heavily on the over-the-top energy of heavy metal and punk, and came wrapped in a cartoonish aesthetic. Harmonix toned down these elements with the Rock Band series and dipped into less-aggressive musical artists like Beck, Bob Dylan, the Go-Gos and the Replacements, taking some risk of alienating the games’ core audience.

The Replacements are a less aggressive musical act? Less aggressive than what? Leaf blowers? Paper shredders? Jet engines?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Clowntime Is Over

Ever read something so weird you wonder if you dreamed it? That's how I felt after John Payne's tribute to Les Paul in the LA Weekly.

Right off the bat, something felt off when I read this underneath the headline:

W.C. Fields on the legendary innovator: “The music you’re making sounds like an octopus. Like a guy with a million hands."

Huh? Why would W.C. Field's have anything to say about Les Paul? More on that in a sec. First, let me quote you a big chunk of the piece:

One of Paul’s greatest periods of innovation came during his residency in L.A. during the 1950s. In his garage studio on Curson Street, he worked in secrecy. Immersed in his work one day, however, he heard someone in his yard. It was W. C. Fields, sitting on a swing and listening to Paul’s strange new effects. “You know what?” Fields asked. “The music you’re making sounds like an octopus. Like a guy with a million hands. I’ve never heard anything like it.”

Among the myriad innovations Paul was developing was the first multitrack recording unit, an acetate recording lathe that he fashioned from a Cadillac flywheel and fan belt. After finishing up his night’s work on the project at a friend’s hobby shop in Hollywood one morning, Paul heard someone throwing rocks in the window. He looked out and saw Groucho Marx.

“Groucho says, ‘I’m trying to wake the guy up upstairs.’ I started throwing rocks too, and Groucho said, ‘What in the world are you doing here?’ ‘Well, I’m working on a recording. You wouldn’t know what it is.’ Groucho says, ‘Let’s see what you got.’ ”

Paul showed Marx the lathe. Marx said, “My family are engineers over in Glendale. They might be interested in something like this.”

Marx’s family company ultimately manufactured a lathe for Paul, which he used along with the one he’d built himself to create a multitrack recording unit that would record and bounce tracks back and forth between the two lathes.

Once again, huh?

First, we're in LA with Les Paul in the 50s, and there's guitar lover W. C. Fields on a swing. There are a lot of things wrong with this picture, but the wrongest is that Fields died in 1946. At the very least, Payne's dates are way off--though I suspect the whole thing never happened.

As for the next story, I've read everything could get my hands on about Groucho Marx and have never heard this one. Okay, it's a Les Paul story, not a Groucho story. But once again, it's the 1950s, which puts Groucho in his 60s, throwing rocks at a window. Alright, maybe that happened, but a Groucho with family who are engineers in Glendale? Who then manufactured a lathe for Paul? Who? Chico? Harpo? Zeppo? Gummo? This is nutso. Groucho et al created gags, not gauges.

Either someone was funning with Payne and he bought it, or Payne knew some actual anecdotes and replaced the real names with his favorite clowns.

The Source

The Cato Institute doesn't think much of The Boston Globe and The New York Times claiming the Massachusetts health reforms have worked. But why don't we get a true expert to tell us. What do you say, New England Guy, what's really going on?

Oh Susanna (And The Rest)

The face and voice of The Bangles is Susanna Hoffs, but let's not forget their drummer, Debbi Peterson. Happy birthday, Debbi!



Years before, Brian Wilson wrote a beautiful but mopey song, "In My Room," about shutting out everything else and creating his own world. I like to think this is The Bangles' answer, breaking down the door and teaching him about other things he can do.

Star Warts

Some fun complaints about the design of Star Wars, and, if you go deep into the comments, some interesting rationales.

I was always bothered by the giant worm on the barren asteroid, though someone came up with my explanation--the asteroid belt is part of a recently destroyed, mind-bogglingly gigantic planet. The worm was in its dying days, awoken from its stupor by blaster shots.

(I'd also like to know how the Dianoga--a fairly big and clearly organic monster-got to lurk in the Death Star's trash compactor. Did one of the consruction workers flush his baby Dianoga down the toilet?)

Friday, August 21, 2009

I Shall Be Released

A whole bunch of American politicians, from the President on down, Democrat and Republican, have denounced the decision to free the Lockerbie Bomber, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi. He's got terminal cancer, and his Scottish jailers have let him go home out of compassion.

He was sentenced to 27 years for blowing up Pan Am Flight 103, flying from Heathrow to New York, in 1988. His actions led to 270 deaths. He'd served 8 years so far. He's received a hero's welcome in Tripoli (sickening) and still protests his innocence (many people believe the CIA was behind the explosion).

Whether or not he should be freed should make us ask why we incarcerate people to begin with. There are a number of reasons (punishment, retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, moral lesson) and obviously how you feel about them will determine how you feel about the actions of the Scottish authorities.

I have no trouble with his release. I'm not saying justice demands it, but it seems to me that Scotland is just recognizing he's already got a death sentence, which is more important than where he serves it out. I can't see him causing any more trouble. The main question is what effect will this have on deterrence for such criminals. I find it hard to believe that this act of lenience will give terrorists the green light--no one's going to think "hey, I can get out if I get so sick I'm gonna die." (Regarding those who think he's innocent, that's a separate problem that exists whether he's freed or not.)

Some feel compassion is not only wasted on such a terrible villain, but is downright immoral. That it cheapens the act of compassion itself. And that it spits in the eyes of the victims. But the victims (those living who lost loved ones) know he'll soon be gone, and he'll be remembered as a criminal (and, unfortunately, nothing will bring back those he murdered--if hurting him more would do that, I'd be in favor). As for compassion, the quality of mercy is not strained. If we can afford it to the lowest and the worst of us, how much easier will it be when we try to help others. And in doing such actions, we don't vindicate his evil, we separate ourselves from it.

He Did It His Way

Here's an article that asks about Quentin Tarantino "Could it be that one of the most overrated directors of the '90s has become one of the most underrated of the aughts?" Since I don't think he was overrated in the 90s, I'm not sure if I should care that he's underrated now.

He has shown a certain growth as director. Or perhaps I should say he's gotten better at spectacle. I suppose that comes with experience, and bigger budgets. But it also comes at the expense of a lot of other things--in particular, his earlier films, even with heightened dialogue, were still within the realm of human possibility. And his earlier films couldn't afford to be as self-indulgent. He seems to now be in a period where everything is bigger than life. I'm more interested in Tarantino the director as someone who fulfills the vision of Tarantino the writer, and if the vision is less interesting, who cares how accomplished the direction is?

His films (haven't seen his latest) are their own genre (as much as people try to copy them)--inspired by the exploitation genre, they're smart and talky in a way no one else is. (Alas, the piece I link repeats the canard that Reservoir Dogs "lifted many of its tricks directly" from City On Fire. The surface similarities aren't nearly as important as the differences; you could say the same for Death Proof versus Dirty Mary Crazy Larry.) I wouldn't go so far to say he's got the Citizen Kane problem, but as of this date, he still seems to be chasing after the stunning one-two punch of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Perhaps that's why he's moving away from that style. Or perhaps it's just a natural growth. Either way, he seems willing to do it his way no matter what the critics say. And as long as he makes money, I guess he'll keep doing it his way.

That's Gross, Man

Daniel Gross's argument in Slate about health care is so silly that I read it twice to make sure it wasn't a parody. He claims it's hypocritical for people to attack government-run health care while they're using government-run health care.

Why? Whether or not we have a good system, and whether or not the reform being bruited about these days would make it better is irrelevant. The fact is, government is spending trillions on health care with the taxpayers, as always, picking up the tab. There's nothing hypocritical about using it as long as it's out there, even if you don't agree with how it's being run, or even if you want to get rid of it entirely. (Closer to hypocrisy--but still not making the grade--would be people who pay little or no taxes voting for politicians who promise them huge benefits.)

It's All Too Much

In weird show biz news, Robert Zemeckis will be doing some sort of remake of Yellow Submarine. I like Zemeckis and love The Beatles, but it's unclear to me what this will be about. It'll be in performance capture (whose performance?--certainly not The Beatles) 3-D, but I'm not sure if the plot will be anything like the original (which had a reasonably witty script, co-written by Erich Segal). It is clear that Zemeckis will have the rights to the songs in the original movie. My suggestion--toss out those crappy George Harrison numbers.

Here's an odd line from the article: "The deal marries cutting-edge 3-D feature technology with a surging reinterest in The Beatles..."

Surging reinterest? The Beatles, it goes without saying, were the top act of the 60s. But they've continued to be top-selling artists in the almost 40 years since they broke, even though they've only offered repackaging, outtakes, and a few new numbers. In the 18 years since SoundScan started tracking sales, they've been the #2 top selling artists, only behind Garth Brooks. There's no need for a surge, they've always been big.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Au + H2O = No On Prop 8

The NYTimes today has a pretty good piece on the conservative argument for gay marriage, as it's being presented at the US Supreme Court by former Solicitor General Ted Olson. I understand that there's a "man bites dog" aspect that led them to go deeper into this one than usual, but it really makes me wish they could present a coherent libertarian perspective on other issues. Particularly those where the editors don't so obviously agree with the conclusion.

Damned Lies

There's a local weekly that's so minor I won't bother to name it. I read an editorial for health care reform entitled "Town Hall Tantrums: I Can Scream Louder Than You." I only mention it to note a misuse of statistics that's all to common. The article puts it like this:

[After noting that watching the protests, you might think health care is being rammed down the throats of unwiling voters, and that the town hall protestors are stirring people from their apathy.] The numbers, however, continue to tell a different story. Only 34 percent of respondents in a recent Gallup Poll (Aug. 12) say the protests are making them more sympathetic to the views of the protestors, whle 56 percent say they are either less sympathetic, or have not changed their opinion.

This argument is silly on its face. Even if the protestors are turning people off, it doesn't mean their views are wrong or unpopular. But, in any case, the poll is being mischaracterized.

In fact--and surprising to me--while it's true 34% were made more sympathetic, only 21% were made less. 36% weren't moved in either direction and 10% had no opinion.

So we've got this poll with what I'd call remarkable results--that the protestors are moving people against health care reform--and the author of the editorial uses it to claim the opposite. It's an old trick where you take the people in the middle and include them with the group you like. But I've rarely seen it done in such a blatantly dishonest manner.

The Joke's On Me

I was recently walking down Vine--the Walk Of Fame part--and saw a bunch of flowers set by a star. I looked down and saw it was "Michael Jackson." I noticed the star was for radio, so I assumed this was the widely popular LA talk-show host.

I laughed to myself. They got it wrong. Then I looked at the card on the flowers. It was to Les Paul. Sure enough, on the other side, was the star for Les Paul and Mary Ford.

Regression Analysis

Stephen Jay Gould wrote a famous article on the evolution of Mickey Mouse. The character's look became more childlike through the years. It made sense. But at least he stayed the same age.

Then some time later, someone came up with Muppet Babies. The Muppets were already favorites with kids--was this necessary?

I felt the same way when I was in a local Target and ran across Disney's Princess Babies. Disney Princesses are already cute. This is overkill. I'm looking forward to Disney Princess Embryos.

Better Than Fred Zinneman

I just read Axel Madsen's authorized biography of William Wyler. Wyler was one of those "class" Hollywood directors who won a lot of awards and made well-respected, and often quite successful, films, but doesn't thrill me much. Not that he didn't make a decent film now and then, but his are rarely the type I want to watch more than once.

The bio shows how he worked his way up through the business, and goes into his many years as one of the most exacting directors in town. The great French critic Andre Bazin was a tremendous admirer, but I don't think Wyler's stock is quite as high today. Ultimately, I didn't find his story that absorbing, but I wonder if that's because the bio is authorized, or because I feel the same way about most of his work.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Stick To The Point

Over at Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds has this to say about Bill Donohoe:

He and I probably disagree on, well, most of the issues he cares about, but way back in 1991 when I was on Larry King, he was on in the segment before me and he gave me some good TV sound-bite advice in the green room: Figure out the idea you really want to get across — one sentence, maybe two — and then, at some point, just say it whether it fits where the host is trying to go or not. That sentence is your payment for going along with the host the rest of the time.

This is precisely what I dislike most about TV talking heads. They insist on getting their soundbite in rather than contributing to the discussion. As far as I'm concerned, if they do this regularly, shows should stop inviting them.

PS I see Donohoe is up to his old tricks, demanding Penn and Teller be fired because he doesn't like what they're saying.

Who's The Victim?

Jonathan Rosenbaum, who regularly mixes politics with film criticism, is up in arms about Quentin Tarantino's latest, Inglourious Basterds. Agreeing with a Newsweek piece, Rosenbaum feels the film is a revenge fantasy that turns its avenging Jews into the Nazis of the piece.

Tarantino's films are often controversial for their violence, which is usually fueled by revenge, but I don't recall any objections before that have been so political.

Rosenbaum may have a point. I haven't seen the film, so I can't say. Even so, I'm guessing it'll be hard to get too excited about the politics of Inglourious Basterds in a world where quite a few people make the obscene comparison of real Jews in Israel to Nazis. Furthermore, Rosenbaum blows his credibility with a silly parting shot at Sarah Palin.

A Lot To Digest

So Reader's Digest is filing for bankruptcy. A mainstay in the magazine world for decades, I had no idea it was so deep in debt. It still sells millions, but the trend is down.

I've never really read it except in waiting rooms, but I assume the real trouble is not that it's content changed (though I hear it has) so much as all print is hurting these days.

SS in SS

Katharine Hepburn was fairly new to the screen when she won an Oscar for Morning Glory (1933). She'd win four overall, but have to wait more than 30 years for her next one. (During the winless period she'd do all her best work.)

I recently saw Stage Struck (1958), a remake of Morning Glory. The original was a pretty creaky story about Broadway to begin with (Hepburn's Stage Door (1937), set in the same milieu, is a much better film), so redoing it 25 years later wasn't much of an idea.

Both the original and the remake feature a talented supporting cast, but the whole things lives or dies with its lead, Eva Lovelace, the girl who wants to break into the theatre. The character is both naive and overbearing, and so can easily end up being annoying. Ironically, it requires a true star to play the part of someone who isn't a star. Hepburn was a star (and was also a unique individual) and it came across. Susan Strasberg, however, doesn't have it. She comes from a famous theatrical family, but her line readings are so odd that you almost wonder if there's something wrong with her.

Best thing about the film is some location shooting on Broadway in the 50s--in color.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I'm The Face

The man who created the Obama/Joker mashup ("socialist" was added later) has been discovered. He's a 20-year-old college student named Firas Alkhateeb. Interesting tidbits:

1) He's from Chicago.

2) He's a fan of Dennis Kucinich

3) Displaying a sense of irony similar to Shepard Fairey's, he says "To accuse [Obama] of being a socialist is really ... immature."

Falling For It

Jeffrey Goldberg has this to say about the Jersey/Dylan pickup:

Bob Dylan was picked up by a cop in Long Branch, N.J. for allegedly acting suspiciously while on a walk. The cop, a 22-year-old, did not know who Dylan was. According to Britain's Daily Mail, Craig Spencer, a "senior officer" with the Long Branch police, told a reporter: 'I'm afraid we all fell about laughing... 'The poor woman has taken rather a lot of abuse from us."

Oh, rilly? I'm falling about laughing at this rather half-piped quote. Unless, of course, Senior Officer Spencer is London-born. I'm calling the Long Branch police to find out.

I don't know. "Fell about" isn't such a Britishism that you won't hear it on this side of the pond (especially from a Dylan fan). Look at Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back In Town," a very American song released in the 70s:

And that time over at Johnny's place
Well this chick got up and she slapped Johnny's face
Man we just fell about the place
If that chick don't want to know, forget her

I admit, the "rather" adds to the suspicion. But I don't find it impossible.

A far worse example comes from a book I read years ago (can't remember the title) about John Lennon. The author quoted people who knew Lennon in his early days, and I was a little surprised how they all seemed to say that he would "take the mickey" out of acquaintances. I might have bought it, but then the Beatles hit it big, and suddenly, even Americans are making the claim.

A Choice, And An Eko?

Lost's Mr. Eko, actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, says he loved playing the character and hopes he'll return for season 6. This is a bit odd, as he left the show early because he wanted to, or because didn't get along with cast and crew. Either way, a lot of fans figure he had his chance, screw him.

The bigger question is what sort of season will 6 be? Does this mean anyone can come back? And will there be one reality, or a bunch of alternate realities, where everyone is alive?

Receding

I recently watched Milos Forman's Hair (1979). The film flopped, I think, because the material was dated. Even the original 60s production was ersatz hippiedom, but a decade later it seemed entirely irrelevant. Michael Weller's script gives the piece an actual plot, but it's not enough.

Look at the name of the show. In the 60s, long hair was a statement. It was dangerous. By 1979, who cared? In fact, in 1979, it was short hair that made a statement. That's why I think Forman throws away the title tune, setting it in a prison, which distracts from how little it matters.



Nevertheless, the movie is fairly entertaining. The not-so-secret weapon of the show is non-hippie Galt MacDermot's music, which takes a lot of (let's call them) unconventional lyrics and turns them into a bunch of fascinating songs.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn't serve the score well. The arrangements are awful. Maybe it's just reflecting the times, but it sounds like they recorded the singers and then brought in a slick, cheesy band to back them.



PS Who removed the rear-view mirror?

No News Is No News

Here's the headline: "Conservatives Now Outnumber Liberals in All 50 States, Says Gallup Poll"

Is this news? Self-identified conservatives regularly outnumber self-identified liberals (with a bunch of moderates in the middle). The only states where it's close are Massachusetts, Vermont and Hawaii.

If you read the article, you find out 40% of Americans say they're conservative, whereas during the low point in the Bush era, 37% said so. Once again--this is news?

The trend tells you something, perhaps, but the reason it doesn't mean too much in general is that many conservatives vote Democrat, and many Democrats run on conservative themes. If you want to follow any numbers, I'd suggest self-identified Republicans and Democrats.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A New Angle On Health Care Reform

Now that the public option is effectively dead, Ross Douthat provides an interesting take on where the health care reform fault lines may next become visible:

If the Democratic Party’s attempt at health care reform perishes, senior citizens will have done it in, not talk-radio listeners and Glenn Beck acolytes. It’s the skepticism of over-65 Americans that’s dragging support for reform southward. And it’s their opposition to cost-cutting that makes finding the money to pay for it so difficult.

Christopher Buckley's "Boomsday" was a pretty good satirical take on the same type of retiree-entitlement funding problem.

The armchair political strategist in me says that Obama gave away his biggest bargaining chip too soon, allowing Republicans to next go after anything else in the plan they don't like. But maybe it will allow him to regain control of the message and rebuild his momentum. I think the biggest hurdle he faces is that usually the most motivated part of his base are precisely the 18-29 year-olds who are not particularly interested in being mandated to carry health insurance.

So What?

While we're celebrating the 40th anniversay or Woodstock, let's not forget the 50th of Kind Of Blue, the bestselling (and best?) jazz album of all.

Good Golly

A friend sent me to this video and asked if I thought it was real. Seemed a bit too outrageous to me. (The whole video's about ten minutes, which, if it's a gag, is twice as long as it needs to be.)

What A Difference An Hour Makes

I'm sad to say that Conan O'Brien at 11:35 has been consistently less entertaining that Conan O'Brien at 12:35. I wouldn't say he's dumbed down his show, exactly, but I think he allowed himself to be quirkier late at night.

When Letterman made a similar move in the 90s, he may have made his show a bit bigger, and perhaps he got a bit friendlier, but, at first anyway, his material was so strong it didn't matter. In fact, he seem revitalized by his new network and slot. I think Conan was ready for the big leagues, but just hasn't found his footing yet.

PS I was glad to see Andy Richter back (though Andy might not be thrilled with the arc of his career), but so far, he's hardly doing anything except break up and Conan's gags.

Now Boys

Former Bush and McCain strategist Mark McKinnon has a pretty harsh attack on Rick Santorum. Fine, that's his business. But by the third paragraph, he's called Rick Santorum a "strong neoconservative."

Where does that come from? Santorum, as far as I can tell, has always been a conservative. Nothing neo about him. I might expect this mistake (or cheap shot) from someone not familar with the term, but McKinnon must know better.

He couldn't be using neoconservative merely to mean someone who supported the war in Iraq. After all, he's a guy who worked for two of the war's biggest backers.

Ars Gratia Artis

Saw an interesting documentary, Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?. It's about a woman who claims a $5 painting she bought in a thrift shop was painted by Jackson Pollock. She's in the midst of trying to get this piece verified and, ultimately, sold. (The most amazing thing is she's turned down an offer for millions, saying it's worth more.)

I doubt very much it's a real Pollock, but two things hit me:

1) Whenever I see anything about art forgery, one question arises. A real Jackson Pollock that no one recognizes is worth nothing. A fake Jackson Pollock that everyone believes is real is worth millions. Does this suggest the art world has its priorities a bit off?

2) There's an expert (or "expert") in the film who claims he shows the painting was done by Pollock. The problem is, he's trying to prove the painting is a Pollock. I'm not saying he necessarily came in with that belief, but there's certainly a good reason for him to want to believe it. Once you've got this situation, it's easy for anyone to fool himself (or perhaps try to fool others).

What you want is a blind test, where you have 20 paintings and only one is a Pollock. If he, through his methods alone, can identify the real Pollock, then I'd be impressed. But I'm rarely impressed with a mission to prove something--you can always generate evidence for a thesis if you want it badly enough.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Matter Of Fact

An interesting, heated debate on domestic violence between Nancy K.D. Lemon (who literally wrote the book on the subject) and Christina Hoff Sommers (who says the book is nonsense).

Here's what fascinates me about such dust-ups. It's often said you're entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts. I suppose not. Except in most intellectual debates, it sure seems like each side does have its own set of facts. And it's not as if the back and forth of debate changes them much.

A Fine Mania

Richard Feynman is a rare Nobel Prize-winning physicist who crossed over into popular culture. His Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! became a surprise best-seller, and since then a mini-industry of books and videos has popped up around his life and work.

I heard the course he taught (where he recapitulated his understanding of basic physics in a two-year course for undergrads) was actually pretty tough. But I can't help but think when I see footage of him (such as the example below that someone just sent me) that it must have been quite bracing to attend his lectures.

Summer Is Saved

Woo-hoo, new Mad Men. (The AMC website allows you to create your character and place yourself in a scene.)

Will we get to see how Don Draper reacts to The Beatles?

Who's Who

Entourage has a weird thing that I previously noticed about The Player. Both are set in the movie business, and both feature cameos by celebrities. What's weird is they also have well-known actors playing entirely fictional roles.

Thus in a recent episode, we had Jeffrey Tambor playing Jeffrey Tambor, Tom Brady playing Tom Brady, Jamie-Lynn Sigler playing Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Mark Wahlberg (who helped create the show, which is vaguely based on him--which is a different level of weirdness) playing Mark Wahlberg. Okay, but next we get George Segal as "legendary manager" Murray Berenson. Why can't everyone see it's just George Segal?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

It Was 40 Years Ago Today

It's the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. Even with all the rain and mud and crowds, it must have been a lot of fun. But it's the event--so much bigger than anyone expected--that people remember. Musically, it was only fair.

The lineup was amazing--CCR, Janis Joplin, Sly & The Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, The Band, CSNY and Jimi Hendrix, to mention only a few. (And let's not forget Sha-Na-Na.)



However, the sound system sucked, half the bands were high, and few of the artists were at their best. There were also a bunch of excruciatingly long solos--perfect for going to the facilities, if they only had them.

At the time, it seemed like the harbinger of a new age. Looking back, it seems closer to a sign of the end. Musically speaking, Monterey, in 1967, had it all over Woodstock.

Edwards: My Daughter

So it looks like John Edwards will admit he's the father of mistress Rielle Hunter's 18-month-old daughter.

If he does, the news shouldn't be he's told the truth, but that he spent so long denying what everyone already believed.

PS Mickey Kaus, who was all over the Edwards affair back when the left was calling it part of a right-wing conspiracy (here's the Daily Kos: "I can't believe this is even subject to debate, but for the crazies, no source is too disreputable if it validates their warped world view"), has a nice summary of the latest, or as he calls it, "Edwards' Second Edifice of Lies Collapses."

BS Does BG

Bryan Singer will be doing a Battlestar Galactica film. Not sure if I get this. This is Bryan Singer, a major action director--is he gonna throw out everything and start again?

Two Your Health

The LA Times just published a piece on Obama and health care. Let me reprint every quote, in order, that they use from any authority:

I think it is very hard because [Democrats] don't have the message machine the Republicans do. The Democrats still believe in Enlightenment reason: If you just tell people the truth, they will come to the right conclusion. [This quote is so awesome I should just quit while I'm ahead.]

The way politics works sometimes is that people who want to keep things the way they are will try to scare the heck out of folks, and they'll create boogeymen out there that just aren't real. We can't let them do it again.

Our challenge each and every day is to go out and make sure people understand that doing nothing costs the American people more in healthcare spending. . . . It makes our budgetary problems worse, it causes people to lose their coverage and lose their doctor. And we can change all that.

If you look back at the campaign, the credibility of the Republicans became a storyline in itself. And when people question your credibility, they'll also question the substance of what you have to offer.

It reflects the intensity of emotion that this brings out in people. It argues, in my opinion, against this rush to judgment.

This arose out of a provision in one of the House bills that allowed Medicare to reimburse people for consultations about end-of-life care, setting up living wills. Somehow it's gotten spun into this idea of death panels. Um, I am not in favor of that. I want to clear the air."

insurance companies are rationing care. They are basically telling you what's covered and what's not.

There is this rage out there. The right wing has tapped into it. I don't think it's necessarily just about healthcare. [The protesters] see they can get on TV by screaming.

Let me note this is not an editorial.

Actually, the non-quotation part of the article is worse. For example:

Based on the persistence of nagging questions, and of at least one outright falsehood, Democrats have a tough road ahead.

Obama took an easy shot Tuesday at correcting the record, addressing former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's claim that Obama's plan would create "death panels" to decide who gets to live and die. There are no such measures in any of the bills under consideration.

I wouldn't even want to see this in an editorial.

Friday, August 14, 2009

To Your Health

James Fallows seems to believe that people who have different interpretations of the effect of proposed health care reform are simply "invent[ing] facts."

The trouble is no one can know what the effect will be of any bill the government passes.

Take the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Critics opposed it because they said it would lead to racial preferences, quotas and forced busing. Supporters argued the doubters had it wrong--that the bill was specifically written to avoid these outcomes. And yet, in very little time, bureaucrats and judges were able to take the law and use it to justify what at least seemed to many like these very things.

No one can be sure how even a small law will work--we can only guess, and hope it works out. When a thousand-page law creating massive restructuring of a system is debated, it takes true arrogance to claim to know what it will ultimately amount to. After all, if people can't even agree on the interpretation before it's passed (and if John Conyers says you can't understand a bill even after reading it with a lawyer), why would anyone think all those people entrusted with carrying it out will agree with one "true" interpretation?

I know this is a cheap sort of argument. It sounds like I'm arguing against passing anything. Well, in a way, I am. I'm at least saying we should be wary of any potential law, and the bigger the law, the more skeptical we should be. The wording matters, certainly, but we have to look at past experience to guide our beliefs. And I think we can say whenever we give vast new powers and money to the government, it's certainly possible they will end up doing things we didn't want, and in ways we never imagined.

One question worth asking is what will government officials (now and in the future) do with their new power? If you claim some potential action will be stopped by a particular provision in the law, you should understand that's an argument that may mean it's less likely, but it's not decisive evidence it won't happen. At least look at what the rest of the bill is promising. For example, if the law has a "nothing shall be construed" clause it's probably because there's a fear that, in fact, that's how people will want to construe it. Ask yourself, once the money and the bureaucracy is set up, what's to stop them?

Fallows assures us there will be no "death panels," and that people who talk about them are irrational or dishonest. Where does he get his confidence? After all, the phrase has no technical meaning. Is he claiming under no circumstances at any time will there be two or more government officials conferring on any medical issue that could lead to a life or death decision? Cause that would suffice as a death panel. Even his caricature of a death panel--"The bill would not call people before panels to determine whether they had a right to live"--can't be entirely ruled out. Mind you, I don't think our future will look like Logan's Run (if I was classy I'd say "The Lottery"), but the idea that it's unimaginable the government won't be allowed to make decisions that will determine who ends up living or dying is absurd. In fact, these very things have been discussed and debated at length by people who support health care reform. If there's going to be any rationing, for example, the government's going to have to make tough decisions. You'd think Fallows would argue we need reform to make these decisions wisely, not to claim these decisions won't ever be made.

So let's have a debate. But I'd suggest you think twice before calling people crazy because they believe the law might turn out differently from what you claim.

You're A Bendel Bonnet, A Shakespeare Sonnet, You're Mickey Mouse!

My friend Virginia Postrel and her Deep Glamour website is presenting "You're The Top: A Celebration of Glamorous Hats & the People Who Wear Them."

It's open to the public and will be held Thursday, evening, the 20th. Check the link for futher details. If you're in LA, it sounds like a fun way to spend the evening.

Les Was More

Les Paul has died. A great guitarist, but an even greater innovator. I don't think there's a bigger name in guitars.

He started in the jazz age, and ended up being treated as a god by rockers. Makes sense, since the electric guitar and other related items might not exist without him. But by all accounts, he was personally quite modest.

There's also a story that, many years ago, he was seriously injured in a car accident, his arm shattered. The doctors said he would never be able to regain movement, so he asked them to set him arm permanently at an angle where he could play guitar. Sounds like Les.

Hillary Rides Again

Just a day or so after ripping into a question, Hillary rips into her country.

On tour in Africa she compared Nigeria's disputed election to ours:

Our democracy is still evolving. You know we had some problems in some of our presidential elections. As you may remember, in 2000 our presidential election came down to one state where the brother of one of the men running for president was governor of the state. So we have our problems too.

Nigerian elections are about as corrupt as can be. Bringing up a tiresome whining point that many Democrats won't let go is ridiculous. She even seems to be suggesting that Jeb Bush being governor of Florida was part of a secret plan.

This points to a deeper problem so many seem to have (usually on the left)--the need to apologize for America. It doesn't even work as a strategy (others can see through our condescension, and showing weakness doesn't make any nation respect you more, especially not corrupt ones), but it seems to go beyond that.

Of course, it's always what someone else has done that they apologize for.

J.K. And The Crew

I saw the Coen Brothers' Burn After Reading in the theatre, originally. Now I've seen parts of it on TV. It's not bad, but I can see why it didn't click with an audience. It was no flop, but with a cast that includes George Clooney and Brad Pitt, I'm sure the studio was hoping it'd do better.

First, almost all the characters are awful people. Selfish, harsh, stupid. They do ugly things. I know this is a dark comedy, but if everyone is unpleasant, it can grate. Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski were full of awful, violent people, but you still were rooting for the protagonists.

Second, the film is pretty foul-mouthed. Not everyone cares, but some people are turned off by repeated used of the F-word.

Third, it's a shaggy dog story. It doesn't amount to much. (The Big Lebowski is a shaggy dog story too, which is one of the reasons it wasn't that well-liked when it came out--it's since become a cult item.)

Fourth, and I think this is the big turn-off for the audience. There are only a few nice characters in the movie, and (spoiler) they are dispatched in gruesome ways. In particular, when Brad Pitt's stupid (even for this movie) but sweet character gets his head blown off about an hour in, a lot of the audience checks out. Up till then, it was a harsh comedy, but now it's downright ugly.

But once you're steeled to the plot machinations, a lot of it works. Malkovich is quite funny. Pitt is fun. Clooney has a great scene where he believes he's found out about the true nature of Frances McDormand. And best of all, though they only share a couple short scenes, David Rasche and J.K. Simmons as CIA officials are magnificent. They're sort of a Greek chorus, summing up the action from the sidelines. Simmons in particular as the intelligent and amoral director almost steals the film with only a few minutes of screen time.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Handle With Care

The latest Gallup Poll shows 49% disapprove of Obama's handling of healthcare policy while 43% approve. I don't object to this sort of question, but like the poll I mentioned yesterday, this requires interpretation. One might think that a clear plurality opposes healthcare reform, but all this tells us is they don't like how the President is managing it. It could be a proxy for other things, but if I strongly supported the new healthcare bill(s), I'd certainly be unhappy with how Obama is handling it.

Incidentally, one way supporters of the current healthcare plans argue is by attacking "special interests." For example, here's the President:

...every time we come close to passing health insurance reform, the special interests fight back with everything they've got. They use their influence. They use their political allies to scare and mislead the American people. They start running ads. This is what they always do.

Pardon me? I thought the White House had already bought off the special interests this time around. The main ads I've seen have come from "special interest" groups that back the plan. The opposition seems to be coming from an angry grass roots campaign.

Stray Thoughts

Was Art Garfunkel the shortest guy ever whom everyone thought was tall?

Survival Of The Lostest

On this blog, we've discussed Lost's potential failings as a unified work of art. But this negative is also a positive. Lost may have to make some things up as it goes along, but as an ongoing piece, it can also learn and adapt.

I'm going to place all 26 main characters--as determined by Wikipedia (I doubt any else's list would be that different) into three categories--Great (almost always like to see them on the screen), Good (usually enjoyable but dull in certain contexts) and So-so (can be okay in the proper plot, but too often boring or annoying).

Great:

Richard
Juliet
Faraday
Sawyer
Desmond
Sayid
Ben
Locke
Hurley
Miles

Good:

Kate
Eko
Jin
Sun
Charlotte
Jack
Libby

So-so:

Boone
Ana Lucia
Michael
Nikki
Claire
Walt
Charlie
Paulo
Shannon

These are my judgments, of course, but, once again, I doubt the consensus of fans would be that different.

Now let's look at the ratio of the dead to all in each category, as of the final episode (the beginning of the final episode) of season 5:

Great - one out of ten dead (Locke doesn't count).

Good - three out of seven dead.

So-so - nine out of nine dead (or MIA).

In other words, the producers of Lost have been able to remove the weak links from their show. Lost may not be perfectly unified, since when they started, and when they introduced new characters, they didn't know who'd click. But as far as fan satisfaction, learning along the way is just as important.

New Deadline

Al Gore has said we have "ten years or less" to do something about global warming (as he called it then) before it's too late. Alas, I don't know the first time he said it, so I'm not sure when our time runs out.

Luckily, we now have this statement from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

We have the power to change course. But we must do it now.

As we move toward Copenhagen in December, we must “Seal a Deal” on climate change that secures our common future. [...] We must seal the deal in Copenhagen for the future of humanity.

We have just four months. Four months to secure the future of our planet.

So four months or it's too late? Fine. Just promise me one thing--if we don't "seal the deal" by then, I'll go along that it's too late if you'll stop hectoring us about how we must take action now.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Converting The Split

The headline reads "Americans Split On Healthcare Reform," which I guess is true. The Gallup Poll shows 35% of Americans want Congress to pass healthcare reform, 36% don't and 29% have no opinion.

But this split isn't quite as even as it may seem. First, a month ago, the same poll showed 56% favored Congress passing healthcare reform, so support is plummeting. (Also, people who have been paying more attention to the issue tend to be more opposed to it.)

More important, the question is vague, and designed, seems to me, to get a positive response. They're not asking about any particular plan, just, in general, if the public wants to see Congress act on healthcare reform. Heck, I want to see healthcare reform. Ask this general sort of question about any issue Americans think is important--education, the environment, tort reform, bank regulation, whatever--and you'll find the public is willing to go along with the concept that there oughta be a law. It's only when the particulars are revealed, and it's crunch time, that they start having serious doubts.

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