Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Yours Truly

A few days ago, we were discussing ideas that had gained purchase without necessarily being true.  It made me think of several more.

First, the "Big Lie": The idea that, strategically, you should make your lie so proposterous that no one would believe you'd dare make it up, whereas a small lie they'd catch. It's associated with Nazis, and ever since, people love nothing better than to fling the "big lie" accusation at others, even though it's an ugly and childish tactic.

But one thing always bothered me (which the slightest research would have cleared up, though I just happened to read about it in this piece by Michael Moynihan): as hateful as the Nazis were, they generally believed in what they were doing.  Most people do.  So I wasn't surprised to discover that far from being some sort of technique in which Goebbels consciously partook, it was an accusation that Hitler made against the Jews.  Hitler sounds just like all the thousands who have followed him in calling others out.

Another idea that you hear a lot is that we only use 10% of our brains.  I don't know how many TV shows and movies have repeated this canard, though I most recently heard it from Nicolas Cage in The Sorcerer's Apprentice. At least I can understand why Hollywood would use this as a plot point.  Unfortunately, the myth is also irresistible to those who want to claim we've got all sorts of untapped capabilities if we'd just open ourselves up.

Then there's the strong version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (about language controlling thought) except I don't think anyone's really believed that in years.  And the old bit about Inuits having twenty words (or whatever) for snow.  But this post is already long enough.

Lost And Found Weekend

In this week's Mad Men, "Waldorf Stories," it's two steps back for Don after last week's one step forward.  Then, he outsmarted his enemies, like the Don of old.  Now he's being a bigger jerk, and drunk, than ever before.

Don and Peggy are interviewing a new, hopeless guy for a job.  The only thing going for him is he's related to Roger.  His book is a joke, with only one tired idea and a bunch of other people's ads. It's all Don and Peggy can do not to laugh.  Best of luck and we'll let you know.

After he's out, we get our first sign of trouble.  Don's up for a Clio that day (is it a coincidence Mad Men has its awards show the same day as the Emmys--where they won Best Drama?) for Glo-Coat.  Peggy is fishing for compliments, hoping to be included in the general approval, but Don's having none of it. In fact, he's unhappy Peggy hasn't yet come through on Vick's cough drops.  She complains her new art director won't do anything, but Don insists its her job to get along with him.  Peggy and Don probably have the most intimate relationship on the show, and it's always painful to see Don being so cold.  (She uses the term "synchronicity" quite a while before the Police made it big).

Roger is doing a David Ogilvy, dictating his memoirs, though they don't sound like much.  Don comes in to laugh about the potential hire Roger sent him, and also to get ready for the Clio Awards.  Their meeting leads to a Roger flashback about how he met Don and eventually hired him.  Much of the first season was taken up with discovering who Don Draper really was--the story of Dick Whitman's metamorphosis.  This is the kind of stuff writer's like--it may even have been the reason Matt Weiner wanted to create the show--but it's often been the most boring part of the show. If you like the present-day story, going back numerous times to see a less interesting past can grind things to a halt. But now that we know a little about Don's past, what we would like to see is how he got to be the big advertising hero that all Madison Avenue talks about.  So this is a flashback we've been waiting for.

Eager beaver Don's in fur and Roger needs a present to keep someone happy.  Don has tried some advertising on the side (really?) and wants to get an interview with Sterling--not unlike the hopeless little guy we saw at the beginning of the episode.  Roger gives him the brush-off, but does buy a mink.  (Not that Roger would recognize a good ad.  His specialty is three-martini lunches.)

Roger is buying the item for the young, and very hot (of course) Joan Holloway.  That affair lasted quite a while.  And why wouldn't it? (After Don and Peggy, the closest relationship on the show is Roger and Joan. The only close marriage would seem to be Pete and Trudy.) Pushy Don enclosed some of his ads in the box with the fur.  Roger is not impressed.  But Roger in the present realizes this is a story that would fit in his memoirs.

At the conference room the gang awaits the Life Cereal people, many years before Mikey.  Harry (who's done very little this season) is making show biz small talk which goes over Lane's head.  Lane is either too classy or too British to care about Red Skelton.  Joan comes in and announces the Life people are held up in Philly.  But at least they can now get ready for the ceremony.

Peggy, not invited, goes to deal with her useless art director.  He's quite taken with himself, and is dismissive of this girl he's got to work with.  He also doesn't seem to want to work much. He'd rather tell war stories or read nudie magazine--he's liberated his mind.  (He also says "waiting on" like Pete has before.  No one should be saying this in 1965.)

At the Awards, Don and Roger meet up with Ted Chaough, more annoying than ever.  In another corner, Joan and Pete talk shop.  It's interesting in that these two rarely acknowledge each other.  I like it in shows with big casts when we get interactions we're not used to.

Then Ken Cosgrove comes up and a client let's slip something's happening.  Pete thinks there may be a merger and Lane hasn't told him.  We'll see.  All I know is the actor playing Ken is a season regular so something must be up.

They sit down, the awards are starting.  Pete wants to talk to Don, but Don isn't interested. Then Duck stands up at another table and interrupts..  Back on the sauce.  He has to be led out.  Poor Duck.  (It would have been a better surprise if I hadn't seen his name in the credits.)

Back at the office Peggy and the new guy aren't getting along.  She also complains that Don is grabbing credit.  Meanwhile, he talks down to her and treats her as a square.

At the Awards, Don and Roger both squeeze Joan's hand (different one for each) and Don wins the award!  He's all smiles as he accept.  A little too eager.  How much has he been drinking?  A secretary drops by and says the Life people just got in. Pete would reschedule, but Don's still on a high (or two) and is quite happy to pitch.

Harry's charming the Life people with show biz tales (and Lane pretends to understand) when Don, the conquering hero, breezes in.  He does his pitch, but, inebriated, isn't as dazzling as usual.  The clients demur, so Don figures what the hell and starts making up stuff off the top of his head, almost showing contempt for the Life people. The rest of the staff is mortified, but one of Don's slogans he steals from the kid he met earlier, and the clients--a little drunk too--jump on it.  (In another season Pete pitched a client when he wasn't supposed to.  He sold a campaign, but was almost fired.)  Then Don and Roger rush off to the after-party, but not before he can insult Peggy for not working fast enough.

Pete sees Lane about a possible merger.  Lane's cover is kaput, so he explains he'll be poaching Ken, who can more than pay for himself.  Pete is horrified--Ken is his enemy, and he's a partner and won't allow it.  Now we see Lane in action, and he's as good at what he does as Don.  He handles Pete by appealing to his vanity, avarice, friendship, sense of  honor and pragmatism.  Pete never really had a chance. Before it's over he might believe it was his idea.

At the bar, Roger, Joan and Don are enjoying themselves.  Don spies Dr. Faye and drunkenly tries to pick her up.  No sale.

Peggy and the jerk are locked in a hotel room for the weekend.  He reads a Playboy and insults her.  She finally calls his bluff and disrobes.  He does the same.  They start to work, but he's the one who's embarrassed.   Round to Peggy.  (This is AMC  so the nudity is conveniently blocked by props.)

Joan and Roger talk at the bar. She still understands him better than anyone. Another gal has her eyes on Don and no doubt she'll get him in his present state.  Roger says what he does is find guys like Don, but no one gives him any credit.  Joan is tired of his whining.  Another flashback, with Don bumping into Roger intentionally by chance.  He won't give up, and knows how to appeal to Roger--buy him drinks at 10 a.m.

Don's having sex with the new woman.  In an interesting shot, the lighting changes to signify time has passed.  Don gets a call from Betty--he's missed his visit with the kids.  He's surprised to discover it's Sunday, and he's in bed with a waitress called Doris. He can't remember what happened, but he did introduce himself as Dick.

He falls asleep on the couch and now it's night. Peggy, who couldn't reach him, drops by his place.  She explains what's been happening, including how he stole his slogan for Life.  Don thinks she should work on new ones, but she's had enough and tells him to fix it.

Monday morning, and Pete won't go to lunch with Ken, but wants to meet him in the conference room.  Lane is smart enough to let him do it his way.

Peggy and her guy have finished their job.

Don comes in and has lost his Clio.  He meets the new guy and tries to buy his idea, but the kid says he wants a job. He may not be talented, but he knows what he wants.  Looks like he'll get a job, and maybe we have a new regular.

Kenny comes to Pete.  Pete is high-handed and Ken, though he doesn't seem to take it too seriously, silently supplicates.  I guess he figures he'll answer to Lane once he gets the job.

Don goes to Roger's office to tell him of the hire.  At least it'll score points with Sterling and his wife.  Turns out he's got the Clio, which was left at the bar.  Don admits (after being asked) that he couldn't have done (whatever he did) without Roger.  Final flashback, where Don makes the final push (relying on Roger's faulty drunken memory?) and gets his job.  So that's how Roger finds new talent.

A fine episode, though I'm not sure where Don is going next.  And Peggy's position is even more uncertain.  She's been unhappy before, and even walked, but that's not the situation here.  The question is how does she get the credit she deserves. .And the recognition from Don.  Both she and Pete have been like kids, craving Don's attention and approval.  Speaking of Pete, will he remain happy if Ken becomes a big account exec, even if he's officially above him?  Also, with such a bad art director, too bad they can't bring back Sal.

Window On The World

I saw a car with a bumper sticker on the window (already a sign of trouble) stating:



I assume this is some sort of world peace message, but it's not expressed very well. I think it's the "please" that's confusing. Without it, the message is clear. Why plead for what we've already got?

It could just as easily be some guy who's grumpy about exploring and terraforming other planets. Or perhaps someone up in arms about the threat of alien invasion.

PS  Since writing the above, I've discovered this is a popular saying for the Bahai faith.  I still think they should cut the "please."

Monday, August 30, 2010

Green Death

The original brewer of Haffenreffer Private Stock Ale, August Haffenreffer, 94 (B.S. Harvard biochem.), has died (and apparently spent his later years at a retirement community in my neighborhood-whaddaya know).

Despite my familiarity with cheap domestic beer in my youth, I don't think I ever tasted his brew though I know I heard the memorable name.

It's bad form perhaps to quibble with obits, but I will anyway. The article claims Haffenreffer Ale was known as "Green Death" due to its potency and green label. Where I grew up (Western PA), I'm fairly certain that "Green Death" referred exclusively to Genesee Cream Ale which also had a green label and the name referred not to the alcoholic content but to its perceived "heaviness" (all that cream, I guess)-i.e. you didn't want to drink it if you were having a meal or, under 21 year old logic, it could stand in for a meal on its own. (We also thought it tasted bad, being experts and having drunk a great deal of it. )

Keep On Trackin'

R. Crumb turns 67 today. He may be the preeminent cartoonist and illustrator of his time, but he also led a band that covered old 78s. They're not half bad.

Papa P

John Phillips, more than anyone, was responsible for the sound of The Mamas & The Papas. He wrote the songs and arranged the harmonies. Hard to believe they were only active for about two years.

He was married to bandmate Michelle Phillips. Now that's one hot mama. Anyway, happy birthday, John.

He died nine years ago. Of course, with all the drugs and alcohol he ingested, it's amazing he lasted as long as he did. At least he lived long enough to break in a new liver and be inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame.

Everyone knows the big hits, like "California Dreamin'" and "Monday, Monday," but their deeper cuts are pretty good, too. For instance:

Paradox Regained

I recently watched "Happily Ever After," a sixth-season Desmond-centric episode of Lost.  I think it offers more evidence (which, admittedly, I'm seeking) that the altaworld is a real, physical place, created by Jack and Faraday's plan to set off the bomb at the end of season five.

This is the one where Widmore exposes Desmond to enough electromagnetic energy to kill a normal person.  Desmond survives (as has happened before--I don't know if Desmond was born special or gained this ability by being in the right place when he used the failsafe key) and has a vision.  Or is it a visit?  While he's out, he sees the altaworld.  Now maybe it's possible he's seeing something that happens after dying, as Juliet might have as well, but since he survives no worse for the wear, he didn't seem to be near death.  (Juliet was also exposed to a lot of rays of some sort as well, let's not forget.)  Furthermore, Desmond is the one person we know with the ability to become unstuck in time.  His consciousness can slip back and forth between real places.  This would suggest his trip to altaworld really happened, and it's a real place that exists as an alternate timeline (somehow out of time) and isn't just a vision of what will come after he dies.

In altaworld, the different-Desmond babysits Charlie Pace, who "awakened" on the Oceanic flight.  He forces Desmond's car off the road and
Desmond has a vision.  So far, same as always.  But then Desmond goes into the hospital after his accident and gets an MRI.  The machine gives him more visions.  Now if this were an immaterial world, what difference would an MRI make?  It has no special meaning to Desmond. He doesn't have loving memories of getting scanned.  But the magnetic field created would effect Desmond if it were in a real world.

Later, he meets Eloise Widmore.  Eloise is definitely awake.  She's met Desmond before as he traveled in time.  But if this were a conventional purgatory, why would Eloise know any more about what's behind it than anyone else?

She tries to keep Desmond from finding out about Penny, because he's "not ready." She apparently doesn't want him to blow the cover of this world, so, I'd guess, she can finally get to hang out with her son.  Which brings us to Daniel.  When he sees Charlotte, he's inspired to write equations he can't understand.  Equations that deal with imaginary time--not imaginary as in after death, but imaginary as in the square root of negative 1, as in a separate timeline created by something like a nuclear explosion.  You can't get a bigger hint than that.

Now I realize the producers may have been trying to mislead us so we couldn't figure out the ending. But you can't simply throw out everything that happened in the altaworld. Even if the question's never been definitively answered, I'd say there's enough evidence to believe that this is a real place created by The Incident.  What happened was the Losties made a world where they could meet one more time and work out their problems, before going out and resolving the time paradox.  And who knows, perhaps if Eloise had her way, that paradox would never be resolved.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


I recently saw The Switch (don't ask).  Being a romantic comedy, it was preceded by three trailers (note:  they're called "trailers" because they used to come at the end of the film) for upcoming chick flicks.

The amazing thing was if you weren't watching closely, it might as well have been one long trailer.  Each of them (made by the same house?) were practically identical.  They all start by introducing a young, comely lass (natch).  (If you're curious, Katherine Heigl, Kristen Bell and Rachel McAdams.)  She's soon caught up in some new endeavor--a job, a kid, whatever--and before you know it, involved in wacky physical comedy.  There's a hunk who seemed a little more stable and less wacky, as well as several members of the older generation.  Then, after enjoying the hijinks, there's a moment where someone sits down with the gal and had a heart-to-heart, doling out serious, life-affirming advice.  Next, a bouncy pop song sung by a woman starts up as we see a few more moments and get to the title card.

They could have saved time and just promised it'd be better than The Switch.

PS.  The switch in The Switch is it's sold as a Jennifer Aniston film, but it's really Jason Bateman's.

PPS  Aniston (mother), Bateman (sperm donor) and Patrick Wilson (alleged sperm donor) all have blue eyes, so why doesn't anyone mention the kid has brown eyes?

Long Night

I saw Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian on TV. I didn't like the original that much, but I like the sequel even less. It was throwing more money at something to make it funnier.

And maybe it's just me, but it seemed like Ben Stiller was walking through the part. It's true he's essentially the straight man, the quiet center that all the craziness buzzes around. Still, he was practically morose, as if he were embarrassed to be doing the movie (for such a huge paycheck). At least Amy Adams and especially Hank Azaria, both new to the franchise, seem to be having a good time.

The biggest problem is it's impossible to take the story seriously. Not because it's fantasy, but because it hardly seems the script cares. It's just more of the same, without whatever spark made the first film original. The film made money, but not as much as the first. If they're considering another, I hope they contemplate the law of diminishing returns.

There Are No Losers

Emmys are tonight.  Here's my wish list.  No doubt I'll be disappointed.

Best Drama Series
Breaking Bad
Mad Men
The Good Wife
True Blood

Lost deserved it the last five years, but this year, Breaking Bad.

Best Comedy Series
Nurse Jackie
Curb Your Enthusiasm
30 Rock
The Office
Modern Family

Unfortunately, I can name several shows I'd choose over any of these--Community, Party Down, The Big Bang Theory, even Family Guy.  Still, most of these titles aren't bad.  Let's say Curb Your Enthusiasm, which has been around for a while but isn't quite as tired as previous winners 30 Rock or The Office.

Best Actor, Drama
Bryan Cranston Breaking Bad
Michael C. Hall Dexter
Hugh Laurie House
Jon Hamm Mad Men
Matthew Fox Lost
Kyle Chandler Friday Night Lights

Great category.  Hugh Laurie should have won this several times, and Matthew Fox had a good year on Lost, but I'd give it to Bryan Cranston even if he's won the last two times.  (If I were an Emmy voter, I wouldn't let sentiment get in my way.)

Best Actress, Drama
Connie Britton Friday Night Lights
Glenn Close Damages
Mariska Hargitay Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Kyra Sedgwick The Closer
January Jones Mad Men
Julianna Margulies The Good Wife

I admit I'm not particularly familiar with most of these.  Let's say Julianna Margulies.

Best Actor, Comedy
Alec Baldwin 30 Rock
Tony Shalhoub Monk
Jim Parsons The Big Bang Theory
Steve Carell The Office
Larry David Curb Your Enthusiasm
Matthew Morrison Glee

Time for Jim Parsons to win.  He's not only very funny, but is able to keep us interested in a character that could easily grow tiresome, and successfully memorizes reams of physics-based dialogue each week. (By the way, is Larry David even acting?)

Best Actress, Comedy
Tina Fey 30 Rock
Lea Michele Glee
Julia Louis-Dreyfus The New Adventures of Old Christine
Amy Poehler Parks and Recreation
Toni Collette United States of Tara
Edie Falco Nurse Jackie

A weak list.  I'd give it to Tina Fey even though she's not exactly stellar in the part and has already won a bunch of Emmys.

Best Supporting Actor, Drama
Andre Braugher Men of a Certain Age
Aaron Paul Breaking Bad
Michael Emerson Lost
John Slattery Mad Men
Martin Short Damages
Terry O'Quinn Lost

Good category.  O'Quinn and Emerson have already won for these roles, and have been better in past seasons.  Give it to Aaron Paul.  Slattery is amazing, but he doesn't have to reach as many notes.

Best Supporting Actress, Drama Series
Rose Byrne Damages
Christine Baranski The Good Wife
Archie Panjabi The Good Wife
Elisabeth Moss Mad Men
Christina Hendricks Mad Men
Sharon Gless Burn Notice

Christina Hendricks.  Most critics prefer Elisabeth Moss in Mad Men, but Hendricks is able to suggest a lot with much less material.

Best Supporting Actor, Comedy Series
Eric Stonestreet Modern Family
Neil Patrick Harris How I Met Your Mother
Chris Colfer Glee
Jon Cryer Two And A Half Men
Ty Burrell Modern Family
Jesse Tyler Ferguson Modern Family

Ty Burrell, the only nominee who should be on this list.  I can name about ten others who deserve the other slots more.

Best Supporting Actress, Comedy Series
Jane Lynch Glee
Kristen Wiig Saturday Night Live
Sofia Vergara Modern Family
Jane Krakowski 30 Rock
Holland Taylor Two and A Half Men
Julie Bowen Modern Family

I guess Kristen Wiig, though it's not fair since she's playing a bunch of roles, not one.  Julie Bowen a close second.

Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
The Colbert Report
Saturday Night Live
Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien
Real Time with Bill Maher

The Daily Show, but it'll sure be fun if Conan wins.

Outstanding Reality Program
Antiques Roadshow
Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List
Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution
Dirty Jobs
Undercover Boss

Mythbusters, though I sometimes find it a little slow.

Outstanding Reality-Competition Program
The Amazing Race
American Idol
Dancing With the Stars
Project Runway
Top Chef

American Idol (even though it's had better years).  Stop giving this award to The Amazing Race.

PS  Watched the show.  It moved along.  Not too painful.  Awards mostly predictable, though it was nice to see Aaron Paul and Jim Parsons win.  Also, they're not afraid to keep giving Emmys to Mad Men, Bryan Cranston and The Daily Show.

Eric Stonestreet is now the only actor on Modern Family, which features a large cast of equals, to have an Emmy.  Will that be uncomfortable?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Seldon Seen

As you may know, I often write these post ahead of time. All I have to do is put down the hour and date and that's when it appears on the blog. (For instance, I'm writing this in the middle of August.)

It occurs to me if I'm hit by a bus tomorrow, my faithful readers wouldn't notice anything for a couple weeks.

Then I realized I could be Hari Seldon. As long as this blogger program keeps going, I could write entries that won't go out for years, even decades.  I could keep appearing long after everyone alive today is gone.

I'm not saying I could predict what will be relevant in 500 years. But then, neither could Seldon.

Lights Out

Here's a fascinating interview with a guy who got to visit North Korea.  You're not allowed to go out on your own, of course, or even speak to regular citizens.  Break the rules and you'll be shot.  But what he saw was still horrifying. If their glorious leader allowed a little more freedom,  personal or economic, millions of lives would be improved, but that's not going to happen any time soon.

I could offer excerpts, but really the whole thing is worth reading.

Crash Course

A few years back a friend of mine re-edited Memento so it was in chronological order. I like that kind of stuff, so I'm surprised I didn't notice until recently this video made in 2007. Someone took the footage of Lost's Oceanic 815 crash, removed everything else, and put it in chronological order (as much as possible). Also scored it.

If you don't have eight and a half minutes, let me suggest a shorter version:

Friday, August 27, 2010

Government Cheese

It sounds promising--a list of the cheesiest films of the 1980s.  But it's a bait and switch.  Rather than discuss all the ridiculous hair and clothes and music and special effects of the era, author Elizabeth Rappe turns the piece into a political screed.

Her cheesiest films--Rocky IV, Red Dawn, etc.--are all about how frightened we were of communism back then.  She laughs it off.  How could we have been so foolish?

Well, perhaps because communism was one of the greatest evils of the 20th century.  It enslaved and impoverished billions and killed tens of millions.  It was constantly on the march, attempting to extend its sphere of influence, often through violence.

Back in the 80s a third of the world's population was living under communist rule.   Most wise heads, especially on the left, were advising we stop struggling and just learn to live with communism since it wasn't going away.  And even if the Soviet Union was secretly teetering, they still had a powerful military that no one could laugh off.

So all I can say is I'm glad we live in an era where communism has been so thoroughly discredited that today's know-nothings can laugh at how we ever thought it was a threat.

PS  Red Dawn was ridiculous, but everyone knew it back then.

Stray Thought

Saw a billboard for a weight loss program. It promised "up to 20 pounds lost per month." In other words, they are guaranteeing that under no circumstances will you lose more. Do you get your money back if you do?

Never Mind The Bullocks

Last year was a big one for Sandra Bullock. After years of so-so grosses, she had her biggest hit with The Proposal, and later an even bigger hit (in a role that won her an Oscar) in The Blind Side. In between, however, she made All About Steve, one of the worst-reviewed films of the year. I finally caught it on TV.

The critics were right, it's no good. But it's interesting to compare it to The Proposal, which grossed eight times as much. They're both comedies, but very different otherwise.

In The Proposal, Bullock plays a dragon lady who pretends to be married to a handsome underling so she can stay in the country. She takes a trip with him and, predictably, loosens up and falls in love. It's a competently done romantic comedy with no real surprises.

All About Steve is a farcical comedy where Bullock plays a loser who creates crossword puzzles and can't stop talking. She goes on a blind date with a hunk and immediately falls in love. He's a cameraman who travels around the country with a vain newsman as they cover the disaster du jour. Bullock believes they're soulmates and starts stalking him, much to his horror. After meeting many nice people along the way, she falls into a hole and needs to be rescued.  Interestingly, she realizes at the end she and the cameraman aren't meant for each other.

Her character here is pretty grating, even shrill. You don't know whether to be annoyed or feel sorry for her. And yet, as incompetently made as it is, I found All About Steve more interesting than The Proposal. At least it was willing to take chances, and go places most movies wouldn't. The characters are mostly absurd, yet I'm guessing if the comedy were done better you wouldn't care.

But the film should also be a warning. The Proposal, which has heart, and gives the audience what it wants (including laughs), makes big money. A bizarre film featuring unrelatable characters and goes in odd directions keep people away.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Split Decision

The Lost DVD season six box set has been released.  To no one's surprise, it's a top seller.  But considering how controversial (to put it nicely) the season was--especially the ending--I was intrigued to see how people rated it on Amazon.

While the other seasons get four-and-a-half out of five stars, this season gets three.  Okay, not completely outrageous.  But what's interesting is the split.  As I write, the ratings are as follows--

Five stars: 75
Four stars: 15
Three stars: 13
Two stars: 19
One star: 57.

So this does seem to be a love it or hate it sort of thing.  The highest and lowest choices both get more than the in-betweens added up.  (The sample might be biased, as you'd expect those who especially like the show to come to the page and vote.)

PS  The Lost auction had some high-priced items.  At top was the Dharma van, which sold for $47,500.  Also, the Lighthouse wheel and Faraday's journal both went for $27,500.  (The wheel might seem cooler, but the journal will unlock the secrets of the universe.)

Other items of interest:  Dharma beer 12-pack: $4500. 1977 Dharma group photo: $7000.  Charlie's DS ring: $9000.  Jin's wedding ring: $4750 (Jin can't beat Driveshaft).  Locke's suicide note: $8500 (over a thousand bucks a word).  Hurley's Lotto ticket: $5500 (note: not real).

That MT Feeling

Moe Tucker turns 66 today. Her birthday is always a good reason to celebrate. I suppose the Velvet Underground would still have been notable without her, but she definitely added something. She kept her drumming simple, but she was the heartbeat of the band.

Got an interesting voice, too.

Swallowed Up

For years I was annoyed at pundits who believed in hunches more than numbers. Or who'd jump on a single poll, misinterpreting noise as "momentum." And if you scratched most so-called experts they turned out to be partisan boosters. Which is why a site like FiveThirtyEight was so helpful--one of the few places to give clear-eyed projections backed by solid analysis.

Nate Silver, who created the site, explains how it worked in the last election:

The FiveThirtyEight forecasting model, which was based on a rigorous analysis of polling in past presidential elections, gave Mr. Obama [...] a 98.7 percent chance [of winning] by Election Day. And yet, on the weekend before the election on the television program, “The McLaughlin Group,” three of the five pundits suggested that the election was “too close to call,” and one other said she expected a narrow McCain victory.

[....] In baseball (which I covered prior to politics), “intangibles” like clubhouse chemistry are sometimes treated as being more important than batting average, or E.R.A. But you wouldn’t find very many sportswriters who would claim, in a game in which the Yankees were trailing Boston 7-2 in the 9th inning, that it was “too close to call,” no matter how shaky the Red Sox bullpen looked, or how confident Mark Teixeira seemed at the plate. That’s the equivalent of what those pundits were doing on The McLaughlin Group.

Instead, there seems to be something about politics that can make the rational parts of the brain turn off. FiveThirtyEight was designed to be the antidote to that. [....T]he blog is devoted to the rational analysis of politics, and sometimes other data-rich subjects. In Congressional and presidential elections — for which there is a lot of high-quality data available — this will sometimes take the form of quite explicit forecasts, [....] In other cases, it simply means trying to prioritize objective information over subjective information in dealing with issues in the news.

This is what makes his site worthwhile.  So I have to admit I'm a little nervous that it's now become part of The New York Times.  Nate Silver is a partisan himself, but he keeps those politics out of his analysis.  I hope there's no institutional pressure to align his work with Times' editorial policy.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My Brush with Greatness

On vacation this week and for a variety of reasons, we didn't go anywhere special- just sort of hung out at home and took day trips- to places in the area we'd never been to but always meant to. Today, my son and I hit the Southwick Zoo in Mendon, Massachusetts- about 90 minutes southwest of Boston. It was a cold rainy day and that kept the crowds down and the extra stuff- rides and shows- was not operational so it was just animals. It was open and easy to see the critters (including a number of large ones) - who seemed active and content.

While viewing the chimp exhibits and later wandering through the deer park, I noticed what I thought was a familiar face but I couldn't place him. A man in his 50-60s with a bunch of kids and others. I think he saw me staring at him because he later gave me a clue. The fallow deer, including some antlered bucks, were a bit aggressive around him and he had to gingerly ward them off as he was putting quarters in the machines to get corn for his young charges to feed them. I was behind him and he was laughing and looked at me and said something like "Now I know how Jack Hanna feels." It was the Late Show's own Biff Henderson .

No Sting

I've watched the first two episodes of Death Comes To Town, the eight-part miniseries from The Kids In The Hall.  Maybe it'll get better as it goes along, but so far it doesn't seem too special.  I don't think it's because the Kids are older, or that I've gotten used to them--I think the material just isn't as good.

I liked their sketch comedy show back in the 90s, and am a fan of their cult (i.e., flop) film Brain Candy.  However, this latest offering, a comeback of sorts, doesn't cut it. It feels like I've seen the jokes before, and this time around they're not as clever.  And the troupe isn't helped by the long form, since they're general better in short bursts, and I don't think anyone could take the story seriously anyway.

Elvis Is King

He's gone from angry young man to arguably contented middle-aged man. Happy birthday, Elvis Costello. Actually, he was a lot better then. His music isn't better today, and as a person, he's much worse.

You've Got To Think About The Game

One of the greatest tradition in the Big Ten, and in football, and in the world, is being threatened.  With an expansion to twelve teams, it looks like the Michigan/Ohio State game which normally ends the regular season, and has been doing so on a regular basis for decades, may fall by the wayside.  Now instead we may have divisional play and a conference championship.

"The Game" often decided the Big Ten championship, and who'd go to the Rose Bowl, but it was bigger than that.  Legendary coaches like Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler built their seasons around it and saved their best plays for it.  Winning could redeem a bad season and losing destroyed a good season.

I have nothing against change, and football is a sport of change.  (You don't think so?  I'll be commenting about this when I review a book of Chuck Klosterman essays in a few weeks.)  But let's be reasonable here.  If the conference can continue to call itself the Big Ten with twelve teams, certainly it can keep its signature game.

PS  I have a friend who started a Facebook page about it.  It's already got 1500 members.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Meet The Meat

Here an odd page I recently stumbled upon--the "50 Greasiest Hamburgers In The World." Let me apologize beforehand. This is the sort of thing that turns people people into vegetarians. I wouldn't be surprised if that's the point of the page, though I'd guess the original people who took the photos were proud.

No Child Left Behind

I vaguely remember the name Peg Bracken from my childhood.  She came out with The I Hate To Cook Book in 1960 and it sold for decades.  It's been out of print for a while, though, so I'm glad to see an updated version is being published.

Back when she wrote it, women were expected to cook the meals, and I assume plenty saw it as an awful chore.  Simple recipes that included pre-canned and packaged ingredients must have seemed a godsend.

Bracken was a copywriter, and I hear much of the charm of the book is in her style.  I don't really buy cookbooks, but this one sounds like fun.

How Don Got His Groove Back

Don Draper's been having it tough this season.  Divorced, and at loose ends, he seems to have lost his suave ways.  He can't close the deal with women, he drinks too much and can't even sell like he used to. In this seaon's fifth episode, "The Chrysanthemum And The Sword," I wonder if he's bottomed out and it on his way back up.

We start the show with Miss Blankenship still as Don's secretary.  She's mostly played for laughs, but she's so awful she seems to be in the early stages of dementia.  Don gets a call from The New York Times.  They want a comment on a competitor, Ted Chaough, a mad man at a competing company who is poaching Sterling Cooper accounts.

At a partner's meeting, Pete has lined up a meeting with Honda.  They make motorcycles and soon may make cars.  Everyone's happy but Roger, who fought the Japs in WWII.  (Pete says "taking meetings."  Was that in use in 1965?)  He walks out and the rest plan to keep him out of the loop.

Don has the kids at his apartment, but he's off on a date (to Benihana) with Bethany.  The sitter seems to be--I think--Pixie Chick from Heroes.  While
she's with the Bobby, Sally cuts her hair.  Is she acting out against Betty?  She's also getting curious about sex, which is always tricky, but probably trickier in 1965.

At Benihana, Ted Chaough runs into Don and tries to stick it to him.  He tells Bethany it's a fly he's trying to swat away, but seems bothered.

He comes home and finds out the bad news.  He fires the sitter, but knows what's ahead when he brings Sally home.  Don is right.  Betty is not amused.  Holy crap, Betty slaps Sally!  Betty is already the most unpopular character on the show, but they're not messing around here.  She sends Sally to her room and then laces into Don.  After he leaves, hubby Henry is the voice of reason.  Don't punish Sally.  Did he learn his diplomacy working for Rockefeller?

At the Honda meeting to set up the big pitch, Bert, Don and Pete follow Japanese ritual as best they can.  Bert's pretty good, having studied the East a bit. Don has the natural cool for it.  Pete's a bit off, but at least he's trying.  Then Roger, who's wise, marches in an insults everyone.  Cooper Sterling has lost face. Nothing to do but fall on their sword.

Don storms into Roger's office.  Then Pete.  He says Roger doesn't want new accounts because that'll make them less dependent on Lucky Strikes.  A bit harsh, but even Don admits he has a point.

Sally's at a slumber party.  Everyone's asleep at she's watching David McCallum on Man From U.N.C.L.E.  What's a girl to do?  Sally starts playing with herself, but is interrupted by the mom walking in.  She hustles Sally back home and tells her mortified mom what happened.

Betty's so mad she could spit. Henry suggests maybe she see a child psychiatrist.  Betty, who's had her own problems with the profession, isn't thrilled, but it looks like that's the way they'll go. From what Henry's seen in the past, his attitude is like how some feel about the stimulus--think how much worse things would have been without it.

At the office, Lane and Pete meet with Don.  Maybe things are working out.  Then Bert and Roger come in.  First Roger apologizes.  But Bert knows what's happening.  They didn't get a gift, they're as good as dead.  (They did get a nasty gift from Ted--quoting the Beach Boys (we also heard about Selma and civil rights) to mock them.)

Don figures a huge commercial will impress Honda, but the rules, set by Honda, limit them to $3000 worth  of boards and copy, nothing finished. They don't have the money anyway.  It would bankrupt them.

Betty calls Don at home to tell her about their plans for Sally.  Don and Betty snap at each other, but it is intriguing that Betty only said "playing with herself" to Henry, but "masturbating" to Don.

At the office, Don calls in Pete, Peggy and Joan.  He has a plan.  Finally, we're seeing the old Don in action.  He got an idea from a Japanese book (the title of the episode) everyone is supposed to be reading.  (Don doesn't seem to be doing that badly with women now, and he hasn't been drinking much, but it's selling something that would really prove he's back).  His plan is simple.  No campaign, nothing, but give out the impression they're making a commercial so the competitors will waste money and break the rules at the same time.

They go to work.  Joan interviews a director Ted uses, and Don is seen with a Honda cycle.  Word gets back to Ted and he's trying to figure out what's going on.  He's not going to let Draper get the better of him. He even calls in Smitty, who now works for him!  Smitty tells him Draper doesn't play by the rules and is a genius (as opposed to Ted). Peggy ostentatiously brings a Honda to an empty but closed set, and drives it around.  A high level or intrigue this episode.  May seem like conventional plot, but it's fun.

An odd scene in the office kitchen.  Don runs into Dr. Miller.  He opens his mock gift--sake.  He and Faye share a drink.  She tells him her marriage ring is just to keep people away, she's not married.  Hmmm.  She also talks about how people like to talk about their problems to interested strangers, and feel better after.  Don talks about his problems, and knows Sally will be going through this soon.  Regardless, with the husband issue out of the way (not that that often matters), it looks like a green light for Don and Faye.  But we'll see, this year may be different.

Another scene with a female doctor: Betty talks to Dr. Edna, who may be seeing Sally.  But it's more a scene of Betty revealing her secrets. She'll be seeing Dr. Edna too (who won't tell Sally's secrets, though Betty's psychiatrist was happy to talk to Don).  Betty's a lot more sympathetic here.  Maybe, like Joan's husband last week, they're trying to pull her back from the edge.

The big meeting with Honda.  Ted comes out, arrogant as always--and holding the film he shot for the commercial. Don comes in, withdraws from the competition, returns the check because others have not followed the rules and Honda has allowed it. (You think we're ashamed?  You should be ashamed.)  He walks out.

Roger's old lover, Joan, confronts him.  He's still mad about the Japanese and she tells him it's time to move on.  I'm guessing this scene was written months ago, but I bet most people who watched it thought about the Mosque controversy near Ground Zero.

Anyway, good news on Honda.  They're not giving away the motorcycle concession, but they'll consider Don for the cars.  Lane and Pete make a few jokes about how cheap their cars are (pretty cheap idea to do that, actually) and we're out of the scene.

Sally waits with the Draper maid Carla to see Dr. Edna.  Hard not to feel sorry for Sally.  She's always been confused, and now she knows everything thinks she's so awful she needs to see a doctor.  It's hard to figure if Dr. Edna will be good for her or not.

I thought it was a good episode.  A little torpor goes a long way--we needed to see Don back in action, on top of things.  Maybe some day his talent will fail him, or become outmoded, but not just yet.  He's still the ad whiz that keeps CSDP going.

Monday, August 23, 2010

You Can't Take It With You

Led by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, a bunch of billionaires are taking a pledge to give at least half their money to charity. Fine by me. It's their money, they can do what they want with it. I expect it'll make them feel good. (Won't be bad PR either.)

But will it make the world a better place? Probably, though I'd want to know where the money's going. And while I like charity, money spent in the private sector helps things spin, giving people reason to invent new things and create value. Not that I'm worried there'll be such an orgy of charity that markets will vanish. But we shouldn't forget, as horrible as it sounds to some, that creating wealth is, generally speaking, a positive thing for society. Maybe even more positive than giving it away.

Next Question

Many Lost fans complained the show didn't answer questions. I posted on such fan's questions earlier this year, just before the final season started. Let's see how the show did.

1. Who is Jacob.

2. Who is the MIB [I assume this means the Man In Black]

3. What is the smoke monster

4. What is the Temple ?

5. What are the Whispers ?

6. Who is Richard Alpert and why doesn’t he get older ?

7. What was the deal with Jacob’s cabin, was it Jacob or MIB using it?
Sort of answered

8. What is the deal with the numbers ? Are they cursed, do they have more meaning ?
Sort of answered

9. Why did Jacob touch and choose certain people ?

10. High level answer of what is the Island ? Don’t need to know how it works to the nth degree.
Answered, depending on what you define as "nth degree."

Would like an answer:

1. Was that really Christian, or Jacob/MIB taking the form of Christian and if so why Christian ?

Answered (I think)

2. Who built the ancient items on the island, like the statue, or the donkey wheel, or the temple?
Partly answered

3. What is the significance of the Black Rock?

4. Who are Adam and Eve ? (Obvious guess is still Rose and Bernard )


5. What is the deal with Walt?
Not answered. Essentially forgotten.

6. What is the deal with Desmond ?
Generally answered

7. Why do Hurley and Miles see dead people ?
Not answered unless you accept "just because" as an answer

8. What is the deal with the rules in regards to the feud between Ben and Widmore ?
I'd say answered in passing. It's the basic understanding they (and the Others?) had.

9. Are Ben and Widmore just a couple of feuding former leaders of the Others, who both want the Island for themselves or is there something more to it ?

Answered. There was nothing more to it (even if we can't be sure of Widmore's ultimate intentions).

10. Did the Others just want the kids to build their ranks or was their more meaning to it ?
Not answered, though this guess sounds pretty good.

I really do think that most of my top 10 will be answered. I also think that once we learn a bit more about Jacob, MIB and what they are doing on the Island a whole stack of questions will be answered in a short period of time.

I'd say that's correct. Though who was shooting at Sawyer's outrigger we'll never know.


Here's a discussion of actors who distract in any role they play. The responses aren't much, but one seemed especially wrongheaded. From Nathan Rabin:

Sometimes an actor will do such an amazing job of creating a character that it’s nearly impossible to buy them as anything else [....] I felt [that] way when Bryan Cranston popped up in a small cameo as a sleazy politician in the recent prostitution-themed snoozefest Love Ranch. The rational adult in me understood that Cranston is a gifted, sought-after actor who portrays different characters in television and film, but some idiot part of my brain went “Oh my God, it’s Breaking Bad anti-hero Walter White! What the hell is he doing in Reno in the 1970s, and when did his hair grow back?” Needless to say, it took me out of a movie I was never that into in the first place.

It's unfair that actors get so associated with certain roles that in anything else they take us out of the story, but that's the way it goes. (Ironically, before we know them well, they can play tons of roles without us noticing them at all.)

But the weird thing here is when Cranston first appeared in Breaking Bad, a lot of critics wondered if he could ever break away from his farcical role as Hal on Malcolm In The Middle. He can't win.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

It's A Cakewalk

It's the birthday of one of my fave composers, Debussy. Take it away, Claude (from a piano roll):

That's Our Hitler!

I just picked up the latest copy of Changelinks, LA's progressive monthly.  The headline shouts "None Dare Call It Fascism." I don't have to read any further.  No matter what, plenty call it fascism.  Calling things you don't like fascism is the lifeblood of partisan politics these days.

Underneath, on the left, is an article by Ted Rall about (what else?) the Tea Party.  Here's a sample:

So: is it racist? Certainly a sizeable minority of Tea Partiers’ “take America back” rhetoric is motivated by thinly disguised resentment that a black guy is president. As for the remainder, their tacit tolerance of the intolerant speaks for itself. “Take America back” from whom? You know whom. It ain’t white CEOs. Yes. The Tea Party is racist.

Let me summarize:  "I have no evidence the Tea Party is racist, but since I assume they are, they must be."

Amazingly, when he tries to show the parallels between the Tea Party and fascism, he makes even less sense.  Even if Rall had his facts straight, it takes no talent to show "similarities" between any rising political movement and fascism if you're willing to get abstract enough.

I'd point out the irony of calling a movement that explicitly calls for smaller government "fascist," except that Rall defenders (they must exist, he's been around a long time) might say the Tea Partiers actually want far more power for the government than they're letting on.  And once you get this back and forth going, it might give people the impression we're having a serious argument.

I've Got A Good Feeling About This

The idea was brilliant in its geeky simplicity.  Star Wars Uncut chopped up the film into fifteen second segments and had fans redo them.  Select the best, string them together, and you've got a new Star Wars.

Watching the scenes separately is quite enjoyable, but seeing them all strung together, with clashing styles, is a nightmare.  I'd suggest you dip in here and there, but don't block out two hours.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Walk Of Life

I read somewhere that the cutoff point for a sedentary lifestyle is 5000 steps a day. So for the past few weeks I've tried to count how many steps I take in a normal day (even without any special exercise). However, I always lose count some time around the middle of the afternoon.

Miller And Cooper

I Killed is a fun collection of road stories from comics. Almost all involved drugs, sex or tough audiences and club owners.

There's not much to say, since there's no plot, just anecdotes, and I don't want to give them away. Okay, here's one. It's probably the best (or at least the most amazing), and they must know because it's the first story in the book.

It's from Larry Miller, who's also told this story on talk shows. He's just starting out, and one of his earliest bits is about how when you return for high school reunions, you still call your former teachers "Mr." or "Mrs." After nothing that, Miller would look off into the audience, point and says "Hey, Mr. Cooper, remember when we set you on fire?"

Maybe not the most brilliant line, but it always got a laugh.

He and a friend get a gig in the hinterlands of New Jersey, at a high school. Perfect for the bit. So he launches into it, and when he gets to the Mr. Cooper punchline, no laugh. In fact, there's a wave of anger. No matter how hard he tries, he can't get the audience back.

Soon after, he finds out a beloved teacher passed away a few days before. His name was Mr. Cooper. He died in a fire.

Pretty soon it gets ugly, and the students are like angry villagers, going after Miller and his friend. They barely escape. He's learning show biz is a tough racket.

A Meddling Bureaucracy Destroying Another One Of Life's Simple Pleasures

Here's some interesting news:  Ted Nugent just pled no contest to "deer baiting" in California.  I'd heard of bear-baiting, but what's deer baiting? I apologize to hunters but I had no idea until I read the article:

Further investigation into the incident revealed that the area had been baited with "C'mere Deer." Using any sort of wildlife attractant is illegal in California.

So it's putting out a special scent to attract deer.  (Ted was shooting a TV show so maybe he couldn't wait.)  Why is this illegal?  I  must be missing something.  I mean I can see banning hunting, or limiting it to seasons or number killed, but who cares how you attract the wildlife?  No matter how you find them, they're gonna end up dead.  Is this law designed to give them a sporting chance?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Rocket Rage

I was going to write about Roger Clemens' indictment for perjury, but I see my friend, baseball fanatic Matt Welch, beat me to it:

This marks the second time the federal government has charged a famously unlikable Hall of Fame-caliber baseball player not with any underlying crime [...] but for [...] lying under oath to people more powerful than they. Quite openly, and at great taxpayer expense, the government is trying to make examples out of showhorse athletes, preferably of the assholish variety.

I sometimes think it would be best if Congress never called celebrities before their committees.  Politicians often showboat, and hearings that get extra attention for irrelevant factors bring out the worst in them.

What You're About To See

One of the most entertaining things on TV isn't exactly a show. Or maybe it is. It's the intros on the Fox Movie Channel, part of Fox Legacy.

These interstitial bits are hosted by Tom Rothman, CEO at Fox. He tells surprisingly complex stories about how various Fox films, from All About Eve to Patton to Speed, got made.

Rothman is not a professional in front of the camera, but he's able to communicate the enthusiasm he feels for movies, and impart a fair amount of inside knowledge. I've often seen the movie he's introducing, but I'll tune in just to hear the stories he has to tell. (He also comes back when the film is over.)

Where To Start

I don't claim to be an expert on too many things, but I know the Marx Brothers. Leonard Pierce at the A.V. Club devoted a recent "Gateways To Geekery" to them. These are small pieces that suggest where to start your new obsession.

The interesting thing about the Brothers is, as great as they are, their existing body of work is pretty small. There are really only 13 true "Marx Bros. movies" and that's it. Of the 13, everyone agrees the final six or seven suffer in quality compared to the early stuff. So this isn't like Laurel and Hardy, who made tons of films, short and long, silent and sound, or Monty Python, who worked in TV, recordings, movies, books, etc. You just gotta pick one good movie as the gateway. Not that hard.

Still, I was surprised at Pierce's suggestion: Animal Crackers. It's a classic, and very funny, no doubt, but it's not only stagey (being based on stage work), but also somewhat primitive in that it's a talkie from 1930. I don't want to put it down too much, but it's possible these factors will be slightly off-putting to young people unfamiliar with the team who already have trouble with black and white. Furthermore, it has a sappy romantic subplot carried by other performers, something the Marxes would drop in the rest of their Paramount films.

Pierce is worried if you start at the top with Duck Soup, their last Paramount film, you'll have nowhere to go but down. Well, first, there aren't that many other Marx classics anyway, but they're good enough so that they'll hold up just fine after Duck Soup.

Unfortunately, Pierce's piece is rife with inaccuracies. Let me list some.

He says many of their films have their origin in musical theatre. Actually, only their first two do.

He says they remain relevant (true) as their oldest film creeps up on being a century old. Since The Cocoanuts won't be 100 until 2029, that's a fair amount of creeping left to do.

He makes certain claims for their importance that are a bit off--like how Animal Crackers made them national stars, not The Cocoanuts.

He claims Chico shouts "Abie the fishmonger" when it's "Abie the fish man."

He writes

the brothers’ next movie, Monkey Business, is a step backward in terms of stagey film work and dull subplots, but it also has some of their sharpest material, and is the first of their movies that Groucho doesn’t completely dominate. Horse Feathers is a lesser effort...

Whether Monkey Business is a step down from Animal Crackers is a judgment call, but it's ridiculous to call it stagier when in fact it's much more free and open--a real film, not just an adaptation of a stage play. And it's astonishing to hear Horse Feathers called a lesser effort--I'd say it's their only film that hits with a comic force equal to Duck Soup.

Regarding Duck Soup, he writes:

though studio bosses at the time blamed its lack of a romantic subplot for its mediocre box-office performance and mixed reviews, now, that absence makes it glide along as smooth and fast as a hunting shark.

No one had cared about Zeppo's romantic subplots in the previous two movies. Studio bosses were more likely to blame the lack of music specialties and the topic--satirizing world leaders.

Next he writes:

Stick around for their next two, a matched pair called A Night At The Opera (1935) and A Day At The Races (1937). Critics are often split on which is the better of the two; my money’s on the latter.

I don't think the critics are that split. I'd say they pretty definitively prefer A Night At The Opera, which is regularly called their best film along with Duck Soup.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Catch The Next One

I was watching Hidalgo, an adventure film from 2004. It prominently features Zuleikha Robinson and Said Taghmaoui, better known to Lost fans as Ilana and Caesar. So I guess in 2004 they were too busy to take Oceanic Airlines Flight 815, but were able to make Ajira Airways 316.

By the way, Taghmaoui was nominated for a Cesar Award in 1996.

Channel Changer

Here's a list from The A.V. Club of "showblockers"--characters who stop a show dead in its tracks.

Most of the list I don't agree with, don't know, or don't care about.  (A few make sense, like Kate on Lost, who started out quite interesting, but soon had such a dull backstory that it was depressing to know she'd be the focus.)

But there's one name on the list so right that he deserves a category all his own:  Romo Lampkin on Battlestar Galactica.  I'm trying to think of a character more worthless and can't.  He's this radical lawyer who lives unconventionally and makes unconventional arguments for his clients.  The writers seemed to love him, but everything about him was nails on a blackboard.

Let's even assume when there are only 50,000 humans left in the galaxy, all on the run from killer robots, that we'd even allow free-lance lawyers to fight for people's rights.  The arguments he makes are dumb and pointless, and the only way they can gain any purchase is by making the proceedings and the people involved even more dumb and pointless than Romo Lampkin.

He has all sorts of quirks.  He wears shades. He steals.  These don't make him more interesting, or endearing.  They just look like writers desperately trying to inflate a worthless character with enough little weird add-ons that he magically becomes interesting.

You'll have to pardon me if I seem excessive, but I hadn't thought about Romo in a while, and this piece brought back the horror.

And That's The Truth

Following yesterday's post on beliefs, and what's worth arguing about, comes this video someone sent me.  Some claim it's a parody, but this guy did a bunch of similar ones.  Besides, I'm usually good at catching how tone deaf people are when they make intentionally bad arguments designed to make something sound silly.

This is a guy who believes, as many religious people do, that he's got the one truth. Once you believe that, it's almost underststandable you'd think others shouldn't be allowed to spread lies and nonsense that will lead to disaster.

This, indeed, is a problem that the West (and elsewhere) has been dealing with for a while--how do you fit religion, which deals with absolute truth, inside a liberal society, that believes in tolerance and openness? 
Even in the best of times there's a tension. This guy's answer is that Democracy doesn't work, due to man's fallen state.  We need benevolent dictatorship.

Now I'm in favor of benevolent dictatorship if I get to be dictator. But the trouble with even the best dictatorship is I may some day find myself out of favor with its beliefs, and there'd be little I could do about it.

PS Apparently this guy got a lot of views from outsiders, because I just noticed a new video responding to them. Looks like a rush job, since it has improper word choice and misspelling. His new argument, or clarification if you prefer, echoes Bob Dylan--you've got to serve somebody, so who should it be?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

This Is Not An Onion Article

Frito Lay has repackaged its Sun Chips in a new "green" vegetable-based biodegradable bag which is very loud. Read about it here. The bag is apparently really, really loud.

Squeezing the bag results in a 95 decibel noise.

There is a Facebook group with close to 30,000 members called "SORRY BUT I CAN'T HEAR YOU OVER THIS SUN CHIPS BAG" with hundreds of angry comments, the best of which is "It's the worst when your stoned at 2am and trying to not wake up the house"

Frito-Lay who apparently thought it was a good idea to print "100% COMPOSTABLE" in big letters across the top of the bag and to run commercials showing a bag decomposing in a landfill has also engaged in counter-marketing with signs in stores reading " "Yes, the bag is loud, that's what change sounds like."

While this has all the appearances of a marketing disaster (Frito Lay reports that sales are down and there "may be" a link to the packaging), I'm curious. I never eat Sun Chips unless the vending machine is out of every thing else but now I have to go out and hear this bag.

Man Of The Moment

Bobby Thomson just died.  His "shot heard round the world" was before my time, but I've read about it and heard it described so often that I feel like I was there.

Ralph Branca is still alive. He gets another day to watch this moment all over TV.

Professional Arguer

And let's not forget James J. Kilpatrick, who passed away a few days ago.  An old-school journalist, he rose to prominence in the pre-Andy Rooney days of 60 Minutes as the conservative half of the "Point-Counterpoint" mini-debates.  His liberal partner was Shana Alexander, who died five years ago.  They  became so famous they were parodied on SNL by Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd.

They're also parodied in The Kentucky Fried Movie and Airplane! (written by the same people).  In the latter, the Kilpatrick stand-in basically says the passengers bought their tickets, they knew what they were getting into, who cares if they crash.

Kilpatrick and Alexander cashed in a bit by touring the country together, discussing political issues of the day.  I actually attended one of these events.  They took questions at the end.  I stood in line and when I got to the microphone announced I wouldn't be voting in the upcoming election.  Everyone hissed and booed.  When they quieted down, I noted (truthfully) I was a Canadian citizen. It got a laugh, of course, but the hate that came at me first was more than expected.

Safely Dead

Reader Lawrence King wrote in a recent comment

I might compare it to the sociological difference between a religion (or quasi-religion like Marxism) that has a fixed canon, and a religion that has a living prophet. Adherents of the former tend to pore over texts and hyper-analyze them to learn the deep secrets of their faith, and to figure out how to apply ancient doctrines to new situations. Adherents of the latter rarely do that, since they can just ask the living prophet for new revelations any time they want.

I'd actually been thinking about this recently, due to the Stimulus.  Everyone is arguing over whether it's working (or can work, or will work).  But what I find even more intriguing is economists arguing over whether Keynes would agree that this is how to do the stimulus.

Keynes was an economist, not a god.  Unless you think he has some sort of otherworldy insight, does it really matter if this stimulus is properly Keynesian?  If he were alive, and said "you're doing it wrong," I wonder how much difference that would make.  You get the same sort of thing with Marx, just worse (as Larry notes).  Marxists constantly argue over what Marx really meant, as if truly understanding him will lead to the best economic solution.

In a religion, it's logically consistent (even if your religion is false) to pore over old texts to divine their meaning, since you may believe they contain otherwise unattainable wisdom.  On the other hand, in the hard sciences today, anyone who tried to prove something by citing Darwin or Lavoisier would be laughed at.  It's those in-between areas, like philosophy or economics or law where authority still seems to hold some weight.

Look at the Founding Fathers.  There's a huge political fight over what they believed, even regarding fairly specific issues today. This makes some sense because (whether or not you believe they were especially wise) they did write a Constitution which is the basis of our legal system.  On the other hand, general arguments about what sort of society the Founders wanted, and how relevant their wishes should be, are much trickier.  (Furthermore, if you believe the Founders set up a system where we could control our own destiny, then, in a paradoxical way, ignoring what they would have wanted could be following what they wanted.)

It occurs to me that a lot of movements (religious and otherwise) probably take off best once the founder is out of the picture.  There's nothing worse than trying to follow someone, only to have HIM, an unimpeachable authority, say you don't get it.  Once a guy is safely in the ground, then you can do what you want with his philosophy, bend it to whatever goals you have in mind.  (I wonder--has there ever been a religion/philosophy started by a guy that kept going, even though the guy himself rejected it while he was alive?  Maybe Wittgenstein.)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Future Biography

Robert Heinlein wrote about his life in passing, and his letters have been published, but until today there hasn't been a biography available in book form. Actually, this is just the first volume, covering 1907 to 1948, but it's over 600 pages.

Since Heinlein only started writing sf in the late 30s, and took some time off for the war, there's gonna be only so much in the book about his work. But it's still the era when he wrote all those great short stories, so it'll be well worth it. The second volume, though, when he writes all those novels, and becomes a world famous writer, will probably be of even greater interest.

Stray Thought

Let me make something clear. I don't ever want to go to a website where, without warning, a video automatically starts. I don't even want to hear any sound. I want to choose when to see a video or hear something.

For that matter, if I choose to play a video on a website, I want that to be the only video I see. I don't want to see a series of videos unless I specifically choose to.

I'm not thrilled about ads before videos, but I can at least understand that.


Mad Men's latest, "The Rejected," may not have been a major episode, but it was a lot of fun.  After last week's small cast, it was nice to see almost everyone back. (No sign of Betty, and that was okay with me.)  In fact, even Ken Cosgrove returned...as we knew he would since the actor's name is in the credits.  Still not clear how he's going to figure in the rest of this season--will he be joining Cooper Sterling or fighting them?

The title may explicitly refer to a bunch of nude photos (which they warned us about before the show started), but there were plenty of people feeling rejected before the show ended.

As the show starts, Don and Roger are taking a call from their monster client, Lucky Strikes, to keep them happy.  Secretary Allison is there, helping.  It's a funny scene, but we also know that Cooper Sterling is still on the edge.

Dr. Faye is planning a focus group.  We've seen them in earlier seasons. They're trying to figure out how to sell Ponds--Peggy's new way, about indulgence, or Freddy's old way, about getting a guy.  Meanwhile, Ponds wants the agency to drop Clearasil, the account Pete brought in through his father-in-law.  (I'm not going to mention every rejection that comes along--you can note them yourself).  BTW. roger uses the phrase "wild hare" which CC spells "wild hair."  I admit most people spell it this way today, but this is back in the 60s, when they probably got it right.

We get to see Pete's office, which has a post right in the middle--he's got obstructed view seating.  It's good for beating your head against, though.  Harry invites him to lunch with his old nemesis, Ken (who's married well).  Harry notes they're all coming up together, and should keep up.  Good point, actually.  Harry may be the least talented, but he'll do fine.

Peggy meets Joyce in the elevator. She's the one who works at Life magazine where the photos of rejected.  They  hit it off.

Pete meets his father-in-law and before he can spill the bad news about Clearasil, his new dad tells him his wife (played by the beautiful Alison Brie) is pregnant.  Surprising, since I thought she was barren.  But what did they know back then?  He goes home and his wife is worried he found out, but he's too happy.  Pete, the privileged, uptight WASP has always been one of the most obnoxious characters on the show, but they seem to be humanizing him.

Back at the office, the focus group of young, single secretary's meet.  Meanwhile, Don, Freddy and Peggy watch secretly from Joan's office.  The doctor does an excellent job being just one of the girls, and soon they're breaking down and telling secrets.  Turns out Freddy is right--they mainly seem to want to get married.  Even Peggy fingers Faye's wedding ring (she left it behind so she could be accepted).  But the real tension comes from Allison, Don's secretary.  They slept together and he's been acting like nothing happened.  (Fans of the show seem more down on Don about this than anything else he's ever done.)  Will she tell?  While Don and Peggy watch?

Pete tells Lane the good news, who, after a poor response, offers him his heartiest congratulations.

Back at the focus group, Allison breaks down and walks out.  Peggy follows her.  When they meet, Allison assumes Peggy had an affair with Don.  She might have, accept back then Don didn't screw his secretaries.  Now he's a drunk, as Allison notes, and so can just conveniently forget everything.  Peggy is surprised by news of the affair, and probably a little unhappy that Don would do it.  She doesn't react well.

The doctor thinks it went well, at least.  They get shooed out of Joan's office to all talk.  Back at the original Cooper Sterling the secret watching room was its own place, no need to leave.

Pete, Harry and Ken have lunch.  Harry says "gonef" and Pete has no idea what he means.  Pete may be a Wasp, but if he wants to make it in the future, he better learn some Yiddish.  Ken is pissed at Pete for talkikng behind his back, but they make up.  Ken actually went to McCann for a while, the agency that filled everyone with horror last season.  Turns out they were right. Ken hated it, and thought they were all idiots.

Ken's getting married.  Pete's having a kid.  They're all moving up in the world.  Ken notes the people at Pete's agency are "slaves to creative," but better a slave to a Don Draper than a Roger Sterling.

Allison has it out with Don.  It was possible the show would just drop this, but that's not how it works.  (Things can be forgotten on Mad Men, but they never go away.)  She feels she has to leave and asks Don to write a letter of recommendation.  He says write whatever you want and I'll sign it.  Allison, who I guess just wanted Don to say something nice about her--to acknowledge here--throws something at him.  (Someone once asked me to write a recommendation and I told them to do just want Don said.  Hope they weren't mad.)  Allison storms out.  Now the office has a pretty good idea what's going on.  Joan comes in for a second and is willing to help Allison come back, but that's not going to happen.  (I love scenes with Joan and Don, which are few and far between.  They're to two most professionally competent people on the show, not to mention probably the sexiest.  They're probably too alike to be together, in fact.)

Joyce invites Peggy to some sort of artistic happening in the Village.  Hey, it's the mid-60s, we're in the Andy Warhol Factory era.   In fact, Andy Warhol gets name-checked on the show, as does Malcolm X (whose death is simply not the same deal as JFK's or MLK's--only after the fact did his fame or notoriety rise, mostly due to his autobiography).

Pete meets his in-laws for dinner.  Time to tell dad (who's been screwing up this week) about Clearasil.  Pete's wife Trudy was going to say it, actually, but Pete makes a play for all the business his dad represents, considering he's done such a great job for Clearasil.  It works, and suddenly young Pete is a rainmaker.

Don the drunk drinks in his office, late at night.  If he can't pretend to be a family man, who is he?

At the Happening, Peggy smokes some marijuana and fends off Joyce, whom we sort of already knew was a Lesbian.  She smokes some marijuana, which we've seen Peggy do before.  Always willing to try new things.

Joyce tells Peggy her boyfriend (who's pretty dull, I might add) doesn't own her vagina.  Maybe she'd say that, but it sounds more like a feminist in the 70s at least.

In his depressing apartment, Don tries to type an apology to Allison, but stops after "Right now my life is very." Yeah, we've all felt that way.

Back at the party, Peggy watches films projected on the wall--sort of a Bruce Conner thing.  She meets the artist who wants nothing to do with advertising.  Don had similar trouble with beatniks in 1960.  Ah, filthy lucre.  The place is raided--for dirty movies?  Peggy hides with a goofy crusading journalist.  Does this couple have a future?  Hiding from the cops in a New York party is a bonding experience.

Don comes into work and his new "girl" is old Miss Blankenship. She's essentially a comic character, with accent and without finesse. (She introduces Dr. Faye Miller on the intercom, nothing "it's a she.")

Peggy finds out about Trudy's pregnancy.  She goes to congratulate Pete.  (He thinks it's about getting the Clearasil account.)  She doesn't know how to feel. (Or maybe I don't know what to think.)  She had Pete's baby and gave it away.  Could she have been with him? Is this a glimpse of a world she's missing?  She goes back to her office and beats her head on the table, just like Pete beat his head against his post. (Maybe it's just Elisabeth Moss thinking about how she divorced Fred Armisen.)

Dr. Miller comes to Don's office and we have what I thought was the most intriguing scene of the show.  Faye suggests a strategy of linking Pond's Cold Cream to matrimony.  Don doesn't want to, but Faye says she can't change the true.  Don gets mad, saying no one knows what the truth is.  People can change their minds, especially if you sell them something in a new way.  You can't predict the future based on focus groups where people talk about their past.  In fact, should they even be delving into private lives.

Don is standing up for what he does here.  He wants imaginative campaigns, and wants to be in the forefront of what's going on.  Admirable, in a way.  But he was also shaken by the experiment forcing Allison out of the agency.  Furthermore, can he go on ignoring research forever?  In the past, he'd come up with an idea and then sell it to the client.  It was his specialty.  Is his style of advertising becoming outmoded?

Peggy goes out the lunch with her hip (or goofy) new young friends.  She passes Pete, hanging out with the old guard, in suits.  (Pete says "we're waiting on Don."  There's no way a Wasp in the 1960s would say that in the 1960s.  You don't wait on people--that's what waiters do.)  Peggy and Joyce stare at each other through the glass door.  They both have a future, but where is it leading?  Do their friends indicate a different path?  It wasn't that long ago Pete thought Peggy was the perfect girl for him.  Does he still feel that way.

Poor Don goes back to his apartment, alone, while an old people argue about pears in the hallway.  And we're done for the week.

Good show, though I do feel we're a bit into mid-season drift.  Nothing much happened regarding the overall status of Don or Betty or Cooper Sterling.  But this isn't that sort of show, is it?  Just watching characters be themselves is a large part of what it's about.

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