Sunday, February 28, 2010

Cindy!

Ah, Cindy Wilson, my favorite members of The B-52s. What's great about a group like that is they seem to be a novelty band at first, but then after a bunch of albums, you realize they're so much more.

There are plenty of songs I could pick to illustrate her talent, but I'm gonna post one that I believe I've blogged in the past, because it's such an intense performance. The lyrics may seem bizarre, even nonsensical, but she turns it into one of the most powerful torch songs ever:

Roamin' Around

In the IMDb user reviews for Roman Holiday, we get a lengthy entry from a Dennis Littrell on May 16, 2004, which he titles "Perhaps the most romantic movie ever made." Then, at Amazon.com, on the Roman Holiday DVD page, we get a lengthy entry from a Dennis Littrell on May 16, 2004, which he titles "Perhaps the most romantic movie ever made."

Busy day, huh, Dennis?

Taylor Swift Is Redshirting

Here's a completely useless piece of trivia: The University of Colorado women's basketball team features both "Whitney Houston" and "Brittany Spears."

Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em or Incensed

Just up the street there's a guy who sells incense from a cart. I got nothing against street vendors, but this guy has a few sticks always lit. He smells up the block.

I like the smell of food cooking on the street, but not incense. This is California, there must be some pollution statute to shut him down.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Thought Experiment

Watching the health care summit Thursday, I came away with the strong impression of two sides who each honestly and passionately believe: (1) there is a problem; (2) their solution will make things somewhat better for the American people; and (3) the other side's solution will make things worse.

Yuval Levin has nicely summarized why point three is so crucial. Democrats (other than Pelosi and Reid, who came across as nothing but partisan hacks) think that a better-regulated system will reduce the inefficiencies; Republicans think a freer market will do so. The two goals are inimical to one another. I tend to agree with the former because I mentally analogize health care coverage to fire department protection -- most people would opt out of "firefighting insurance" if they rented or didn't have much home equity, unless and until they had a neighbor or friend suffer a catastrophic loss from a fire and got scared. But they all would prefer their neighbors bought firefighting insurance. Health insurance similarly works better for everyone if everyone participates, rather than just those with a lot to lose and higher risks. In other words, it's a market where there may be a strong disconnect between your individual interest and the group interest. That makes it a situation where government can be usefully involved. Not that it must be, but can be useful. Also, I see no market-based way to get around the multiple disconnects between insurers who pay for medical care (and profit from less), doctors who order medical care (and profit from more), and patients who benefit from medical care but do not have enough information and knowledge to rationally balance the first two parties' interests. Freer markets will do nothing to address those information and incentive asymmetries.

I'm not sure I see a way to compromise between those directly contrasting views of what is the right thing to do. Odds are we'll have to try one and see if it works. If not, we'll go the other way. Hopefully not too late, as the costs are just going to keep getting higher in the interim.

Sweeping Statement

I find the Winter Olympics boring, but curling haunts me. Who came up with this sport? Where do you go to practice? How do you know when you're good? What are the rules, anyway?

Curling is unique. In everything else I can think of--baseball, football, basketball, hockey, bowling, archery, pinball, skeet shooting, chess--one the ball/puck/projectile/piece is gone it's gone. Only in curling can you affect the thing after you let it go.

Naming Names

Here's a list of the most liberal and conservative members of Congress. What surprised me most? That four of the five most conservative Senators are named "Jim." What are the odds?

Mirror Mirror

Here's a collection of mirror bits from horror films. Maybe it's a cliche, but mirrors are a great device for movies, lending themselves to all sorts of interesting visuals.

The scenes below are fairly recent, but mirror bits go all the way back to the silent era.



I might add even in the 60s mirrors for horror was a cliche. Here are the Monkees mocking it in Head (though they cut off the punchline where Davy closes the mirror and he's in a different room).



PS Peter is whistling "Strawberry Fields Forever," which was still a fairly new song when they shot the film.

PPS When you chop up Head into two-minute bits, it's a lot better. Probably because it was conceived as two-minute bits.

Full Court Press

A fascinating review in The New Republic from (my friend) Richard Posner of Jeff Shesol's Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. the Supreme Court.

As usual, Posner has some tart words for both left and right. He parallels FDR's time with Obama's, and notes both promoted programs at odds with policy goals--they tried to spur an economic recovery while proposing reform that would stunt or reverse it.

Meanwhile, his jaundiced or realistic view (you choose) of the Courts will not please the right:

Given the potential for political instability and social unrest if the entire New Deal program was killed, Roosevelt was right to strike at the Court, especially as he had a more sensible conception of the Constitution than that of the conservative justices then, or their counterparts now, or of liberal justices beginning with the Warren Court of the 1960s--a conception of a Constitution flexible enough to permit the government to meet the needs of modern society that the Framers of the Constitution could not have foreseen.

While the right touts originalism and impartiality, Posner states:

(Judges like to refer to the legislative and executive branches of government as “the political branches,” as if the judiciary were not a political branch as well.) [...] The Wall Street Journal’s comment on the decision invalidating the National Industrial Recovery Act was that “the Constitution has survived the depression.” Constitutional idolatry is a platform of today’s right wing as well; it is the sophisticated version of biblical inerrancy

FDR's court-packing plan failed, but at the same time, and not coincidentally, the Court started bending to his will. Would it have been a good thing if he'd packed the court?

It would have increased turnover on the Court, reduced the average age of justices, made an appointment to the Court less prestigious, and made the justices more cautious about bucking strong political forces, because they would have learned that Congress was willing as well as able to rein them in. We would probably have been spared the excesses of the Warren Court, which turned Roosevelt’s idea of the “living Constitution” on its head: where Roosevelt wanted the Court to stand aside so that the government could deal with the distinctive problems of modernity, the Warren Court responded to the surging crime rates of the 1950s and 1960s by increasing the rights of criminals.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Domino Theory

A lot of rock stars die in plane crashes, but Fats Domino, who turns 82 today, just keeps on going.

Same with his sound. He didn't change it. You don't mess with perfection.



Stray Thoughts

We're creatures of habit. Years ago, when I was down to the last two rolls of toilet paper, I'd put them both out, as a visual reminder to buy more. Been doing it ever since.

Good idea. But now if I forget to do it, I use up the final roll without buying more. (I have a saying. You can never have too much toilet paper. If you're in doubt at the store, buy it.)

No Two Ways About It

In a piece on the hypocrisy of politicians, we get this:

Democrats and the White House charge the Republicans are policy hypocrites on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Every Republican in the House and all but three in the Senate voted against it. In the year since its passage they have stayed on message, arguing the stimulus has not created jobs nor helped the economy, and has wasted money. But according to Bloomberg, 100 members of the House and Senate who voted against the measure sought funds from it—a fact that so excited White House press secretary Robert Gibbs that he used it for one of his maiden tweets.

This is the classical definition of hypocrisy: saying one thing but doing another.

No, this is classic poor logic. Opposing an act of government doesn't mean you ignore it if it's passed over your objection. That would just make you a sap. I'm against many tax rules, but as long as they're there, I'm certainly going to take advantage of them. If the government decides it's going to take all our money and toss it into the street, I'd think the plan foolish, even immoral--but I'd be crazy not to be out there with a broom and dustpan.

Will The Citizens Play Ball?

I've always been a fan of Dave Bing, and if anyone can handle Detroit, it's him. Unfortunately, no one can handle Detroit. Still, the Mayor will give it the old college and NBA try.

Detroit has the troubles of every major city multiplied by ten. With one third of its living areas abandoned, and parts of the city of returning to a state of nature, Bing wants to relocate citizens, so it's easier to handle their problems. I'm guessing there are two problems with this plan--he won't be able to do it and it wouldn't work if he could. Still, I understand his problem. The city proper has half as many people as it had in 1950. The place is imploding. Certain areas seem impossible to deal with, and he'd rather concentrate on sections of the town he can do something with.

The trouble with Detroit is there's almost no place to stand. All cities have bad areas, but Detroit has few good ones. He'd like to reestablish places so they can thrive, but there's almost nothing to build upon, and anyone who's doing well moves to the suburbs.

So I wish Bing well, but I won't blame him if he doesn't save Detroit.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

By George

George Harrison would be turning 67 today. It's hard to believe he's been dead over 8 years.

He was always the junior partner in The Beatles, overshadowed by the two best songwriters around. But taken by itself, his contribution is pretty impressive. He was great in support, as a singer and guitarist, but also wrote a handful of songs that stand up to the Beatles' best.

In particular, there's this miracle of beauty:

Mighty Konfused

I'm shocked at the usually sensible Mickey Kaus's "best argument" as to why Dems should vote for health care. It reads like an April Fool's joke. After rejecting a correct argument (that admitting error and voting against the bill isn't perfect, but it's better than pulling the trigger after everyone begged you not to shoot) he states:

...passing health care reform offers Dems, in the not-so- long term, a chance to do more than avoid Republican attacks. It offers the chance to disprove them. For months, both GOP and Fox hosts have been talking about socialized medicine and death panels and vicious Medicare cuts and the government coming between you and your doctor, etc. If Democrats pass the bill and none of this happens, Republican opponents will be more than defeated. They'll be discredited. [....] discredited enough to give Dems some running room for a few election cycles. Retreating on health care, on the other hand, gives credence to the Republican claims. Indeed, for all practical purposes it lets them win the argument.

Let's take this one step at a time.

First, the public has been begging Congress not to pass this bill for months, regularly voting out Democrats just to make a point. If the Congress dares pass it, the attitude will be "that tears it" and anger will shoot sky high. I'm not saying there'll be violence in the streets, but everything short. Unless something else major intervenes before then, this anger will still be bubbling up in November.

Furthermore, it'll give the GOP a cause they can rally around for the next few election cycles: THEY DIDN'T LISTEN. Republicans can nationalize campaigns, saying we'll repeal this bill before it can do any damage, but we need to take back the House, the Senate and the Presidency. (Heck, I can imagine Democrats running on a pledge to overturn the law.) But if the bill disappears, so does this political path. All can be forgiven--maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of their lives.

As far as health care reform in operation "disproving" Republican claims, it is to laugh. Nothing can be known for years. I mean the bill won't even really take effect until after this year's election, and the benefits don't even kick in until a few years down the road. This isn't a tax cut or a war that allows you to (fairly or not) take stock in a year or two. It'll be at least four or five years, maybe a decade before we can have any idea if the plan is working.

Until then, if anything bad happens--and bad things are always happening in our health care system--Repubs can blame it on health reform.

To put it in terms that Mickey understands, as long as health care doesn't get better, the Democrats are discredited. We're allegedly in a crisis. Pass a bill and the crisis doesn't go away, the bill fails.

Let's not forget that right now the large majority of Americans have health care they like. If (really when) these people have stories about how the new bureaucracy denied them treatment, or how the switchover caused tremendous dislocation, the Republicans will be able to trumpet them. And if overall costs go up--which Mickey seems to admit will happen--that will be enough to make the Republican case right there.

No, if the Dems vote for this, there'll be trouble. Then only a few things can save them. First, and this is still a good argument, people forget. Other crises will arise, and (though this argument sounded a lot better in 2009) the faster the Dems put health care behind them, the easier it'll be to move on.

Then in the long run, say in ten years, when people are used to their benefits, just try taking them away.

To add insult to injury, Kaus notes:

Of course, some of the ill-effects predicted by health care reform opponents wouldn't show up for many, many years--a slowdown in medical innovation, for example.

This is the one area where the Dems have nothing to fear. It's the best reason to oppose health care reform, but a slowdown of innovation will never "show up." Innovation could grind to a halt. You can't notice what doesn't happen.

PS This video seems to be making the rounds. Yeah, I know it's shooting fish in a barrel, but this compilation of top Democrats threatening an apocalypse if the Senate allows 51 votes to decide things is fascinating:

Court Reporter

Interesting discussion of who'll be who on the Supreme Court over at SCOTUSBLOG. They claim Stevens will retire this year but not, as often claimed, Ginsburg.

So there'll be at least one opening for the present Congress. The President will choose candidates based on how he thinks they'll vote (which is actually pretty predictable--Scotusblog doesn't pretend judges vote on principle unnaffected by politics), how the Senate will vote and how many years they'll serve. There's also a slight calculation on how much Republicans can run against the nominee.

Scotusblog discusses many of the usual suspects: Diane Wood, Elena Kagan, Merrick Garland, Hillary Clinton, Cass Sunstein, Deval Patrick, Jennifer Granholm and Amy Klobuchar. I'd only take seriously the first three names. The rest are too controversial or too political (and one or two might--might--be a maverick), even if they'd likely succeed in the Senate.

So I agree with Scotusblog that the easy frontrunner is Kagan, the youngest and most politically attractive one in the bunch. Though I wish he'd take Wood because I very vaguely know her.

Lighthouse At The End Of The Tunnel

Every episode is a countdown now. Still, Lost continues to slowly reveal its secrets at best. "The Lighthouse" was somewhere in quality between the last two episodes. It majored in Jack and minored in Claire--just as I called it--yet I think the MVP goes to Hurley.

But before I get into that, I just want to mention I watched ABC's rebroadcast of last week's episode with pop-up notes. You sometimes learn new stuff. For instance, I had no idea the woman who interviewed Locke for a job before Rose showed up was the same woman Hurley's dad paid to give fake psychic advice.

We start with happy photos of Jack's life, just as we had some of Locke's last week. We're in Jack's pad. Very nice. He looks in a mirror, just like Locke did this season, and Kate, and...hey, Jack already did this, too. He sees a scar. Could it be the scar Juliet gave him while removing his appendix (which didn't seem to be there when he looked in the mirror in his previous trip to the mainland--presumably an error on the production side)? Last time he saw a scar in the airplane mirror--will he have new wounds every time?

Lost in thought, he snaps out of it when his mom (Hill Street Blues' Veronica Hamel) calls. He asks her about his appendix being removed. In the altaworld, he had it out when he was a kid, though he doesn't quite remember. Odd. The Incident changed a lot. But is he being reminded of the island world, or is he just confused?

He's gotta go somewhere in a rush. To pick up his teenage son! How long ago was he married? So anyway, it's not just the appendix that's changed.

Back at the Temple, Jack looks at his reflection in the water. Can't help himself. Dogen comes up and Jack admits Jin, Sawyer and Kate probably aren't returning. In fact, Dogen worries Jack'll leave. Dogen takes these Candidates leaving pretty well, seems to me, considering how serious it seemed at first.

Jack seems a bit calmer and more open. I'm not sure what to make of this Jack. In season 1 he was the Leader, no question. He tried to make things right, even if it only meant things got more screwed up. He succeeded in getting the Oceanic 6 off the island (with many casualties along the way) but went nuts on the mainland and had to return. He came back and seemed uncertain till Faraday gave him the plan for The Incident. Since that didn't work (as far as he knows) he's now adrift.

Miles and Hurley play tic tac toe, and it's Miles' fifteen seconds onscreen--but Ken Leung gets paid just the same. Hurley goes to the Temple Spa looking for food and runs into ghost Jacob. I wished Miles were there so Hurley could show him his dead-talking technique.

Jacob has another task for him. (As we learned in The Sixth Sense, you don't want to talk to dead people or they'll do nothing but ask for favors.) Jacob says someone's coming to the island and Hurley needs to help.

Back at Jack's home, he and his son, David, don't get along. Just another sullen teen of divorced parents suffering through his weekend with Dad? Jack mentions Alice In Wonderland. All books have meaning on Lost, but this is the touchstone, with episodes even entitled "White Rabbit" (which this episode refers to) and "Through The Looking Glass." Jack has to go help his mom find the missing will. So he gets his kid once a month and decides to leave him alone.

At the Temple, Sayid wonders why the Others stare. Jack actually tells him what's going on--Sayid already knows he's got an infection, now Jack admits they wanted to poison him. I guess we now know why Jack had to administer the pill--Sayid is a Candidate, and Others don't kill candidates (directly). I don't think Miles is a candidate so he better keep quiet.

We cut to the jungle, where Claire is helping out Jin. But this is infected, claimed, wild-woman Claire. She gets him out of the bear trap, but when he tries to stand up he he passes out.

Hurley is following Jacob's lengthy instructions (written on his arm), sneaking around the Temple looking for a way out. This is the kind of temple that has tons of secret passages. Dogen finds him and orders him into the courtyard. (Have they been assigned rooms yet? Are there rooms in the Temple?) Jacob appears and gives him backbone. Jacob tells him to tell Dogen he's a Candidate and can do what he wants. Dogen is surprised, but he's stuck, and mutters in Japanese. (I've been told he says "You're lucky that I have to protect you. Otherwise I'd have cut your head off.") BTW, based on Richard last week, I assume Dogen only knows Candidates are very special and can't be messed with--he doesn't really know what they're candidates for.

Jacob reminds Hurley he has to bring Jack along. Jacob and his lists, will it never end? But how to convince Jack? Jacob gives him advice. He just tells Jack "You have what it takes"--the opposite of what Jack's disapproving dad says. That's enough. Jack now has to meet this Jacob dude and find out what's going on. But now we know how to get a rise out of Jack. It's like saying "you can't do that" to Locke, or "you're a chicken" to Marty McFly in a Back To The Future sequel.

So Hurley says follow me, we'll meet Jacob. Sure, why not? Just like Unlocke told Sun last season let's meet Jacob and you'll find Jin. But Jacob works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.

Jin wakes up in Claire's hut. Okay, I'll buy that. Claire is about five feet tall and weighs about 90 pounds, but now that she's Rousseaued up, she could lug a full grown man across the island. Anyway, this is reminiscent of Sayid in Rousseau's place in the first season, since so much this year reminds you of the first season.

He looks around the joint, and it's clear Claire is another Miss Havisham, this time mad about the baby. (Did a dingo eat it?) Claire brings in the Other she shot but didn't kill. And Claire is scary. She wants to know where the Others in the Temple are hiding her son. We (and Jin) know the son is off the island, but Claire isn't in the mood to be reasoned with. The Other warns she'll kill them both. She's been claimed. Maybe he's right. But Jin is an old pal, she wouldn't do that.

Jack and Hurley have escaped. They run into Kate. Small island, isn't it. Jack invites her to come with them. This may be the first time in recorded Lost history that Kate is invited to go with the gang instead of secretly coming along, but she turns him down. She wants to find Claire. She should have stuck with Jin two weeks ago.

In the Altaworld, Jack (who now doesn't seem to drink) helps mom find dad's will. They talk about David, who, like everyone in the show, has daddy issues. Mom finds the will and asks "who's Claire Littleton?" She's in the wrong timeline, since in the other Jack could tell her. Little does he know in this world she was the cute, blonde pregnant girl on his flight. He did see her get hijacked by Kate, but that's no help.

Meanwhile, back in the jungle, Claire is sterilizing the instruments with which she'll sew up Jin. Good for her. Jin still sorta trusts her, but the tied-up Other has no such illusions. She stitches Jin up and I guess the island will have to do the rest--or has the healing stopped since Jacob died? Claire explains how she's been on the run for three years (a little like Robin William's lost years in Jumanji). She accuses the Other of lying about her kid, since her dad and her "friend" told her otherwise. She wants to be sure Jin is still her friend. Always agree with the crazy lady.

We see an ad for FlashForward. Their exciting news--there'll be another blackout. Excellent, more of the same.

Hurley is surprised to know Kate and Jack didn't make it as a couple. He thinks Jack would have made a great dad, but Jack doesn't think he would. Is this some sense of the alt-timeline?

Back on the island, the boys step on an inhaler. Shades of Shannon! I knew we'd finally get answers from season 1. Jack and Hurley have stumbled onto The Cave. That brings back memories. One of the biggest issues of season 1 was whether they should live in the cave or on the beach. It was practically an existential crisis. Seems so pointless now.

They contemplate Adam and Eve. Good to know the the show hasn't forgotten about them. They could still be anyone, as Hurley notes, since with time travel, it could be people alive today.

The new, open Jack admits he found the cave chasing his dad. It was here he found the coffin, but no one inside. (He calls his dad a ghost. Shouldn't he know better by now? Anyway, good to see no one's moved anything in three years.) Presumably Smokey took over the corpse, though we now know Smokey can create duplicate bodies if need be.

Back at Jack's place, itinerant dad comes home with pizza, but David is gone. He calls his son's phone (while we see the lovely view from his pad) and leaves a mesasge. He decides to drive to his ex-wife's place. (Why not call there first?) For a second, I wondered if we were going to meet Julie Bowen and be in the middle of an episode of Modern Family, but she's out of town. (Will we meet his altawife at all this season? Is it someone different? Is it someone we know?)

No one's home. He finds the housekey (under a stone rabbit!) and goes in, apparently not fearing being shot for a burglar. He goes up to David's room and noses around. Turns out his son's is a Chopin fiend. (Didn't young Faraday like Chopin, too? They played the same piece, in fact.) Some happy photos and he plays the answering machine--his son is at tryouts for a conservatory. I thought Jack said he'd be gone an hour, but David must figure he'll be out all night. He's also saved a call from his dad when he was in Sydney, saying he loves him. Ah, sweet.

Back on the island, Jack and Hurley are walking around. Great, I think, just like the old days of season 1. And damned if Hurley doesn't say the exact same thing (though he calls it "old school," not season 1).

They compare notes on why they came back. Hurley was told to by Jacob. That was good enough. Jack says he was broken, and mistakenly thought the Island could fix him. Is he still moping about the failure of The Incident, just like Sawyer? Get moving boy, it's the final season.

They get to the spot--and there's the big damn titular lighthouse. Presumably not even that far from the beach where they first made camp. Last week I said the island still has some surprises, like a hole in a wall with the names, but this is something else. Didn't they circumnavigate this place? How could everyone miss it? Which, thank goodness, Jack asks. Hurley guesses they never looked for it. This is Jacob, after all. If his cabin can come and go, why not his lighthouse? (By the way, the Seven Wonders of the World include a lighthouse, a large statue and a temple. Hmm. Does this mean they'll soon stumble upon a pyramid?)

Claire interrogates the Other. She's been captured and tortured by them. The Other said she was picking them off so what could they do. (Why not kill her?) She's been branded by them. Was this being marked, like Juliet? Were they giving her the same test Sayid got?

Jin can't take it any more and says Kate took Aaron. Claire isn't sure what to think, but she knows enough to sink her axe into the Other rather than let him go. This has quite an effect on Jin (not to mention the Other).

Jack and Hurley break into the lighthouse and climb to the top, just like Leo's doing in theatres in Shutter Island.

AltaJack catches up to his son's tryout. (He's a "candidate" too.) The kid is good. Makes a father proud. If only the kid had told him. A nearby parent says we pressure our kids too much. The parent is Dogen! (This is a recital--why isn't it Lennon?) He's still got a heavy Japanese accent in this world.

The lighthouse has 360 degrees of settings and three mirrors that swing around. Hurley has to set it to 108 degrees. 108, the ultimate Lost number. Who could it be for? Or is it just a ploy Jacob's using to get Jack and Hurley to do what he wants?

All those number correspond to candidates, just like the cave names. So that's where the numbers come from (he writes for the tenth time). As the mirrors swing around, Jack sees something. Screw 108, set it back to 23--hey, that's Shephard! (I'm sure there are websites with screen captures showing all the names available, just like last week at the cave.)

So we're playing mirror roulette, and 23 is the number. Now Jack looks at the mirror yet again and sees the house he grew up in. Jack figures (correctly?) Jacob's been watching the candidates all along. He demands to see Jacob, but Jacob is not a man you summon. So Jack, taking a page out of Locke's book, destroys the mirrors. He's been like this ever since The Incident. I don't know, the mirrors seemed pretty special to me--I'd have played around with them a bit more first. At least see if Hurley has a number to look at.

We get a commercial for V, where the hot alien greets us and shares in our enthusiasm for Lost. Can they do that? Especially when the lead in the show is played by Elizabeth Mitchell.

Jack meets his son outside the hall and tells him how great he was. Whereas Christian didn't think Jack had what it takes, Jack's been too intense in his support. Generals always fight the last war. Jack makes it clear he's always on his son's side, no matter what. He can never fail (no matter how badly he sucks, I guess).

Outside the lighthouse, Jack is sitting on a cliff, thinking about life. Or maybe Tommy--smash the mirror! Not far away, Jacob appears to Hurley. You can never get a Jacob when you need one.

He tells Hurley he has schmutz on his forehead, and it's not even Ash Wednesday. It's the ink from his arm. In a rather clear explanation, which was either a sign that this season is different, or that the writers couldn't figure out how else to say it (and Darlton wrote this one), Jacob notes (and I think we sort of got this anyway) that, despite what Hurley believes, they didn't fail in their mission. The guy (if there is indeed a guy) who's meant to come to the island will figure out how. (If nothing else, Jacob is good at getting people to the island. I wonder if Jacob was behind Libby having a boat so Desmond would find his way?) Meanwhile, Jack is now thinking about what Jacob wants him to think about (which is ironic since Jack smashed the mirror because he was mad this guy was micromanaging his life--sounds to me like Smockey has a great potential recruit). Jacob notes he can tell Hugo stuff directly (except for this plan), but not Jack. Oh, by the way, now that you're out, stay away from the Temple, there's trouble going down. (I guess all those Others who serve him can suck it. Jacob never seems to mind people dying as part of his plan.)

Jin, really smart now, tells Claire Aaron's at the Temple. Riiiight. He'll even help her get back. She notes she'd kill Kate if Kate had taken Aaron away. Hmm, I hope Kate finds that out before she spills the beans.

Then in comes Claire's "friend." As everyone expected, it's Evilocke. Jin seems a bit more surprised than Sawyer was last week at the appearance of John Locke. At least Claire knows it's not John. You think she'd also figure that other guy isn't her father.

Looks like we'll have fun next week.

LOST

A few observations.

This episode featured some odd couple--twosomes we haven't seen together that much. Jack and Hurley had their excellent adventure, and then Jin and Claire spent some time in the hut. Quick as you can, name your five favorite Jin and Claire scenes.

Jacob warns Hurley that he can't return to the Temple. But I thought it was safe there, with all that ash. So who's left at the Temple that we care about? Well, Sayid, of course, but he's already claimed, so I don't know if he matters. (Was it my imagination, or has his Iraqi accent turned a bit more British since he took the bath. Is Naveen tired of keeping it up after five seasons?) He seemed like a nice enough guy, but look at Claire. Rousseau had no trouble shooting old compatriots who had the sickness.

Then there's Miles, who's had very little to do this season except say a smart line or two every episode. I'm sure he'll get his moment. Hey, if Blackie slaughters the Temple, he'll have a lot of people to talk to.

One prediction I made about the final season has turned out completely wrong. I thought we'd have nothing but action, but all the flash-sideways, so similar to season one, have plenty of character development and quiet moments.

Speaking of the flash-sideways, still no major breakthrough in their connection to the action on the island. But we're beginning to see a pattern, and it's about redemption. Kate is a bad girl who does a good deed for Claire, and receives kindness back. Locke gives up his impossible dream of walking again, and lets go of his anger. Jack, with unresolved daddy issues, works out the problems with his own son. (And Hurley is certainly over his fear of success.)

Presumably similar things will happen with con man Sawyer, torturer Sayid and the quarreling Kwons. And maybe all these candidates are making themselves whole again, so they'll be able to return to or merge with the island and deal with the war going on. Just like Jacob planned? They're coming.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Good Intentions Plus Failure To Think Things Through

The best summary and technical analysis I've yet seen about the Pennsylvania school district that was remotely, surreptitiously monitoring their students via webcams on school-owned laptops. The mind-boggling part is that nobody at the school said to himself "wait a minute, we're talking about taking and transmitting pictures of minor children, in their bedrooms, without their knowledge." Worse, I guess would be if they did say that and still went ahead with the program.

Clueless

Here's a cool idea. Someone who's never seen Lost blogging his impressions of the final season. I've seen many movies on TV by catching the last act first. Still, it must be weird to see this bewildering array of characters and events and have no idea of the backstory. On the other hand, you don't have to wait six years to meet Jacob or go inside the Temple.

But basic confusion is common:

I have no idea what anyone’s name is anymore. I thought the Rebel was named Sawyer but the Sad Day Monster kept calling him James Ford. I though the portly gentleman was named Hurley but apparently his name is Hugo Reyes.

Did You See What I Saw?

I recently saw The Ghost Writer and a few weeks ago Edge Of Darkness. The first is directed by Roman Polanski, the second stars Mel Gibson.

There are some who said you should avoid one of the other because of the man behind them. They may have a point, but generally I prefer not to judge the morality of seeing a film based on the morality of the people behind it. (I suppose if I did I'd have to avoid most of the films out there.) Perhaps there are limits, but I'd rather err on the side of tolerance.

A stronger question is when someone produces something and you read it because of his bad act. I'm thinking right now of the six-page rant produced by the man who crashed his plane into an IRS building. In it he lays out his anger, and why he's doing what he's doing. But I don't think he killed himself just to draw attention to this letter. He was just nuts and this was his last chance to vent. Still, he did assume it would be read because of what he did.

Much more troubling was reading the Unabomber's Manifesto. He didn't make one grand action to draw attention to incoherent rage, he made a series of criminal acts (and intended to continue) just so his ideas could be spread. He even states (correctly) in his piece that the reader wouldn't be looking at his ideas unless he had done what he did.

The Era Of Girl Groups And Masochism

Happy birthday, Joanie Sommers.

That's Your Opinion

I think Richard Epstein has it right about the DOJ's report on the John Yoo "torture" memos. He calls the memos "bunk" but still believes absolute immunity is necessary for government employees working in their official capacity.

Given these institutional risks, good faith is not the right test. What is needed is absolute immunity from investigation. Discipline should be left to cases like bribery, insubordination, and unauthorized document leaks. It should not extend to errors in legal judgment, however egregious. The argument for this position does not seek perfect justice. Instead it is consciously content to accept a lesser evil in the case to preserve the larger gain to DOJ as a whole.

Even under qualified immunity, lawyers writing advisory opinions will have to worry about being brought up on charges, especially if a new party takes over after they leave, or public opinion shifts. They'll become paralyzed, especially when dealing with controversial issues.

I believe in government being responsible for its actions, but there are many ways to deal with political disagreements that stop well short of prosecution.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

State Of Play

Here's a fun game that tests your knowledge of U.S geography. Good for kids, but also good for adults. I wish there were some way they could make the border states trickier.

PS I never noticed before, but Montana sort of has a profile of Nixon.

Wake Me When It's Over

It's that time of year. The local NPR station is having its pledge drive. I don't know how long it lasts. It seems forever, but it's probably only a couple weeks. Whenever you turn on the station, regular programming is broken up and you're almost bound to hear people begging for your money. I'm afraid to listen.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Ads year 'round are preferable.

PS And this year it coincides with the Winter Olympics, which make it harder to watch TV.

Tough To Reid

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) suggested Monday that domestic violence by men has increased due to U.S. joblessness.

Reid, speaking in the midst of a Senate debate over whether to pass a $15 billion package meant to spur job creation, appeared to argue that joblessness would lead to more domestic violence.

"I met with some people while I was home dealing with domestic abuse. It has gotten out of hand," Reid said on the Senate floor. "Why? Men don't have jobs."


Is this a subtle warning to his wife about 2011?

Writing Books On Book Writers

I was in the library looking at a biography of Stephen King. Don't think I'd bother to read it all the way through.

Someone gave me King's On Writing, which had a lengthy section on his early days. How he was raised in poverty with no father. How he was able to utilize his writing skills to be popular in high school. How he slowly started selling his work, mostly to men's magazines. How he taught high school and moonlighted at a laundry to makes ends meet for his small family. Then, the big day, when he sold Carrie--and more important, became rich overnight with the paperback sale. Now that's a good story. Unfortunately, a biographer has to spend most of her time dealing with the years after.

And here's what happened after his first great success: King wrote an awful lot.

Oh, he did other things. He read an awful lot. He drank and did cocaine an awful lot. He worked on movies and TV an awful lot. But mostly, he's a guy sitting in a small room clicking away.

Furthermore, the guy has been consistently popular. There are few ups and downs in his career. He averages about two books a year and they all sell. He's grown a bit as a writer, but the difference between his best and worst isn't that great.

Yeah, he did have one frightening moment in 1999, when he was hit by a car and almost killed. He takes that on in great detail in On Writing as well. But aside from that, it's not the most scintillating life to read about.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Who's On First? I'm On First.

Christopher Hitchens is an ass except when he's not. Amidst all of the typical obit blithering over General Alexander Haig, he comes through with some of the best invective of his career here. His description of the deceased inlcude "homicidal buffoon," "megalomaniacal drivel," "neurotic narcissist" and "squalid life," but the best is "pig-nostriled and also piggy-eyed."

It makes me wonder what he'll write Henry Kissinger passes on.

Major League Screwup

There's promotional material for the new comedy She's Out Of My League (which I can't find on the internet) that has a number above the face of each character. I've seen it on walls, I've seen it on billboards.

See, the movie is about a 5 who dates a 10. And that's what it has on the billboard. So far, so good. But beyond the two leads, the rest of the numbers don't make any sense.

For instance, actor Nate Torrence, who's a funny-looking guy (by Hollywood standards) is an 8. Meanwhile, Krysten Ritter, former model who's a babe and a half, is a 7.

This isn't rocket science. Or Rocket Science. The whole point of the movie is judging people by looks--why would they get this wrong?

PS It was filmed in Pittsburgh, a city I believe New England Guy knows well.

Hey Hey It's The Beatles

From the YouTube comments section regarding how The Monkees correspond to The Beatles:

AdventureShmee

I would probably figure it like this

Mike Nesmith - George Harrison
Micky Dolenz - John Lennon
Peter Tork - Ringo Starr
Davy Jones - Paul McCartney

Mike is the guitarist, Micky is the crazy one, Peter is the one everybody dumbs down and pokes fun at, and Davy is the 'cute' and girlish one.

acholl980

That's how I figured it.

Mike Nesmith-John Lennon
Mickey Dolenz-Paul McCartney
Peter Tork-George Harrison
Davy Jones-Ringo Starr

The first makes sense, the second one is ridiculous. No matter how you slice it, Davy Jones is their Paul, the cute one. It's the other three who are tricky because they each combine qualites of two Beatles.

Mike is a mix of Lennon (the leader) and Harrison (the quiet one). Mickey is a mix of Lennon and Ringo (the clown). And Peter is a mix of Harrison and Ringo.

To The Lighthouse

I'm about to mention some of the characters that'll be featured in season 6 of Lost. I don't consider this information to be a spoiler, but I do consider this paragraph to be a warning.

Anyway, on Wikipedia, they list the known titles and characters featured this season. Though I'd give Jack the first episode, they say it featured no one. Okay. Then we had the Kate and Locke episodes. They don't know who'll be featured this week, though the title is "Lighthouse."

For the rest of the season, there are already episodes planned for Sayid, Ben, Sawyer, Richard, Sun & Jin, and Hurley. There are a number of names missing, including Desmond and Miles, but my guess for "Lighthouse" is Claire or Jack.

Claire, after all, is back on the show, and they left us with her going all Rousseau (though her version of Rousseau doesn't seem to be a noble savage). So is it possible (along with the alt-timeline, where we've seen her plenty) we'll get an episode where we see what happened to Claire when she disappeared in season 4, or is that something for later? (Does that mean we'll get to episodes with flashbacks on the island, like season 5?)

The argument for Jack is if he hasn't been featured, he's a pretty major character, and they're featuring all the others in the alt-timeline, so when is his turn. A bigger clue is the order. In season 1, after the pilot, the first three shows, in order, were Kate, Locke and Jack. Season 6 mirrors season 1, and they've just done Kate and Locke, so Jack next makes sense.

Cavanaugh Nods

At Reason's Hit & Run, Tim Cavanaugh discusses outmoded forms of communication, like books. In passing, he discusses the Odyssey:

Did you know, for example, that only about half of the Odyssey is about Odysseus' wanderings, and the rest is taken up with killing the suitors and a bone-dull coda in which Odysseus works out a compensation package for the mentally anguished families of the suitors?

Heck, it's worse than that. The Odyssey is divided into 24 books, and the first 4 aren't even about Odysseus. They follow his son around instead. And what everyone thinks the epic is about--his wild journey home from the Trojan War--is pretty much all in books 9 through 12.

But that's Homer's style. These epics were done as performance pieces. (And it couldn't all be performed in one sitting, which is why you get repetitions and recaps.) Both the Iliad and the Odyssey are about ten-year stories, but they start near the end and actually only take place over a short period of time, with backstory filled in when needed.

The Odyssey starts with its hero held captive on Calypso's island, ten years after the Trojan War, still hoping to return to his wife Penelope in Ithaca. After we get past the stuff with his son Telemachus, he gets off the island and makes it as far as Phaeacia, where he meets the Princess and later the Queen and King. He's set to leave, but before he goes he tells the story of his voyages.

The first 12 books are highly entertaining, but all the while, in the back of the listener's mind, is what will Odysseus do when he finally returns. His kingdom in shambles, his wife besieged by suitors, his father grieving, his son the target of a murder plot, he's got a lot to deal with.

So once he returns, Homer takes a long time paying off. Wily Odysseus can't just march into his palace and reclaim it. He's gotta figure out how to get his house back in order. And the audience is waiting for all sorts of reunion scenes--above all the moment Odysseus reveals himself to Penelope. Homer stretches this out almost to the breaking point. It's not till book 23, after Odysseus has slaughtered the suitors, that he finally comes clean.

The main action is over but Homer now ties up loose ends--including dealing with the dead, important to Grerks--and winds down the story.

In the final book of the Iliad, the main battles are over and Achilles has killed Hector. Now a disguised King Priam sneaks into Achilles' tent at night and begs for his son's body. Meanwhile, Achilles has been thinking of his lost friend Patroclus. He's given up everything for glory. Was it worth it? This whole epic, born of Achilles' wrath, leads up to this scene of two men, mortal enemies, weeping in grief. Priam brings the body back and this though most of the epic concentrates on the Greeks, we end with Hector receiving a proper funeral.

The Odyssey's final book starts with the suitors going to the underworld, where they meet, among others, Achilles, and talk about funerals and glorious death--better to die in battle than like a punk at home, which happened to Agamemnon. (The story of Odysseus is a parallel to Agamemnon--who shows how not to return home.) Back in Ithaca, Odysseus goes out to find his father, Laertes, still mourning his son. Meanwhile, the suitors' relatives are plotting revenge. The mob comes to the palace and there's a fight, broken up by Athena, the goddess who supports Odysseus, and we end with restoration and in peace. (Athena was also the goddess of Athens, of course, and she intervenes and stops the revenge plot to bring peace in the Oresteia.)

Now I admit the final book of the Odyssey doesn't have the power of the final book of the Iliad (little does). Some scholars have even suggested the Odyssey originally ended with Odysseus and Penelope going happily to bed. But book 24 does tie up some loose ends, both in plot and theme, and, like the Iliad, deals with the aftermath of death--you don't just kill someone and that's the end of it.

On the other hand, if you want to read an epic that falls apart in the second half, check out the Aeneid.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Wag The WGA

The Writer's Guild Awards have been announced. Best drama, Mad Men, best comedy, 30 Rock. ZZZZZZZZZZZZ. I like both shows, but, come on.

The best episode of a drama was a specially bad House that took us out of the series and was a mini-One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. I wish the Guild were more suspicious of "special" episodes.

The real news was for screenplay. Best adaptation was Up In The Air, which was expected. And considering they completely rewrote that book, it's quite an adaptation. But for best original screenplay, I was a bit surprised to see The Hurt Locker. It's a compelling film, but I didn't consider the screenplay to be that special. It's always hard to know how much credit to give a screenplay, and easy to misattribute its contribution to other factors, but what was special about that film wasn't necessarily the plot--in fact, I didn't think that much of the plot--or depth of character (and certainly not the dialogue), but the atmosphere, the acting and some of the set pieces.

It looks like there might be a bandwagon building for The Hurt Locker, which has to be the favorite for best director and perhaps now the favorite for Best Picture (though I'd say, considering the vote split, it can't be considered the odds-on favorite).

Oh Deer or Where Eagles Dare

A friend sent me a link to some interesting photos of an eagle attacking a deer.

I feel for the deer, but hey, eagle gotta eat.

Spoiled

So I saw Shutter Island, the hit of the weekend. Before then, I saw the trailer about 10 times and was happy the film was finally opening so they'd stop showing it. The first time I saw it, I told a friend sitting next to me what the ending would be.

I was right, but then, if you've seen any films over the past twenty years, you can figure it out too.

Nostalgia

Was it only five years ago when Howard Stern left terrestrial radio? His multi-million dollar contract with Sirius is coming up, and he'll have to decide what his next move is. Howard is wealthy, so I think it's his coworker/employees who are most concerned.

The rumor he'll become a judge on American Idol is laughable, but he still has plenty of options. I wish he'd return to regular radio so I could listen to him again, though after five years of no censorship, he may not wish to put the chains back on.

There's a good piece in the Wall Street Journal on what he might do. It's one of the few pieces that understands his appeal, which is less shock jock than soap opera:

"The show is so great and so complicated, but non-listeners think it's just lesbians making out and porn stars taking off their tops," says Ira Glass, host of "This American Life" and an icon of genteel public radio. A fan going back to the 1980s, Mr. Glass compares Mr. Stern to Jack Benny in the way he conducts a shifting tableau of comic characters. Yet it was often Mr. Stern himself who played up the salacious shtick of his show during public appearances. "It was better for business, but as a result, he's had to live with the fact the show is widely misperceived," Mr. Glass says.

Mr. Stern plays the father figure to a sprawling family of employees, associates and social misfits with nicknames like Medicated Pete, Eric the Midget and Jeff the Drunk. For all his guests, from D-listers to stars including Benicio Del Toro and Ozzy Osbourne recently, the most compelling moments of the show amount to eavesdropping on a room full of bickering co-workers. Hours are devoted to supposed slights and missteps, such as the bar stools that producer Gary Dell'Abate selected for his home theater—an apparent decorating gaffe that Mr. Stern excoriates him for.


I miss all those people, corralled by Stern. It's true, they do become part of your life.

I should add there's a wrap-up show after Howard leaves that discusses what's going on with the whole gang. It's hosted by Dell'Abate and a friend of mine, Jon Hein, who's best known as the Jump The Shark guy. He was able to parlay that fame into a spot as a Stern regular--though Jon, unlike most satellite figures on the show, is a rational, intelligent, financially sound individual. He's also a talented performer with a fine voice for radio.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Not Worth The Paper

I hadn't seen this before. The terms of the truce between the Dharma Initiative and the Others, along with Richard Alpert's notes.

It was never clear who had the edge in power. For one thing, you could never tell how many DI members and Others there were. (Alpert's notes suggest the DI had no more than 216--or 2 x 108.) Also, DI had more modern weapons, but the Others knew the island and perhaps had access to its powers. They also seemed more ruthless than the DI, which was not, after all, a military organization.

You also get the impression that Alpert is barely tolerating the DI, and certainly sees a day when they'll leave. (Alpert is the sort of guy who can look at the long run.) It's still unclear, however, just how bad things had to get before they led to the purge.

He's The Guy On Bass

Walter Becker turns 60 today. Hard to believe Steely Dan did almost all their best work when Becker and Fagen were in their 20s.



I can't stop. Play it, Denny!

To Be Continued

I saw the pilot for HBO's half-hour How To Make It In America. It's about young guys hustling to make it in New York. It's been called Entourage without the success and the jokes.

Actually, that's about right. Yet it wasn't bad. Not great, but good enough to give it another look.

The Rep Rap

With a new Martin Scorsese film out, Slate looks at his career and asks what happened? The last decade has been his most commercially successful (thanks Leo), but his critical standing is the lowest it's ever been.

I'm in the camp that thinks he's always been overrated, but I agree that while his earlier films showed a certain passion, the ones he makes lately, no matter how popular, feel flat. He still has the fancy camera shots, but not the sense of action and excitement underneath.

Some say it's because he's started playing the Hollywood game. What does it serve a man to win an Oscar if he lose his soul? I think there's more to the argument he just got tired. (No doubt contrarian critics will eventually look beneath "later" Scorsese and announce it superior to his early work.)

If anything, the Slate article is too nice. Look at this on The Departed: "For all its crackle and pop, it was merely very good—peerless technique in the service of a borrowed vision..." Except it wasn't very good, it was very bad. If he's still making very good films after 40 years of big-time filmmaking, the critics have nothing to complain about.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Stack Attack

I just saw a story that ruined my joke. Wesley Snipes, who was best known as an action star, but now may be better known for his problems with the IRS, said of Joseph Stack "I think it was an issue even for the early colonists and the British, so what's new?"

So you already can guess my punchline, but here's the joke I'd written:

Joseph Stack recently flew a plane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas. President Obama called the attack "contemptible," Governor Rick Perry referred to it as "horrifying" and Wesley Snipes optioned Stack's story for his next movie.

Quote of the Day

Lawyer for Dr. Amy Bishop on why she shot 6 colleagues, killing 3, in a University of Alabama Huntsville biology department meeting last week, " ...it's probably tied in with the Harvard mentality."

Moving Mistake

Watching Community with the CC on, I noticed a mistake. The word "stationery" was spelled "stationary." Okay, a common error, but one would think a major network would hire the best CC service available and avoid such things.

Song Requests

Here's a fun piece on the questionable musical tastes of various fictional characters in TV and movies. Shows like Buffy, Blossom and The Sopranos--I'm sure we could think of others.

The only example I have trouble with is Ferris Bueller liking Cabaret Voltaire. Ferris was kind of hip, and had wide-ranging tastes. Why not?

My favorite pick was discovering mean girl Libby on Sabrina The Teenage Witch was a big fan of the Violent Femmes. I had friends who wrote for that show. Needless to say, the writers' tastes were reflected on the show.

Political Speech From A Corporation

I was recently watching Road To Bali, the only "Road" picture in color. Hadn't seen it in years. At the end, Hope and Crosby are captured. In a ceremony designed to appease the gods, one will be the groom to Dorothy Lamour's bride. Doesn't sound so bad.

But the leader has designs on Lamour, so decides to secretly marry Hope and Crosby together. The high priest warns him a marriage with two grooms and no bride will offend the gods. Turns out he's right, and the climax features an exploding volcano.

This film should be adopted by the anti-same sex marriage crowd.

What's The Matter With Dionne?

E. J. Dionne has always struck me as a guy who doesn't get the whole picture. Look at his latest, "What's holding the Democratic Party down." He says right now the Dems are losing and the Repubs are winning. Why?

The two immediate causes for this state of affairs are a single election result in Massachusetts and the way the United States Senate operates. [...] Pause to consider where we would be if a Democrat had won the Massachusetts Senate race last month. In all likelihood, health reform would be law, Democrats could have moved on to economic matters, and Obama would be seen as shrewd and successful.


Did Scott Brown really make the difference? His election was a wakeup call (as were a few that preceded him), but it's not entirely the Senate that's holding the Dems back--in fact, they passed the bill. Right now they don't seem to have enough votes for a smple majority in the House, which they still need. Scott Brown got their attention, but it's certainly possible even if he lost, health reform would be in trouble.

But if the Dems had passed it, I don't think the country would have simply moved on. Probably the anger would be boiling over. The reason the Dems have had so much trouble is the bill is unpopular. Passing it in the face of so much opposition would be the final straw. If the people supported the bill, it would have been law last August, like the White House wanted.

As to moving on to economic matters, there's never been anything stopping the Dems from doing so. They run Congress. It's always been their choice what to consider.

Dionne continues:

The Obama administration argues that both the stimulus and the health bill are better than people think. That's entirely true, and this is actually an indictment -- it means that on the two big issues of the moment, Republicans and conservatives are winning an argument they should be losing.

This is the ultimate problem with Dionne, and so many political columnists. It's a given their side is right, so the question becomes why is everyone so stupid not to see it.

By the way, it may be true the stimulus and/or health bill are better than people think. That doesn't mean they're good ideas.

Economists agree that the stimulus worked to create jobs...

Well, I'm glad that's settled.

On health care, months of delay in a futile quest for Republican support got the Democrats the worst of all worlds. The media gave them no credit for reaching out to the other side but did blame them for an ugly, gridlocked process.

I didn't see any serious reaching out to Republicans--in fact, they were shut out of the process. Most of the dealmaking was to get skittish Dems on board. There were some minor attempts at deals with a few moderate Repubs, but it seemed the only reason the Dems even tried this was because they had a bill the public hated and they didn't want to take all the heat. (Not only in the Senate. Even with a massive lead, Nancy Pelosi had to strongarm a bunch of Dems to vote yes.) In a way, this is a good thing. It's probably better not to pass gamechanging bills without bipartisan support.

If the Dems really wanted a health bill, they could have offered true compromise, some of which, I admit, they wouldn't like too much. Politics isn't about getting everything. But they figured they had Congress and could force their bill through. Not necessarily a bad strategy. Could still work. But it's high risk, as we can now see. (I admit with the huge Dem lead, it's possible any significant compromise would have been stopped by the progressives. What can I say--major bills are tricky.)

While liberals were arguing about public plans and this or that, and while Obama was deep into inside dealmaking, the conservatives relentlessly made a straightforward public case...

And Obama didn't relentlessly make a straightforward public case? He made countless speeches on the subject, with a simple premise--you'll be getting better and cheaper health care. He also bought off the special interests, which meant Republicans had no one to appeal to but the public.

...based on a syllogism: The economy is a mess. Obama and the Democrats are for big government. Big government is responsible for the mess. Therefore the mess is the fault of Obama and the Big Government Democrats.

Simplistic and misleading? Absolutely.

Yes it is. Just like most of the stuff Obama said about Bush and the economy. If you're in charge, you get blamed. It may not be fair, but that's democracy.

Actually, the public still mostly blames Bush. The problem is Bush is no longer in office, and blaming the last guy over and over has diminishing returns. Obama was in the right place at the right time to get elected. It may turn out he's now in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

No Soup For You

Interesting interview with Jared Harris, who plays the uptight British businessman on Mad Men. His best story is about what a jerk Oliver Stone was on Natural Born Killers, trying to pick up Harris's girlfriend right in front him.

Harris played Andy Warhol in I Shot Andy Warhol. He's not the first to portray Andy on screen. Harris had an interesting suggestion:

...I tried to get my manager to get us onto Saturday Night Live, because I thought it would be fun if David Bowie and I went on Saturday Night Live and did dueling Warhols, like “Dueling Banjos,” and have the banjo and the guitar, and have someone playing it, because I can’t play. But all those little musical breaks during “Dueling Banjos,” we’d do different lines of classic Warhol things like “Oh, gee, golly,” that kind of thing. Just do this weird little riff. Dueling Warhols. I thought that would be a laugh.

Harris can't be unaware that this precise concept was done on SNL with John Belushi and Peter Boyle as "Dueling Brandos," can he?

Pope Pop

There must be some classic rock fan at the Vatican. Their paper, L’ Osservatore Romano, published a guide to the top ten rock and pop albums of all time.

The choices: The Beatles' Revolver (at the top), Pink Floyd's The Dark Side Of The Moon, Oasis' (What's the Story) Morning Glory?, Michael Jackson's Thriller, U2's Achtung Baby, Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, Donald Fagen's The Nightfly, Carlos Santana's Supernatural, Paul Simon's Graceland and David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name.

They say they left out Dylan because he paved the way for so many bad singer-songwriters.

A few comments. First, these are the usual suspects. Mostly pretty good stuff, but generally not too adventurous. Eight of these albums are blockbusters, sales-wise.

Looking at the particular choices, though, there are some surprising picks. For instance, Revolver. I guess it's finally replaced Sgt. Pepper as The Beatles' go-to album.

Then there's Oasis, whose inclusion may seem weird to Americans, but they're huge overseas--almost the second coming of The Beatles.

If they were going to pick anything from U2 (and they didn't need to), I'm glad they chose Achtung Baby. The band had been getting grander and more boring for a while (and they started out fairly boring), and Achtung Baby was them simplifying their sound, while letting their hair down a bit.

The oddest choice may be The Nightfly. It's certainly a fine album, and a rare concept piece that holds together. But it's not really that well known--if you're gonna go with Fagen, why not pick some Steely Dan?

Graceland was the Paul Simon solo album that made the most waves, but still, maybe a bit odd they chose it over Simon and Garfunkel.

Finally, the Crosby album. Huh? I mean, no CSNY on the list, fine with me, but if you're going to pick something from someone in the group, what's wrong with Neil Young?

Anyway, the Vatican's finally caught up to the 70s and 80s, but we might need another generation before they start picking hip-hop or punk (though would it be too much to ask for Nevermind.)

Fake ID

At First Things, an attack on Intelligent Design. The argument is ID has achieved nothing while antagonizing the world of science. I think this is true, but the key here, and I hope it's understood, is the reason ID has gone nowhere in the scientific world is that its arguments are no good.

There are hundreds of comments following. I'm not surprised. I read a few and also wasn't surprised to see a fair number defend ID.

There Is No Substitute

Quite an episode. For fans who feared Lost season 6 wasn't working after last week's show, I think they were more than satisfied by "The Substitute." What does the title mean? Most obviously, Locke became a substitute teacher. But perhaps it also refers to Jacob looking for a substitute. Or Fake Locke being a substitute for the real thing. But more on that later.

First I rewatched last week's episode. As I expected, if you know you're about to watch a new hour immediately after, it plays pretty well. Even the "weak" episodes of Lost tend to be fun if you don't think you'll have to wait a week to see what's next.

Then the network showed promos of the upcoming episode. Hey ABC, you already got me--no need to spoil what's next.

Then the show. If you didn't know already, you soon discovered it was Locke-centric. Just like the first season, the first two regular episodes are Kate and Locke. The first Locke show, "Walkabout," was the hour that turned me, and millions of others, into Lost fans.

Anyway, we're in the alt-timeline, and a truck pulls up at a nice house in a nice suburb. Locke's driving. This looks like the kind of house he used to inspect. Does he live here now? He gets stuck when his wheelchair lift jams. He falls to the lawn and the sprinklers start. And out comes Helen from the house to save him. I guess that's why he seemed to take it pretty well. Before the reset, he'd lost Helen due to his obsession with his dad, and was reduced to calling the phone sex girl "Helen." (When he later returned to the mainland Helen had died.)

Next he's in the tub, while he and Helen discuss their upcoming nuptials. First let me note it's weird seeing either in a warm domestic scene, Terry O'Quinn coming from The Stepfather and Katey Sagal from Married With Children. Anyway, she's sick of planning for the wedding. (Isn't that Boone's business?) She suggests they keep it simple, with her parents and his dad. Now either Locke hasn't told her that his dad is an evil con man responsible for his paralysis, or this timeline is very different indeed.

Then they talk about his conference in Australia. Wait, wasn't it a walkabout? They also talk about his new acquaintance, spinal surgeon Jack Shephard. She thinks it may be destiny that they met at LAX. He's more doubtful. This isn't the man of faith we remember from the island. (Though, to be fair, first season Locke was a pretty sensible guy who wouldn't believe just any mumbo jumbo. But he was healed, which makes you believe in miracles.)

On the island, we get an Evil Dead fly-through to Dharmaville, where Smokey looks at his reflection in the window while Sawyer listens to music inside. Smokey moves on, rematerializes as Flocke, and releases Richard from the bondage he put him in. This is gonna be good.

"Colonel" Locke wheels into work. He still works at the box business, but the place looks nicer, as does his workspace. Is that a photo of himself with his dad? Randy comes up and seems nice for a second. Is alt-Randy a coworker, or even a suck-up? Nope, alt-Randy is as big as jerk as ever. Worse, in fact. He's discovered Locke didn't attend that conference in Australia and fires him.

Flocke talks to a frightened Richard. If you wait long enough on Lost, everyone who seems to have it together will lose it. Flocke wants Richard to work with him, but Richard, scared as he is, is more scared of working with Flocke. What has this guy done (to Richard or in general)? (Or what has Jacob told Richard?) Flocke mentions he became John because John was a "candidate." Richard doesn't know what he means. This is a big deal. Being a candidate means quite a lot, but Richard is unaware. Richard, the trusted advisor. The man who delivers information from Jacob, and those lists. In all the years Richard served Jacob, he was doing it out of blind faith? Jacob apparently runs things so that his people are in the dark. Is this part of the free will kick, or does Jacob just prefer a light touch?

Anyway, Flocke is incensed. If he ran things, he'd be open about how things work. Flocke could be lying, of course, but I'm guessing he's mostly telling the truth. On the other hand, he's trying to talk people into joining him, so, considering he's willing to kill people who get in his way, you think he'd be willing to mislead them.

Flocke promises to tell Richard everything. He also threatens him--people don't usually get a second chance. Richard says no way and Flocke is distracted by an apparition of a young child which only he can see. He moves on and Richard is worried but, I'm guessing relieved. This is obviously not over.

At the statue, Ilana is crying over her dead comrades. Ben comes in and explains what happened--leaving out the minor fact that he, not Flocke, killed Jacob. It's interesting that Ilana seems to know more about Jacob and The Rules than anyone else, but she's not aware that Smokey can't kill Jacob. She collects Jacob's ashes. Considering how important ashes are in general, Jacob must make extra-super ashes. (Are all those ashes we see dead people?) Ilana does at least know where Flocke has gone:"recruiting."

Cut to Flocke at Dharmaville marching toward Sawyer's place. He's listening to the Stooges "Search And Destroy." Nice music, even if it didn't fit the theme. Sawyer's on a bender. He was always a dark guy, but now the small hope he used to have has been removed.

He takes Locke's appearance pretty well, because he's past caring. He's been told Locke is dead. Flocke agrees. You have to remember three years ago, Locke saved Sawyer, Juliet and the rest, and Sawyer insisted they stick around until Locke came back. Well, he finally has. Sawyer poors him a drink and continues drinking himself.

Sawyer, with a con man's eye, knows this character isn't John Locke. Flocke, a sort of con man himself, has a come-on--he's the guy who can tell Sawyer why he's on the island. It wasn't a mistake, it was destiny. Sawyer doesn't believe it, but Flocke says he can prove it. Sawyer says he better put some pants on--last time he followed Locke on his own (and ended up killing Locke's father) he forgot to bring shoes. Since Juliet died, Sawyer's been moping around, so this is a good development. He's got a project to keep him busy.

Over at the box factory, Locke is parked in. Of course, if he just parked in the handicap space, he's have plenty of room. We see Locke still has anger problems. The guy who parked him in shows up--Hurley, who owns the company. We've closed the loop they kept open the first season. This is a new Hurley--Huge Reyes, successful businessman and the luckiest guy in the world. Locke mentions Randy, who used to be Hugo's boss at Mr. Cluck's. Locke doesn't want his job back, so Hugo sets him up for another job at his temp agency.

We cut from the nicest guy on the show to the other nicest guy on the show, Lapidus, looking at corpse-Locke, outside the Statue. Jin is there and they're joined by Ben and Ilana. All the Others have scurried off to the Temple, after having seen directly what they're running from. The Temple is the only safe place on the island--sounds sort of like Passover. Ilana wants to go to the Temple, but Sun is looking for Jin. Ilana says he'll be at the Temple. Well, he was there, but last we saw, he was saved by Claire, so who knows? The show has been stringing this reunion along for a couple seasons now.

Flocke leads Sawyer through the jungle and discovers everyone else is at the Temple. Valuable information (if not necessarily correct). Flocke sees the kid again, as does Sawyer--can "candidates" see him? Flocke gives chase. The kid spookily tells him "You know the rules...you can't kill him." Flocke replies "Don't tell me what I can't do!" Fascinating.

I assume this means he can't kill Sawyer. Or presumably any Candidate. (Though would Flocke forget? He knew he couldn't kill Jacob--he worked pretty hard but never forgot that rule.) Meanwhile, the response strongly suggests when he takes over a body, he has parts of the memory and personality. I might add Sawyer just told him he didn't have any fear, unlike the actual Locke. Really? Seemed pretty nervous to me.

The other question. Who is this kid? Some form of Jacob? (Makes sense, since he knows the rules and condescends to Flocke.) Aaron? Young Sawyer? Some child that Blackie had, or killed, back in the day?

While Flocke is gone, scaredy-cat Richard comes out of the forest and warns Sawyer. We need to go to the Temple. (With Jacob gone, will all the Others live in the Temple for the rest of their lives?) He thinks Flocke wants to kill Sawyer--guess he didn't hear the kid. Sawyer knows better, since he'd be dead already if that were true. Richard says don't believe anything he says, he'll kill everyone you care about. We've certainly seen Flocke do damage, and this presages a lot more. Richard leaves just as Flocke returns. Sawyer pretends there's no Richard and Locke pretends there's no kid--they both know better, but they have bigger fish to fry.

AltaLocke is at the job interview. He's getting nowhere in the interview and demands to meet the supervisor. It's Rose! Locke is running into everyone. (Locke sat a few seats directly behind Rose on the flight, but they don't remember each other.) Locke still has impossible dreams, and doesn't want to be told what he can't do. Rose is sensible (as always) and explains to him he's got to be reasonable. They have words and she explains she's got terminal cancer. (Not everyone does better in the alt-timeline.) That shocks some sense into him.

Back on the trail, Sawyer, the reader, brings up Steinbeck, who's too modern for Flocke. Sawyer obviously loves Of Mice And Men, since he also brought it up to Ben back on Hyrda island. Ben knew it too--better than Sawyer. (Sawyer is sort of a mix of Lenny and George.) Now Sawyer pulls a gun on Flocke. Flocke isn't scared, nor are we. You almost wish Sawyer would shoot so we can see the bullet bounce off him.

Then Flocke reveals something pretty significant. Earlier Ben asked "what are you" and Flocke replied "I'm a who, not a what." When James asks the same question, Flocke gets more specific. He used to be a regular man, a long, long time ago. He's trapped now. This episode is like all the Jacob reveal episodes--we're pulling the curtain back a bit, but there's still so much we don't know.

Flocke almost sounds sympathetic. Is he trying to fool Sawyer? I'd guess he's telling the truth, but what sort of deal is this? Were both he and Jacob regular guys who were recruited to whatever it is they are on this island? Or did this just happen to Smokey? Does he not want to be Smokey? How is he trapped? Can he help judging people? What will he do when he's not trapped? Did the island make them the way they are, or were they this way already? Is the island magic, or are they magic? Are there even bigger figures behind Jacob and Smokey who made them this way?

Back at the beach, Ilana and the group are carrying Locke to his burial. Ilana explains Smokey is stuck in Locke. Okay, she oughta know, but why? I mean Smokey did materialize as Alex in-between his apperances as Locke, so isn't this a new rule? Once he takes on a body for a while is he then stuck (until the body dies)? Once he's confronted with the actual corpse? If Jacob is killed he's stuck? I can see why the writers have the rule--otherwise we'd just wonder why he wouldn't take over other bodies to get what he wants (and Terry O'Quinn would have a lot less work). Still the rules seem very odd.

The group comes to the original Lostaways' cemetery. I hope it's on the way to the Temple, since, based on "The Incident," this is a bit of a hike. None of them will give a eulogy (which makes sense) until Ben, who's actually closer to Locke than anyone, speaks up. Last time he left him, he apologized for making Locke's life so misrable. Now he admits Locke was a better man than he, and he's sorry he murdered him. I guess he figures he'll never go back to the mainland, since he'd be up on charges.

Speaking of the mainland, Locke wakes up and prepares for the day. He looks in the mirror. Just like alt-Jack and alt-Kate did in their episodes. Is this a theme? The alt-world is a mirror to the Island world, (though these aren't flashbacks--both worlds are equally real as far as we know). He considers calling Jack but doesn't. He keeps meeting everyone else from his Island life, but won't meet the main guy who offered a free consult.

His lost bags with his boar-hunting knives show up and he explains everything to Helen. He was fired. He tried, but failed, to go on a walkabout (so he lied to Boone about this). His description of how they refused him sounds just like the one in "Walkabout." Except in this timeline he realizes he's been foolish--in fact, they can tell him what to do. Time to cast aside dreams, even if Helen still believes in them. He'll never walk. But Helen knows they still found each other, which is the true miracle.

Now that we've seen the Temple, you may have figured we've gotten the full tour, but there are still some out-of-the-way spots that only the locals know about. Flocke leads Sawyer to the cliffs. There's a hole in the side, not easily accessible. They gotta climb down some ladders. Hmm, two parallel ladders, where you switch from one to the other--sorta like two alternate timelines. (Jacob's Ladder?)

After some action, they make it. We see a white and black rock on a scale. An "inside joke," Flocke notes.

They go deeper in and written on the walls and ceilings are names, most crossed off. This is "why you're all here."

Back in the other timeline, Locke is helping out with girls' gym class. Next he's teaching a class in the human reproductive system. Teenage Locke refused to go to a science camp (backed by the Others) and wanted to be a sports star. Where, he's getting both now. So this is his new temp job as a substitute.

In the teachers' lounge, who should we see but a whiny Ben Linus! He teaches European history. Is this the same Ben Linus who learned Egyptian history on the island? Seems to be a new Linus completely. Either way, who cares--the Odd Couple are back together. (And did I see Harper in the lounge too? Have all the Others relocated here?)

Back at the cliffs, Sawyer looks at all the names. I didn't stop to read them, but I have no doubt there are already numerous websites that list every one. Flocke explains Jacob wrote the names. (As each name is mentioned we get unnecessary--for fans--flashbacks of Jacob meeting them.) The names not crossed out have particular numbers attached. Not just any numbers, THE NUMBERS. These names are Shephard, Reyes, Jarrah, Kwon (could be Sun, Jin, or maybe both--he touched them at the same time), Locke and, of course, Ford. Flocke crosses off Locke.

This is it, the ultimate Jacob's list. Flocke assures Sawyer this means Jacob met him. According to Flocke, Jacob manipulates you and forces you into choices you think are your own. We know Jacob believes in free will, but Blackie's pretty accurate in seeing how all these people on Jacob's list end up at the island. Pretty big coincidence if it's all free will. (Speaking of manipulation, did Jacob work it so that Hugo would pick the numbers and win the lotter, which set many things in motion?)

But this is a general argument about free will. How much manipulation can there be before it's not free will any more. And, couldn't someone who's subtle enough know what we'd do every step of the way, and also know that the slightest touch in one direction would set us off on a path that we think we determined, but didn't?

These names we've gotten to know so well (it was interesting at first how the Others used last names we weren't used to--they also had impressive dossiers--at first I thought it might be for all the survivors, but now I bet not) are "candidates." I'm guessing all the crossed out names were candidates, too. They've all been nominated to take over as protector of the island. Since Jacob was there until recently, I assume no one ever got to replace him. And I assume Blackie was the one who stopped them, even though he wasn't allowed to kill them directly. (The whole names-on-the-wall thing could also be a fancy con by Blackie, but somehow I doubt it.) Jacob said things keep on going, but there's progress, and an end does come.

Flocke says Sawyer has three choices--so he believes in free will too, I guess. Up to a point. First, he can do nothing. Eventually I guess he'll die (be killed?) and be crossed out. Second, he can become the new Jacob and protect the island. From what? Nothing, according to Flocke. Flocke, channeling the old Jack Shephard, says it's just a damn island, no big deal, let it alone and forget about it. I'd have serious doubts (as should Sawyer) even if I hadn't seen all the miraculous things the island, or those on it, can do. Third choice--let's leave. Together. While I think Sawyer might just about be able to get off the island this time without anyone stopping him, I think we see that Flocke needs help. How much help?

Flocke has recruited well. He's picked the guy who's the most cynical, who's got nothing to lose, and who's always been the least interested in island mythology. "Hell, yes."

LOST.

The episode was so riveting you don't realize until after how much they didn't have. No Jack, Sayid, Miles, Claire, Jin, Kate, Dogen, Lennon. Nothing at the Temple. We'll just have to let the infected and uninfected stew in their juices one more week.

The list leaves a lot of questions. Is this the only list Jacob ever truly made, and everything after that is a subset? Does he add on to the list regularly, or did he create it a long time ago? Does this list include all the Others, some of the Others, or none of the Others? Is everyone on the list a potential candidate? Can you be crossed off the list but still be alive? Did only Jacob and Blackie know about the list? Seems doubtful with those ladders. Who, aside from Jacob and Blackie, was able to refer to the list?

Do the numbers of the Lostaways have any special significance, or did Jacob just have a thing about numbers, and so used them once these specific candidates got to the island. What does it mean to be a candidate anyway? Does this means you're off limits to Others, as well as Blackie? Does anyone ever "break the rules" and kill a candidate? Who (or what) enforces the rules?

Are the people on the list, or even just the ones not crossed off, anything special? In other words, does Jacob sense anything about them, or does he pick people and touch them and then they become special?

Is this just the same thing over and over, with many drawn to the island, and all end up being crossed off? Or is there something special about the Losties, and the Incident? (There is something special we know of--thanks to them, Jacob is dead. It doesn't seem to have happened before, though we can't be sure.)

And then, of course, why is Kate not on the list? (Was this mentioned in an earlier episode?) Did we just not see her name? I mean, Jacob went to the trouble of meeting her years ago, and touching her. Did he realize something was wrong with her? Did he visit her knowing she wasn't list material? (She might have gone wrong personally, but half the people on that list have killed or seriously injured others.)

If she's not on the list, it means she's in trouble. She left the Temple, but she better get back soon. The Monster is free to kill her, and he likes killing. He's left her alone so far, but now he may have a good reason to threaten her--just as Ben manipulated the Losties with Kate, so can Smokey.

The other big question, nowhere near answered yet, is how the two timelines affect each other, and how might they merge. So far they seem to be on two separate tracks, but that's the way it looked last season before everyone got together.

So, in other words, just another Lost. A few answer, a hundred new questions. Sooner or later, that ratio has to change.

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