Friday, September 30, 2011

Under the Radar

Not so much anymore, I'd say.

The Second Time Around

Apparently some pundits are claiming Obama may not run for President in 2012.  I'm no insider, but I don't find this scenario plausible.  Okay, anything is possible in politics, but why wouldn't Obama run this time around, even if he's young enough to try later?

He's still got a good chance of winning.  Even if the election were held today he starts with a guarantee of over 2/3's of the Electoral College majority he needs, plus a bunch of swing states that could easily go his way.  Even if things looked worse it'd be ridiculously early to write him off--no one knows what 2012 will look like, and a lot of President who made it were polling poorly with a year to go.  Certainly if the economy improves he'll be in excellent shape, but other things can happen as well.  And no one yet knows who the Republicans will pick, but all the potential candidate have serious weaknesses that can be exploited.

Anyway, even if he thought he was doomed, it's pretty rare for a President not to run.  What else is he supposed to do?  The nomination is Obama's for the asking--I don't see a big name challenging him (unlike LBJ's situation, which was also different because conventions and party leaders had more say then), and even if one did, Obama has such a lead in organization and money it would be pointless.  On the other hand, if he drops out hoping to run four years from now, that's trading a bird in the hand for a pig in a poke.  If he quits now, he'd probably look like a loser down the road.  Newer, shinier candidates would appear, and I doubt the Democrats (much less the public at large) would want another ride on a train that doesn't offer regular service.

The only reason I can imagine he wouldn't run in 2012 is if he's just sick of being President and doesn't want to do it any more.  But my guess is anyone who's crazy enough to go through what it takes to become President doesn't want to lose the spot once they're there.

Cheesed Off

I wish the following story were rare, but such occurrences are all too common on today's campus, where freedom of speech regularly gives way if the wrong people are offended.

At the University of Wisconsin-Stout--a public school where the First Amendment applies--theatre professor James Miller put a poster on his office door of Captain Malcolm Reynolds from the sci-fi series Firefly.  It included this quote:  "You don't know me, son, so let me explain this to you once: if I ever kill you, you'll be awake. You'll be facing me. And you'll be armed."

Sort of amusing, though probably better if you're familiar with the character.  In any case, no reasonable person could take it seriously as a personal threat.  (In fact, it's a promise that the guy's a straight shooter.) It's certainly a lot less threatening than quite a few explicitly political posters I've seen on professors' doors.

Nevertheless, a couple weeks ago, University Police Chief Lisa A. Walter removed it from Miller's door and sent him an email saying the poster was "unacceptable." He wrote back "Unacceptable to whom?" and demanded she respect his rights.  She wrote back saying it could be seen as a threat, then threatened him with disorderly conduct if he put it--or anything similar--back up.  He wrote back telling her to stop this nonsense, and noted he was a pacifist while she was the one carrying a gun.

They should have settled this right there with her returning the poster and apologizing.  But since you need special permission to express yourself freely on campus these day, the fight escalated.

The professor put up a new poster that said "Warning: Fascism" with the figure a cop beating someone.  Missing the irony, or just not used to being mocked, Police Chief Walter removed that from the door as well.  Her email noted the campus "threat assessment team" conferred with the University Counsel and this brain trust determined an anti-fascist piece of satire created "a reasonable expectation that it will cause a material and/or substantial disruption of school activities and/or be constituted as a threat."

So by this time the higher-ups had taken notice.  What they should have done is officially rebuked the Police Chief and told the Professor he can put what he wants on his door.  But no, the Dean was concerned the Prof had twice put up unacceptable posters, so Miller needed to have a sit-down with the Dean and the Chief.

At this point Miller called in FIRE, a foundation that fights for free speech on campus. He might have given the university one more chance--go to the meeting and calmly say "if my posters will be returned with an official apology, and I promise the college will not be sued and Chief Walter will not be brought up on charges." Maybe he figured it wasn't worth it at this point.

The case became publicized and Wisconsin became the target of much derision.  Even Nathan Fillion who played Captain Reynold tweeted in with some ridicule. FIRE wrote the Chancellor who, yet again, missed the chance for a Wisconsin official to apologize and get this behind him.  Instead, the Chancellor, Provost and Vice Chancellor responded that they were standing by the removal of the posters.  In the Orwellian language that college leaders now use casually, they noted:

This was not an act of censorship. This was an act of sensitivity to and care for our shared community, and was intended to maintain a campus climate in which everyone can feel welcome, safe and secure.

If the school is sued, which now seems inevitable, they will lose.  The only question is how should the leaders of UW be dealt with. Will the court's response be enough, or do people like this need to be fired?

Beautiful Marilyn

Happy birthday, Marilyn McCoo. She had a solo career, but is best known for the lovely singing, and presence, she lent to the 5th Dimension.  (She's the tall one.)

The group had a bunch of top ten hits in the late 60s/early 70s, including a couple of #1's--"Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In," "Wedding Bell Blues"--and others just as good, such as "Up, Up And Away," "Stoned Soul Picnic" and "(Last Night) I Didn't Get To Sleep At All."

PS Some comments from YouTube

this brings back memories for my dad...........he was working in the psych ward while getting his degree in psychology. he had a patient who would sing ["Up, Up And Away"] nonstop.

What an African American woman actually singing and not have to whore herself out on sex appeal like Nicki Minaj, Lil Kim, etc. !! It only happened in the sixties I guess..

I have to glue my feet to the floor when I hear marilyn Macoo sing, I break out in Motown. ..the greatest music ever !!!

(The song may bring back memories, but I think most people know The 5th Dimension were not a Motown act during their glory years.)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What Does Tums Spell Backwards?

Have you checked out the latest Tums commercial? It may be the most disgusting thing I've ever seen.

The Killer

Happy birthday, Jerry Lee.  It's not a national holiday...yet.

Songs were short back then, as they should be. If you like it, you can always play it again.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rising Moon

The original Valley Girl, Moon Zappa, turns 44 today.  Happy birthday, Moon Unit.

The Little Girl With The Deep Voice

Helen Shapiro turns 65 today.  She never made it in America, but hit it big in Britain in the early 60s.  Just 14 years old, she topped the charts with "You Don't Know" and "Walkin' Back To Happiness." She also starred in Richard Lester's bizarre but entertaining It's Trad, Dad! (known in America as Ring-A-Ding Rhythm), an exploitation film whose title refers to the old-style jazz revival sweeping British youth at the time.

Hearing Shapiro's hits, you can see why The Beatles became so big with their new sound.  Speaking of which, on their first national tour, they were her supporting act.  But she was on the way down and they were on the way up. By the time they captured Britain, her top ten days were over.

He she is trying (but failing) to have a new hit, helped out by her old tourmates.

She (or actually, her people) turned down a Lennon-McCartney tune written for her, "Misery." She also recorded "It's My Party" but her label sat on it and Lesley Gore had the hit.  Maybe if she'd been handled better, she wouldn't have been a has-been at 18.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Handy Randy

Happy birthday Randy Bachman.  He started two fine bands.  First, the Guess Who.

When that was over, time for Bachman-Turner Overdrive:

New World, Tired Show

Terra Nova arrived last night with the most hoopla of any new fictional show this season.  The pilot cost as much as $20 million and has a lot of big names behind it, including Steven Spielberg.  The premise is simple: in a dystopian future, certain pilgrims escape through time travel to a community set 85 million years in the past.  So we get the best of both worlds--futuristic technology in a world of dinosaurs.  There are plenty of problems to deal with, of course, including a splinter group that opposes the main settlement.

I would like nothing more than a new Lost--a big sci-fi/adventure series with a wide canvas and an intriguing storyline.  Unfortunately, all we get are cardboard characters, cliched dialogue and dull action.  Worst of all may be the boring central family, the Shannons (cop dad, surgeon mom and three kids).  I liked the family on Lost In Space better.

Since Lost debuted in 2004, there have been numerous wannabes--they number in the double figures*--and Terra Nova, for all its money, may be the least interesting.  There are plenty of directions the show can go from here, but I'm not sure if I'm ready to take the trip.

*Heroes, FlashForward, V, The Nine, Jericho, Invasion, Battlestar Galactica, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Fringe, The Event--that's just off the top of my head.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Random Thoughts

Have just been reading (actually listening to) Leonard Mlodinow's book on randomness, The Drunkard's Walk. A highly enjoyable "everything you think you know is wrong" book which I heartily recommend. As is often the case, related things (randomly?) seem to happen- just as I was finishing the book, I noted a BBC article today about one the great "randomness" puzzles.

You can't beat a good monkey story. For those who don't click this BBC story involves the old saying that given an infinite number of monkeys and an infinite number of typewriters, the works of Shakespeare would be reproduced and some computer geek with a lot of time on his hands and the ability to spend $19 a day on computing time has set out to prove this (he has apparently set some protocols to make this project a little less infinite- the article explains an earlier 2003 effort where a simulation of billions of monkey years resulted in only half a line from Henry IV, Part II)

Some other key findings from the article:
  • Practical experiments show monkeys have poor keyboard skills
"... in 2003, Paignton Zoo carried out a practical test by putting a keyboard connected to a PC into the cage of six crested macaques. After a month the monkeys had produced five pages of the letter "S" and had broken the keyboard."
  • Monkeys are more interested in throwing faeces than writing sonnets.

I think getting to write articles like this makes life worth living for BBC writers.

Let George Do It

Happy birthday, George Gershwin.

He died at 38, but got a career and a half into his short life.  One of the most sophisticated of pop song composers, he wrote dozens of hits in the 20s and 30s, but also created longer works, some of which have entered the classical repertory.

And he's fun to dance to.

Message From London

I recently noted that Bacharach and David's "Wishin' And Hopin'" and "Wives And Lovers" show where sexual politics were in the 60s.  Well, it's Julie London's birthday today, and she has a decent version of the latter (though it's usually sung by a man) so let's hear it:

Death And Taxes

A lot of people got hurt in "Crawl Space," the eleventh episode of this season's Breaking Bad, but no one (major) got killed.  Not yet, anyway.

We start where we left off, with injuries still waiting to be dealt with.  Jesse is driving the poisoned Gus and the wounded Mike through Mexico. Mike must be conscious enough to tell him where to go, because he heads to a makeshift medical tent in a nearby warehouse where a team successfully revives Gus.  Only after that do they deal with Mike.

Meanwhile, Walt, under the watchful eye of Tyrus, cooks another batch.  He knows Jesse went down to Mexico and wants to know what happened.  He seems to still support Jesse, at least a little.  (Learned a lot last week from his tearful confession.) He also can't keep stalling Hank, who wants a look at the compound.

Sure enough, they go on a stakeout.  Nothing to see, of course.  Hank wants to know about Walt's fight, but Walt won't talk.  He's done explaining himself, he says.  What he'd like to do is talk Hank out of all this surveillance.

Jesse sees Gus has planned for everything. Even got the right blood type for Jesse if needed. Now that's a boss.  I think Mike is stable, not critical, but he can't be moved for another week.

So Jesse and Gus hoof it to the rendezvous point. This time no plane. It's a lot easier to get into Mexico than the U.S.  Gus notes Jesse has proved he can cook alone. This means no need for Walt.  Jesse asks Gus to fire Mr. White, not kill him.  Gus doesn't think that's possible, and Jesse notes then he's got a problem.

At the White residence Skyler gets a message from Ted.  He just can't pay the IRS, though he's willing to talk about it.  She goes right over and tries to lay down the law.  He explains it doesn't feel right to use her illicit gambling money (so that's her story and she's sticking to it) and also, even if he pays his IRS, he'll still go bankrupt and lose everything, so what's the point.  She thinks (and I agree, though it wasn't 100% clear) that he's blackmailing her for more.  As soon as she gets out of there, Better Call Saul. Nice cut from that to a TV with Alec Guinness in River Kwai wondering what has he done?  (And is Skyler losing weight a bit?  Or am I just getting used to her new look?)

We're in Tio Hector's home and sure enough, as many guessed, Gus took those neck chains to show to him.  Everyone Hector knows is dead.  And guess what, here's Jesse, the guy you could have put away, who killed your last relative, Joaquin.  (Not that Tio would ever have talked--there's still nothing worse than a stool pigeon.) Gus wants Hector to look at him.  What is this, Get Shorty?

Walt goes to Gus's place for more Hardy Boys action.  But instead of HQ, Hank wants to go to the laundry.  Walt ries to talk him out of it--now he wishes they were going to the compound--but Hank is a man possessed.  As I saw coming, Walt gets into an accident rather than go to the laundry.

So more injuries.  Gus needs a neck brace and Walt is hurt as well.  Marie makes him promise to stop going on these adventures.  Certainly he's going to stop using others--he's ordering a gimp-mobile so he can get around himself.  Be there in about a week.  Walt's bought some time, but this isn't good for anyone.

Meanwhile, Skyler gets a call from Saul.  She wants Ted taken care of, but, as always, doesn't want anyone hurt.  So two thugs show up at Beneke's place and, to Ted's surprise, demand he pay the IRS.  They're going to send off the check and then hang out with him a few days while the check clears.  After writing the check Ted tries for a quick getaway, trips on his carpet and knocks himself out. He's dead.  Poor, deluded Ted--we never really got to know you.  Nothing to do but UPS the check and go tell Saul the bad news.

Walt has to be sneaked into the laundry now, which Tyrus seems to find amusing.  Before he cooks he realizes someone's been cooking already while he was out with injuries.  Must be Jesse.  Walt can't let that one alone.

At Andrea's place, Jesse is playing video with Brock.  They seem to be a happy three--who wouldn't with all that money (and they've kicked meth)?  A knock on the door.  It's Walt, who's sorry, but Jesse just wants to hit him.  Walt knows Jesse cooked.  That means Gus can now kill him.  It's funny--Walt started this season puffed up in full Heisenberg mode, ready to take on Gus, whereas now he's pathetic, not needed, begging Jesse for help.  Jesse isn't moved.  How could Walt bring Hank to the lab, and he hasn't forgotten in their last meeting Walt wished Jesse would die in the Mexican desert.  Jesse marches back in and who should show up but Tyrus and another goon.  He has an electric prod and knocks out Walt. Pain upon pain this episode.

We're in the desert. Not Mexico, but New Mexico.  A good place to die? (Wouldn't that be something to kill the lead in the fourth season?) Walt is hooded and manacled.  Gus drives in and tells him he's fired, now leave Pinkman alone.  Walt is still pretty smart, just like he was at the end of last season (Pinkman's been getting smart lately, too) and says or else what?  If you could kill me, I'd be dead now.  That means Jesse is keeping him alive.  Gus is unhappy, but makes a few things clear.  Eventually Jesse will come around.  Meanwhile, Walt failed to hold back Hank (I think Walt's done the best anyone could be expected to do in the situation--he's even taken one for the team in the car crash--so I'm surprised how pissed Jesse and Gus are about this.) So, Gus will take over with Hank now.  And if Walt interferes, he'll kill his family.  And we know this is Gus's specialty.

This is the man Walt felt he could stand up to.  Now he just wants to get away.

At Saul's office, everyone favorite attorney is pissed about his "A-team" ending up with a dead Ted.  Client Skyler won't like that.  Then Walt rushes in.  On another matter--the unfired gun from earlier this season--the guy who can do witness relocation privately.  It'll cost 125 G's per family member.  Walt figures he's got that, but little does he know.  Before he rushes out, he tells Saul to give him a little lead time then anonymously inform the DEA that there's a hit out on Gus. (I might add that Walt, as he gets more pathetic, also is getting more sympathetic.)

He goes home, makes the call, and looks for the cash in the crawl space (hence the most obvious reference to the title).  Guess what, Walt?  Most of the money is gone.  Sure, some stacks here and there, but your family can't make that quick getaway (which would be no fun for us anyway).  Skyler, very apologetically, tells Walt he gave it to Ted. (This is even worse than the last line of "IFT").  Walt screams, then laughs hysterically.  I guess the situation is like some absurd Henny Youngman joke.  Anyway, the moves have been made, but he's still stuck on the board, vulnerable.

While he's laughing, Skyler gets the call from Marie.  The DEA has heard the Cartel wants to kill Hank. Agents are coming over.

So where are we?  Ted is dead.  Mike is out of commission, though probably not on the critical list.  Hank is on Gus's critical list.  It looks like Walt interfered so his whole family is on the hit list.  Saul isn't thrilled with his big money client.  Gus is triumphant, but he's still got a lot of work to do.  The wild card seems to be Jesse.  He's turning, ready to run the lab and be Gus's right-hand man, but still has some residual feeling for Mr. White.  Besides, it wasn't that long ago that Walter saved him, and Mike and Gus tried to kill him.

Only two episodes left to go, and I have no idea where things are heading.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bach Break

It's Glenn Gould's birthday.  A piano prodigy best known for his Bach, he gave up live performance in his early 30s. (His last show was in a theatre a couple miles from where I live.) He was involved in other projects, such as radio shows, and essays on various subjects (he liked Tony Hatch's tunes better than Lennon and McCartney's), but if it weren't for the keyboards, no one would care.

He was known for certain eccentricities.  He'd lean in close to the keys and sometimes hum along.  He ate scrambled eggs every day.  A bit of a hypochondriac, he regularly monitored his vital signs and took many pills.  Maybe he had good reason--after his 50th birthday, he had a stroke and died soon after.

The Return

NBC's Thursday night comedy schedule is back, and I'm still watching.  There's been plenty of competition lately--in fact, last Thursday CBS, ABC and Fox all had more viewers--but I've remained faithful. (I'm still unhappy that CBS schedules The Big Bang Theory on Thursday, not to mention Ben Linus Meets Jesus--excuse me, Person Of Interest.  On the other hand, I can miss The X-Factor and Charlie's Angels with equanimity.)

So we start with Community.  I admire the clever writing of Modern Family, and can understand why it won another Emmy for best comedy, but I prefer Community, which gets low ratings and almost no recognition.  The season premiere was no classic, but it sure had a lot going on.  Last season, in a cliffhanger that meant nothing, Pierce walked out on the group.  Solving that problem, he was ready to return right away.  But he wasn't in the biology class with the rest of the study group.  Jeff noted, questioning the shaky premise of the show, that they were friends and didn't need a study group, they could see each other whenever they wanted.  But then Jeff was kicked out of Biology 101 (by the new, ex-con teacher played by Michael Kenneth "Omar" Williams) and suddenly realized how cold the world could be when he wasn't part of the Table.

Meanwhile, Senor Chang was living in the vents, Abed was jonesing for the lack of new Cougar Town and Dean Pelton (now a regular) swore he'd be tougher this year, growing a goatee and taking action against the alleged monkey in the vents.  Chang was discovered and became a security guard working for free (because Pelton couldn't pay him), Abed discovered a new show to love and Pelton ran into the vice dean of the Greendale Annex, in charge of air conditioner repair, played by John Goodman.  Pelton tried to lean on him for some expenses, but it turns out air conditioner repair is more powerful than the entire regular Greendale schedule.  In addition to all this, the show had time to include a musical number, a parody of Dr. Who, a generic Britcom, and 2001.

Anyway, it was nice to see the gang back, even if the premise is growing thinner each year.  Still, the show is only in its third season, so there's plenty left to explore.

Next comes Parks And Recreation.  Looks like Leslie will run for office, which is a different milieu for the show, but not necessarily a promising one. At least it means she has to leave her chemistry-free relationship with Adam Scott.  Meanwhile, some of the other characters were shuffled around a bit, and Ron Swanson has to deal with his first wife as well as an IRS audit.  It's a decent show with some life left in it, but I've never really loved it.

Then there's The Office, which has gone through a major change, losing lead Steve Carrell.  The big cliffhanger, which interested me very little, was who would be his replacement.  As many suspected, they've hired from within, and Ed Helms is the new guy--his Andy is just as clueless as Michael, though a bit nicer.  And Ed Helms through The Hangover movies has become the biggest star on the show, I suppose, so in some ways it makes sense he's the lead (or at least replacing the lead).

Meanwhile, in a more interesting and even bizarre development, James Spader is now CEO of the entire company. I think he's funny, and like him better than Kathy Bates as CEO, but is he really going to be operating inside the conference room?  It seeems like too much direct control.  It certainly changes the Michael-centric dynamic the show had for years.

This episode had a list that Spader's Robert California made of winners and losers.  This split the office family, but Andy made a stirring defense for his people. I like that the Robert's list wasn't just some case of a misunderstanding, but actually meant something--I'm tired of the sitcom trope where someone has deep suspicions only to learn nothing was happening in the first place.

By the way, has any sitcom ever had so many regulars?  In addition to Andy and Robert,  there's Dwight, Jim, Pam, Ryan, Stanley, Kevin, Meredith, Angela, Oscar, Phyllis, Kelly, Toby, Creed ("Old Man" on Robert's list), Darryl, Erin and Gabe.  (Yep, they kept Gabe.  I thought he was sent packing last year, and was glad of it.) Does anyone ever leave Scranton?

After The Office came Whitney. (30 Rock will return mid-season.)  It's one of two new sitcoms produced by Whitney Cummings.  How did this happen?  Wasn't one enough?

Anyway, the show is live (I think) and built around the charms of the title character, played, as you must have guessed, by Whitney Cummings, who also wrote the pilot.  She's been in a relationship with her boyfriend for three years and they're trying to figure out how to keep it fresh and alive.  Whitney also has a couple single female friends, and there's also some other men in there and her thrice-divorced mother, played by Jan Kaczmarek.

The jokes weren't that funny, the observations not that penetrating and the situation stale.  I think Whitney herself is cute but her personality is not enough to carry the show without better writing.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Turn That M Upside Down

Congratulations to the Wolverines for starting the season 4-0.  (Yes, I'm posting this before today's game is over.  Show me I'm wrong, San Diego State.)

Now they start playing Big Ten teams--including Nebraska--and the real test begins.  But let's enjoy the undefeated feeling while we can.

Now We're Cooking

Linda McCartney would have turned 70 today.  She's not especially known for her musical abilities, to say the least, but I, for one, have always enjoyed the following number:

Out Of Time

I seem to recall R.E.M. saying in their early days that they planned to break up at the millennium.  Might have been a good idea--few fans think their last decade was their best.  Actually, in 1997 drummer Bill Berry quit, and maybe that was the end of the band as we know it.

Regardless, the day of reckoning has come, and R.E.M., one of the top bands of our time, has called it quits.  They end not with a bang, but with a murmur.

They formed in 1980, and for the first ten or so year did it right, exactly the way an alternative band should.  They had their own sound, didn't compromise, became more and more popular, signed to a major label, and broke out with gigantic hits.  True, by the mid-90s it was all downhill, but it was fun most of the way.

Friday, September 23, 2011

2011 AD

It's Ani DiFranco's birthday.  She's been a fairly popular performer for over 20 years, spreading her feminist alternative folk rock music.  And she did it her way, starting her own record company.  Yet I think her best known song is a cover--her (I'm assuming) ironic reading of Bacharach and David's "Wishin' And Hopin'"  It got a lot of attention when it was placed at the beginning of Julia Robert's My Best Friend's Wedding.


Stop the presses--Thaddeus McCotter has dropped out of the presidential race.  He represents Livonia, the only perfectly-shaped township in Michigan.

Say what you want about him, he had the coolest name of any candidate.  It will be sorely missed.


John Coltrane died when he was only 40. He would have been 85 today.  In the time he had, he became one of the most important names in post-WWII jazz.

He was known for both his originals and his standards.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Funny And Zooey

I caught the debut of the Zooey Deschanel one-camera sitcom New Girl.  It follows Glee on Fox, a good slot for it.  (Turns out it did better than Glee.  While I like the occasional number on Glee I'm not sure if I can take the rest of the show.) Not unlike 2 Broke Girls, the inciting incident has Zooey's character Jess catch her boyfriend in flagrante delicto, but while on Girls he's kicked out, on Girl Jess is the one who has to leave.

She finds a new apartment on craigslist, and the twist it there are three guys living there. So the four will try to get used to each other while Jess tries to get over her breakup.  Much of the comedy is based on the knowing hipster style of the guys, and I find it tiresome.  In fact, I can't really say I laughed once during the entire show.  Unfortunately, New Girl is hardly the only show these days that replaces actual wit with ironic commentary on the action.

As for the plot, it couldn't have been more basic.  The guys take Jess out to a bar where, after some advice, she manages to get picked up.  (Would she really need advice?  Especially from these guys, who are losers, or pretty close?)  The guy turns out to be a jerk and her roommates leave a hip party to comfort her, showing that they're real friends.  I didn't mind a little earnestness in the characters, but I prefer good jokes.

So far, pretty much all New Girl has going for it is Deschanel herself, who admittedly is a very appealing.  I suppose I'll give it another chance, but the show can't rely alone on her being adorable--it needs to step it up.

Can't We All Just Get Along?

The New York Times headline for a profile of Richard Dawkins is "A Knack For Bashing Orthodoxy."  Really? Is that what he's known for?

He rose to prominence with his best-selling The Selfish Gene. As the Times puts it:

In his landmark 1976 book, “The Selfish Gene,” he looked at evolution through a novel lens: that of a gene. With this, he built on the work of fellow scientists and flipped the prevailing view of evolution and natural selection on its head.

I'm not sure how much it changed the prevailing view.  He emphasized the gene over the individual as the unit of selection, but as he noted in the book, it's another way of looking at the same thing--genes create the inviduals who then carry and pass on the genes.  The Times explains further:

At the time, the predominant popular view of evolution was that animals and insects worked together, albeit unconsciously, and that natural selection acted on individuals to do what was good for their species. Cooperation, again unconscious, seemed woven into nature.

Professor Dawkins’s voice slides playfully into High David Attenborough style as he mimics the mellifluous tone of BBC documentaries of the time: “The dung beetle is the refuse collector of the natural system, and where would we be without them? And male deer fight but take care not to kill each other.”

He stops. “That sort of thinking was pretty dominant in the culture.” Artful pause. “And it’s plain wrong. I wanted to correct that ubiquitous misunderstanding.”

I read The Selfish Gene more than a decade after it was published.  It seemed to me an elegant and arftul book, just not controversial.  Perhaps the landscape had been so changed by the book that by the time I read it its ideas were widely accepted.  But I have to wonder how widespread the idea that animals worked for the good of the species was back then among biologists.

Oh, I know it was popular among lay people, but did experts think this way? We know that cooperation can develop because it can benefit both parties (or, as Dawkins notes, the genes of both parties), but just how popular in the classroom back then was the idea that living things made sacrifices for the good of the species? You don't need a lot of math to figure out that, generally speaking, genes that make an individual sacrifice itself for non-kin is not the kind the kind of gene that does well.  Other more "selfish" individuals will simply say "thanks for your sacrifice" and then pass their own genes along to future generations.

So Dawkins may seem scientifically controversial to some, but I wouldn't be surprised to discover, even from the start, he was considered mainstream.  I met him years ago.  If I ever meet him again, I'll have to ask him about this.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bring Me A Dream

Happy birthday, Janet Ertel. She was one of the Chordettes, a vocal group that hit it big in the 50s.  Of all the close harmony groups from the Andrews Sisters' era, they adapted to rock and roll the best, with a series of hits, starting with their #1 (for seven weeks) in 1954, "Mr. Sandman."

Their second-biggest hit came in 1958, "Lollipop." By this point Janet was no longer touring with the group, but she still recorded.

(Not sure what Andy Williams is doing here.)

Two Weak Sitcoms

I'd never really watched Two and a Half Men, but like millions of others, checked out the season premiere to see how they dealt with Charlie Sheen's sudden departure.  The show started with a funeral where his character was killed off, and not long after they introduced Aston Kutcher to replace him.  During all this, we get fart jokes, dick jokes, testicle jokes, masturbartion jokes and the like, delivered with the rat-a-tat professionalism we expect on prime time TV.

For the past several years this has been the biggest sitcom on TV.  I'm guessing they may have replaced a character, but they haven't changed the formula.

I stuck around to watch the debut of (the vaguely similarly titled) 2 Broke Girls, featuring Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs in the title roles. Dennings plays a rough, working-class girl who works in a Brooklyn diner.  Behrs comes from money but her Madoff-like dad has lost everything so she's reduced to waitressing.  She doesn't even have a place to live so she moves in with Dennings who has just kicked out her faithless boyfriend.

Like Men, the show is taped in front of an audience.  I'm not sure why one-camera shows have taken over sitcoms--it's not like the format is more popular with viewers.

I thought the women were charming but the jokes weren't quite there.  The show also features Garrett Morris.  I know it's been a long time since his years on SNL, but have people forgotten he should not be allowed to perform comedy live?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Messin' Around With Jim

John Lennon once said rock stars tend to die in plane crashes.  Jim Croce died 38 years ago, only 30 years old himself.  He had a fair amount of hits, but his album cuts are worth it, too.

His first #1 hit, "Bad Bad Leroy Brown" seemed like a reworking of his previous single, "You Don't Mess Around With Jim," but I like both songs.

(By the way, it's true, the south side of Chicago is the baddest part of town.)

Who Do You Trust?

Pretty exciting episode of Breaking Bad this week. "Salud" had three separate storylines, one low on action, one medium, and one big, all dealing with trust issues, and all interesting.

When we last left Gus, he was giving in to the Cartel.  Well, now he, Mike and Jesse await the small plane that'll fly them over the border.  Jesse gets in last, looking doubtful.  He may be on the outs with Mr. White, and thrown in his lot with Gus, but that still doesn't mean he's ready to handle what lies ahead.

At Walt's place, Skyler calls but no pick up.  Last we saw Walt he was beat up by Jesse (and beating up Jesse).  Who knows where he is now.  Skyler wants to talk to him because he's missing Junior's 16th birthday party.  She shows him the new, sensible car in the driveway.  If dad hasn't bought him a much cooler car then had it returned against his will a little while back, he'd probably be a lot more excited.  Right now he'd rather have pancakes.

Over at Saul's--and it's always great to see Saul--he awaits his next appointment, bemoaning some bad idea he's got to deal with.  We guess it's Walt, but no, it's Ted Beneke!  At the urging (and payment) of Skyler, he's pulling the old unknown relative with a ton of money that Walter rejected a long time ago when they started figuring out what to do with extra dough.  He's getting a bit over $621,000--just enough to pay off the IRS with a little extra so it's not suspicious.  But how can it not be?  Okay, he won't look a gift horse in the mouth, and the IRS won't ask where the money came from if he pays, but we don't need Saul to tell us this is a bad idea.  (Forget about that much less money for Skyler--I suppose she considers it the cost of doing business to keep the IRS off her trail.)

In Mexico the Cartel has Gus and the boys blindfolded as they drive them to their own lab.  It's big, and there are a lot of workers there--not a two-man operation.  The boys arrive and Gus wants to see Don Eladio, the Cartel chief he's got history with.  But not so fast--you don't just waltz in and talk to the head guy without you cook some of the blue stuff first.

The head chemist there is not impressed with this kid, Jesse.  Jesse's not sure what to do, especially since they don't have their own barrels of the acid he cooks with.  Jesse may be the second best meth cook in the world, but his knowledge is an inch deep, and the chemist knows it.  But Jesse, smartly (he learns fast) starts calling the lab guy names and insisting they do it his way.  He doesn't have Walt's chemical chops, but he understands there are other ways.  So go get some barrels of phenylacetic acid and while we're waiting, clean up this damn dirty lab!  Gus is proud.  He bet on the right guy.

Junior drives up to dad's place.  He rings and calls.  Dad is in bed, nursing his pain.  Which raises the question--who's minding the meth lab?  Finally he lets Junior in, and his kid looks at the damage.  Walt sinks lower than usual and lies to his kid.  He's kept stuff from his kid before, but that was to protect him.  Now he's lying to gain advantage (though perhaps some of what he says has some deeper truth underneath).  Walt says he got into a fight gambling, please don't tell mom.  Walt even cries.  He screwed up.  It's a lot to lay on your kid.  But who is Walt really apologizing too?  Is he actually reaching out to Jesse, who's no longer there?

His son puts him back to bed and decides to stick around.  Dad is pathetic, and presumably under the influence of painkillers.  He asks his son if he likes his car and Junior says yes.  Walt, drifting off, says "that's good, Jesse." We've seen this before.  Walt tends to blurt out incriminating things when he's high and falling asleep.  Will Junior figure unweave his lies like Skyler did?

At the Mex-Meth lab their first batch is ready.  If it's no good, that may be the end of this mission.  Like Andrei Rublev, they test it.  96%+ purity.  Gale good if not Walt good.  (And I bet it's better than anything Victor could do.)   A roaring success.  And there'll be many more, Jesse is assured, by I think the sniper who almost killed him last week.  What?  Yep, you're staying, you belong to the Cartel now. Gus's deal?  Tuco's revenge?

Saul pays a visit to the car wash, to the displeasure of Skyler, who'd rather not be seen with him.  He's disbursed the funds, and on one asked any questions, but he checked Beneke's accounts and noted the first thing he did after banking the cash, he leased a Mercedes.  We saw his crappy car last week, but shouldn't be first pay off that debt?

Walt wakes up.  He discovers his son is sleeping on his couch.  He told mom he was staying over his friend's house.  Walt has one of those monologues they do so well on this show.  He talks about how his dad died when he was young and he has a bad memory of seeing him in the hospital, ready to go.  Walt doesn't want his own son to remember him as he was the night before, weak and crying.  Junior has a telling response. It wouldn't be the worst way to remember him--at least he was honest (well, as far as Junior knows), not like the last year when everything has been different.  That's right, Walt, all your lies that you told yourself were to help your family aren't appreciated the same way simple honesty is.  Also an interesting scene in that we're not seeing so much Heisenberg here--we remember what Walt once was, even if he wants to be Heisenberg.

His son drives away in his new car and up pulls Tyrus.  "Somewhere you should be?"  Exactly.

We're at Beneke's old place of business.  He's starting the company again and Skyler just drops in.  He  talks about the good news, and he's spending money to start the business, get his contracts back, etc.  Had to get the Mercedes to look good to clients.  Skyler tries to explain to him he has to pay the IRS bill or he'll go to jail. He thinks he'll hire a lawyer to get a better deal.  There is no better deal.  He wants to know who Skyler (who left him) thinks she is? It's his money to do what he wants with, and there's the door.  She gets up to go and has to return.  To tell him off?  To try to explain it to him again?  To have sex and convince him that way?  Nope, she spills it.  (Walt was much better at keeping this secret.) She got the money to him, so spend it how I say.

This isn't good.  Now he's got some evidence on her, or at least a lot of questions.  Maybe the IRS would cut him a deal if he turns in a bigger crook?  Anyway, the cats out of the bag, though the bag isn't quite in the river yet.  I don't see this ending well. Will someone have to teach Ted a lesson?

Back to the main plot.  Gus stands in front of a pool.  The same pool where he saw his first chemist die so many years ago.  He eats some sort of mint--hmm--and waiting for Don Eladio to come back to the scene of the crime. Jesse and Mike are there, too, of course.  Jesse wants to know what's happening, and Mike tells him either we're all going home or none of us are.  Looks like the fatherly side has been transferred from Walt to Mike.

Don Eladio comes in with his capos and you know this won't be pretty.  At first, as always in these scenes, everyone happy.  The Don seems happy to see Gustavo, and why not?  He's given in, and taught his lab people how to cook the donuts.  Looks like they can do business, and Gus is once again in line.  Gus introduces to his latest cook.  The Don can tell he's not a chemist, but that's okay, he's a street cook, that's even better.

Gus has brought a gift, a very fancy drink.  The boss wants everyone to have a drink right away.  He and Gus will toast their new friendship (thus the title).  He offers a drink to Jesse, but Gus says he's an addict and must be sober to work.  Okay, I'll take the drink back.  But before they down it, The Don watches Gus to make sure he drinks first.

A bit later, the party is in full swing, and the girls are brought in.  Gus sits, a little tense.  The boss reminds Gus he forgot his place, but everything is okay now that he's knuckled under.  Gus excues himself to go to the bathroom.  Why, we wonder? To vomit, maybe, and rid himself of the poison he drank?

Yep.  While he's in the bano, he gently removes his coat and turns on the water to cover the sound of his retching. Back at the party, they're dropping like flies.  Gus returns and Mike is taking care of, once again, I think, the sniper (who I guess didn't get to drink--and now we know this poison acts a lot faster than ricin). Gus gets back long enough for the Don to see him.  Then he's in the pool, dead.  Jesse gets a gun, at Mike's behest (still doesn't think fast enough in these situations), while Gus shouts at the guards alive in the house that their boss and his captains are dead.  Nothing left to fight for.  Take whatever you can and leave.  Meanwhile, Gus is getting mighty ill.  Can't vomit out all that poison.  Jesse finds a car in the driveway with key while Mike puts his sick boss in the back seat.

Before Mike gets in the driver's seat, he's shot by some guy who didn't get the message.  Looks bad.  Is Mike wearing kevlar?  Anyway, Jesse shoots the guy--not his first kill, as we know--and drives them away.

So that's where we leave them,still in Mexico. Presumably Jesse (or Mike, who's still conscious) knows the rendezvous.  Gus is sick, but did he get enough out of his system? Is Mike bleeding to death?  The Cartel has been upended (for now), but how is Gus's organization gonna take this.  If he doesn't make it, I don't think Tyrus is ready to take over.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Arrr! Almost missed it.

It's Talk Like A Pirate Day.  Lets hope it's a vast success.

Who's Your Mama?

Mama Cass Elliot would have been 70 today.  She's best known as a member of The Mamas & The Papas, but in her short life had an interesting career before and a decent solo career after.

In the early 60s, she was part of the folk boom, singing in The Big 3.  Here's their version of "Oh! Susanna" which was later used by Shocking Blue in their big hit "Venus":

When the M & the P broke up, she recorded on her own, scoring three minor hits in 1969.   My favorite of those was revived somewhat by its appearance on Lost.  Here's a video someone made where the song goes on longer than it oriingal did:

(When I watch this, it reminds me all over again what a great show Lost was, even if the ending wasn't as great as it might have been.)

Emmy Impressions

This isn't exactly live blogging, but it's my impressions as a I watched the Emmys.  They were broadcast live, which is nice.  Often we get awards shows three hours late in LA.  Wonder if I should go to Wikipedia as I watch and update.

Afterwards I'll watch Breaking Bad.  Guess I'll write about that episode tomorrow.  The only thing I know for sure is this'll be the first time in four years that someone other than Bryan Cranston wins the Best Actor in a Drama Emmy.

We start with a Leonard Nimoy bit, who replaced Alec Baldwin when he walked.  Now Jane Lynch sings.  It's a big production number involving lots of other TV shows. (Including Weeds?  Does anyone care?) She even meet Sue Sylvester.  Very meta.

Okay, first award.  Supporting Actress in a Comedy.  Some divergent choices, and the likely winner, Jane Lynch, doesn't get it.  Julie Bowen does.  Good for her (even if it causes trouble on the Modern Family set).  I probably would have voted for her.   (No, I'm not a member of the TV Academy.) Now the question is how will host Lynch react.  Probably a good thing they got it out of the way early, but what if she's depressed now.

Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy.  A whole bunch of guys from Modern Family versus the kid from Glee and Jon Cryer (and no one from Entourage).  A lot of people think it's Ty Burrell's turn, and sure enough, he wins.  Now the Dunphy family has two Emmys.  That'll make it easier on the set.  And he deserves is. So far, so good.

Back from commercial, Lynch makes jokes about losing.  But hey, the show goes on.

Ricky Gervais, of Golden Globes fame, makes a pre-recorded appearance which isn't a big deal and they're off to Comedy Director.  I don't really care about TV director awards much, this is a writer's medium.  The Emmy goes to (which means everyone loses) Michael Spiller from Modern Family (which to be fair is an interestingly directed sort of show).  Getting to be a Modern Family night.  As I've said in the past, it's a fine show, but it's not the only comedy around, or even the best.

Writing for Comedy.  This is the one that counts.  The nominees are one for 30 Rock, one for Modern Family, one for Louie, one for Episodes (interesting) and one for The Office.  Sure enough, Steve Levitan and Jeffrey Richmond for the Modern Family episode where the kids walk in on their parents and the other couple spill red wine on a carpet.  Louie would have been a braver choice but Modern Family is okay.

Looks like they're going to do comedy all in a chunk.  Won't that make the middle hour too serious?

Back from commercial and Jane Lynch calls them the Modern Family awards.  Not bad.  Better than her political joke.

Charlie Sheen comes on, always an event.  Part of his rehabilitation tour.  He's presenting Lead Actor in a Comedy.  But first he says nice things about his old show.  Totally serious.  Okay, the nominees.  Many are expecting Steve Carrell will win literally going away.  I didn't think he had a great season, but he's leaving.  A bit of a surprise, Jim Parsons of Big Bang Theory wins.  He won last year, though this time he had to beat his co-star to do it.  Since I think Sheldon is the show, it's hard to complain (though I still might go with Alec Baldwin or, even better, Louis C. K.  The latter probably can't win not just because he's a cult item, but because the Academy probably thinks he's not acting.)

Lead Actress in a Comedy.  A lot of people think it's Amy Poehler's year.  She walks right up on stage when he nomination is announced.  So does Melissa McCarthy.  And Martha Plimpton.  And Edie Falco.  And Tina Fey.  And Laura Linney.  Which five will do the walk of shame?  The winner is...Melissa McCarthy.  I admit that's a surprise.  I don't watch her show (Mike & Molly), but I suspect she was helped by her memorable work in Bridesmaids.  The Emmys worship the movies.

So the two big comedy actor awards went to Chuck Lorre shows.  Okay, I think we're done with the comedy awards.  I have to assume the Best Comedy they'll save for later (and it'll be Modern Family anyway.)

We're back.  An Office mash-up, including Breaking Bad.  Not bad.

Okay, looks like we're doing Variety and Reality, both bastard children of the Emmys.  Variety used to mean something, but now it's dead as Westerns on prime time.  As for Reality, do we really need another award for The Amazing Race?

Jane Lynch makes some gay jokes and the show goes on.  Time for Reality "competition" shows.  Shows about dancing (2), cooking, modeling, singing and the inevitable winner, The Amazing Race.  Why?  Is it that much better than everything else?

Now writing for Variety, which is sort of interesting, but Jon Stewart's show is the strong favorite.  Best nominations, since they get to do taped bits which are usually clever.  Colbert, SNL, Conan, Fallon, Stewart.  Yep, The Daily Show wins.  Why did they put the two such guaranteed wins in a row?

Some comedy music from SNL, done live (appropriately).

Directing in Variety.  Don Roy King for SNL.  It makes sense, since, if nothing else, directing this show is far harder than doing those talk shows and reality shows it's up against.

Outstanding Variety Show, which the Daily Show always wins. It's Conan, Stewart, SNL, Colbert, Bill Maher and Jimmy Fallon.  No Letterman or Leno. Daily Show wins for the ninth straight year.  Ho hum.  He's accepting the award and I can't stop looking at the tall guy in the back.  Which one is he?

When we return, drama.

Writing for Drama.  Two are from Mad Men.  There's Game Of Thrones and others, and the winner is Jason Katims from Friday Night Lights.  Hasn't this been canceled yet?

Supporting Actress in a Drama.  A lot of people are saying Margo Martindale in Justified.  The winner is...Margo Martindale.  Don't watch the show, so I can't say.  I've liked her in other projects.

Directing for Drama.  Scorsese did an awful pilot for Boardwalk Empire. Will the Academy be able to refuse him? Nope.  He wins.

Supporting Actor in a Drama.  Good category, with interesting choices, including John Slattery and Peter Dinklage.  Peter Dinklage wins.  I'd have preferred Slattery, but hey, Game Of Thrones deserves something.  (I was expecting shouts of "Half man! Half man!")

Best Actress in a Drama.  Julianna Margulies.  The Academy likes The Good Wife, so I suppose her win isn't a big surprise.

Best Actor in a Drama.  Exciting.  No Bryan Cranston.  Is it Jon Hamm's moment?  Hugh Laurie's?  The winner is...the four female presenters (the new Charlie's Angels and Drew Barrymore) scream the name and it's hard to understandsm but it's Kyle Changler, another Emmy for Friday Night Lights.  Wonder if Connie Britton feels passed over.

We're now in the final hour.  I wouldn't call the show thrilling, but with all the awards, it's moving along.

Time for TV movies and miniseries, which I believe have been combined.  Producers aren't thrilled, but for one night, it's making the audience a bit happier.

Writing for the whole deal.  We got Mildred Pierce, Too Big To Fail and others.  British Julian Fellowes for Downton Abbey.  He won an Oscar a few years back for more British stuff. (Let me add here there are these annoying "humorous" statements as the nominees walk up to accept their awards.  They've been going on for years and maybe should be reconsidered.)

Supporting Actress.  Some nice names, and the winner is Maggie Smith for Downton Abbey.  More love for classy, British, former Oscar winners.  She's not there so things move quickly.

Lead Actor.  Will they be able to resist William Hurt in Too Big To Fail?  There is Laurence Fishburne in his tour de force of Thurgood, and some Kennedy stuff and Idris Elba.  Barry Pepper in the Kennedy show wins.  Glad to see that won something.  He's no their, so the show might actually finish on time.

Director:  No love for Todd Haynes or Mildred Pierce.  It's Brian Percival for Downton Abbey.  The Academy sure loved that one.

Time to honor the dead.  These moments makes sense, and are generally better than production numbers.

Okay, we're back, and half an hour to go.  For some reason, we're doing Supporting Actor in a movie or miniseries.  Big names. Paul Giamatti. Guy Pearce.  Tom Wilkinson.  James Woods.  And one other guy from Mildred Pierce.  It's Guy Pearce from Mildred Pierce.  Sure, why not?  Too Big To Fail seems to have failed.  Guy talks about sex with Kate Winslet and gets some laughs.

Lead Actress.  Gotta expect Kate W to take this one.  I mean it won Joan Crawford an Oscar, so certainly it can win an Emmy.  There's Diane Lane and other names, but sure enough, it's Kate.  She's looking pretty good.

Okay, we're back from commercial and time for the biggies.  Some drama in drama, since Mad Men has been strong in the past, but hasn't scored that well so far tonight.

First, Oustanding Miniseries or Movie.  It was up against some big names, but the Downton Abbey road continues.

Okay, now Outstanding Drama.  Yet again, it's Mad Men.  Fourth straight.  Okay, why not (especially with no Breaking Bad this year.)  Certainly better than Boardwalk Empire.  And we get to see Christina Hendricks. The show is such an institution, I'm starting to wonder if they won't move it into the 70s.

Just one to go, Outstanding Comedy.  Tis is less even less suspenseful than Drama, as Modern Family takes it, as it did last year.  Steve Levitan claims his show makes people more tolerant, but thankfully turns it into a gag.

The show finishes on time and they start a repeat.  This is where I came in.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Vox Pop

More than once I've gotten an automated phone call from my Representative Xavier Becerra asking me if I want to take part in a town hall conference.  Becerra is a powerful man and has recently been named to the Congressional "super committee" that will decide future federal spending.  Nevertheless, I always turn down the chance, since the first thing I'd say would probably be something like "now what if you did exactly the opposite of everything you're doing, how do you think that would turn out?"

(I've also gotten mailings from Becerra, where he asks his constituents important questions like which would we prefer--to ask super rich people to pay their fair share of taxes or throw widows and orphans out in the street?)

The Way It Wasn't

I was looking at Michael Feeney Callan's biography of Robert Redford. It seems to be a sound work, but every now and then I saw something that gave me pause.  For instance, on page 191, Callan explains why Ryan O'Neal didn't star in The Way We Were:

...the script was handed to Streisand and her lover, Ryan O'Neal, who was offered the role of Hubbell.  Around that time, What's Up Doc?, a Streisand-O'Neal comedy, opened and failed and, says [screenwriter Arthur] Laurents, ended the romance between the stars.  Stark and Streisand now began talking about Redford as Hubbell.

What's Up Doc? was one of the biggest hit of 1972.  It's not a Redford movie, so maybe Callan didn't research it closely, but this is still a pretty big mistake.

Here's something else, on pages 248-249, which may not be wrong, but strikes me as odd:

In fifth grade [Redford's son] Jamie wrote a school adaptation of The Iliad; he was offered the lead but, true to his father's perverse nature, chose instead "the bad-ass bastard" Achilles.

I just want to know in what version of The Iliad is Achilles not the lead?

Saturday, September 17, 2011


We pay LA Councilpeople to think up ways to interfere with our lives. Their latest plan is to ban paper and plastic bags from stores.  (It's strongly supported by Councilman Paul Koretz, who once compared anti-illegal immigration laws to the Holocaust.  Where do we find such men?)

Personally, I've been using the paper and plastic over the years as garbage bags, so all this would do, aside from forcing me to carry around a reusable bag everywhere I go, would be to add an extra expense to my budget.

Thanks a lot, LA Council.  Here's an idea to save money--let's cut your pay.

Repent, Andrew Niccol

Andrew Niccol is a screenwriter and director best known for scripts with an sf twist--The Truman Show, Gattaca, S1m0ne.  He has a new film coming out soon, In Time.  It's about a society where time is literally money, and as long as you keep paying, you can be perpetually young, but if you don't keep up payments, you can be terminated. (That's what I get from the trailer, anyway.)

Harlan Ellison is a legendary sf author.  He's also legendary as a feisty guy who'll file suit if he believes you're ripping him off.  He learned about In Time and has now sued for its similarity to one of his most famous stories ""Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman." "Repent" is about a society where time is strictly regulated and if you're late, time can be taken off your life.

Not having seen the movie (and not having read the story in years), I can't even guess how a court will look at the case.  Intellectual property is one of the most fascinating areas of the law because it can be so ambiguous.  The concept itself--that ideas can be owned--is so different from what we regularly think of as ownership.  If someone steals your car, or burns down your house, that's a very tangible thing, but someone taking your ideas?  Telling your stories, singing your songs?

Which leads to the trouble with sf.  Speculative fiction writers have envisioned thousands of variations on a dystopian future.  In Time isn't even Niccol's first attempt.  Any futuristic society that crushes the spirit will be like hundreds of other stories.  So even if I thought I was writing something entirely original, how would I know if it wasn't so similar to something else that I might get sued?

BTW, if you come up with something on your own, even if it's very much like something else, that's not a copyright violation.  I have no idea if Niccol or anyone else associated with the movie was even aware of Ellison's story, though it's famous enough it'd be hard to miss.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Line of the Week

From Megan McArdle:

The administration's rather wan defense seems to be that private investors put more than $1 billion of their own money into the firm (Solyndra). But the fact that some idiot, somewhere was willing to bet on something is not reason for the government to follow suit--otherwise, we'd be sending people from DOE to the Bellagio every week to put buckets of cash on red.

Artist And Model

I was just watching Nightfall, a 1957 film noir directed by Jacques Tourneur, screenplay by Stirling Silliphant.  Some of it was shot on the streets of LA--always fun to see old location shooting of places you know.

Early on Aldo Ray and Anne Bancroft meet in a bar.  They sit down at a table and get to know each other. She says she's a model (which is a plot point) and he says he's an artist.  She asks "soup cans or sunsets?"  She means commercial or museum artist.  But after Andy Warhol, the question sounds different.

In fact, it makes me wonder if Warhol ever saw this picture and got some ideas.  I believe he first displayed his soup cans in 1962, so the timing is right.

Tis The Season

The new TV shows are being unveiled.  This used to mean something, but now that we can watch them where and when we want, premiere week is not so urgent.

I watch enough TV already, so it'll have to take something special to join the lineup.  Still, I suppose I'll check out this and that when I'm home and something's on.  For instance, I just watched two sitcom pilots scheduled for NBC Wednesdays (against ABC comedies)--Up All Night and Free Agents.

Up All Night is a single-camera show starring Will Arnett (who doesn't seem to be in hit TV shows) and Christina Applegate as a couple dealing with the effect a baby has on their life.  Sounds like a tiresome cliche and so far, it is.  Applegate is the one with the job.  Like so many women employed in popular entertaiment, she works in TV.  In particular, on the show Ava, starring Ava (Maya Rudolph), a somewhat harebrained host of an afternoon talk show.  I found the TV stuff cliched too, though more fun than the baby stuff. The actors do a decent enough job, though I felt Applegate and Rudolph had more rapport than Applegate and Arnett.

Free Agents is an American version of a British show I've never seen. Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn (whom I've always felt has an unfortunate resemblance to Al Lewis) are co-workers at a public relations firm who hook up.  He's divorced and her fiance recently died.  So I guess the show will be about their rocky relationshp along with all the nutty and generally abrasive people they work with. This show is also full of cliches and has even weaker writing than Up All Night, but I liked it better.  Maybe it had a better attitude, or characters who seemed more likely to go in interesting directions.

I didn't hate either show, but I wouldn't go out of my way to watch them again.  Still, it's unfair to judge a TV show by one episode, even a pilot.  Truth is, when it comes to sitcoms, most take half a season to find themselves.  Maybe I should give them another chance when they've moved beyond the obvious and have developed characters.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Also Check Out Sex Life Of A Polyp

Robert Benchley was one of the top humorists of the first half of the 20th century..  He also was a pretty decent comic actor.  And quite an alcoholic. Happy birthday, Bob.

He made quite a few comedy shorts.  One of his best-known routines was The Treasurer's Report, and it was the first film he made, at a time when sound itself was still a novelty.

I'm A Believer

For the first time in years, maybe decades, I think the Detroit Tigers are a really good baseball team.  For most of this season I felt they were only a bit above average, but they're having an incredibly strong finish. In fact, right now they're on a 12-game winning streak, but even before that they were well above .500.

True, they're in the weakest division in baseball.  (It still drives me nuts that Tigers fans have to pay attention to Kansas City or the White Sox, and not the Orioles or the Red Sox.  Who let this happen?)  They're not as good as the Yankees, and probably would be in third or even fourth place in the Eastern division.  But they're real contenders, with real talent.

They've got four hitters over .300 and even better, Justin Verlander, the top pitcher in baseball.  The Tigers have been showing some talent since they made it to the World Series in 2006 (after many years in the wilderness), but that felt like a fluke to me.  This feels like a solid team.  Anything can happen in the post-season, but it's nice to be able to look forward to watching them play, rather than fearnig the latest.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Stray Thought

I was just thinking about breakfast in bed.  It's considered the height of luxury, but I don't get it.

There you are in your pajamas, which you've been sleeping in all night, and you haven't yet taken a shower.  Then someone throws a tray of food on top of you.  The last thing I want is to get tea or butter or scrambled eggs on my sheets.  The whole thing sounds disgusting.

No Second Act

Moss Hart's Act One, a memoir of his early days in the theatre, was a bestseller in 1959.  Still in print today, it's a delightful book, charming and witty.  A movie version was released in 1963 but is barely remembered.  Now that I've seen it, I know why.

I was curious to see how it would be adapted.  For one thing, the book is in two parts.  The first half is Hart's early days, trying to get a toehold in the theatre.  The second half is a compelling account of how his first Broadway hit, Once In A Lifetime, came to be.

The movie wisely sticks to the second half, but that's one of the few good decisions made by Hart's old friend Dore Schary, who wrote, directed and produced.  Schary had been a successful screenwriter and playwright, and also head of MGM, so it's surprising this production is so flatfooted.  And even though he follows the book rather closely, so many moments that are funny or dramatic in print simply don't play on screen.

He's not helped by his stiff star George Hamilton.  Some of the supporting cast isn't bad--Eli Wallach (as Jed Harris stand-in Warren Stone), George Segal, Jack Klugman and especially Jason Robards as George S. Kaufman--but with a plot that never builds momentum, the performers are stranded.  The sets and costumes aren't much either--I never believed this was happening in 1929. It's also got an overactive score from Skitch Henderson.

So by all means, check out the book.  But if you never get a chance to see the movie, you're not missing much.  Hart himself never saw the film--he died in 1961.  Too bad, since I bet Dore would have asked for some notes from his old pal, and Moss was a great script doctor.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

There Will Be Blood

On the latest edition of "As the GOP Turns", we hear Sarah call Rick a Crony, Michele chimes in and then goes Overboard, Mitt takes the opportunity to Pile on, and Newt says that Sarah gave a very fine Speech.

Meanwhile, the Blogosphere jumps into the fray. Bryan Preston defends Rick against Michelle and Sarah. Michelle Malkin punches back twice as hard while Ace says "Et Tu, Sarah?"

And out in the hall, Jennifer Rubin is crying "Is this it? Is this the best we've got? Jeb? Chris? Anybody?" Clears her throat. "I mean, anybody but you, Sarah."

I think I'm going to have to stock up on popcorn.

Mel And The Moon

It's the birthday of Mel Torme, aka the Velvet Fog.  He started singing professionally as a kid, and got even bigger when his voice changed.

One of his best known numbers was "Blue Moon," which was ironic since Richard Rodgers hated jazz singers who didn't sing the song as written.  (In fact, the team wrote a song bemoaning excessive changes entitled "I Like To Recognize The Tune"--which Torme later covered.)

Goodbye, Larry

Hard to believe the latest season of Curb Your Enthusiasm is over.  Feels like it just started.  It was a below-average season but "Larry Vs. Michael J. Fox" ended it with a bang.  It's maybe only one of two classic episodes this year (along with "Palestinian Chicken").

It deals with a couple of ticklish subjects.  First, Larry meets his girlfriend's seven-year-old son and figures he's gay, or "pre-gay," as he puts it.  He gives the kid a sewing machine for his birthday, but his mother doesn't like the implication.  Meanwhile, Larry feuds with Michael J. Fox, whom he feels gets away with everything by using his Parkinson's as an excuse.

There were a lot of good gags, and my favorite may be Larry miming a violin to Jeff being taken the wrong way.  Anyway, by the end, Larry, who was forced to move to New York to get out of a commitment, has to now spend two months in Paris (with Leon of course) for the same reason.  I'm not sure if Larry will have another season, but if not, I guess we'll have to imagine him and Leon traveling around the world for the rest of their lives as Larry keeps getting himself in trouble.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ready When You Are, GB

Happy birthday, Gerry Beckley, one third of America.  I generally don't like bands named after places, but they had some decent tunes. Here's one Gerry wrote.

Buggin' Out

Characters openly talked about their mission and plans in this week's Breaking Bad, "Bug," but it was far from clear what they meant and where they were headed.  Also, now that the end of the series is in sight, most scenes echo earlier action, showing how far the characters have come, and sometimes how low they've sunk.

We start with the aftermath of some violence.  Walt's glasses are broke and he's dripping blood. He picks them up and walks away.  What just happened?  We'll find out before the show is over.

Meanwhile, Walt's helping out Hank.  Just goes to show you how hard it is to predict the path this show will take. I really didn't know what season four would be about, but I never would have gussed these two will team up to investigate Gus.

They drive to the chicken shack and pick up the GPS tracker.  To Hank, it's like the old days, even if he's stuck with a wimpy chemist as partner. Tyrus seems to be following them, not that Hank would know.  They go back to Hank's place and it looks like Gus only drive to work and back home.  (And something I've noticed--he owns a bunch of fast food places but only seems to go to one of them.)  Hank, with his great instinct, isn't convinced.  Makes you wonder why Gus didn't take a joy ride or two.

Walt leaves and, in a stone cold Heisenberg moment, let's Tyrus hear as he calls the cops on him.  (Walt and the rest don't believe in involving the police, though this is more a warning shot.  He's just tired of a guy on his tail.)

At the laundry/meth lab, Jesse and Walk talk.  Walt, who's now suspicious of Jesse, asks for a smoke. (Hey, once you've already got lung cancer...) Walt asks Jesse what he does in his spare time.  Walt doesn't believe Jesse will tell him the truth any more.  Though I do believe Jesse enjoys Ice Road Truckers, as he claims.  Jesse still says he'll do it, though Walt says they're both dead men anyway.  (Are both telling the truth or lying?  The first of many scenes where people seem to lay it on the line but we just don't know.)

Skyler calls Walt from the car wash.  She wonders if he can't stop cooking now that the business is good.  He says he's looking for an "exit strategy" (and apparently has bought a tracker of his own).  Once again, characters are openly talking about plans, but both may be lying. Anyway, Skyler still seems to hope she can make it all clean again.  She sounds more like Mildred Pierce than Lady Macbeth.

Walt is awoken by a call from Hank, who's done more Googling and figures Gus's big HQ may be hiding a lot of chicanery.  Say what you want about Hank, he's called it.  Hank wants another road trip.  Walt begs off, but then figures better him than someone else, and says he'll help out Hank in a few days.  Next Walt calls Mike to alert him to the surprise inspection.  It's almost like a farce, where they keep moving everything out of the way of the inspector.  Mike hangs up--he's clearly not thrilled to talk to Walt in general.  Next thing you know, Jesse is helping clean up the place.

At the car wash, Skyler does all sorts of fake transactions as cashier to show that extra profit.  Who should walk in but Ted "I.F.T." Beneke. Is he back for more? Will be be turned off by the overnight weight gain?

Turns out its wortse  They sort of dropped that whole subplot about his cooking the books, but not really. He's being audited.  Tomorrow.  Some things are just as scary as the cartel.  Skyler is troubled.  Not just for Ted, but because she knows how these investigations go, and how she'll be checked herself, maybe even bugged.  (She did once say "meth lab" to Saul--no Saul this week, by the way--but she's since learned to talk over the phone.) She could be dragged down by Ted.  Little does he know she's a much bigger criminal than he is.  She can't let this stand.

Mike is doing more cleaning--his specialty-with Jesse.  Jesse goes into a monologue about what's going on.  Will Gus kill Hank, what that would mean, etc.  (How would ex-cop Mike feel about taking down a cop?) Very text over subtext--except is Jesse saying it to get it out in the open, or does he have some plan?  When he's done, Mike says something very odd.  He asks Jesse if it's be okay if they took out Hank (I think it would be Hank, though maybe he means Walt).  Very odd.  Who asks Jesse anything?  Why do they want to sound him out? Jesse himself says "who cares what I think?"

They go outside and a sniper blows one guys brains out.  Jesse stands there like an idiot before Gus pulls him down and behind a shed to safety.  It's all as Mike warned last week--the combo of the cartel and Hank breathing down their neck is a bad combination.

Gus comes out, not afraid as bullets whiz by.  He knows the cartel won't off him, they need him as a distributor.  Sill, Gus gets the message.  He gets a call and says "si."

At the lab, Jesse and Mike wheel in the latest corpse.  Walt complains.  Dissolve another?  He starts blaming Gus and Mike has had enough.  He tells him to shut his mouth or he'll shut it for him (and we know he knows how to).  He's really most mad about Walt calling the cops on his guy. You don't do that.

They get the body out of there.  Jesse asks Mike what's going on. (Mike explains, unnecessarily, the cartel needs Gus, etc.)  Jesse has more questions, and Mike says why not ask Gus yourself?  Hmm. Things have changed.

At the audit, Ted's in trouble.  Then Skyler comes in dressed like a floozy.  She pretends to be a ditz who only got her job because of her sexual attraction.  As an accountant she missed lots of income because Quicken didn't tell her to report it.  Now she's just a cashier at a car wash, as Ted earlier called her.  The special agent gets it.  This was incompetence, not criminality. 

Skyler had to do it to save her own business, of course.  As Ted and Skyler leave, Skyler tells him to pay the fine now and be done with it or they'll continue the investigation  Ted says he owes $617,000 and has no assets.  No doubt Skyler, who's got more money that she knows what to do with, will take advantage of this.

Jesse drives to Gus's place.  Gus invites him in. (No family there.  He's claimed to have one.  Does he keep them hidden, or are they a useful fiction?) It's just like the old days, except last time it was Walt, and Gus was telling him to dump the junkie.

Gus chops up the dinner stew.  Jesse may have an opportunity to kill Gus with the fateful cigarette, but he doesn't take advantage of it.  They talk over dinner.  Gus will give answers, but he wants to know if Jesse can cook on his own.  Jesse shows his loyalty by saying you kill Walt, you've got to kill me.  Actually, he still calls him Mr. White. (He also notes what's on a lot of people's minds--just a month ago Gus planned to kill Jesse.  Now he's trying to cultivate him?) But Gus claims it's not about that.  The war is too hot and he needs Jesse to help prevent all-out war. (Looks like they're back to Tuco's plan.)

Skyler can't sleep.  She  looks at all her money in the crawl space.  No doubt more on this next week.  (A lot of fans find the whole car wash subplot boring, but I like it just fine.)

At the lab, Jesse wants to talk to Walt.  (For a second I wondered if Jesse had somehow gone through with it). Walt has to go, but before he does he pulls the tracker he planted on Jesse's car.  He checks and sure enough Jesse went to Gus's place and stayed there over two hours.

Jesse calls and wants to talk to Walt, who is more than happy to come over and get to the bottom of things.  We got another monologue from Jesse, this time about what's going on.  We see some of the goofy stoner kid we first knew him as.  (With less comedy as the show goes on, it's nice to have moments like this).  Jesse is trying to explain how he's being asked to go to Mexico and teach them to cook blue, but what'll happen when they find out he's not the chemist Walt is?  It's almost sweet.  Jesse openly asks for Mr. White's help, as if he's still his chemistry teacher.

You'd think Walt would be intrigued by all this new info, but all he cares about is how Jesse met with Gus.  Jesse lies about it, but Walt reveals he bugged Jesse's car.  And he didn't kill Gus when he had the chance (supposedly). Jesse makes excuses--not bad ones, since he knew Walt would freak out.  But Walt is in full Heisenberg mode, and Jesse is one of few people he can half pull it off with.

Walt says some horrible things.  They've had a bond, though Walt has regularly insulted him.  But telling him he has no guts when he did actually kill a guy for Walter is pretty cold. Walt feels betrayed by Jesse, but Jesse feels betrayed, too.  Then Walt gets mad and says "you signed my death warrant"--also cold since he'll die soon anyway, while Jesse is the one in trouble.  In fact, Walt can't help but say Jesse will screw up in Mexico and wind up in a barrel himself.

They get into a brawl.  In season two Jesse knocked Walt down when he'd had enough, but this was like some sort of Sopranos fight, except neither are great at what they're doing.  We know Walt will walk away from it, but is it even conceivable they'll kill Jesse?

No.  The two stop fighting eventually and Jesse tells him to get our and never come back.  So the central relationship in the show seems over, just minutes after Jesse opened up like it was season one.  Very sad.

A good episode (and, as always, with all the ads, way too short), but more interim than central.

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