Saturday, March 31, 2012

Finally, Something Important

There's been a rule change.  Women playing beach volleyball in the Olympics will not be required to wear bikinis.

This is sad news.  Think of those poor athletes who may now be stuck in those baggy clothes.  How can we do this to them?  Why not just make them wear a burka?

I may not watch in protest.

Take Care

A lot of prominent Democrats are having fits over the Obamacare case.  I'm not sure if they're writing editorials to convince the Supreme Court to come around, are preparing the way for the new spin if they lose, or are just blowing off steam.  Regardless, some of the stuff is pretty funny.

Funniest of all are people like Bob Schrum and E. J. Dionne complaining the Court is acting like a super-legislature.  Most of their favorite cases involve the Court steamrolling the public--and I'm not just referring to classics from the Warren and Burger eras, but also recent opinions that shut down how President Bush (generally following laws passed by Congress, and generally taking actions that polled well) tried to prosecute the war on terror.

It's made even funnier by their knowledge that the Democrats were not elected to nationalize health care, and could only do so by ignoring the expressed will of the public, who threw them out of office immediately after.

Then come the warnings.  Not only will the Court regret overturning Obamacare (and there's nothing that convinces the Court to change its mind better than sneering at them--just ask Laurence Tribe and all the other condescending academics who wrote the first wave of such editorials), the Republican party will rue the day.

Why?  Well, first, Republicans will apparently own the health care issue--or at least all the negatives attached--if Obamacare is tossed out.  Not sure why this is so, but I'd guess the Republicans are willing to take that chance.  And second, if Obamacare is thrown out, it'll be replaced by even greater government intrusion.  Not sure why this is so, but I'd guess the Republicans are willing to take that chance.

When you think about it, it's amazing how kind Schrum and Dionne are.  You'd think if a Supreme Court decision against Obamacare helps the Democrats, that they'd sit quietly by and watch the Court and the Republicans self-destruct.  Instead, they nobly give the conservative Justices a chance to change their minds before they damage themselves.

I have no idea how the Court will decide, or how it'll play politically.  But I can't imagine editorials like these impress anyone.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Frankie Goes To Hollywood

Frankie Laine died a few years back. If he were still alive, he'd turn 99 today.  He sang all sorts of songs, but he's best known for Western music, including themes for movies and TV shows:

Fairly Tales

It took me a few days to catch up on Mad Men, so it wasn't until the end of the week that I caught up to last Sunday's Once Upon A Time, "Hat Trick." And as the first season winds down, the story is going in odd directions.

The specifics aren't that important.  What matters is we meet the Mad Hatter.  The Mad Hatter?!  What's he doing in Storybrooke?  This is about fairy tale characters, mostly from Grimm.  Okay, I can see the occasional borrowing from 1001 Nights, Hans Christian Anderson, even Mother Goose and perhaps Aesop.  But Alice In Wonderland (and its sequel) is a specific novel that stands on its own.  Alice itself borrows characters from other places--so do they live in Wonderland or the Enchanted Forest?  But Alice also created its own imdelible characters, and I've never felt they were part of the fairy tale world.  Who else might show up?  Achilles?  D'Artagnan?  Madame Bovary?  John Carter?

It turns out the Mad Hatter character is named Jefferson (every name relates to their Forest character--am I missing something here?) and his curse is he knows where he is but he can't get his daughter back, since she thinks she belongs to another family.  He's also a citizen of the Enchanted Forest who has a magical hat and the Queen uses him so they can both visit Wonderland.

So apparently all fiction is real, and our world is just one among many others.  I'm confused as to how this works out.  This reality was always here, and the Evil Queen moved the Enchanted Forest denizens to this place (though, as always, if she did, why should they care if they're not aware?).  Couldn't she have just moved them to another reality?  Why this one?  Or is this the only "real" reality.

Also, did she take all the fictional characters from everywhere, or just the Enchanted Forest (which seems to have all sorts of characters from various fiction anyway)? And if everyone in Wonderland is still there, then why did the Mad Hatter/Jefferson get swept up in the curse (since he was stuck in Wonderland at the time--in fact, it's not such a curse, since being stuck in horrifying Wonderland without his daughter seems a lot worse than being stuck in pleasant Storybrooke with).

And if all fiction is real somewhere, then why are the stories in books and fairy tales so wrong (except in Henry's book)?

Anyway, he knows what's going on, which is nice. Everyone but the Mayor and Mr. Gold not knowing is kind of tiresome.  Jefferson kidnaps Emma (and Mary Margaret--isn't that overdoing it?) because he recognizes she's magical--she got the town going again--and figures she can rebuild his magic hat so he can return to the Echanted Forest and be with his daughter again (he certainly wouldn't want to go back to Wonderland).  But how can he if the Forest characters are all in Storybrooke anyway?  He claims living with two realities in your brain drives you mad, but he was always aware of other realities even back in the Forest, and Regina and Mr. Gold live with two realities in their head and seem to function quite well.

Sadly, he seems to escape through his hat at the end, since I want more characters in on the secret so things can move forward.  Emma and Mary Margaret don't seem to think much of it.  (Earlier, there'd been a story feint where Emma contemplated Henry's stories being true, but I doubt many viewers were fooled that she was doing anything but tryting to trick Jefferson.)  I heard he might come back, which would be nice.  The faster they wake up the sooner we can all go home.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

His Name Was Earl

Bluegrass banjo player extraordinaire Earl Scruggs has died. He was best known for his work with guitar player Lester Flatt, and their best-known number was "Foggy Mountain Breakdown."

By Albert

It's the birthday of Albert Von Tilzer.  The name may not ring a bell, but he was a Tin Pan Alley composer of some repute.  His most performed song is, easily. "Take Me Out To The Ball Game." But my favorite is a novelty number known as "Oh By Jingo!"

It was written in 1919, but I think the best version was done years later by Spike Jones:

And I guess it makes sense that Bertie Wooster was a fan:

From Hunger

Not one to ignore cultural phenomena, I attended The Hunger Games. It wasn't until a few months ago that I heard of the film, much less the books--I rarely read modern fiction, and when I do it's not Young Adult. ("Young Adult." What a good title for a bad movie.)

Spoilers ahead. The story (as far as I can gather from the movie) is set in a dystopian future where America is separated into 12 districts and run despotically from its capital.  The lowest of the low is District 12, which seems to be coal-mining country. Each year a boy and a girl, aged 12-18, is chosen from each district to participate in the Hunger Games, where they fight to the death, with only one survivor.  It's televised and is so popular it apparently keeps the regular folk happy enough so that they won't rise up.

Our protagonist is Katniss Everdeen, a tough teenage girl of District 12 who's good at hunting and has held her family together since her dad died.  When her twelve-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for the Games, she volunteers to take her place. (Volunteers are not common, though apparently in the tonier districts there are young killers bred for the competition.) So she and Peeta, the boy they chose (with whom she shares a history), travel to the capital where for about a week they live in luxury they've never known, train for the competition and become celebrities. Then, about halfway through the movie, the Games begin.

If you want to know how it turns out, see the film (or read the books).  The movie is already a blockbuster hit, and has gotten decent reviews, but I found it wanting.  I wasn't bored, which is something, but it has significant problems.

First, I have trouble taking the premise seriously.  I realize there have been historical situations where people were killed for the amusement of others, and there are also numerous pieces of fiction, sf and otherwise, that portray such events.  But it's still hard to buy that this world we see--no matter how much the people have been affected by recent history--would accept such a bloodthirsty sport.  Even if they don't want to rebel, couldn't the districts make it clear to the capital that it's time to stop slaughtering 25 kids every year?  Yet these games are so popular, they effectively stop rebellions?

Another problem: why kids?  I know why for the novel--so the readers the book is aimed at can identify.  But shouldn't these combatants at least be of draft age?  Speaking of which, why mix in 12-years-old with 18-year-olds. Hardly seems fair.  For that matter, why mix boys with girls?  Perhaps we're not supposed to care about this, but pretty much any sort of competition where speed and strength help segregates boys and girls by the time they hit high school age.

But fine, I'll accept the premise.  Does the story work?  Some of it is fun.  Visting the capital, preparing for the fights and meeting their guides, played by Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks, is intriguing.  But still, the whole concept is so grim, with death hanging over everything they do, that it's hard to enjoy it.  If they were entering a competition (or even a war) where their skills could help them all survive it would be one thing, but we know they've all got to die but one.

The same goes for the actual Games.  The kids form alliances, but what's the point.  It's hard to be moved by them helping each other when you know if they're successful all that means is they've eventually have to turn on each other.

Worse, much worse, is the action.  We follow the story mostly through Catniss, and almost every other character is underserved, including Peeta.  Though at least he gets enough screen time to register--the boy she leaves behind, Gale, barely exists.  Then there are the villains--it's hard to have good action without good villains.  But the competitors trying to kill Catniss are so undifferentiated I could barely tell you anything about them. The wider groups of villains--Donald Sutherland as the President and Wes Bentley as the game designer--are essentially cardboard.  Only Stanley Tucci is memorable in a demonic/comic turn as the Ryan Seacrest-like character TV host of the Hunger Games. (By the way, some have commented on the political allegory, but the story is vague enough that you can read it as a message against big government or against capitalist greed.)

The action also isn't filmed that well, with a lot of shaky cam and, to protect the PG-13 rating, not too much direct violence and almost no gore.  More important, writer-director Gary Ross's work comes across as muted--you don't get much sense of danger, fright, dread or triumph.  It's all too even. He was a surprising choice to direct--a decent writer, often working in comedy, he's only directed two films, Pleasantville and Seabiscuit. Perhaps the producers were going for someone who could bring out the human side, though it seems to me they could have done better there, while his lack of experience in action shows.  But what do I know?  The film's a giant hit.

Jennifer Lawrence is fine as Katniss, though the casting seems a bit on the nose. She rose to prominence playing the lead in Winter's Bone, where she played a tough teenage girl in coal-mining country who held her family together when her dad went missing and her mom was out of it.  She's practically repeating the role here.

I was also bothered by how arbitrary the Games seemed to be.  The idea was, I suppose, that everything's rigged to play to the TV audience, and to hold down the public (though I still don't get how that works), but if the rules can be changed in mid-stream, and if some things close to cheating are allowed, what's the point?

One question I had in the back of my mind while watching the film was how were they going to bring down the whole corrupt system.  That's obviously where the plot is leading.  Then I remembered.  Sequels.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Court And Spark

I've watched Congress in session on C-Span.  For the most part, pretty dull.  The stuff that's interesting--putting the legislation together and making deals for votes--goes on behind the scenes.

This week, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments about the constitutionality of ObamaCare.  I've heard some excerpts and it's riveting.  As opposed to Congress, the best action is taking place right in public, where the Justices and advocates bat ideas back and forth--ideas that will make a difference in our lives.

So why do the Justices stop the cameras at the courthouse steps? Perhaps they worry it'll turn the proceedings into the circus, but they'll still be in charge, and can set the tone.  Can't they at least try it out for a few big cases?  A live Supreme Court may not get ratings like American Idol, but it'll provide a fair amount of entertainment.  Oh yeah, it'll also provide a great civics lesson for millions.

PS I was talking to a friend and we disagreed on what sort of decision would be best for President Obama.  He felt if ObamaCare (the mandate or the whole thing) is overturned it'll hurt the President.  It's his signature achievement, and if it's gone it'll hurt his prestige with little to show for his first term.  I think it would help him.  The law is highly unpopular and his opponent will no longer be able to run against it, while Obama can still pull it out for those who liked it by complaining about those nasty conservative Justices who prevented you from getting health care.

Old Friends

I finally caught up with the two hour Mad Men premiere, "A Little Kiss," and it was like catching up with old friends--a bit awkward at first, but it wasn't long before we were back into the swing of things.

The show has been off the air for almost a year and a half.  Too long.  Meanwhile, the characters have only moved foward about half a year--from late 1965 to mid-1966.  Still, in the 60s, the changes from one year to the next could be huge.  I'm guessing this season will move on into 1967, which is a very different world.  We'll be completely into the psychedelic 60s, which feels like a few generations have passed since the first season set in 1960.

Not that social change is on the characters' minds. It's just what happens in the background, and eventually catches up with them.  That's what happened in this opener.  We start with a civil rights protest on the street outside the offices of Young & Rubicam.  Annoyed employees toss down water bombs and the firm is publicly embarrased.  So Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce takes out an ad stating they're an equal opportunity employer as a laugh at Y&R, but a lot of black people figure it's a call for them, and show up in force at the lobby.  Thus, by the end of the episode, it looks like SCDP will have to hire its first African-American to avoid embarrassment themselves.

Speaking of SCDP, they ended last season on dangerous ground, losing their biggest client.  They seem to have stabilized a bit, but are still just a step away from ruin.  Ken Cosgrove lays out how they may grow and mean something if they keep it up, but Pete, who's never happy anyway, is far from sure of the path, and is still unhappy he doesn't get enough respect as a junior partner.  That was the main office plot.  Roger, of course, has been the one in charge from the start, but Pete, as whiny as he is, seems to be doing the most work, while Roger sits back, drinks and smokes, and occasionally poaches Pete's meetings.  Pete demands a better office, and while Roger certainly won't give his up, he gives some money to Harry to give his up (in the funniest scene of the show--Harry is still a mostly comic character; he's also finally looking like he's living in the 60s--must be due to hanging out with all the media types.)  It's not a big victory for Pete, but it is recognition that he's moving up.  I don't know--I'd still rather have my three-martini lunch with Roger than the uptight Pete.  But if Roger seems a bit superfluous, what of Bert?  I've never quite gotten a read on him.  In the old, bigger office, he often seemed to be a zen master, running things while doing little.  Now he just seems out of it. Superannuated, no office, missing meetings, just going through the motions.  Either way, it's great to have Robert Morse around

But the real question everyone had was about Don.  Last we saw him, he announced his surprise engagement to knockout secretary Megan.  Some thought in the interim he'd have realized it was a bad idea and paid her off, of even gotten married and divorced.  Would she even be part of season five?  Looks like she'll play a big part. They're married and have a nice new sizable pad in the city.  The main plot was Megan throwing Don a surprise 40th birthday party.  Don forbade Betty from throwing birthday parties--he never had them as a kid, and besides, why should Dick Whitman celebrate Don Draper's birthday? (Maybe Megan knows a lot of Mad Men's best episodes revolve around parties.) So he's not thrilled, and Megan doesn't seem to know her man. She does a sexy dance, which certainly turns on Harry and Roger (whose marriage to Jane seems to be foundering) but is not the kind of public display Don wants.

It's hard to say how the marriage is going.  I read some critics who felt we're seeing a newer, happier Don, but he seems adrift to me.  The marriage maybe has some of the excitement and novelty of his early days with Betty, but are these two a good match?  Could anyone be a good match for Don?

I also don't know if it's a good idea that they work in the same office.  She's been working in creative under Peggy for a few months, but how do you talk to the boss's wife?  But there they are, coming in any time the like, and leaving early if they feel like it, five days a week.

Speaking of which, Don is still the star, what the firm has to offer, and Peggy is bridling a bit.  She works hard on campaigns (with employees who don't respect her that much) and when they don't sell, Don comes in and agrees with the clients.  The Don-Peggy relationship has been central to the series, and I don't think she's ready to bust out on her own just yet, but it's definitely not going that well at present.

While Don lives in the city, Pete has got a baby and is out in the suburbs.  The other guys on the train complain about their marriage, and Pete feels wife Trudy isn't quite the same as she was, but that's just another minor disappointment in his life.  (Speaking of which, last season, Alison Brie seemed like Trudy who was now playing Annie on Community--but 18 months later I now see Annie from Community playing Trudy on Mad Men.)

Speaking of babies, that's what's put Joan temporarily out of commission.  Her husband is located at Fort Dix so Joan's mom is helping out, which is a mixed blessing. (Many fans hoped he'd die in Vietnam, but that doesn't seem to be where the show is heading.) Joan is also realizing, though she loves her baby, that motherhood isn't everything.  She misses her job--the sense of being needed, and being good at something.  She sees the ad and misreads it as well--she fears she's being replaced, so she drops in the office.  She has the pretext of showing off her (and Roger's) baby.  While the others hand off the kid from one to another, she confronts Lane, and in one of the more touching scenes, he assures her she's irreplaceable.  And that she is.  She's really like Don--a star at what she does--but as an office manager her work isn't as appreciated.

Lane recognizes the firm's precarious position--it'll be months before the get paid for their big projects and they can barely afford to run things as they are.  But it looks like he can hold things together (with the help of Joan soon) until they're on firmer footing.  His marriage is less certain. He finds a wallet in a cab.  He talks to the girlfriend of the owner and hopes to have some sort of fling. There's a picture of her in it, so he knows she's a looker. It's the one thing he keeps when he returns it--the man shows up at the office, not the woman, to Lane's disappointment.

We also see Sally, along with Bobby and Gene.  The kids shuttle back and forth between Don and Betty.  Sally seems to be used to it, but I can't imagine she's happy.  We don't see Betty, however. Or Henry.  Perhaps Weiner is holding them back for dramatic reasons, or perhaps he was shooting around January Jones' pregnancy.  I have no doubt she'll be back soon, though a lot of fans probably wouldn't mind if she were out of the show for good.

Anyway, a good episode, and mostly a chance to reacquainted, and find out where things stand.  We don't know exactly what arcs the characters will have, though there are a bunch new children and spouses, and they always bring about change--probably bigger change than all those protests going on outside.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Four Non-Tops

Yesterday I noted the Supreme had 12 #1 hits in the 60s.  This included a streak of five in a row and a later  four in a row.  But not everything went to the top (maybe a Beatles song was blocking it). Still, the also-rans are just as good.

For instance, here's the song that ended their first streak.  In fact, it didn't even make the top ten, peaking at #11.

They rebounded with another #1, "I Hear A Symphony," but the follow-up, "My World Is Empty Without You," only went to #5.  Then came this song, which only made it to #9.

Things changed for the group in 1967.  Berry Gordy kicked out Flo Ballard and their name went from The Supremes to Diana Ross And The Supremes.  The times were changing too, and though the Supremes still had some #1 hits in their future, they didn't control the charts like they once had.

But I don't think fans noticed when they had records out like "Reflections," which went to #2, and the following, which hit #9.

Diana Ross left in 1970.  Their last single, "Someday We'll Be Together," was also their last #1.  But the group still managed a #7 hit that year without her:

Whole Lotto Spendin' Going On

I was just in my local 7-Eleven, waiting behind a line of people buying lottery tickets.  Apparently, the Mega Millions jackpot is higher than ever--estimated at $363 million. What fascinated me was not that so many were buying tickets.  In fact, it was fairly rational activity (for lottery ticket buyers)--it's always a buck a ticket, so why not wait until there's a bigger payout.

What fascinated me was that so many--most, as far as I saw--were filling out these cards to pick their own numbers.  This instead of the other choice, which is to let the machine produce randomly generated numbers.  Filling out the lottery card isn't exactly onerous, but it does take some time.  Why bother?  Yet people were quite insistent.

I guess they figure there's almost no chance random numbers will win the jackpot.  They're correct.  Too bad they don't take that logic all the way.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lady Di

Happy birthday, Diana Ross.  In the 60s, the Supremes has 12 #1 hits--far more than any act except The Beatles. Those songs still sound great.  Here are three of them:

Missing Men

The fifth season of Mad Men premiered last night and the critics like what they see.  Unfortunately, I was interrupted a few times during the first hour so I didn't even watch the second. I'll catch up later this week.  In the past, I've given (the rare honor of) day-after, beat-by-beat reviews of the latest, but we'll see this season.  Even when it's back to one hour, there are a bunch of other things I watch Sunday so I don't know if I'll have the time.

I'm prettty excited about new Mad Men, though perhaps Breaking Bad has passed it as my favorite hour, and I'm also looking forward to new Game Of Thrones (to add to my overcrowded Sunday schedule).

As I've stated before, Mad Men starts with handicap.  So many critically favored drama of the past decade--The Sopranos, The Wire, Lost, Boardwalk Empire, BB, GOT--have lots of violence to keep things moving.  MM has to find other ways to keep the viewer interested.  For that matter, though it does have plenty of sexual activity, it's not a particularly sexy show.  It's more often downbeat.

When Matthew Weiner wrote for The Sopranos, if things went slow he could always whack someone. Now he's created a show about very imperfect people with subtle interactions and a backdrop of changing times.  When it works, as it often does, small things register, and losing a job or getting a divorce is like an earthquake.

PS  Last week's Newsweek was a tribute to Mad Men, published in 1960s style.  The first reason to read the magazine in years.


And a happy birthday to Martin Short.  Like others on SCTV, he went into movies, but was a born sketch performer.  His most famous character is Ed Grimley, but there are so many others.

My favorite is probaby old-time songwriter Irving Cohen. Though it's literally a one-note bit, it always made me laugh (even in bad quality video):

Here's Irving again, along with another one of his greatest creations, Nathan Thurm.

Short's characters often sang. Short himself was a professional singer, which helped in creating Jackie Rogers, Senior and Junior:

Here's a double dose of Jerry Lewis. I'm certain Martin Short loves Jerry, but these parodies take no prisoners.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


It's the birthday of Bela Bartok.  His modern look at ethnic music is especially memorable.

Standard Complaint

With the recent shooting in France of a rabbi and three Jewish children, people are wondering about anti-Semitism in Europe. Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, claims that European nations are far more anti-Semitic that the United States.

This I can believe.  I've seen the same polls Foxman has. There are a number of reasons why this might be, many historical.  But I think a major one is that Europe (not to mention everywhere else outside Israel and the U.S.) has very few Jews and, when it comes to anti-Semitic and related beliefs, simply doesn't have as much a counter when such views are spread.

Some claim the actions of Israel help give rise to their hatred, but I think that's go it backwards. Because people in Europe (and elsewhere) are already more prone to anti-Semitism, they're also more willing to hold Israel to a standard which no other country has to meet.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Okay, it's been a while, but for those of you who missed it, here's a very simple explanation of the ending of Lost.

Alternate Al

Ann Althouse responds to The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn and his claim that Bush v. Gore altered history.  Cohn writes "Just think how the years after 2001 would have unfolded if Al Gore had been president." Althouse notes the obvious (to everyone but Cohn): if the Court allowed the recount to go ahead as planned, Bush would have won.  She also claims, in any case, Gore would have responded vigorously to 9/11.

Good on ya, Ann, for calling him on his nonsense, but you didn't go far enough.

First, even if Cohn were correct about a recount giving Gore Florida, it still probably wouldn't have turned the election around.  The recount was shut down because the safe harbor deadline had been passed. With all the controversy, it's doubtful the Florida electors would have been accepted so the choice of President would have been thrown into the Republican-controlled House. (Interestingly, the Senate would probably have picked Lieberman as Veep with Al Gore casting the deciding vote--do you think Joe would have hesitated to invade Iraq?)

Also, as to how Gore would have responded after 9/11, let's review. We were in an unfinished war with Iraq--at the time, there was a truce, which Iraq kept breaking, and the Clinton administration had made it clear that regime change was the official policy of the U.S.  Also, the Democrats (like Al Gore) had spoken out regularly about the threat of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

Furthermore, after 9/11, The Patriot Act was quickly and overwhelmingly passed, and later authorization to invade Iraq had widespread support.

As I've stated before, with what was in the air, it would have been hard for any President to resist invading.  If he had, he would have been voted out in 2004 by an opponent promising to do so.  And this isn't a partisan claim--if Bush had stayed out of Iraq, John "reporting for duty" Kerry would have won the election by promising to invade Iraq the day he took office.

I guess there would have been some differences if Gore were President, though.  The Republicans probably wouldn't have lost control of Congress in 2006, thus, there would have been no national health care bill.  So maybe Cohn is on to something.

Friday, March 23, 2012

He's Hip

Happy birthday, Dave Frishberg.  He's one of the more unusual songwriters and singers of our day.

For Completists Only

Bob Dylan allegedly didn't think much of the Beatle's "Michelle." He felt rock and roll and other blues-based music was what they did well, while there were simply tons of Tin Pan Alley tunes already out there and was no need for the Beatles to come up with their own versions.  Dylan was wrong.  The Beatles, especially McCartney, had a gift for melody, and there was no reason to stifle it.

On the other hand, one thing Paul has never needed to do was follow so many of his contemporaries and record a whole album of standards.  He's a great songwriter and performer, but, following Dylan, there are tons of interpreters of that music already out there, and the last thing we need is McCartney, who helped end the era of the Great American Songbook (which he feels somewhat guilty about), giving us his take.

But that's just what he's done with his latest, Kisses On The Bottom, his first album in five years.  I suppose Sir Paul has earned the right to do what he wants, but it doesn't mean I have to listen to it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Birthday On My Mind

Happy birthday, Harry Vanda.  He was lead guitarist of The Easybeats. The band was made up of Australians originally from Europe. Vanda himself was Dutch.

They hit it big in Australia, mostly with songs written by lead singer Stevie Wright and guitarist George Young.  But soon Vanda started writing with Young, and they created the song the band is known for, their only international hit, "Friday On My Mind."

Vanda and Young went on to write and produce many more songs, but I don't think they ever topped their first big hit.

Beyond The Rim Of The Starlight

Happy birthday, Bill. Who's brought more joy to more people than you?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Newt's Notions

It appears that Mitt Romney has got the Republican nomination almost sewn up.  Santorum has done better than expected--won a bunch of states, even in Gingrich's South--but he doesn't have the money, organizaton or support to finish on top.

It does make one wonder how things would have turned out if it had been Romney versus Santorum alone.  It's too late now.  Even if Gingrich dropped out, I'd guess a plurality of his votes would go to Santorum, but a fair amount would go to Romney and a decent chunk to Paul, so Romney would still win most of the big all-or-nothing states.

Still, Santorum fans are wondering why won't Gingrich quit and clear the way?  Gingrich is running out of money and popularity.  What's the point?

First, I'd guess he enjoys it. He's in the spotlight again, speaking his mind and having a good time--does he have something better to do?.  Second, it wasn't that long ago he made a comeback and seemed to be in the lead.  It can be hard to give it up when you were so close.  Third, he seems to despise Romney and perhaps hopes he can still mess with him (even if his quitting might seem worse for Romney).  But I think most of all, in the back of his mind, he hopes if he can just stick around, maybe there'll be a brokered convention.  And then, perhaps, Romney and Santorum will hate each other so much that Gingrich can be the compromise candidate who saves the day--or at least make a deal that gets him something.  Not plausible, but a guy can dream.

PS  I heard that Republican rules might prevent Gingrich, who hasn't won enough states, from taking the conventtion.  If so, I can only ask why would Republicans choose to write such suffocating rules?  I'd guess there's some way around them if the party got stuck with a candidate who was in trouble, for instance.

Back To Bach

Happy birthday, Johann Sebastian. He's such a part of the scenery today it's hard to believe for a few generations after his death he was mostly forgotten by the public.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

His Son's Not Bad Either

Happy 90th, Carl Reiner.  He's done it all in comedy. As a writer, actor and director, he's succeeded in TV, films, books, recordings and the stage.

I'd say his crowning achievement was creating The Dick Van Dyke Show.  It's somewhat ironic that the most memorable scene the show ever did may be between Reiner and Mary Tyler Moore.

Youth Of A Salesman

Willly Loman in Death Of A Salesman is one of the most notable modern roles an actor can attempt, so any new Broadway production is a big deal.  The part was played by Lee J. Cobb and has since been done by George C. Scott, Dustin Hoffman, Brian Dennehy and now, in a new Mike Nichol's-directed revival, Philip Seymour Hoffman.

A number of critics feel that Seymour Hoffman at 44 is too young to play Willy, who's in his 60s.  Of course, Lee J. Cobb was 37 when he originated the role.  (Is it easier to be young and play old or the other way around?  Theatre tends to be more forgiving than movies in both directions). But what this reminded me of was Hoffman in Synecdoche, New York, where he's a masterful director (who goes from youth to old age) who gets noticed by putting on a production of Death Of A Salesman with actors in their 20s. It was a nice touch (by director-writer Charlie Kaufman) in that it showed us an innovative guy who had ideas that might work. It's so easy to show bad art in a film or play, but showing art that might be good, much trickier.

PS  Let's not forget Albert Brooks' version of DOTS starring kids.

PPS  More than half the reviews I read stated the play is more relevant than ever.  I've written about this line before, so just let me note it's time to retire this insulting cliche.

PPPS In one of the more positive reviews, John Lahr in The New Yorker states:

Willy is defined by the spirit of competition and by its corollary, invidious comparison. Envy is the gasoline on which American capitalism runs...

If he means the play says that, it's arguable.  If he's simply stating it as a fact, I'd say I don't think he gets capitalism, American or otherwise.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Daisey Yanking Our Chain

Big controversy over Mike Daisey's monologue about Apple's sweatshops in China.  Apparently some of the horror stories he related about the workers and their conditions he didn't personally observe or didn't happen at all. A section of his one-man show was broadcast on This American Life and became one of its most popular pieces ever.  Over the weekend the show did an hour looking into what Daisey got wrong and how they allowed it on the air.

Daisey has been making pretty lame excuses--your basic "searching for a higher truth" sort of stuff.  Actually, I've long had a problem with all art that claims to represent facts--the creators generally want it both ways.  They want the frisson of "this really happened" but also reserve the right to change things to improve the drama.

But Daisey's case is far worse. When actos portray real people, we understand we're not watching a documentary, but a dramatization that compresses, emphasizes and (often) just makes stuff up.  Daisey, on the other hand, was performing a first-person monologue about things he'd uncovered in his visit to China.  Much of the power of his piece was that he saw the things he was describing.  To say what he's saying was essentially true (which it probably wasn't) is no excuse.

I Can Count The Reasons

Pretty stupid anti-Community piece by Larry Fitzmaurice in GQ.  As far as I can gather, these are his complaints:

--The characters are "severely flawed human being." That's one of the better things about this show--that it is original enough not to make everyone conventionally sympathetic, like most sitcoms do.  And yet you still like them. The show's title has always been both ironic and heartfelt.

--The character keep doing the same things over and over.  There's an amazingly huge variations of plot and style on this show, but having consistent characters (who do occasionally grow) is a feature, not a bug.

--The show's fans are absurdly obsessive.  This isn't even a criticism of Community, so there's no need to respond.

--The show plays to the obsessions of the fans.  It's hard for me to judge how the show would seem to an outsider, but most sitcoms require at least a few views before you get into the swing of things.  Still, I think anyone could pick a couple random episodes of Community and enjoy them.  The plots and the jokes are based on character and situation, not generally stuff only understood by the in-group.  In fact, a few months ago I showed some friends who'd never watched any Community the recently aired "Remedial Chaos Theory" and they liked it quite a bit.

--Community, underneath the flash, is formulaic.  I can't understand this argument.  Any show that has the same setting and characters each week will have to follow a certain amount of formula, but Community stretches the boundaries more than almost any sitcom I can think of.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Pickett's Charge

Happy birthday, Wilson Pickett. In his prime, he was as electrifying a performer as there was.

A Nice Vintage

It's been twenty years since the release of My Cousin Vinny.  The low-budget film got good reviews and did surprisingly well.  I think it still holds up as a smart (certainly smarter than expected) courtroom comedy.

It's interestingly structured, since it starts out as a film about two young guys (one played by Ralph Macchio, enough of a name to carry a film) traveling through the South who get arrested for a crime they didn't commit.  But then their laywer Vinny, played by Joe Pesci, comes on and takes over the film.

There's great supporting work from Fred Gwynne playing a stickler judge and Marisa Tomei as Vinny's long-suffering girlfriend.  In fact, she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.  She wasn't that well respected an actress at the time, and she was playing a lower class Italian (perhaps some thought she wasn't acting) in a small comedy, so many were surprised she took it--there's an urban legend that a drunk Jack Palance read the wrong name at the ceremony and there's been a cover-up ever since.  Actually, I expected her to win.  First, and most important, she was great, and deserved it.  Second, she was up against a bunch of highly-respected British and Australian actresses, and I believe they split the Merchant-Ivory vote between them.

The film is especially popular among lawyers because it shows courtroom procedure in some detail.  In fact, since they don't really teach you courtroom procedure in law school, this is a useful supplement.  Here's a great website created by lawyers devoted to the film, with lots of interviews of those involved.  I was most by the stories of writer/producer Dale Launer.  He likes the film, but doesn't always have fond memories of changes director Jonathan Lynn made, and also had to fight with the money people to get the film done his way.

He wanted Robert De Niro as Vinny but they didn't believe De Niro could play comedy.  They brought up Danny DeVito, whom Launer didn't believe could pull off Vinny because he wanted a tough guy.  Didn't matter.  So Launer goes through something all writers have to deal with:

They went after Danny anyway. They basically completely ignored me. Danny reads the script. He’s now interested. I’m not told how Danny is interested. Do you want to direct? Do you want to star in it? Or both? And he’s like, “I don’t know.” Danny wasn’t sure what he wanted. I had a meeting with Danny. It was a creative meeting. I sat down with Danny. Here’s how it goes. Danny says, “You know, the script, it just doesn’t, it just doesn’t go. It doesn’t go.” ”So you want more go?” And he laughed. That’s kind of an absurd statement. I mean, what am I supposed to do with that? It’s one of those things that when you’re a screenwriter and somebody comes up to you, you’re in a meeting, and they have a problem with the script, it’s very important they be precise and convince you there’s actually something wrong and they convince you something’s wrong by telling you what’s wrong. Then you can fix it. If you’re a writer, and someone says, “The script just doesn’t go,” you can’t do anything with that. All you can do is leave the meeting feeling bad about the script. Or, hopefully, finding somebody somewhere who says, “The script’s got a lot of go to it.” 

It's a good think DeVito didn't go for it.  The film is a comedy, but you've got to take Vinny seriously.  It's doubtful he could have pulled it off--at least not as well as Pesci, who was just coming off Goodfellas.  (Jim Belushi was offered the role first but turned it down.)

Another thing the film takes seriously is courtroom decorum, which is another reason I like it.  You not only have to follow the proper procedure in court, you've got to show the proper respect.  In the film Vinny gets in trouble for what he wears and for speaking out of turn.  I've been in courtrooms both as a lawyer and a juror and seen some judges who wouldn't put up with any nonsense.  I once saw a lawyer make a side-comment like "okay, the jury can decide that" when he got a non-responsive answer from a hostile witness, and the judge stopped the proceedings to dress him down.  I've also saw a judge send a bailiff out to the gallery to remove someone who was reading a book.  That's why I like it when Vinny gets in trouble for wearing the wrong clothes and speaking out of turn.  I can't tell you how many movies I've seen where a defense lawyer loosens his tie and sits on his table and I'm thinking "why doesn't the judge tell him to put his tie back on and stand up straight?"

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Out Of Luck

I was getting to like Luck, the HBO series centered on a race track, so I'm sorry to see it go.  Earlier, two horses had died during production. When a third horse died, they shut down the show and then decided to end it.

At the very least, this is a CYA move--after this much warning, if they kept the show going and another horse died, the publicity would be impossible.  I'm not enough of an expert, or an insider, to know if what they were doing was especially dangerous to horses, but HBO sure wasn't going to wait to find out.  Though I get the feeling if the ratings had been better, they might have found a way.

The show was no Mad Men (new episodes soon) or Game Of Thrones (new episodes soon) or Breaking Bad (new episodes later this year), but the characters were starting to fill in a little, and it felt like things were going somewhere.  I liked the relationship between Dustin Hoffman and Dennis Farina, and especially liked the four track touts who won the Pick Six and started their own stable.

Can't HBO figure a way to keep this thing going?  I hear they can do wonders with CGI.

PC Art

I was just reading about Paul Cadden, the hyperealist artist.  That is, he does drawings that are essentially indistringuishable from photos (he even has things in and out of focus).  I actually thought it was a hoax, but it seems to check out.

He works in Scotland and creates about seven works a year.  They sell for up to 5000 pounds each.  I don't know if they're a good investment, but that's got to be a lot cheaper than a Chuck Close.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Good News For Trees or Encyclopedia Down

The Encyclopedia Britannica is ending its print run.  It's been around for 244 years, but from now on any new editions will only be available online.

I grew up in a household with the EB on our bookshelf. Quite a few papers I wrote in high school were based on articles within. It was almost daunting, having the sum of human knowledge so close. I browsed occasionally for subjects of interest, and once considered reading it end to end (though I put aside that folly pretty quickly).

It's the end of an era, but I guess it was inevitable.  Even a book is too bulky, so a huge, expensive set is impossible. Maybe it's time I finally got a Kindle.

'Ward And Ray

Yesterday was Howard E. Scott's 66th birthday.  Tomorrow is Harold Ray Brown's 66th birthday.  Both are founding members of War.  I believe the band is still around, but then, we'll always have War with us.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bill For The Bill In Billions

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the first decade of ObamaCare won't cost $938 billion as originally estimated, but about twice as much.  Remember that keeping the cost under a trillion was a big deal back when the issue was debated.  The Democrats sold it that way and a number of politicians supported the bill because of this guarantee.

I have a simple solution.  All politicians who voted for ObamaCare should sign a pledge handing over their pensions and any other money they get over their salary into a fund that will cover the cost overrun.  I don't think it's asking too much after what they promised.  Why should we have to pick up the bill?

Give Me The Hope

Today's the day--new Community.  We'll get to hear that theme again, presaging another potential classic half hour.  But what if they did it another way?  Hmm.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Barack Obama Alexander

A lot of people are pointing to Obama's 41% approval and saying he's in trouble.  I don't think it means much except that polls are volatile at present and it's best to ignore them until after Labor Day.  There are no guarantees, but the basic strengths of Obama and the weaknesses of his opponents make me stand by my prediction that he'll be reelected.

Nevertheless, something just hit me. If he loses, he'd still be fairly young, by Presidential standards, and still be the biggest name in his party. Who would compare? Biden? Hillary? Edwards? Gore? Reid? Schumer? Pelosi? Kerry? Brown?

So what's to stop him from running again?  As long as the 2012 election is close, so he's not seen as a total loser, if President Romney is in trouble, I expect Obama would want to give Americans a chance to correct their mistake.

It's not like it's never happened before.

Picture This

I was at my drugstore when I noticed the woman working behind the pharmacy counter was covered with tattoos--all along her arms and neck.  Seemed odd.

I don't believe it's illegal (yet) for an employer to discriminate on the bassis of tattoos, and I'm a bit surprised this pharmacy hired someone so into them.  The man behind the counter was wearing a tie, so they still have some standards.

I suppose having tattoos doesn't prevent one from accurately filling a prescription, but it doesn't fill the customer with confidence, either.  Was she hired because pharmacists (or pharmacist assistants) are hard to find?  Or did she have the right connections?  Or have I missed it and tattoos are now so common that they've been mainstreamed.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Take A Break

The slimmed-down Jonah Hill hosted SNL this week and did a decent job. According to David Sims at The AV Club, here are some highlights:

Hill as a wannabe samurai in J Pop America Fun Time Now was one of his few non straight-man roles of the evening, and while the sketch still works for me, I think I enjoyed Hill more because his lines were so intentionally garbled and he kept breaking, and less because of the material.

[.... Bill Hader's] Stefon cheered me up no end and provided half the notable quotes of the episode. For some reason, this never gets stale, perhaps because every time Hader does the character you’re just watching him to see when he breaks. This time, it was almost immediately—the first sign of trouble was when he referred to “that old Pakistani woman that looks like a California Raisin.” But obviously human Roombas really took the cake: “when you put a midget on a skateboard and it slides around on your floor eating garbage.” The midget joke always kills, even though you know it’s coming. “Eating garbage” was what got me (and, I think, Hader).

So Sims can't wait until the actors break up.  He even notes he liked it despite the material.

As they say on Weekend Update, Really?  If actors breaking character is so wonderful, then why bother to write funny or smart sketches?  Why should the actors even try to say their lines when they know the audience just wants them to mess around?  In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this is already happening, and the cast members play up the live aspect by screwing up intentionally, or at least don't fight the urge to laugh.

If actors were really trying hard to do it right, and very rarely there'd be a mistake on air, it might be a memorable moment.  But the last thing a critic should do is encourage it as a regular feature.

Don't Stop Believing

Last week was Micky Dolenz' birthday so I checked out his autobiography, I'm A Believer.  He updated it a few years ago, but this was the version published in 1993.  It's not a long book, especially with so many scenes from his real life written in film format, turning what would be a pargraph into a couple pages.  Maybe he figured hey, I'm not a Beatle, don't want to overstay my welcome.  Generally a good principle in entertainment, but a book is different, and a few more chapters on the Monkees (even though he spends over half the book on them) would have been appreciated.

Though his father was in show biz, he had a normal childhood, growing up in Los Angeles.  At least, until he was cast as the lead in the TV show Circus Boy when he was 10. They dyed his hair blonde and called him Mickey Braddock.  Even then, after its run, his parents decided he'd go back to being a normal boy.

Still, he'd been bitten by the show biz bug. In his teens he appeared here and there on TV, and also fronted a band (before he was kicked out for not playing an instrument). Then, of course, came The Monkees. There was a long casting process in 1965 and the show finally got on the air in 1966.  Here's a longish video showing not just their individual screen tests, but some amazing stuff where the four who made it, and a few others, act out some scenes:

Once the four were cast, Dolenz was named drummer, even though he had no experience, because Mike and Peter were good at guitar and cute Davy had to be up front.  Though all could sing (even pitchy Peter), Mickey sang lead more than the others, including on their first two singles "Last Train To Clarksville" and "I'm A Believer."

The Monkees was a hip (for TV) show, and won an Emmy for Best Comedy.  It also functioned as a great running ad for the fictional band.  For a couple years, the Monkees were as huge as could be, with four #1 albums and a bunch of top ten hits.

The cast was split in two.  Micky and Davy were both show biz veterans by the age of 20, and saw the band as part of their role in a TV show.  Mike and Peter, meanwhile, saw themselves as musicians who just happened to be hired to be in a show.  Surprisingly, the biggest tension was between Mike and Peter, who disagreed on musical direction.  The boys would wrest control over the music from their handlers by their third album, Headquarters, where Dolenz wrote his first song, "Randy Scouse Git."  But it was also the last time they'd work together as a group to create something new, which disappointed Peter so much that it was the main reason he gave when he left the band.

The show went off the air after two seasons, and was followed by a flop experimental film, Head, and a failed TV special.  Peter left, then Mike, and suddenly Dolenz was washed up at 25.  He went into a tailspin, but eventually pulled out and in his 30s became a successful director in England.  He also worked a bit with Davy, but they had a falling out.  According to Mike, Davy, who was the chipper one in the old days, had been cheated by people close to him and became a darker personality.

Then MTV started rerunning The Monkees in 1986 and the band (sans Mike) reformed.  They had a hit single, album and tour, but broke up again in acrimony, with Davy mad about their deal (or something like that--it wasn't always clear).  After this book was published they reformed yet again, so Davy was only so angry.

The book is slight, but fun.  It movies quickly enough, and is full of cheap little jokes that you'd expect from Dolenz, who was always the compulsive entertainer of the group.  It's also poorly edited, with a fair number of mistakes, but that's easy enough to ignore.  The Monkees were an odd phenomenon, and, as Dolenz admits, created by a lot of talented people behind the scenes, but if you want to get the word from someone who was at the center of an intense experience, this is the book.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bird Lives

Charlie Parker was only 34 when he died March 12, 1955.  Who knows where he would have gone next?

Big And Small, Old And New

Over the weekend I saw two animated films dealing with little people living amongst big people.  First I saw The Secret World Of Arrietty, a charming feature from Studio Ghibli, released in English through Disney.  It's based on The Borrowers, the first in a series of children's novels about four-inch people who live underneath the floorboards in normal-sized people's houses.  I never read the books but had seen the 1997 live action movie so I was familiar with the story.

I assume one reason the books did so well is that children can identify with little people living amongst giants.  Actually, when I think of the story, what comes to me most was an episode of This American Life.  Writer Lawrence Wechsler read his daughter, Sarah, the Borrowers books and she believed they were real.  He started playing along with her beliefs, going so far as to answer her notes to them with notes of his own alleging to be from them.  He hoped it would blow over but eventually it blew up in his face.

Then at the Los Angeles Animation Festival, held around the corner from where I live, I saw Fantastic Planet (1973).  It's in French and the original title is La Planete Sauvage--interesting translation. It's about a world peopled with giant blue beings called Traags and little animals known as "Oms" that are pretty clearly humans. (The words sounds like "hommes" or men.) Traag children often take Oms for pets, but there are many more wild Oms living in in abandoned areas, and they're occasionally wiped out by the Traags.

The film is from that no man's land era, between the first and second golden age of Disney features, when the animation was fairly crude, though often beautiful.  In fact, there are a number of moments in Fantastic Planet when we just see a drawing of Oms--no movement.  The story is also somewhat surreal, even psychedelic, with weird landscapes and animals, not to mention the Traags spending large portions of their time meditating and leaving their body.

The messasge, as you might guess, is ultimately about how the two races learn to get along. First the Traags have to recognize that Oms, though small, are rational beings.  (It also helps when the Oms learn to get tough.)

Like Arrietty, I have a strong association with this film. I've been waiting to see it for a long, long time.  The first time I was going to see it I got into a big fight with someone and I missed the showing.  I don't know if the film is worth waiting decades to see, but it's definitely worth checking out.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


It's Lawrence Welk's birthday.  The bandleader's show ran forever, covering tunes professionally if without much feeling. I think even Welk found it corny, but what the heck, he brought entertainment to millions.

In later years, the show tried to modernize, with fascinating results.

Many mocked Welk, none better than Stan Freberg.

Then there was the time they covered the Velvet Underground.

If 8 Was 9

Like most computer users, I have automatic updates for some programs.  Still, I was surprised after a recent update to find I now had IE9 instead of IE8. Shouldn't they ask me first?

At least temporarily, I (and my computer) am flummoxed.  And it's not just that I was used to IE8 (though that's enough).  IE9 may be superior in the eyes of Microsoft, but there are certain feature of IE8 which I no longer have that meant a lot to me.

That's the thing.  These systems have hundreds or thousands of features, but to most users, they regularly use and care about maybe ten or twenty and everything else is relatively unimportant. has changed certain things along the way that effects this blog, but not long ago they offered a wholesale new system which I tried for a while and then went back to the old, after deciding it wasn't superior for my purposes. I wonder if I should (or can) do that for IE?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Cruisin' For A Bruisin'

I don't usually take requests, but someone asked for this song, so here it is:

Two Places At Once

Let's say goodbye to Peter Bergman, one of the founders of the Firesign Theater.  They were perhaps overpraised, but they created a mixture of comedy, parody, satire, wordplay and surrealism that made them unique.

This is a whole side of one of their best albums, Everything You Know Is Wrong. It's a lot to listen to, and I doubt many readers of this blog will take the time, but just dip in here and there to get a feeling.

Friday, March 09, 2012


Last week Lou Reed turned 70, now it's John Cale's turn. He and Lou co-founded the Velvet Underground, and Cale's classical and experimental training brought a lot to their sound. That VU drone is Cale's all the way.


Some interesting book reviews in the last two New Yorkers, both teaching us about unexpected origins.

There's Dahlia Lithwick's discussion of Dale Carpenter's book on Lawrence v. Texas (2003), the case that struck down America's sodomy laws. Gay legal advocacy groups saw change in the wind and had been looking for a case that could get Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), which upheld such laws, overturned.  This one seemed an odd choice, but sodomy prosecutions were rare enough that, as long as they discussed principles and avoided the principal actors, it was worth a shot.

See, the opinion is about the dignity of intimate relationships, and how the state shouldn't mess with them.  But actually, the two plaintiffs, Lawrence and Garner, weren't a couple and weren't having sex the night in question.  What happened, apparently, was four men were partying at Lawrence's place. One of them, jealous of his partner Garner, slipped out and called the police, claiming something was going on with a gun.  The cops broke in and didn't find any gun, but did arrest Lawrence and Garner and charge them with sodomy.

Many Supreme Court cases have odd histories.  From the beginning of our republic lawyers have desired the Supreme Court to settle big issues, but couldn't do it without a case or controversy. So they've often searched for cases which, by the time they reach the high court, have left the original parties far behind.

Then there's Adam Gopnik on Elaine Pagels' regarding the Book of Revelations.  This final book of the New Testament is widely seen as an apocalyptic vision of the future, and many believers for quite a while have seen portents confirming the books predictions.  But Pagels, who's best known for her work on the Gnostic Gospels, says it was originally written as an allegory on what was going on at the time, and the troubles it could cause.  The John who wrote the book was a Jewish mystic who lived on a small island off Turkey near the end of the first century.  He strongly disapproved of allowing Gentiles into the Jesus movement, especially as they were allowed to bring in their own ways, and that's what motivated him.

Revelations could have been consigned to the pile with other blasphemous material, except Athanasius was a strong supporter in the fourth century when the canon was created.  He saw how John's vision fit quite well with his own vision of fighting heresies.  And so the book has been with the Western World ever since.  It's interesting to speculate how things would have been different if the New Testament didn't end that way.

PS  Speaking of origins, there's also an interesting piece on the scientific controversy regarding the evolution of altruism, but it can't be read on the internet.  If I understand it, a new group, challenging the conventional view, believes altruism can't be explained without reference to group selection.  The problem is writer Jonah Lehrer doesn't take sides--this might be a good thing in much journalism, but from what I understand, the new argument is not taken very seriously. (The concept of group selection keeps popping in evolution studies, but it doesn't have much of a track record as a useful explanation for anything.)

Thursday, March 08, 2012

No Relation To Gary Oldman

There's no denying birthday boy Gary Numan was a one-hit wonder (in America, anyway).  Not even much of a hit.  But it stays with you.

Mickey Monkee

Happy birthday, Mickey Dolenz. (I'm betting he's had better celebrations.) He was the main cut-up on The Monkees, and probably had the most lead vocals on their albums. They were mocked back then by hip people, but their songs have held up better than a lot of others'.

Here's one he wrote:

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Let's Play Two

Happy 60th, Ernie Isley. He played guitar and wrote songs for his brothers.

The Boy

Robert Sherman, one of the Sherman brothers, has died.  They were Disney's top songwriters for years, and wrote the songs for Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and many others.

The Sherman's first big hit was for Annette Funicello, "Taul Paul":

Annette was a Mouseketeer, so this song got Walt Disney's attention.  He signed the Sherman boys to an exclusive contract.

Mary Poppins was the biggest hit Disney ever had and much of its success is due to the score. This song won an Oscar:

Their best known song may just be their most hated, because once you get on the ride, you can't get off.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Gassin' Up

Two thoughts about filling the gas tank from this last weekend:

Here in Burlington, the price of gas at most stations is somewhere in the $3.80's for a gallon of Regular. Yet, this last Sunday I managed to stumble on a station (two stations, actually; a Shell and a Mobil, if it matters) that was offering Regular for $3.67 a gallon. Needless to say, I filled up - and it wasn't just a Sunday special. I went back the next day with my other car and filled that one up, too.

So, my first thought was to ask the other "Guys" - and anyone else who wants to chime in - what's the price of gas in your area and are there any places you know of where you can grab a tankful for considerably less than the going rate? I don't know about you, but I was shocked to see a 15 to 20 cent difference within a three or four mile area.

While filling up, I noticed a sign that had been taped on the front of the pump. The sign said that the township I was in had passed an ordinance requiring drivers to stand by the pump while filling up and explicitly stated that if the driver moved away from the pump - to clean the windshield or perhaps get back in the car if it's really cold - the cashier inside would be required to shut off the flow of gas to the pump. This was despite the pump having the latch on it that allows you to do just that.

Most of the gas stations I've gone to recently have had the kind of pumps that don't have the latch. They force you to stand and pump because that's the only way the gas will continue to flow.

So, my second thought is to ask - is this the new normal for gas pumping? Is this some EPA thing where they're so afraid of a gas spill that we have to stand at the pump in order to not overfill our gas tanks?

Leftover Vanity Plates Of The Month

Here's one I like:  8 ONE 8.  For those of you not from LA, it's the Valley's area code.

NAMKNIP.  Someone named Pinkman (who doesn't like the name?).

AONEGRA.  If they'd used the numeral, they'd have had room for A-1 Grade.

IPRTECT.  I assume it's a cop.

BLKELMT.  This might have been confusing if the car hadn't been a black Element.

GWTWJW.  Not too sure what JW is, but this is a fan of Gone With The Wind.

When You Get To A Fork In The Road, Take It

I caught the pilot of Awake. It wasn't bad.  The concept is a police detective (Jason Isaacs with an America accent) in a car crash with his wife and son.  His life splits into two realities--one where his son died in the crash, the other where his wife did.  Or to put it more positively, both survived, just not in the same place.  Whenever he goes to sleep, he wakes up in the other.  So which is the dream? Is one a dream? Since we see things from his point of view, neither seems fake (and they're shot differently--one with bright, warm colors, the other with a shadowy, desaturated look).

In both worlds he sees a psychiatrist (the kind Cherry Jones in one, the confrontational B. D. Wong in the other) who are, of course, convinced the other world is the dream world.  Meanwhile, he's working on crimes--and helps deal with them by using things he learned in the other world.

And that's my problem.  This astonishing thing happens to the man, and we're going to watch him each week solving crimes?  I'm not sure how we can get any progress in figuring out which world is real (if one is fake) without ending the show.  It's a great gimmick for a movie, but week in, week out, I don't see where this will go.

PS  The actor who plays the detective's son is the same one who played Jack Shepard's son in the alta-world of Lost.  Is that supposed to be a clue?

Monday, March 05, 2012

Over My Dead Body

There's been a recent controversy where some members of the Mormon church posthumously baptized non-Mormons.  In particular, Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl, who was beheaded by Muslim terrrorists.  Obviously these Mormons think they're doing a good deed, but, especially taking into account a history of forced conversions, many Jews find this highly offensive.

The Mormon church apparently doesn't approve of this activity.  But on the spectrum of things religious people do to people of other religions, it's pretty mild.  It reminds me of people around the world praying for atheist Christopher Hitchens when he got ill. (Praying for others can be offensive, by the way, depending on context). These Mormon baptisms amount to some people with beliefs you don't share saying some words you don't believe some time after you're gone--not quite the same thing as torturing someone to make him change his ways.

I agree that Mormons and others should leave people alone to control their own religious destiny.  But Pearl's (and so many others') real problem isn't (and wasn't) overzealous Mormons.


Happy birthday, Penn Jillette.  The first time I saw him and his partner Teller I knew this was something different and great.  Since then, I've caught them numerous times and also met Penn a few times. (Actually, if you want to meet either, they run out into the lobby after their shows to talk to the audience.)

The first trick I ever saw them do is this classic--the best card trick ever:

Another classic was their take on cups and balls:

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Will, There's A Way

George Will has been making waves with his column on how the Republicans should concentrate on wiuning Congress this election year and essentially give up on the White House.

Neither [Romney nor Santorum] seems likely to be elected. Neither has demonstrated, or seems likely to develop, an aptitude for energizing a national coalition that translates into 270 electoral votes.

[....] it is perhaps premature to despair of Romney’s and Santorum’s political aptitudes. Still, the presidency is not everything, and there will be another election in the next year divisible by four.

This is just bizarre.  I agree President Obama should be considered the favorite, but he's still got weaknesses. In any case, once it gets down to two candidates, anything can happen. Why would Republicans give up now, or ever, before the election?

Will seems to think it could be a strategic loss, allowing for four years of a holding pattern while the Republican class of 2016 gets ready.  Maybe, but this rarely works out.  In general, losing leads to more losing. It's like giving up a touchdown early in the game in hopes it'll make your opponents overconfident.

And the White House is, if not all the marbles, at least most of them.  For Republicans, it's impossible to overturn Obamacare--a top priority--without the Presidency.  It'd also be much harder to pass major legislation.  Furthermore, by regulation and executive oversight the President can by himself, in effect, pass more laws than Congress (and also, in effect, stop or slow down Obamacare).  There's foreign policy, of course.  Then there's the Supreme Court.  It's always an issue, but it's possible the next four years will determine its orientation for a generation, so if Obama gets reelected, that could mean half of what conservatives want will be blocked for quite a while.  It's true Congress is up for grabs (in both directions), but any party would be smart to prefer the White House if you had to choose one.

But you don't have to.  It's not a zero sum game--lose the White House so you can do better in Congress.  The two go hand in hand.  Presidents don't always have coattails, but running a loser generally hurts your chances in other elections.  I really don't know what Will was thinking.

The Mack

It's the birthday of soul singer Bobby Womack.  He had a bunch of hits on the R&B charts, but his only top ten song on the Billboard Hot 100 was "Lookin' For A Love."

Today, his best-known number may be "Across 110th Street," since Quentin Tarantino used it to start his 1997 film Jackie Brown.

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