Monday, April 30, 2012

Parting Gift

Speaking of birthdays, not too long ago a friend called me and asked for my address so she could send a thank you note for her birthday present.  I gave it to her, but after I hung up, I realized what I should have said, which was along the lines of "you just called me, which is quite enough--no need now to send a thank you note as well."

I'm not sure if I even like the idea of thank you notes for a birthday gift. A birthday isn't exactly a formal occasion, like a wedding or a bar mitzvah.  If you don't have to dress up for the event, I would think just being grateful when you receive or open up the present is enough.

Oh How We'd Cry

So I finally did it. Ten years after it aired, I watched the first, and only, season of Firefly--all fourteen episodes.  The show was created by Joss Whedon, best known for the series Buffy The Vampire Slayer (which I haven't yet watched), and though it flopped, it still has a cult following.  I can see why.  It's pretty good. Maybe not a classic, but at least at the level where enough people should have watched so there'd be more seasons.

The weird thing is I saw Serenity, the movie based on the show, when it came out, so I knew the basic characters and, more importantly, where the show was going.  Still, I hadn't seen the movie since it was released in 2005, so Firefly still seemed pretty fresh. ("Serenity" is the name of the spaceship in the show, and "Firefly" is the class of the ship.)

The story is set centuries in the future, when humanity has left Earth (though no faster-than-light speeds allowed) and lives on the planets and moons of another star system.  People speak English mixed with a little Chinese, often for swearing.  There are the inner planets solidly controlled by the Alliance, and the more wild outer planets. Just as Star Trek was sold as Wagon Train in space, so is Firefly a western with sci-fi trappings.  In fact, much of the appeal is in the dialogue, which is not only witty (in Joss Whedon style--which can get a little precious), but mixes the futuristic lingo with archaic locutions rarely heard outside Westerns.

The Serenity operates mostly outside the law, smuggling and taking on other questionable jobs in opposition to the Alliance.  It's run by Captain Mal Reynolds.  Along with his second-in-command, Zoe, he fought against the Alliance years ago in a losing cause.  The others on the ship are Wash, the pilot; Inara, a Companion, or courtesan, who rents one of its shuttles and actually makes the Serenity more respectable; Jayne, an old crook and tough guy; Kaylee, master mechanic; Book, man of the cloth; Simon, brilliant surgeon and his sister, River, who's even more brilliant but crazy.

The pilot (which I understand was not shown first since Fox wanted to get to the exciting stuff faster) sets up the history of Mal as well as how he gets his passengers, while a later episode "Out Of Gas," shows how Mal assembled his misfit crew.

Though there are serial aspects to the show, the episodes are self-contained stories.  And considering there are only 14, it's amazing how many recurring villains they have.  First, there's the Alliance in general, but then there are the Blue Gloves chasing after River for some unknown reason (that the movie explains), Adelei, a violent mob boss whom Mal double-crossed, and Saffron a con woman (played by Christina Hendricks) who shows up a couple times trying to fool the crew.  There's even Badger, a fellow smuggler, who can't really be trusted (played by Mark Sheppard, who was also Romo Lampkin on Battlestar Galactica, one of the worst characters ever).  On top of which you've got the Reavers, animalistic humans who live on the fringes of civilization.

Another major aspect is the relationships between the regulars.  Wash and Zoe are married (which may be a mistake, since it takes them out of the running, but perhaps gives Mal a freer hand).  Inara and Mal love each other, but can't admit it.  Jewel pines for Simon, though he's a bit too awkward to usually even notice, and is mostly concerned with taking care of his sister.

The adventures are fun, but it's Nathan Fillion as Mal who holds the show together.  He's an outlaw, but he's got a code.  He demands the crew be loyal, but he also inspires loyalty with his basic decency, not to mention his talent for getting out of jams.

Most of other characters are okay, though Simon is a bit dull, Book is all but worthless, and, even with his penchant for taking in strays, I don't see why Mal would keep aboard Jayne--a man who'd sell you out soon as look at you.

Many of the actors have gone on to success in other shows.  For instance, Nathan Fillion has the title role in Castle, Alan Tudyk (Wash) is now on Suburgatory and Morena Baccarin (Inara) can be seen on Homeland.  They've also done other sci-fi stuff, such as Summer Glau (River) in The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Jewel Staite (Kaylee) on Stargate Atlantis and Moren Baccarin again on V.  But I admit, for most of them, after watching Firefly, that's the part you'll associate them with.

I think the characters and the relationships could have deepened, and the plots could have gotten more complex, if the show had been allowed to continue.  I wonder if it could have been a hit if it got a new time slot and another season to prove itself?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Behind The Curtain

As regulars may know, today is my birthday. Though this blog doesn't get massive traffic, we've got a decent amount of readers, so I thought I'd take some time out on this special day and go a little behind the scenes.

Though I, LA Guy, am responsible for the lion's share of posts, I did not start this blog. Pajama Guy, who is a real person, did--back in late 2004, just before the election. He was most interested in politics, and invited me to join soon after he began. Then, less than a year in, he left.

We've added a bunch of Guys since, as you can see in the upper left of this page, but most of them, for whatever reason, are silent or rarely contribute. Don't ask me why, ask them.

Anyway, since I have been the main writer here, the blog has been more a mix of politics and entertainment, with an emphasis, I'd say, on the latter. Really it's about whatever I feel like writing on. But I do have certain rules, and though most of them could be figured out by a close reading, I feel like I'm the only one who knows about them. So I guess they're for my own satisfaction, since there's no punishment if I break them.

So let me explain what's going on here.

I see the blog as not only a chance to express my opinions, and get comments back, but also as a way to keep in practice as a writer. For a while I put up as much or little as I felt like, but a few years back I decided to post two pieces a day. I usually write them fairly fast, since I have other things to do and, after all, I'm not paid for this.  Perhaps the quality of thought and expression would be higher if I wrote less often, but I'm going for quantity, and if every now and then I hit on something good so much the better.

I don't write two pieces a day, I just post two. Occasionally, I'll put up an extra piece if something comes up suddenly and it's timely--a death, for example--or if some pieces are time-driven--birthday salutes, for example. Sometimes, if the piece is big, like the annual film wrap-up, it's the only post I'll put up that day.

This means that many pieces are held in storage. (The blog didn't always allow it, but I can decide the time and day when any post will go up.) Something like a book review or a look at an old film or TV show can be bumped from its slot over and over--even though I often start the piece with "I recently read" or "I just saw." All I can say is it was true when I wrote it. (I've got a piece on the Twilight Zone that's been waiting about six months to get posted.)

How many pieces are stored up?  It varies, but I usually have somewhere between a week to two weeks prepared, so if I were to be hit by a bus you wouldn't know if for a while. (There are also a fair number of pieces, especially birthday salutes, ready to be published months in advance. I come up with these salutes two ways. Sometimes I'm listening to some music and think it would be good to write about this artist, so I look up the birthday and do it. And sometimes I need a piece to fill up the day so I look for famous birthdays on that date.) I write a lot of the posts--especially the ones that can be published any time--on the weekends, though obviously some, such as reactions to recent news or shows, have to be done with less lag time. Even then, I'll often wait a few days with a finished piece on a timely subject because the slots are already filled.

Every post, with the exception of those I call Stray Thoughts, has a link, even if some are only tenuously related to the post--the way I see it, I'm keeping with the theme of commenting about something that's going on. Nevertheless, pretty much all my pieces can be understood without clicking through to the link.

I also have the capability of putting a link in the title*. When I do, there are three dots in front of it--I'm not sure how many readers are aware of this. I generally don't have links in titles, but, as many of them are plays on words, or allusions, I'll occasionally put in a helpful link to explain what I'm getting at.

By the way, I capitalize each word in my titles, except when I have two titles for one post and the "or" I place between them is lower case.

As for the two pieces posted each day, I try to make sure they're not of the same type--I would avoid two book reviews, or movie reviews, or political commentaries, etc. I also try to make sure there's at least one photo or video each day. (We didn't used to have visuals at this blog, but that was mostly because I didn't know how to do them well.  A format change some years back made it much easier.)

My pieces are almost always posted between midnight and 12:30 am. I don't write them then, I just like starting the day with them, so each date has its own material for 24 hours.  I believe a number of readers have figured this out and wait around to get the news hot off the press. After they're published, I sometimes rearrange them if I think it looks better. I try to avoid too many visuals stacked from one piece to the next, though sometimes this is inevitable.  I also usually prefer the longer piece below the shorter one.

Often, just before they're set to go, I'll give the posts a final check to make sure they read well and don't have any typos (though, as faithful readers know, I often fail at this latter task). I'll also check videos--some of which have been waiting for months--to make sure they still play and haven't been shut down.  Occasionally I make minor revisions in the text after something is posted, but usually to improve the writing, almost never to change content.  If something new comes up, I'll occasionally add a PS to note it (though most PS's are written with the original post).

We tend to get slightly more visits on weekdays than weekends.  If I have a post that's less significant than others (not that you could easily tell), I'll often save it for Saturday, which is our least-read day.

As for the photos, they're added after the piece is written. I try to pick something related---easy enough for movies and TV. I usually go to Bing, since it's easy to work with, or sometimes Google, which has good image updating. These search engines usually offer a number of photos to choose from, and I try to pick the most interesting and/or relevant.

I generally place the visual within the text, usually in the paragraph that refers to what's in the picture. If the character or character are looking to the left, I'll usually put the picture on the right, and vice versa. (That way, it sometimes seems as if the character is looking at or reacting to what I wrote.) If there's more than one picture in a post, I'll try to switch sides.

For videos, they take up the whole horizontal space, and are obviously related to the subject. Usually they're music videos. Depending on the artist, I'll usually choose one to three pieces. I'll often, but not always, place them in chronological order. There's often more than one version of a song available, so I choose the video based on both sonic quality and visuals--not always an easy mix, since some may be great in one way and weak in another.

There are certain posts that have become regulars. Most obvious is, I would think, my "Vanity Plates Of The Month," where I discuss vanity plates I've seen. I started doing it a few years ago. I publish a new one on the first of each month, followed by "Leftover Vanity Plates Of The Month" several days later. Every day I'm on the road I see them, and I write down what I remember when I get home, and use the most interesting.

Then there are annual pieces. There's the film wrap-up, awards for the year, predictions for next year and looking back at last year's predictions. There are certain items that come up each year, like the Oscars, the Tonys and certain sports events which I'm likely to write about. Then there are my favorite TV shows which I'll often recap and discuss.

So that's how things work here.  Any questions?

*I did have this ability, until a new template was forced on me about a week ago.  Now I don't seem able to do it, or at least haven't figured out how yet, so I guess from now on readers will just have to guess what I'm getting at with the title.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Dude!

Happy birthday, Jorge Garcia.  Hurley was probably the most beloved character on Lost. He not only provided much-needed comic relief, but added a lot of soul.

(Do I still need to give a spoiler warning?):



End Of The Chase

I recently received an email from my bank, Chase.  It was addressed:

"Notice ID:                                    VBMHWBJKSY"

An odd way for a business to address me.  Don't they know my name?  Why the long space?  And I've certainly never heard of this ID.

Anyway, here's the body:


Dear Customer,

JPMorgan Chase & Co. temporarily suspended your account.
Reason: Billing failure.
We need you to complete an account update so we can unlock your account.
To confirm your Online Banking records click on the following link:

http://securitychase.smnnshhey.servebbs.net/cha/index.php?chase_online_=RR.COM

Once you have completed the process, we will send you an email notifying
that your account is available again. After that you can access your account at any time.

The information provided will be treated in confidence and stored in our secure database.
If you fail to provide required information your account will be automatically
deleted from JPMorgan Chase & Co. database.

╘2012 JPMorgan Chase & Co.

LPMJDKOGLTGXELZYPEYYBJNVGYDWRCMXLNXQTT

Let's assume I'm potentially stupid enough to send these people my information.  Let's even assume I believe they need an update from me for them to unlock my account.  I think it's the final coherent sentence that would convince me this is nonsense.  Why would my account be deleted, rather than just remain suspended?  I have money in there, money they owe me.  They can't just delete it without a good reason--and if they do, they better send me my money first.

Also, the array of letters at the end may look like fancy computer talk to some people, but it looks like gibberish to me.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Not So Quick Silver

The usually alert Nate Silver makes an surprisingly blinkered argument when he claims the Supreme Court striking down Obamacare won't help the President in November.

Here's how he puts it:

1. Mr. Obama does not face a major problem with his base, but his standing is tenuous with swing voters.

2. Among swing voters, the health care bill is not very popular.

3. The Supreme Court declaring the health care bill unconstitutional will not make it more popular among swing voters.

All true, but it has nothing to do with the real point.  This isn't about getting the base worked up, or figuring out a better way to sell the health care law.  What matters is if the Court tosses out Obamacare, it'll mean Romney can't run on the issue (in fact, he'd be the candidate who successfully passed government-run health care).  For voters in the middle who don't like the law, it'll mean it's no longer necessary to vote in Romney to get rid of it, as he's promised to do.

Obamacare hurts Obama.  No Obamacare, less trouble.  What about this does Nate Silver not understand?

January In April or All Bets Are Off

Larchmont Village is around the corner from where I live.  It's a charming block of cafes and boutiques, on Larchmont between Beverly and Third.

One of the features of life in LA is you sometimes see celebrities.  But one thing I'd never seen, outside red carpet events, is paparazzi.  Yet there I was, yesterday, walking down Larchmont when I noticed five men with cameras standing around.  Then a blonde came out of a building pushing a baby carriage and they jumped up and started shooting.  She put the baby in the car as they were snapping away.  She pulled out and I bet she had to be careful not to run any of them over.

It was January Jones, of Mad Men fame.  Someone--who would do such a thing?--must have tipped them off.  What impressed me most was how she acted as if they didn't exist.  I guess she gets it everywhere she goes. (When it stops is when you worry.)

I'm not sure why they were so interested, though I guess a lot of sheets will pay money for Jones with her child.  She gave birth last year and apparently hasn't yet revealed the identity of the father.  Still, what a way to make a living. On both sides.

By the way, without the hair, makeup, etc., she doesn't look much like Betty Draper. I probably wouldn't have noticed her if not for the photographers.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Out House

The latest episode of House"Body And Soul," really annoyed me. It was about a Hmong boy who dreams that a demon is strangling him.  When he wakes up he can't breathe. House's team fails several times before they finally come up with a simple solution--Ibuprofen--based on a billion-to-one diagnosis.  Par for the course.

Except all along the boy's grandfather claims the ancient spirits are angry, so performs an exorcism while they give the boy drugs.  That and a few other unexplained incidents leaves open the question as to what actually was wrong.

One of the great things about the show has always been that House will consider a lot of possibilities, but he won't put up with magical explanations.  Numerous patients have come in with superstitions--some have even tried to con him--but he always finds out the actual cause.

So the old House, and the old House, would have shown what the real problem was. Instead, we end up with the cop-out we seen on hundreds of other shows...was it the rational explanation, or was it something else?  A tiresome plot point that House has always been smart enough to avoid until this, one of its last episodes.  Pity.

The Real Borscht Belt

I just caught Exporting Raymond, a documentary from Phil Rosenthal about Phil Rosenthal traveling overseas to adapt his series, Everybody Loves Raymond, to Russian television.  The tension, and humor, mostly comes from how Rosenthal's view of the show--the more realistic, the funnier it'll be--clashes with the Russians'.

His costumer wants to put the housewife in glamorous designs.  Most of the writers and producers seem to think Russians prefer broad comedy (The Nanny is already a big hit there).  And many of the actors don't get the material.  Rosenthal would also like them to shoot in front of an audience, but the dank studio doesn't have that capacity.

Rosenthal himself is a decent writer (I read some stuff of his before Raymond and was impressed), but I always found the show fairly generic, even if he found it truthful.  You can't know, of course, how truthful the documentary is--no doubt Rosenthal shot many many hours, and was able to tell the story he wanted. He paints himself as a sad sack, not to mention a a gefilte fish out of water, but I wonder.  Sometimes what sneaks through is a very powerful, strongminded show-runner who will get what he wants if he has to fight everyone.

Perhaps this is a spoiler, but the film has a happy ending. After all sorts of problems, the show goes on the air and is a big hit.  The documentary, however, was not.  Ironic, since I like it better than the sitcom.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Give Me A Place To Stand And I Can Pump All The Gas In The World

I usually get gas at my local ARCO station since it's cheapest there. Last time I was at the pump I noticed a sign that read "I Save, Therefore I ARCO - ARCOmedes, Famous Greek Mathematician."

There's a lot going on here.  First, the pun on "I think, therefore I am." Weird to see it at a gas station.  But then the pun on Archimedes, which is even better.  Then noting ARCOmedes is a famous Greek mathematician.  First, it's a made-up name.  Second, either people have heard of Archimedes or not--if they haven't, you can say he's a famous anything, who cares?  Finally, for an ad trying so hard, anyone who might be impressed with its erudition would have to know that the original quotation is from Descartes.

Here I SAT, Brokenhearted

Here's a humorous piece by a 35-year-old who decided to see how he'd do if he took the SAT again.  It's not a pleasant outcome.  Perhaps I should disqualify myself from commenting since I used to be a test tutor, but really, is it that hard?

He takes it cold, which is probably a mistake, especially on the math section.  But really, the two questions he shows for math that completely stumped him are quite simple and don't require a lot of background.

For instance, one question shows a polygon with equal sides that's mostly covered by a piece of paper so only two of its angles show.  Then you're told what the two new angles created by the polygon and the paper equal, and you're asked how many sides the polygon has.  His response?

I just ... Christ. Where do you even begin to figure out the methodology needed to solve this? I guessed. I guessed wrong. That's the amazing thing about the SAT. YOU WILL NEVER GUESS RIGHT.

Calm down.  All you need to know is the basic rule for the interior angles of a polygon, which is (n-2)x180.  (If you've forgotten, just figure how many triangles you can divide the polygon into.) To figure out each angle of a polygon with equal sides, divide by n.

So all you have to do is take the four-sided polygon created by the paper and what we can see of the unknown polygon, subtract the two angles they give you from 360, divide by two (for the two angles of the polygon shown), shove it into the general equation and you've got your answer.

And if that fails, learn to guess better.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Failing The Test

In many posts I quote someone's position and then take issue with it, but sometimes it's best to stand back and let a pundit argue with himself.

"Our forefathers got it right -- no religious test" by Michael Medved, 4/25/12:

The ugliest byproduct of this year's protracted struggle for the Republican presidential nomination involves the unwelcome return of the discredited, dangerous old idea of imposing religious tests on candidates for public office.

[....] Of course, some fervent social conservatives will protest that the evaluation of legally qualified candidates based on their theological perspectives hardly amounts to a "religious test" officially banning aspirants from the ballot or public positions.

But most of the Founders objected even to informal religious tests and demonstrated a consistent willingness to confer positions of responsibility on those who did not share their religious beliefs.


Despite the recent spate of major bestsellers touting the virtues of atheism, polls show consistent, stubborn reluctance on the part of the public to cast their votes for a presidential candidate who denies the existence of God.

[....] Actually, there’s little chance that atheists will succeed in placing one of their own in the White House at any time in the foreseeable future, and it continues to make powerful sense for voters to shun potential presidents who deny the existence of God. An atheist may be a good person, a good politician, a good family man (or woman), and even a good patriot, but a publicly proclaimed non-believer as president would [...] be bad for the country.

The worst part is I don't think he sees any hypocrisy here.

Triple Sunday

Here's an overview of three hourlongs on Sunday.  It's really too much to watch, much less write about.

Mad Men:

I really don't know what to make of "Far Away Places."  Good or bad, though, it reminded us that Mad Men does stuff no one else even attempts.

This week we followed Peggy, Roger and Don and the troubles they have with relationships.  Since Roger took LSD, the episode did some time-tripping of its own.  Also, each story had two characters lying back and looking up, and had one being woken up and asking what time is it.  They all left us wondering where these characters are going.

We start with Peggy. She's got the big Heinz re-pitch today and is fighting with her lover.  She gets into work and just before the pitch Don informs her he and Megan are taking off upstate.  Peggy feels a bit blindsided, but it's Don, who does what he wants, and no one can tell him otherwise.

The pitch doesn't go well--still not college-y enough.  Peggy tries to pull a Don by telling the client he actually likes it, and only succeeds in getting herself fired from the account. (Peggy must be getting tired of Heinz because I'm already tired of it and she's been on it longer than I have.)  She goes off in the middle of the day to watch a movie (her boyfriend had wanted to see The Naked Prey but she checks out Born Free).

At the cinema she borrows a joint from a patron. (Was New York that hip in '66?) He sits next to her and tries to put the moves on.  She says no, but instead gives him a hand job.  There's something you don't see too often.  She returns to the office and meets Ginsberg's annoying Jewish father.  She falls asleep and is woken by Dawn (not the dawn) and answers a call from Don about Megan.  What's up with that?  Guess we'll find out later.  Peggy then finds out from Ginsberg that he was born in a concentration camp, which she has troubling processing. She realizes she needs some reassurance.

Roger is going to a party with Jane, though clearly they're unhappy.  It's Jane's smart set, arguments about beauty and truth.  And just when you think the party's about the end, someone announces it's time to turn on.  This was the point of the party, but Roger didn't really pay attention.

Anyway, he's not the type to turn down an easy high, so he goes along with Jane and takes the sugar cube.  As much as we love Roger, he's probably the one most in need of a personality change, and if anything can do it, it's LSD.

We have a calm but trippy sequence. (I thought playing some of Pet Sounds was maybe a bit on the nose.) Roger and Jane get home, still under the influence, lie on their carpet and discuss what's going on.  She admits she knows it's over but is waiting for him to say it.  Next morning, he feels enlightened and is ready to leave.  Jane isn't sure at first that they should listen to what they said while high, but it seems, now that it's out in the open, they both know it's going to happen.  And it'll be costly, but the new Roger doesn't seem to mind.

Don's story has Roger suggesting they go on an upstate romp to meet the Howard Johnson's people, but instead Don takes Megan out of work (just before the Heinz pitch).  She's moody and ultimately quite unhappy he undermined her at work and treats her like she's a wife rather than a worker.  Especially when he starts thinking up work ideas once they get to the Howard Johnsons.

(Two unrelated points:  1)  I don't usually get nostalgic for things on the show, but it does't seem that long ago that Howard Johnson's was simply a part of America, like McDonalds or Holiday Inn.  What happened?  2)  I once was driving from New York to Montreal, took a wrong turn, had my car break down and got stuck in Utica.  It was actually a nice weekend.)

So Don and Megan have a big fight in HoJo's, and he walks out and drives off.  He comes back but she's gone.  (In-between we have an odd little flashback to when they're driving the kids back home after summer vacation, while Don whistles "I Want To Hold Your Hand," which has grown on him.) After a lot of worry and searching, he finds her back at their place.  They get over it, but you wonder if their relationship will change.  (I wouldn't mind.  This more domesticated Don isn't as interesting.)  Back at work, Bert tells Don it's time to get back to work for real.  I guess someone can talk to Don that way.  (Robert Morse doesn't get that many lines, but he makes the ones he does get count.)

So another episode, where a lot happened and nothing happened.  And one of the trippiest since Don took off with the Jet Set.  No Betty, which is fine.  No Joan or Harry, which is not so fine.

Game Of Thrones:

"Garden Of Bones" was a dark episode, but still a lot of fun.

We start with another surprise victory for Robb Stark, who's so noble he's almost as priggish and dull as Stannis.  He meets another one of GOT's strong women, Talisa, tending to the wounded.  I thought last week maybe we'd met all the main characters for this season, but you never do on this show.  She and Robb have a very modern conversation on the wisdom of war, and that's it for Robb this week.  Nice to see you.

The despicable Joffrey is not happy with Stark's march.  He has Sansa at court and plans to hurt her (it not--yet--kill her) when Tyrion comes in an stops the nonsense in his clever way (by noting the deficiences of his nephew without directly contradicting him or threatening him).  Bronn suggest maybe the idiot-king needs something to take his mind off things, so Tyrion sends a couple of whores to his chamber. He has one hurt the other to fling it into Tyrion's face later.

Lord Baelish travels to Renly's camp.  Renly is no fan of Littlefinger, of course, but that's nothing next to Cat, who believes (correctly) this is the man who betrayed her husband.  He tries to explain there was nothing to be done, and if she's willing to be sensible, perhaps a trade can be arranged--Jaime for Sansa and Arya.  (He's lying about Arya, but she doesn't know that.) He brought back the remains of Ned as a peace offering.  Tyrion is behind this, as he's behind so much, but Baelish, who loves Cat but is also very subtle, is clearly the man for the job.

Out in the Red Waste, Dany hears good news--that the greatest city ever, Qarth, will let them in.  Good to see her again. Meanwhile, Arya, Gendry and the rest are marched to the cursed Harrenhal.  Every day the Mountain chooses some lucky lad to be tortured for information and then killed.  (Arya tries to hide--he might recognize her.) And that's life at Harrenhal.

Stannis and Renly, with their seconds and thirds and so on, have a powwow. Doesn't go well, since Stanis will never yield (to be fair, he has to best claim to the throne) while Renly is more popular and has more soldiers.  Too bad, since if they could work together, and join with Robb, they could easily take King's Landing.

At Qarth, Dany doesn't get quite the greeting she hoped for. The place is run by the head merchants, the Thirteen, and while they'd love to see her dragons, they're not that disposed to letting Dothraki in.  (Which is why the land outside is called the Garden Of Bones.)  Luckily, one of the merchants, who's a bit of an outsider himself, is willing to vouch for them.  Wow, Dany and her small band will be able to raise her dragons.  Watch out!

At Harrenhal Gendry is picked, but before he gets the treatment, no-nonsense Tywin rides in (a day early) and puts an end to such foolishness. They need bodies to fight, not to torture.  He also easily sees Arya is a girl disguised as a boy.  He takes her on as a cupbearer. Interesting.

Tyrion gets a warrent from Cersei to release Pycelle.  Tyrion figures the Lannister messenger is Cersei's lover and so he controls him--let Pycelle out, he's now harmless, while Tyrion (who goes from strength to strength) now has a spy with the Queen Regent.

Stannis has Davos do some smuggling again, taking the Red Woman to his brother's side, where she lays down, pregnant, and deliver something spooky. (This is the fantasy part of the story which I find least interesting). Is Renly ready for this?  Could anyone be?

So no Jon Snow, no Greyjoys, which are both fine with me.  No Jaime or Cersei, though no doubt they'll be in play soon.  Everyone is manevering around, but all eventually moving toward King's Landing (even at the Wall, I bet).

Once Upon A Time:

The show returned to new episodes, but now playing the same night as two really good shows, you see how weak it is.

We find out more from fairyland--that Rumpelstiltskin bailed on Bae, his son, who got a spell from the Blue Fairy to send them both to a land with no magic so dad would stop being so creepy.  In Storybrooke, Gold searches out August and suspects it's his son.  There's a tearful reunion, but soon after we discover August is a guy who's sick in the other world (he claims) so he wants Rumpel's power.  Too bad you can't get it in this world.

However, we discover (in another one of countless silly twists) that that's why Rumpel got this curse going that the Evil Queen used--so he could get to the land where his son was sent.  Meanwhile, Regina has Sidney falsely admit he's behind setting up the fake crime, and Charming and Snow (in the real world) continue to have boring relationship problems.

I guess things are changing a bit, but with a few more episode, I don't know if things are compelling enough to make me return.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Stick It

Speaking of bumper stickers, I saw an intriguing one over the weekend.  Can't remember the exact wording, but it was something like "THINK FOR YOURSELF/ SO FEW PEOPLE THINK AT ALL."

Is a mass-produced bumper sticker really the best place to announce people should think for themselves?

Odder still, when you think about it, these words of advice are pretty insulting.  We're supposed to read it and think the first line refers to us, but it's the second that tells us what we really are.

I should have raced ahead and cut the guy off.  When he complained I'd say "Sorry, I wasn't thinking."

Not A Leading Lady

The Vice President is the Rodney Dangerfield of government positions. John Adams call it "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." Daniel Webster turned down the office, saying he didn't wish to be buried until he was dead.  Hary Truman said the job consisted of going to weddings and funerals.  And John Nance Garner famously observed the position was "not worth a bucket of warm piss."

So while Presidents are great for drama, Veep's are naturals for comedy.  I suppose the most famous case was Alexander Throttlebottom in Of Thee I Sing--he's not much a part of the action, but he generally steals the show. And now we've got Veep, the new comedy from HBO, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the title character. She plays yet another Vice President who gets no respect, along with her hapless staff, played by Matt Walsh, Tony Hale and Anna Chlumsky.

Though she travels in the halls of power, it's easy for Senators to ignore her and the President (whom we never see) to dump his dirty work on her.  The pilot has her making a gaffe and hustling to undo the damage. (I might add that not much is made of Dreyfus being the first female Veep.)

It's a one-camera show, though, happily, not another fake documentary with people talking to the camera.  The people are smart (allegedly) and have snappy dialogue, often talking trash behind each others' backs, and using plenty of sexual metaphors. While the show has a cynical take, the character are at least not as vile as the high-powered characters in Showtime's House Of Lies.

As for politics, they're in the background.  Though the Veep's party is not mentioned, she does support some sort green project which doesn't seem to be going well. In general, Veep seems to be more about people than policy (though that might change).

Overall, I enjoyed the show, but I didn't laugh that much.  Perhaps that'll be easier now that the basic situation has been explained.  I'll certainly check back next week to see where it's going.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Does He Feel Like We Do?

Happy birthday, Peter Frampton.  Before he went solo, he played in several bands, most notably Humble Pie.  Once on his own, he recorded three studio albums that went nowhere.  His fourth album, Frampton (took him four tries to come up with that title) showed a little life on the charts, and had some nice numbers.



Then in 1976 he released Frampton Comes Alive!, a double live album.  It was just his old stuff, but for some reason, it struck a chord and become one of the biggest-selling albums of the era.

So big he could never live up to it.  His next album, I'm In You, went platinum on the heat from his live album.  The next one, Where I Should Be, only gold.  The rest didn't make the top forty, and usually not the top 100.

Good Times

Hey, it's Glen Campbell's birthday.  He was as a top session man on guitar--part of the Wrecking Crew--but by the late 60s became a major star on his own.

He had two #1 hits, both in the 70s--"Rhinestone Cowboy" and "Southern Nights." But I think his best hits were in the 60s, often written by Jimmy Webb.  For example, his first top ten song:



My favorite is probably this Webb creation that went to #4 in 1969:

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Get GOT

I've become a fan of Game Of Thrones and have discovered, more than for most shows, it's dangerous to follow on the web.  Because after any piece about a particular episode, if you start reading the comments section, you mix with people who've read the whole series and don't care about dropping spoilers.

In the past, when I'd occasionally miss a Lost or Battlestar Galactica or Sopranos or whatever, I could easily avoid word for a few days until I caught up.  In any case, no one except for people working on those shows knew what was happening next, so they could only spoil so much.  But those who have read the George R. R. Martin novels don't just know what'll happen next, they know what will happen for the next several seasons.  They know how most of the characters end up, including quite a few I haven't met yet.  So you'll end up reading something like (and I'm making this up, it's not a spoiler) "I like Jaime Lannister, too bad Stannis chopped off his head" or "who would have thought Lord Renly of all people would be the first to bed Brienne?"

So maybe I should just watch the show and ignore what others are saying, but these days being a fan puts you in a community, and it can be interesting to hear what they think. One thing I doubt I'll do is read the books.  I've never really gone in much for fantasy--not as a literary form, anyway. So I'll just have to take my chances.

Pop Up Video

Iggy Pop turns 65 today.  Has he retired from crawling on glass yet?  Either way, there's no performer like him.





Friday, April 20, 2012

Land Down Under

Yes, I know, Levon Helm died, but what got my attention was the death of Greg Ham.  He did the memorable flute work on Men At Work's "Land Down Under" thirty years ago.

A few years ago an Australian court decided the riff was stolen from "Kookaburra," a song written over 75 years ago by a Melbourne schoolteacher for a Girl Guides competition.

They can say what they want.  Until I know better, it belongs to Mr. Ham. Thank goodness the lawsuit happened years after Pop-Up Video--they would have had a field day.

Crispin's Day

Hey, it's Crispin Glover's birthday.  He's made a decent living as a Hollywood actor, though he seems more interested in his personal, anti-corporate projects, as this recent inteview suggests.

But for all his fine work on the big screen, I don't think anything he's ever done has been as memorable as his appearance on Letterman in the 80s:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Frankie Goes To Hollywood

Tim Curry turns 66 today.  He's played hundreds of roles in TV, movies and stage, but they all tend to be overshadowed by his lead in the ultimate cult film, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  He originated the role on stage, but I doubt he figured when he made the low-budget picture in 1975 that fans would never let him forget it.

Oh well, he can see it as a blessing or a curse.



America's Oldest Teenager

Dick Clark has died.  For someone who didn't sing or play an instrument, he sure had a big effect on rock and roll. Years ago I read his autobiography (which he wrote in 1976), Rock, Roll & Remember, and it gave me a grudging respect for the man.  Though I'd heard stories about what a tough bastard he was behind the scenes, he honestly loved the music.  Furthermore, rock music needed someone tough in those days to defend it.

As so often happens with a new musical craze, the kids naturally love it while the Establishment not only hates it, but believes there's some conspiracy to force it on the public.  ASCAP, the older musical society was suddenly being taken down by upstart BMI.  Powerful people didn't like this, thus you had payola hearings in 1959--though payola had been around forever.  They destroyed Alan Freed, but Dick Clark faced Congress down with enough confusing data until they cried uncle (though Clark did have to divest himself of shares in publishing and recording companies).  He kept America Bandstand and put the music out there for everyone to see and hear.  Thanks, Dick.









Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hit It, Leo

It's the birthday of everyone's favorite longhair, Leopold Stokowski.  Some critics complained he took liberties, but every conductor's gotta have a style.

Generic Title

I caught the pilot to the HBO sitcom Girls, about a group of young women trying to find themselves in New York City.  It's probably the most criticially-praised new series this season, but I'm of two minds.

The premise is an old one, but the fairly raw and realistic take is new.  This isn't Friends or Sex And The City, or even 2 Broke Girls. These girls aren't Hollywood beautiful and the situations they find themselves in aren't glossy and exciting: the pilot has the lead, Hannah, cut off by her parents and then fired from her job when she tries to turn her internship into a paid position.  We also see her having sex with her weird boyfriend (this is HBO, after all), and it's anything but sexy.

The show isn't hilarious, but it's well-observed.  If I have a problem, it's that these characters are on the edge of irritating, even whiny.  I realize that's the point--they're not perfect, they're real, and can't help but be self-involved.  But I also think we're supposed to be charmed by their quirkiness, and care about their little victories and losses, but I'm not that intrigued. Not yet, anyway.  Maybe it'll grow on me.

The pilot was pretty much a one-woman show.  Lena Dunham is the creator-write-director-producer-star.  It's an ensemble cast, but Girls reflects her sensibility.  If it succeeds or fails, she deserves the credit or blame.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bumped

There's a bumper sticker I recently saw with a picture of Einstein and a quotation: "You cannot simultaneous prevent and prepare for war." Einstein was a brilliant physicist, but I don't know if he's worth quoting outside his area of expertise.

The line is actually vague. (Was it better in German?) Does "prepare for war" mean take the necessary measures to launch a war as soon as possible?  If so, then the statement is a tautology.  But if it means arming yourself well enough to defend against an attack, then I have to question the wisdom. Will war be more or less likely if your neighbors know they can easily defeat you?  Seems to me preparation for war is in most cases a wise strategy, not only to defend yourself if attacked, but also to deter others from attacking in the first place.

I suppose it's a Prisoner's Dilemma situation, and I wish we could all cooperate and thus make armies unnecessary.  But that's never been how the world works and I don't see it changing in the near future.

Eating, Driving And Fighting

Quite an episode of Mad Men.  "Signal 30" seemed subdued, even hushed, most of the way, but it still was a knockout.  Written by great screenwriter Frank Pierson, with Matt Weiner.  Was this his first?  And directed by John Slattery.  Not his first, actually.

The opening indicates it's going to be Pete-centric.  He's watching car crashes in a driving class.  Guess he's out in the country now, time to learn.  But he's studying the hot teenage girl sitting in front of him.  Pete, isn't Trudy enough?  Next he's in bed. (For a second I thought it was all a dream.)  There's a leaky faucet driving him crazy which he goes to fix.  Like a first-act gun, you know it'll go off later.

Over at Lane's, his lovely wife wants to get to the fake pub to watch the World Cup soccer match.  They get there and England beats Germany, as anyone who's seen Sixty Six knows.  Anyway, Lane's new British mate represent Jaguar, so maybe they can do some business.

In a coffee shop, Ken is with an older man and he tries to ignore Peggy, though they have a pact to help each other.  Then we're at a partners meeting, run by Joan, who seems to be back with no questions asked.  Who knows how she's adjusting, but at least she's doing what she does best.  Lane drops the news about Jaguar.  Pete has an odd reaction. (He was acting odd the whole way.  I'm not sure if it's the character or Vincent Kartheiser.)  Thinking about it, we can see Land and Pete getting ready to go at it already--except everyone hates Pete.

Pete buttonholes Don and invites him to a Saturday party.  Don wants out, but Megan has said yes and Don can't talk Trudy out of it--that Trudy is truly formidable, handling Don as easily as she handles the baby (at the same time).

Ken goes to Peggy's office to explain he's been writing sf under a pseudonym (Ben Hargrove!) for years, and he was with a guy in publishing to put out a collection.  (I thought Ken had been writing classy stuff, like for the Atlantic.)  That's why he didn't live up to the pact.  Ken grabs the door to leave and Lane grabs the door to let Roger in, one of several too-arty transitions that Slattery didn't need to do.

Anyway, we get a fine scene where Roger shows he's still got the stuff, explaining how to hook clients by showing them a good time.  It's a date, and you've got to listen, and find out how you can commiserate with them.  Of course, this is Roger, who it comes naturally to, not stiff Lane.

At a break in driving class, Pete talks to the teenage, and it's a nice talk. He's laying the ground for further laying.  Is Pete that unhappy?  Is Pete that creepy?  Yes and yes.  In addition to the World Cup, she refers to Charles Whitman shooting student, and earlier we had a Braniff plane crash, which all set the date to the summer of '66.

Getting ready for Pete's party, Don drinks a bunch (before he's going to drive).  He really doesn't want to go--Don has always been his own man, but he's also turning into a bit of a fuddy duddy.  The couple can't remembers Ken's wife's name (which leads to a good gag when it's mentioned and Megan practically shouts "Cynthia!").  At the Campbell's, Pete is showing off his gigantic stereo to Ken, blasting Beethoven.  Don arrives, wearing the ghastly sports coat Megan got him. Everyone mingles and Pete is thrilled to finally have the great Don Draper at his house.  They've fought in the past, but Don has always represented what he wants to be.

We watch a bit of Lane at dinner with his British friend. (A lot of eating in this show, just like last week there was a lot of sleeping).  Everything he tries goes gloriously wrong.  Odd.  I once thought Lane was a professional, but not at this.

Back at the Pete's, they make small talk at dinner.  There's talk of this latest killer (Don corrects the name of "Whitman"--he'd know). Cynthia let's slip that Ken is a writer--she met him while working at a publisher.  He describes one of his stories about a robot who pulls out a bolt from a bridge between planets and kills thousands, because that's what he was told to do.  Don takes part and doesn't seem to be having such a bad time, though he's charming enough you can't always tell.

The girls go in the kitchen and start screaming.  The faucet has blown off and water is shooting out.  Thanks, Pete.  Don takes off his shirt and fixes thing. He's Superman--and looks great in his undershirt.  Trudy goes to get the baby, who's woken up, so it's the 60s, with men doing the plumbing and women taking care of the kids.

Driving back (at least Megan is driving now), Don is hot.  He'd also like a baby.  Megan pulls over, because Pete told her about safety in driving, and she couldn't believe how sexy Don was fixing the faucet.

Back at the office, Roger and Pete discover Lane's dinner didn't go so well.  Time to take it out of his hands. Pete decides they'll wine and dine the man and let Lane just be friends.  Roger cracks he's glad to still be included, though you'd think this is still his specialty. How'd he lose so much power?

So with Roger and Lane humiliated, it's Pete's turn.  At driving class, a handsome classmate comes in and robs the teenage girl's heart away.  What was Pete thinking.  He's not Don Draper.

Pete, Don and Roger take their new client out for a lobster dinner, complete with bibs.  He explains they'll get his business, but he needs a good time, something Lane can't provide.  Pete isn't very helpful, but Roger knows a classy whorehouse around the corner...

It is a pretty good place.  The clicnt gets his fun, and Roger and Pete (!) go off with their own girls.  Don could probably get it for free here, but, for now anyway, he's still holding on to his vow to Megan. In a pretty funny yet sad scene, the hooker tries different approaches until she finds one  Pete wants--not Honey, You're Home, not It's My First Time, but Take Me Your Majesty.

When it's over, they drop Mr. Jaguar off at his place.  Don and Pete have a little talk.  (Don lives around 72 Street, btw.) Pete is unhappy Don didn't partake, and almost feels resentful.  He says he has it all, which means he has nothing (which he'll say later). Roger is miserable, but Pete?  Don says it isn't worth throwing away.  Pete gets home and looks sad enough that he would if he could.

Someone snitched on Don--probably Pete--so Roger tells him to stop writing.  It seems a little harsh, but like Pete last night, Roger is saying what he does because he's the one who feels he's lost something.

Lane's on his way to the partner's meeting when he gets a frenzied call from his wife.  He gets to the meeting and orders Joan ("Mrs. Harris") out.  The client was discovered ('chewing gum on his pubis'), confessed, his wife calls Lane's wife.  They guys laugh, but Lane is angry.  Pete gets incredibly rude and Lane says it's time for fisticuffs.  He calls Pete a "grimy little pimp" and a punch-out follows!  They both get their licks in, though Pete gets the worst of it.  Don, Bert and Roger stand and watch (actually, Don closes the curtains and Rogers makes smart ass comments).  Joan listens in through the intercom. It's a memorable scene, that only Mad Men could do--both hilarious and hoarrowing.

Back at Lane's office, Joan brings in ice.  She seems to be the one woman who understands him.  He lunges at her  She gets up and opens the door.  (No harrassment laws then, of course, but Joan knows how to handle any situation--in the office, anyway.)  I suppose for second Lane hoped she'd be locking the door.

Peggy tells Ken she liked his story in Galaxy. But Ken Hargrove is now dead. Don and Pete go down in an elevator, and Pete can't understand how he's got here.  He says he has nothing.  I guess he's know.  Does Don have something with Megan?

We leave with narration from Ken Cosgrove, written by his newest nom de plume, Dave Algonquin.  I like then a lot better than his last one.  His work is inspired by what he saw at Pete's.  Good to see someone got something out of it.

A good episode--probably the best of the season so far.  Things still haven't gotten back to normal, as Roger asked for last week.  (No Betty, by the way, which is fine with me.)

Monday, April 16, 2012

New Plot, Old Tricks

The latest Game Of Thrones, "What Is Dead May Never Die," moved the plot forward and, I believe, we've finally got all our characters for the season in place.  The show also relied on a some old devices, but in the hands of GOT, they work.

We start with the aftermath of Jon Snow's problems from last week.  The Lord Commander, of course, knows all about what Craster is doing with his baby boys, but explains to Snow that when you fight beyond the wall, you have to accept the odd ways of your allies to defeat an even tougher foe.  Snow is learning, but it's hard.  And I don't think we're done yet with Craster's pregnant wife/daughter.

At Winterfell, Bran is still having dreams, though I'm getting tired of both Bran and his dreams.  Do something or move on.

Meanwhile, Lady Stark has made it to Renly.  Last we saw him, he was ready to run away when Ned Stark wouldn't back him at King's Landing.  He's married Lady Tyrell and joined two great armies, but he's a lover, not a fighter. Though not the kind of lover that will make a baby with his Lady--she knows, in fact, that he'd rather be with her brother, but she's willing to try to make things work.  Meanwhile, Renly's manly lover is beaten by a manlier knight, who happens to be a woman--Brienne. In a very old and tired move, we see her fight, and only then does she remove her visor so we can be shocked that she's a woman.  Usually this is done with a motorcycle helmet, and it never surprises anyone.  Anyway, she's not going to make it the feminine route, and is pleased to become one of the Kingsguard. Game Of Thrones is full of powerful women, though this is the first who's physically as powerful as a man. (The actress who plays her is tall like a man, but though she's supposed to be ugly, she's clearly not, even if they downplay her looks.) So is Renly, a very sweet guy, ready for a true battle?  He'll probably be willing to join forces with Robb and let him be King in the North, but is he an ally worth having?

The Greyjoys are definitely allies worth having, but Theon cannot convince his father or sister to join people who defeated them.  Quite the opposite.  While Robb is away, these iron people plan to take their ships and loot the northern coast. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, and soon Theon, rather than informing the Starks, is taking the pledge and becoming a true Greyjoy.  Hard to say how all this will play out (which is the point, of course).

But the main plot has to be Tyrion's.  The Imp's whore, Shae, is unhappy, stuck in the big city with nowhere to go.  If she pops her head out a window, it could be chopped off.  So Tyrion has an inspiration and places her as Sansa's handmaiden.  Sansa herself is not happy with her life as a hostage, but she's learned what she has to do.  Presumably, Sana will be happy she finally has someone to talk to.

The big development is the Imp uses an old strategy to fix a leak. He knows the Council has been deadly to Hands, as of late, so he tells each of his three ministers, Pycelle, Varys and Baelish, that he plans to forge an alliance by marrying off Cercei's daughter Myrcella.  Just one thing--the Queen must not know.  Of course, the Imp mentions a different mate to each, so once the Queen complains, he'll know who has the big mouth.  It's the oldest and for so long the subtlest of the three, Pycelle.  Tyrion has him thrown in a cell.

The Imp also seems ready to use Littlefinger to get Jaime back--he'll go to Lady Stark and offer a trade of Sansa (?). No matter how it plays out, Tyrion, as the Spider explains, is casting a large shadow. (Though with Joffrey around, no one is safe.)

Meanwhile, Arya can't sleep, and talks to Yoren.  He tells a loving story of killing an enemy, and then, as anyone could have predicted, the Gold Cloaks return. Yoren sent them packing, though they're back with the help of Tywin's men, and they mean to taste blood.  hem packing last time), though quicker than expect with help from Tywin's men.  There's general slaughter, and yet another of Arya's mentors dies trying to protect her. It's a tough racket.  The Cloaks are looking for Gendry, and quick Arya--who's also released the worst criminals before they burned to death in their cage (will they help out later?)--lies and says they already killed him.

And that's it.  With all the characters in the show, a bunch didn't show up--no Jaime, Robb, Stannis, Joffrey and others. Above all, no Daenerys.  I think this is the first episode without at least a little Targaryen.  Anyway, a little fighting, a lot of maneuvering this week.  And that's how we like it.

Look What Has Happened

Happy birthday, Dusty Springfield. You left us far too soon.

With her mix of pop and soul, I'm not sure there's been anyone like her since.  (Some might say, as the top commenter does for the YouTube video directly below, "her songs are a lot better than today's garbage!!!")







(The last video ends with a trailer that makes Casino Royale look like more fun than it is.)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Taking A Stand

At the movies this weekend, I saw an ad for Characters Unite, a public service program sponsored by USA Network:



Here's their pledge:

As a character of the USA, I pledge to stand against intolerance, prejudice, discrimination, and hate, and to promote greater understanding and acceptance. I believe life is richer and we are stronger as a country when we see beyond stereotypes and appreciate each other for the characters we are. After all, characters are what make us, USA.

I support their goals, but the question is how do you go about it.  It's too easy for the means to their ends to become repressive.  After all, they're asking for intolerance to create tolerance.

We have to be able to speak freely.  We have to be able to criticize others, even sometimes along lines that some may find offensive.  I don't know what stance Characters Unite take on such issues, but any movement that doesn't start with a base of such freedom has to be fought, not joined.

PS  If someone started a movement against ads shown in movie theatres, I'd take that pledge.

Closing Time

As some have noted, it's the 25th anniversary of one of the most unlikely bestsellers ever, Allan Bloom's The Closing Of The American Mind.  The book was a jeremiad against higher education, which professor Bloom claimed had failed democracy and impoverished students souls.

The book received great early reviews. Later, though, there was pushback--for two reasons, I think.  First, critics started to realize (or at least believe) the book was conservative. (Not that Bloom was a conservative, though many thought he was.) Second, a little-known academic, one of their own, became a rich celebrity, and that was too much to take.  So Bloom spent his last years enjoying his money and fame while being on the outs with the academic world.  If Bloom had one thing going for him, at least he tended to make more sense than his enemies.

I read the book years ago, so it's hard to go into much detail, but I wasn't that impressed.  It seemed the lengthy (and widely unread) portion of the book discussing major philosophical figures, while it had some points to make, featured a specialized, even pinched view of great ideas and their effects on the world today.  It's one thing to question the value of deconstuctionism, it's quite another to be threatened by the Enlightenment.

As to his much better-known look at contemporary culture, once again, some reasonable points were drowned out by too much cranky "get off my lawn" rhetoric.  The idea that minds that had once been open were now closed wasn't analysis, it was nostalgia.  Yes, there were cultural threats to deal with at the time, but there are always threats, and those of the 1980s weren't especially worse than in other eras.  Furthermore, Bloom seemed to have trouble distinguishing real threats from simple cultural fads--or even positive trends.  In any case, though we didn't change the way Bloom wanted, many of the cultural problems of that time have lessened in the intervening years.

Part of Bloom's answer was elitism of a type that goes back to Plato.  Once again, in small doses, not a bad idea--let the cream rise to the top, and spend their days discussing higher ideas in the groves of academe.  Let them publish and have their ideas filter into the wider world.  But that's only a small part of a system that's greater than philosophers, not run by it.  Furthermore, one of these ideas is relativism, and it's the job of the modern philosopher to deal with it, not slay it.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Cabin Essence

In the first sentence of Mark Olsen's LA Weekly review of The Cabin In The Woods, he gives away the ending.  He then has the nerve, in the same sentence, to claim what he just wrote wasn't really a spoiler.

Yes it is. A huge one. Olsen tells you where the movie will end up, something in question throughout the entire story.

It's always a tricky call for a critic--how much of the plot to give away. (The worst is when they reveal the twists and turns and act like it's their cleverness, not the film's.) But with this genre, in a review published a day before the film opens, you might think he'd know enough to give the reader a chance.  But no one could possibly be allert enough to stop that spoiler.

By the way, he, as opposed to most critics, doesn't even like the film.

He Didn't Say Boo

So George Zimmerman has been arrested and is facing second degree murder.  Like everyone else writing about the case, I don't know what happened*.  But considering what is known, and what likely can't be known, it sounds like a very hard case to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. (The probable cause affadavit isn't particularly impressive.)

The first investigation dropped all charages. Even if you believe it was flawed, that's quite a jump from no charge to second degree murder.  I've heard three explanations:

1)  The prosecution has a lot more than they're showing.
2)  Special prosecutor Angela Corey is making a political decision, giving the crowds marching against Zimmerman what they want.
3)  The prosecutor is overcharging, ironically, to throw the case.

The first point has been made by Corey.  The second point is widely believed--at least by people I know.  The third point is definitely a minority view.

Anyway, the question now is can Zimmerman get a fair trial.  When even the President has waded into the issue, it can be hard to find jurors without strong opinions.  Worse, some of the rhetoric surrounding the Trayvon Martin shooting has been heated enough that people may be fearful there'll be trouble following the verdict.  Will jurors be affected by this?

Zimmerman was arrested the same day the Academy had a fiftieth anniversary screening of To Kill A Mockingbird.  Host Tavis Smiley noted

What are the chances that this day in Florida George Zimmerman would be arrested? What are the chances that we sit in Beverly Hills on this day to see To Kill A Mockingbird, and these kinds of tensions still exist in our country?

To Kill A Mockingbird is the story of a man accused of a crime he didn't commit.  Lawyer Atticus Finch defends him, but the town is out for blood, and won't even consider any evidence that goes against their prejudices.  I guess the tension between the townfolk and Atticus parallel the tensions Smiley refers to. Or am I getting it wrong?

*I don't know what happened, but I can somewhat feel what Trayvon Martin went through.  Believe it or not, I've had neighborhood watch types follow me and call the cops on several occasions.  Every time it made me pretty angry, though luckily things never came to blows.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Out To Launch

A defiant North Korea launched a long-range rocket...only to have it break apart and fall into the sea.  It wasn't even Friday the 13th yet.

Is it that hard?  With a whole nation behind the project?  When I was a kid we used to launch rockets all the time.  I bet if I could pick ten friends from my college days and you gave us enough money, we'd be able to come up with something long-range.

Do we have any engineers or scientists reading this blog who can explain what makes this achievement so difficult?

Any Chance For A Nebula?

The 2012 Hugo Award nominees have been announced.  I generally don't pay too much attention as I don't read much modern science fiction.  But one category caught my attention this time around:

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

Doctor Who, ”The Doctor’s Wife”, written by Neil Gaiman; directed by Richard Clark (BBC Wales)
•“The Drink Tank’s Hugo Acceptance Speech”, Christopher J Garcia and James Bacon (Renovation)
Doctor Who, ”The Girl Who Waited”, written by Tom MacRae; directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)
Doctor Who, ”A Good Man Goes to War”, written by Steven Moffat; directed by Peter Hoar (BBC Wales)
Community, ”Remedial Chaos Theory”, written by Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna; directed by Jeff Melman (NBC)

I'm surprised, but quite pleased, to see an episode of Community up there.  And since it's perhaps their best episode ever, it better win.  But how can it lose against three (!) episodes of Inspector Spacetime.



PS  Here's another intriguing category:

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Captain America: The First Avenger, screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephan McFeely; directed by Joe Johnston (Marvel)
Game of Thrones (Season 1), created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss;
written by David Benioff, D. B. Weiss, Bryan Cogman, Jane Espenson, and George R. R. Martin; directed by Brian Kirk, Daniel Minahan, Tim van Patten, and Alan Taylor (HBO)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, screenplay by Steve Kloves; directed by David Yates (Warner Bros.)
Hugo, screenplay by John Logan; directed by Martin Scorsese (Paramount)
Source Code, screenplay by Ben Ripley; directed by Duncan Jones (Vendome Pictures)

Game Of Thrones deserves to win, even if it's not sf.  But certainly I'm not the first to note Hugo is up for a Hugo.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Rose declines Hall of Fame honour

Nope--not the one you think

Postscript:
The BBC blokes have just figured out they may be confusing some Americans and have clarified the headline

2 Joke Girls

Krysten Ritter is one of our favorites here at Pajama Guy, not only because she's so great as Jane in Breaking Bad, but because we choose to believe she's the only celebrity ever to leave a comment.

So I figured the least I could do was check out her new sitcom, Don't Trust The B---- In Apartment 23. It's an Odd Couple sort of set-up (or if that reference is too old, 2 Broke Girls.) Krysten, as the untrustworthy Chloe, has the title role.  The other lead is June, played by Dreama Walker--a naive girl from Indiana who comes to New York only to discover the job she had lined up, and indeed, the company that gave it to her, is gone.  She has to find a place to live (since the company apartment is also gone) so Chloe fools her, getting her to pay too much, planning to force her out in a few days with outrageous behavior.

June gets wise quickly, though, and won't go. Her fiance from back home shows up and Chloe, realizing he's cheating on her, has sex with him to prove he's no good. (I'm reminded of the pilot for Mary Tyler Moore, where she moves into a new place, gets a new job and dumps her fiance.)  An odd way to help someone, perhaps, but June realizes it's an act of kindness.

The supporting cast includes the next door neighbor Robin, who has a love/hate obsession with Chloe, Eli, a pervert who lives across the alley and can see into their apartment, and Eric, who would have been June's mentor at the company and is now her manager at a coffee house.  But the most interesting side-character is James Van Der Beek playing himself (or a version of himself).  He's an old friend of Chloe's and they hang out together.

The show is one-camera, like most sitcoms these days.  There writing is not set at a particularly believable level, which is good for doing wild gags, not so good for reaching the heart beneath.  But the leads are appealing and if I wasn't laughing a lot, I was amused. It's at least worth another look.

And Kyrsten, if you want to write us again, feel free.

Clownin' Around

Just missed Bill Irwin's birthday.  I suppose he's the top clown and (though he may not like the word) mime of his generation.



Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Without A Prayer

Lawrence O'Donnell recently said on TV:

Mormonism was created by a guy in upstate New York in 1830 when he got caught having sex with the maid and explained to his wife that God told him to do it. Forty-eight wives later, Joseph Smith's lifestyle was completely sanctified in the religion he invented to go with it. Which Mitt Romney says he believes.

I can't believe this rhetoric will help Obama, even though O'Donnell may see himself as making the attacks the Obama campaign isn't allowed to.  In any case, it's pretty slimy.

First, he's a hypocrite for attacking Romney this way but not, say, Harry Reid.  Second, it's easy for non-believers to mock the fantastic stories that virtually every religion has--but why would O'Donnell be so selective except that he's a hypocrite twice over?  Third, he's appealing to bigotry and the worst in people.  Fourth, this is irrelevant--we can see how Romney runs a state and what he believes politically, and it's got nothing to do with Joseph Smith's life or even that much to do with Romney's faith--the Founders didn't believe in a religious test for office, and this is a good example why.

In a non-related religious story, Dinesh D'Souza has a new book out trying to prove how you can have an omnipotent, loving deity and yet so much pain in the world.  Last time we heard D'Souza trying to justify his religious beliefs, he fell short.  From what I can tell, this book is another strikeout.

I'm being unfair, because I haven't read the book, but I did hear him discuss it on radio and if that snippet was anything like the rest of the book, I don't see any point in checking it out.

He talks about how for centuries people wondered why we had so much pain caused by natural disasters like earthquakes and volcanoes and tsunamis.  He claims modern science has helped explain.  Unlike other planets, we've got tectonic plates floating around, and this system allows life to develop--which is why those other planets are dead.  So the plates give us life, even though there's also the side effect of things like earthquakes and volcanoes.

So D'Souza is claiming his omnipotent deity is such a blunderer he can't even create a planet designed for life without having natural disasters that wipe out millions.  It's not the first time I've heard a religious person trying to explain something by claiming serious limitations on an omnipotent being's power, which makes me wonder what part of omnipotent don't they get?

Unreliable Nathan

In addition to keeping up with the latest on the tube (it's not a tube any more, is it?), the A.V. Club regularly discusses classic TV shows.  They've been working their way through The Simpsons and are now up to season 4 (twenty years ago!), where the show really hit its stride.

Nathan Rabin just reviewed the second episode, "A Streetcar Named Marge," which was preceded by "Kamp Krusty" and followed by "Homer The Heretic," all classics.  Later that season came "Mr. Plow," "Marge vs. The Monorail" and "Last Exit To Springfield," to list some highlights. Rabin seems to agree that "Streetcar" is a classic, but his review still has some odd stuff in it.

For instance, he says of Llewellyn Sinclaire, the Jon Lovitz-voice community theatre director, that he's "once one of the greatest one-off Simpsons characters of all time." Okay, this is his big episode, but he also makes quick appearances in "Sweets And Sour Marge" and "Flaming Moe."

In the subplot, with Marge in a play, Maggie is left at the Ayn Rand School Of Tots.  Rabin notes:

...pacifiers are seen as signs of weakness and consequently confiscated. In a parody of The Great Escape, Maggie eventually liberates the pacifiers and shares them with her imprisoned brethren, an act of altruism Rand herself surely would have frowned upon.

Even as a cheap swipe at Rand it doesn't make sense.  The pacifiers were confiscated.  Rand would almost certainly approve someone returning them to their rightful owners.

But these are small, almost ridiculous, nits to pick.  The thing I really noticed was this:

Watching “A Streetcar Named Marge” today it’s important to remember that the episode came out years before Waiting For Guffman and Hamlet 2, at a time when parodies of egregiously awful community theater and questionable musical adaptations weren’t such well-worn fodder for comedy.

Come on, making fun of bad acting, local theatre and dumb musicals has been a mainstay of comedy for I don't know how long.  Off the top of my head, in the popular 1980s stage production of Nicholas Nickleby, the first half climaxed with a ridiculous provincial theatre production of Romeo And Juliet (invented for the play, not in Dickens). Then there's Forbidden Broadway, the revue that mocks bad musicals, which opened in the 80s and is still updating itself.  There's also Soapdish (1991), which has a bit about a disastrous dinner theatre production of Death Of A Salesman.  And I don't think a TV season has gone by where at least one sitcom didn't do a takeoff on bad community theatre.

I'm sure readers can think of numerous examples that predate The Simpsons.  It's not that The Simpsons did it, but that they did it so well.  In fact, they've done similar things a number of times since, but rarely has it been so memorable.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Another Year

I put this up about a year ago.  I meant to post it on the 8th but certain things came up.  Anyway, thought I'd post it again:

A Very Old Friend

We're closing in on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, but something else happened in 2001 that shook me just as much. It was personal, and it happened exactly ten years ago today. One of my best friends, John Baker, died when he was hit by train. There are still days I can't believe it.

I don't think I've ever met anyone like him, and I'm pretty sure I never will. If you didn't know him, he's not easy to describe. He had sort of a deadpan manner. Not that he had no emotions, it's just that he didn't wear them on his sleeve. (It's why we sometimes played pranks on him in college--to see if we could get a rise out of him. Of course, we played pranks on almost everyone.)

I met him in college at the University of Michigan. In fact, he'd grown up in Ann Arbor. Back then he was a huge football fan. Bo Schembechler made his top three most-admired-people-ever list. His father was a Regent, and one of the fringe benefits of being his friend was it got me some nice football seats in later years.

After graduation, I left the state, but he stayed, working for Chrysler. Once he showed me a complicated equation to prove he was worth his salary--I reminded him not to leave out the overhead. When Daimler bought the company he said they were going to mix the two names together--they'd take the "Daim" from Daimler and the "ler" from Chrysler.

Anyway, even though we lived far apart, we stayed close friends. In fact, when I moved to Los Angeles, we started a voluminous correspondence. Up until the time I got email, we wrote each other on a regular basis--for almost a decade, we'd receive a letter and have one out the next day or so. And these weren't small letters. They tended to be five or six or seven typed, single-spaced pages. Add up everything he wrote and it'd amount to at least a couple novels. In addition, he often enclosed articles, pamphlets and other related material that he thought might be of interest--so much so that he starting using jumbo envelopes. I told him he could send me the other stuff if he liked, but it was his personal letter I cared about.

Right now, in fact, I'm looking at two garbage bags full of those letters. I rarely pull them out, but when I do, his voice comes alive again--it's like he's still out there.

John was a conservative, proudly so. It made him stand out (especially in Ann Arbor). Much of our conversation in later years was about politics. I can't tell you how many letters he wrote where he complained about Bill Clinton's latest outrage--"he just won't stop," as John was fond of saying. But John wasn't a caricature of a conservative. He may have been against a lot of liberal policies, but in person he was always open-minded enough to seriously discuss new ideas, and even, on occasion, change his mind. He also had a libertarian side. He'd been hassled by the police a couple times (not seriously, but any encounter where you don't think you're doing anything wrong can be unsettling) and questioned giving them too much authority. In fact, he generally favored a government with a light touch (which, these days, seems to be neither a conservative nor a liberal trait).

There were times he even made fun of his politics. In one letter he expressed a fairly liberal idea about something and then wrote he'd have to check if he was still conservative--yes, he still thought Norman Rockwell was the greatest artist ever. (He didn't have too much patience with artiness, by the way, but sometimes he'd surprise you. One of his favorite movies was the very artsy The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. But just as often, he hated critics' list films--he said the most boring thing he ever saw was My Left Foot. In this I wouldn't say his taste was conservative so much as middle-class American.) He also said if he was called for jury duty, he'd tell them "I'm a conservative--if it's a criminal case, the defendant is guilty, if it's a civil case, the defendant gets off."

He also must have had quite a metabolism. Like many bachelors, he ate more than his share of fast food, yet stayed thin. The subject of fast food, in fact, was of great interest to him, and he often included the latest in his letters on where he was eating. When he was younger he'd worked at Burger King and that seemed to have been a formative experience. He told me BK was better than McDonald's, but no matter what fast food place we ate at, he was a harsh taskmaster. If the fries weren't hot, he'd send them back. In fact, he was the only person I ever saw demand more fries when he felt the bag had not been sufficiently filled. Then there was bacon. He loved bacon. We ate at buffets in Vegas, and I've seen him devour whole plates. Quite amazing, actually.

Ah yes, Vegas. Of all his family and friends, only I knew the Vegas John. Not long after I moved to Los Angeles, he started visiting. He'd spend some time with his sister in Pasadena, and then we'd drive out to Sin City. We'd do this twice a year--must have done it twenty times. At first we'd be out there a couple nights, but that wasn't enough, so we upped it to three.

We mostly went for blackjack. I'd taught him how to count cards, and I think the student surpassed the teacher. He started with a $2500 bankroll and played at $5 tables (which are tougher to find these days), After several trips, he'd doubled it to $5000. I suggested he double his unit bet to $10, but he didn't have the nerve. Or maybe figured he was doing it for fun, why change things? He was also scrupulous about not commingling his regular money with his "gambling money." Even when he left a tip at the blackjack table he made sure to pull it out of his wallet, and not from his bankroll, so he always knew where he stood.

I believe he only played blackjack in Vegas. It was available in Windsor and later Detroit but I don't think he ever went. He once wrote to me about going to a Casino Night at some local school or church--when he found out dealers won ties he was so disgusted he refused to play.

Our schedules were sometimes a bit off. I was a late sleeper in LA, he was an early riser in Detroit. There were times when I'd be coming in from a night of gambling and he'd just be waking up. But we usually managed to meet in the middle. We must have stayed at about half the places on the Strip--whichever offered us the best deal. We went to Vegas so often there were times we acted like a married couple: during meals, I'd read The New York Times and John would read the Wall Street Journal--no need to communicate.

Not that we never talked. We talked quite a bit. About gambling, sports, friends, women, whatever. (Which reminds me, one woman John thought very sexy--Soledad O'Brien.) Maybe the vacation John enjoyed the most was in late 1994. It was just a few days after the Republicans had taken Congress, and he was walking on air. He bought every newspaper he could, hoping to read more about how shocked the Democrats were. (Which reminds me of how he regularly watched political shows--The McLaughlin Group, Capital Gang, Crossfire--this was in the days before Fox News dominated cable. He once told me he'd watch these shows and hit the mute button when the liberals spoke. I think he was joking, but who knows?)

In one of our earliest trips, we took an excursion to Hoover Dam. I still have the pictures. In later trips, we mostly tried to get in as many hours playing as possible. We considered team play, but figured that would probably take a few others and we didn't know who we could get. We'd also occasionally take a break and see movies out there, such as Apollo 13 and Titanic. He liked both. We also saw some classic Vegas shows--Rodney Dangerfield, Redd Foxx, Allen & Rossi. He repeated jokes from their acts. For instance, "my wife and I have sex almost every day of the week--almost Monday, almost Tuesday, almost Wednesday...."

In general, John memorized and repeated certain jokes and it was funny to hear them in his deadpan style. The irony is he was often much funnier when he wasn't trying to be funny (which is maybe the best kind of funny). Indeed, he recognized this quality. His letters were full of stories about big laughs he got at work when he was merely commenting on something in a straightforward manner.

John was a fairly consistent character, but it's not like he never changed. In later years, for instance, football wasn't so all-consuming--perhaps it was replaced by a greater interest in politics. And I'm reminded of the letter where he said prepare to be shocked. What could it be? Did he get married? Was he convicted of insider trading? Turns out he'd become a Catholic. Not being a Christian myself, his conversion from Protestant to Catholic perhaps didn't seem as big a deal to me. I wrote him "you mean you weren't already a Catholic?"

Words fascinated him. One practice he had was trying to put as many negatives in a sentence as possible. ("Nevertheless, it's no longer not the case that you aren't..." and so on.) He also enjoyed mixed metaphors, and would send me examples he created. He particularly liked the phrase "can of worms," and tried to mix that with as many other metaphors as he could. He also liked this contest for the most boring headline where the winner was, I think, "Cement Supply Seen As Adequate." Runner -up was something like "No Change Seen In Belgian Midterm Election."

Another love was flying. He became a pilot. He once flew out with some friends to meet me in Dayton, where there was a rare theatre that showed actual Cinerama. When he visited out here, he usually spent some time at the airfield before the Vegas trip. In fact, he always planned to fly us out to Vegas. (It never worked out which is just as well--I consider flying an unpleasant necessity.) His email name was AirReggae. Oh yes, he also liked Bob Marley. He said he chose AirReggae because he didn't figure too many people would combine those loves.

He liked many kinds of music--was a big fan of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, for instance--but he favored rock. He was especially expert on 70s music. Any top forty hit from that decade he could recognize in just a few notes. Though his favorite song, he once told me, was Elvis Presley's "(Marie's The Name Of) His Latest Flame."



After I got email, we started communicating on a regular basis, and a few other friends joined in. In what was a precursor to a blog, there'd be five or six of us discussing philosophical and political issues. I still have most of those emails. I often disagreed with John, and if you just read the duels between us, you'd think we're sworn enemies.

It was fun to look over the emails we shot back and forth during the wild 2000 election. In fact, I never miss John more than when some big political event happens. He's missed the last ten years, and I can just imagine how he'd have reacted to Barack Obama, or Sarah Palin, or the Tea Party. Or can I? I don't know what he'd have said, but I bet he'd have loved it, the good and the bad.

True friends fill niches you weren't aware of. After you get to know them, it's hard to imagine how things were without them. John was a true friend, and I still miss him.

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