Saturday, June 30, 2012

Pro and Con

I saw this post the other day, and while I'm not ready to take what the author says at complete face value, it does seem to be a pretty good summing up of why the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would be something people would endorse.

So, faced with a pretty thorough list of what the Act will do (and many of those things sound pretty good), what is the rebuttal? I looked to see if anyone had written a counter-argument, one that addressed the problems with the Act on the same level (not just that the mandate was unconstitutional or it's too expensive or that we just can't trust the people who wrote the Act to follow through on any of their promises - although those may well be good arguments), a level that an ordinary, average person like myself could follow and understand, and I didn't find one.

In other words, if you and I were discussing the Act and I presented you with that list of all the wonderful things that it will accomplish, how would you convince me (in a nice way, of course) that I'm completely wrong in thinking it's a good thing?

If someone has already made that argument and posted it somewhere, I'd love to read it. If not, how would you make it?

Do You Want Fries With That?

I was driving on Vine going toward Sunset when I saw a Domino's delivery vehicle at the McDonald's drive-thru.

The big question is was the Domino's guy sick of pizza, or was the McDonald's guy sick of burgers?

Or perhaps someone ordered something ornate, like double cheese and mushrooms with a sprinkling of Big Macs?

Either way, the whole thing seemed unnatural.

The Capster

Could it be?  Little Lizzy Caplan turns 30 today.   Some think of her as Sara in Freaks And Geeks or Amy in True Blood or Janis Ian in Mean Girls or Marlena in Cloverfield.  But to me she'll always be Casey Klein in Party Down.







Friday, June 29, 2012

Sick Decision

Less than a day old, there's already been so much written about the health care decision I doubt there's much I can add.  I admit I'm a bit baffled by the opinion--it seems Chief Justice Roberts was trying to split it down the middle, but this case was unsplittable.  So he declares (alone) Congress can't force you to do certain things but they can penalize you if you don't and, presto chango, that's some sort of a tax so it's okay.

As I've argued for months, I think this particular outcome can help Mitt Romney--it makes Obamacare, still quite unpopular, a major issue in the election, and energizes the base.  But I don't buy a very common argument among conservatives that they can hang this big new tax hike on President Obama after he denied, over and over, it was a tax.  I mean all he has to say is "It's Justice Roberts' opinion that this is a tax but I've never claimed that.  Next question?"

PS  Let me note in my predictions for 2012 I wrote "The Supreme Court will not find any part of Obamacare unconstitutional." I'm going to give myself that one.

Greater

Happy birthday, Frank Loesser.  He was a product of the era of the Great American Songbook, but just as he broke moved beyond lyricist into composer, he also broke free from many of those songwriting conventions, creating some of the most memorable songs ever heard on the Broadway stage.





Thursday, June 28, 2012

Would You Want Your Name On This?

I caught up with Anonymous, the historical thriller by Roland Emmerich a couple years ago.  I didn't expect much--it flopped and the critics didn't like it--and I wasn't disappointed.  But it raises a question about historical accuracy that I've always found interesting.

The movie is about Edward de Vere, Elizabethan courtier and secret author of Shakespeare's plays.  He can't openly claim credit for the works that pour out of him, so an actor who can't even write steals the money and fame for classics like Henry V and Richard III, which are actually designed to further de Vere's political intrigues.

There's the rub.  The idea that Shakespeare was a devious buffoon and Ben Jonson a dupe is preposterous, even insulting.  But should I care?  "Historical" works regularly get things wrong--Richard III is probably further removed from history than Anonymous (to go from the sublime to the ridiculous).  I can enjoy a movie like JFK while recognizing everything in it is nonsense, so why not something set centuries ago?

The sets and costumes conjure up the age quite well (though the attitudes are sometimes modern enough that the groundlings become a mosh pit). The action and intrigue isn't bad.  Maybe I'm too hard on the film.  Am I letting my knowledge of history get in the way?

Old Wave

I just finished Are We Not New Wave?a scholarly (University of Michigan Press) look at a musical form from Theo Cateforis.  As the author notes, new wave is rarely written about as a distinct item from punk, partly because it's so hard to categorize. Indeed, new wave in its early days often was punk but, in America, tried the new moniker to avoid association with a commercially failed music (as opposed to England where punk had its moment in the sun).  Even once it was more established, it got called by various names--New Music, Power Pop, Modern Rock, Synthpop, etc.

So what was new wave? Protean enough that no single description can pin it down, but in contrast to mainstream rock of the 70s, it tended to be shorter, punchier, more stripped down and less blues-based while allowing for a quirkier range of subjects in its lyrics. It also rejected much of the excesses of rock while adopting its own alternative style.

Cateforis tries to explains new wave both as a musical and sociological phenomenon.  The first couple chapters deal with the rise of the music from the 70s into the early 80s.  It scored some early success but, even as the disco era was ending, was never quite the commercial success record companies hoped for, though it eventually broke through.  Then, some time in the mid-80s, music moved on, while absorbing many of new wave's sounds.

The rest of the chapters have Cateforis looking at distinct cultural aspects of the music. One chapter deals with new wave's whiteness--how it was the province of a sort of stylized, anxious white man as exemplified by David Byrne of The Talking Heads.  Another chapter deals with kitsch and camp, where a band like Devo could play on the retro-futuristic look of the space age, or The B-52s could sport Goodwill clothes and old hairdos and sing about beach parties--both bands taking from late 50s/early 60s Americana with the ironic distance that allowed critics to approve.

Then there's a look at the power pop side of new wave that was trying to duplicate the kind of punchy, melodic rock sound of the early Beatles.  Many bands accepted this mantle, but none were as popular as The Knack--or as reviled (even other power pop bands hated them) since they were seen as manufactured, not to mentioned misogynistic.  On another end, there's new wave synthesizer artists, such as Gary Numan or The Human League, who moved away from rock's guitar-based culture.

Finally, we have crossover, where new wave incorported new sounds that often had commercial appeal beyond hardcore fans.  Bands took beats and ideas from funk, rap and disco, or had a sound with a touch of Jamaica (The Police) or West Africa (The Talking Heads).

An epilogue looks back at the music a generation later.  Ironically, it's been split in two.  There is (or, anyway, was a few years ago) a revival of interest in the music that concentrates more on the 80s, synth-side (when MTV started).  Meanwhile, when the 70s roots of new wave are looked at, they're either included in punk or, even odder, have become part of classic rock--the very music they were originally in opposition to.

Cateforis has done deep research--50 pages of notes and bibliography--and it shows.  If the book has a flaw, it's one shared by so many academic works: it can read like a dissertation (which is how it actually began). Another minor weakness is he sometimes indulges in unquestioned beliefs common on campus.  For instance, at the end of the crossever chapter, looking at the success of The Talking Heads' Remain In Light, not to mention Paul Simon's Graceland, without any comparable success of African bands, he pronounces the world beat movement to be "ultimately inequitable and exploitative." Cateforis doesn't bother to prove it, he just states it.

Still, if you're interested in the music, or popular music in general, Are We Not New Wave? is well worth your time.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Post-Grady

Don Grady has died, only a few weeks after we celebrated his life.  Listen to his songs one more time in tribute.

90's Nostalgia

Happy birthday, Leigh Nash.  She's the lead singer of Sixpence None The Richer.  Not a major band, but they have some nice songs:



You're The King? I Didn't Vote For You.

Here are some parody political ads based on Game Of Thrones.  They do a pretty good job mocking how extreme our own ads can be.  They're from the left-wing Mother Jones, but can easily apply to either party (or does MJ assume this only applies to one side?).







I should note, however, that these ads, like so many negative political ads, provide much correct and useful information.  For instance, the Joffrey attack ad has it right--he is the product of incest and does not have a legitimate claim to the throne.  For that matter, Daenerys was palling around with the Dothraki horde and had direct plans, that almost came to pass, of them swooping into Westeros, raping and pillaging, leaving behind the smoking ruins of major population areas.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Famous Name

Happy birthday, Georgie Fame.  He was a lot more famous in Britain. In fact, he only had one top ten hit in America:



I prefer his earlier hit:

Dammit, Mamet

I just read David Mamet's Theatre, a collection of short essays about the subject you'd think he knows most about.  I enjoyed the book, but it's extremely repetitive.  Every essay keeps coming back to the same few points he has to make.  Points, in fact, he's made in previous essays (though this time around he incorporates some of his newly-found conservative politics, which add nothing).

What's best is his no-nonsense approach.  Theatre isn't about ideas.  It isn't even about characters.  It's about making the audience wonder what will happen next.  That's it.  There's comedy, tragedy, drama, etc, but all successful theatre must do this or fail.  And the only proper way to tell if you succeed is to see the reaction of a paying audience. (There are institutions that insulate people from this, but they aren't doing good theatre.)

Stanislavsky may have been a talented director, but his advice, particularly as filtered down into our age, is nonsense, and won't help you.  That's because games and sense memory and the like won't help you find a character, because there is no character.  All there is are lines that have been written for you to say.  Once you're offstage, you no longer exist.

So what should actors and directors do?  Avoid "good ideas" to improve the play and just do it.  There are techniques to learn, but not of the dull academic type, or psychotherapy.  No, what an actor should do is speak clearly and quickly with few pauses, slant so that the audience can see and hear her, not swallow words at the end of the line, not move during a laugh or when someone else is speaking, gesture as little as possible and when you do, make sure the gesture is done with your upstage arm.

The whole point of theatre is to tell that story that gets the audience interested. It's not an intellectual interest--in fact, it's pre-verbal.  It's about something primal, it's not a lecture, it's not a chance to learn a lesson.  It's a chance to experience basic emotions that we rarely get in our everyday lives. A chance to feel more alive.

Which is why the writer learns, if he cares about becoming a good playwright, that everything falls away except the essence--the plot, the incidents that lead from one to the next, that have the audience gripped.  So what should the director do?  As little as possible.   Don't overwork the actors, keep them positive, and never give them directions they can't do (what can they do?--"turn downstage"--what can't they do?--often things regarding complex inner states).

Mamet believes most shows would be better without a director around to improve things.  Same for the costume designer and the set designer.  Costumes and sets should exist to make the play better than one performed on a bare stage with street clothes, or on the radio. According to Mamet, they usually fail to meet this standard.

I'd guess most theatre people don't want to hear this.  And I'd say Mamet goes way too far.  Still, it's nice to have someone tugging in his direction.

PS  Years ago Mamet and his favorite actor, William H. Macy, taught a class and later started a workshop. Out of this workshop came a very popular book written by some of those in it: A Practical Handbook For The Actor.  Maybe I should check it out to see how it comports with what Mamet is saying.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Irrational And Transcendent

With Mitt Romney in a close race for the Presidency, some have started to mock his religion. (It's happened in the media, but I've even had a few friends go for it.) In response, Dennis Prager has written a column "Mormons Have Irrational Beliefs?  Who Doesn't?"

He makes the point that all religions, if looked at objectively by outsiders, have what seem like bizarre beliefs.  Good enough so far.  But then he goes further.

As for the secular world, irrational beliefs permeate the left. For example, a generation of Americans has been educated to believe that men and women are, beyond physical differences, the same. Boys don't inherently prefer trucks and toy guns and girls don't naturally gravitate to dolls and tea sets, we have long been told. Give boys dolls and tea sets and give girls trucks and they will love to play with those things. Is that rational?

Or how about the tens of millions of people who believed Marxist claptrap about the inevitability of socialism? It was "scientific fact," the world's left believed, that every society goes through three stages: feudalism, capitalism, socialism.

And given the inability of any welfare state to sustain itself economically, is it rational to advocate the continuing expansion of government, as supposedly rational New York Times columnists do?

Is the belief that 50,000 Americans die each year from secondhand smoke rational? Is the certitude that we know what the climate will be in a half century rational? Or declaring sixth-graders guilty of sexual harassment for engaging in innocent, normal-boy behavior?

Even if you accept his targeting the left (because they're the ones attacking Romney, I guess), and ignore his simplistic and, indeed, sometimes incorrect descriptions of what they believe, this is missing a bigger point.  The disagreements here are political and, I'd say, on a different level of irrationality, if that's even the correct word.

People on the right, left and everywhere in-between have all sorts of beliefs, many of which are mistaken (and many dealing with moral issues that have no clearly correct answer).  You may have your facts wrong, you may be misinterpreting history, you may have faulty logic. But whether you believe the proletariat will rise up and defeat the bourgeoisie, or the welfare state is unsustainable, these things deal with what real humans do in real economic situations.

Meanwhile, belief that a giant flying pig will rise in the East to announce the end of the world is in another league.  In general--and this isn't just about religion--believing unproven and often unprovable things that require supernatual explanations is not in the same league as believing something, even if you're mistaken, about what takes place in the real world.  Which may be why we give most religion a pass in ways we don't necessarily do with other beliefs--we understand these are a matter of personal faith, not debating points about a real world we all agree upon.  (And yes, I recognize how crazy, ugly and hateful irrational beliefs about the real world can be--I'm just saying if they don't invoke the supernatural they can be discussed and disproved on a different level.  Further, we're talking about extreme beliefs about the natural world versus everyday beliefs about the supernatural.)

PS  Jeffrey Goldberg has a useful take on the issue:

I vividly remember learning from a Catholic friend that, each Sunday, his family would attend church to drink the blood of Jesus and eat his body. Freaky. But is it any freakier than the sight of a bunch of Jews gathering around an 8-day-old boy to watch a man with a beard snip off the tip of the baby’s penis, and then to eat blintzes afterward? Religious Jews, of course, also wear a variation of “sacred underwear” -- zizit and tallitot, traditional garments that date back thousands of years, to the ancient Middle East..

The Mormon tradition dates back less than 200 years, to Palmyra, New York. What Mormons suffer from more than any other major religion is proximity. The foundation stories of Mormonism took place in the age of skeptical journalism, and they took place in the U.S. Most Christians believe in a Second Coming. Mormons believe the Second Coming will be in Missouri. Many Muslims believe that Muhammad ascended to heaven from Jeruslaem on a winged animal, which has the ring of something mystical and transcendent. If Muhammad had departed for heaven from Tenafly, New Jersey, well, that would open up Islam to some level of derision.

Check that: It wouldn’t open up Islam to derision, because some Muslims -- in particular a set of ill-tempered fundamentalists among them -- have made it quite dangerous for anyone to mock their religion. Not so with Mormons. This is something else that causes suffering for the Latter-day Saints: their ineffable niceness. If radical Mormons had initiated acts of terrorism in Manhattan, do you think their religion would be held up for mockery each night on Broadway?

Mormons’ equanimity in the face of derision is refreshing, and speaks to the confidence they have in their religion. The Romney camp should also have confidence, and understand that not every reporter asking questions about their man’s religious practices is trying to subvert Romney’s candidacy or his church.

News To Me

I watched Aaron Sorkin's much-publicized The Newsroom last night.  It's about Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), anchor of a popular news report.  He's a guy who plays it down the middle but breaks down at a public forum, making a speech about why America is not the greatest country in the world.

He takes a vacation and most of his staff quits to work at another show on the same news channel. (Not just due to the controversy, but also because they don't like him and also, oddly, think he's too weak on his show.) The president of the channel, Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston), brings in an old acquaintance, Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer), to be executive producer, even though she's got a fiery relationship with McAvoy.

As they're about to go on the air for their first broadcast (is that word still used in the cable era?), the BP oil spill hits (this takes place in 2010) and they decide to dump everything and run with it, pulling it off beautifully.  Will is reenergized and plans to be his old, incisive, no-nonsense self on the air again.

Sorkin is a highly-regarded writer, but the reviews for The Newsroom have not been great.  Perhaps it's because most critics work for the media of which Sorkin's show is quite critical.  Or maybe it's because the show is no good.

We've certainly seen this sort of stuff from Sorkin before.  For instance, this is his third show set behind the scenes at a live broadcast.  And having a main character get fed up and finally speak the truth in public is in The American PresidentA Few Good Men, Studio 60--I guess it's in about everything Sorkin's ever written.

Sorkin's greatest strength--really the reason he writes--is his banter (though it seemed in shorter supply than usual last night), though, as always, it's a bit odd that every character talks the same way.  But I could enjoy it if it weren't joined to a rather pompous, self-righteous attitude on The Newsroom.  Let's look at the big speech by McAvoy that opens the show.  He's at Northwestern and a 20-year-old female student in the audience asks why is America the greatest country in the world.  (It's not impossible a college sophomore would ask such a question, though I think we might have to live several lifetimes before we heard it.) There are three parts to his answer, all telling.

First he addresses a few words to the Democrat and then the Republican sitting on either side.  Next, he cites a bunch of statistics that show America isn't #1.  Finally, he notes some of the ways we were great in the past.

The first part seems to be Sorkin's gesture toward even-handedness, but what McAvoy says to the Democrat--in essence, liberals are right about everything, too bad you're so decent and honest that you lose elections--and to the Republicans--conservatives today are morons who should be ashamed of themselves--demonstrate where the show's heart lies.

Then the stats.  Some are questionable, but all are generally irrelevant to the question at hand. As I've noted before about this sort of argument, it's what dumb people say to sound smart, and what cowardly people say to sound brave.

Finally, the nostalgia.  Later in the show, during the fallout from the controversy, McAvoy asks why no one is paying attention to this part of his answer.  Actually, it's the dumbest part.  It's just tiresome mooning for a past that never was. Or let me put it another way: most of the great things about the past that McAvoy extols (our innovation, our openness) we still have in about the same degree, and most of the bad stuff (divisiveness, small-mindedness) we had plenty of back in the good old days.  We get an echo of this hokum later when Skinner spreads it on about the days of Murrow and Cronkite, exaggerating their wisdom, judgment and power.

But that's what the show wants to be about.  It's a wakeup call to the media about how things should be done.  And The Newsroom's climax is that solution in action. It's meant to be stirring, of course, but the idea that McAvoy could wing a major, breaking story while his new, untested staff get scoop after scoop is fairly ridiculous.  But that's the dramatic side, I suppose, and I guess we're used to heroes overcoming long odds.  (Maybe it just seems weird because it's about an actual news story, so we're more sensitive to how far from real life it is). More troublesome is the slant.  Sorkin wants to show us how real news is meant to be reported, without the fluff and getting to the heart of the matter.  But as far as I can see, the actual point is the news must never be reported straight, but always with a message--in this case (and in most cases), that we need bigger government. (Sorkin seems to be one of those people who believes the only reason a Democrat ever loses an election is because he didn't speak slowly enough for the voters to understand.)

The on-air segment is hardly the whole show.  It looks like we're going to get a whole lot of cute banter between talented, hard-working people who care for each other but often have trouble getting along--once again, like everything Sorkin's ever done.  But it appears each episode will feature Sorkin chewing over another old news story to show us how it should have been covered.  This literally is unbearable.  Yesterday's news is boring enough, but being lectured each week by someone who, as far as I can tell, has no special insight is more than I think I can stand.

It's not that Sorkin can't deal entertainingly with politics, as The West Wing showed.  But there the characters were doing things, not reporting on them, and didn't pretend they weren't unabashed partisans (who'd occasionally let the other side speak). And even then the show could sometimes be insufferable.  But on The Newsroom, the characters believe they're charged with delivering the unfiltered truth to the great unwashed, and in-between keep making speeches about how what they do is so important.

By the way, it turns out McAvoy is a Republican.  So I assume in future episodes he'll give a ringing endorsement of Citizens United, do an editorial explaining how abortion on demand demeans a society, and offer learned analysis regarding the contribution of over-regulation to the crash of 2008.  Nah, just kidding.  He's Aaron Sorkin's favorite kind of Republican---a Democrat.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

There Once Was A Man

Richard Adler has died.  In the mid-50s, there was no hotter Broadway composing team than Adler and partner Jerry Ross.  After writing most of the music for the revue John Murray Anderson's Almanac in 1953, they had two blockbusters in a row, The Pajama Game (1954) and Damn Yankees (1955), both winning the Tony for Best Musical.  (Damn Yankees, by the way, was the first show I ever performed in in high school.  I was one of the ballplayers.)

However, Ross died of a lung disease in 1955, only 29 years old, and Adler never had another Broadway hit.  But when you write two classics like that, which include songs such as ""Hey There," "Steam Heat," "Heart" and "Whatever Lola Wants," you don't need to do anything else.







Gene Genie

In a widely read New Yorker article, Ezra Klein tries to explain how Republicans could oppose the individual mandate in the health care bill.  I didn't find the piece too illuminating, but one part intrigued me--Klein quotes NYU psychology professor Jonathan Haidt to back up his argument.

Haidt [...] argues in a new book, “The Righteous Mind,” that to understand human beings, and their politics, you need to understand that we are descended from ancestors who would not have survived if they hadn’t been very good at belonging to groups. He writes that “our minds contain a variety of mental mechanisms that make us adept at promoting our group’s interests, in competition with other groups. We are not saints, but we are sometimes good team players.”

Haidt is a backer of group selection.  A lot of people like the idea of group selection--that animals, including us, have genes telling them to make sacrifices for the good of their group.  It's such a pleasant idea that even a fair number of scientists believe it.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be true, as Steven Pinker notes in a recent essay.  Evolution can be seen as genes competing for limited space, and a self-sacrificing gene would be ruthlessly selected against; it's up to those who support true altruism--helping others at your own expense--to show how it would work, and they don't seem to have the evidence.

No one doubts that animals are willing to help their own kin--that makes sense for genes fighting to remain in the pool. (I'm using the language of agency for genes, but everyone understands it's merely a useful shorthand.) And there are special situations, often seen in the insect world--but given as examples by people like Haidt--where all share the same genes, and unconditional sacrifice from sterile individuals to protect the queen or the hive increases their own fitness.

There's also an understandable tendency toward cooperation--if you cooperate with someone who cooperates with you, you're both benefitted.  In other words, your cooperation increases your own success (and when it doesn't you stop cooperating).

So with built-in altruism toward kin (seen everywhere in nature, but also in studies of human society), and a potential for cooperation, it's no surprise that some humans can be convinced to move toward a purer altruism--to help (or believe they're helping) non-relatives in some particular group, or humanity in general, or even other animals, at a sacrifice to themselves. This hardly means, though, we're genetically programmed to promote the good of the group.  Bees, wasps and ants automatically make these sacrifices, while what we've got is a capacity for abstract thought that allows us to believe under the right circumstances that we should make sacrifices.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Down In Smoke

It was a close vote, but after the recount, Prop 29, which would have added an additional dollar-a-pack tax to cigarettes, has failed. Here's the kind of thing supporters are saying:

We are sorely disappointed that, yet again, Big Tobacco placed its profits ahead of the health of California and the nation.

Hey, this was a defensive action.  Tobacco companies won't be making any more, but did their opponents expect them to want to make less? It was the anti-tobacco forces, unhappy with making billions for doing nothing, who wanted to increase their revenues.

In fact, I'd guess that's what put the No side over the top.  Sure, the big anti-29 campaign was essential, but it wasn't enough by itself.  Tobacco companies are quite unpopular, but I think there was a feeling that smokers, who've got it rough as it is, are punished enough with the already high taxes they pay.

Trial Separation

It's not enough that the George Zimmerman trial seems highly politicized, he's also being threatened with federal prosecution.  For a long time I've felt that if you try someone for essentially the same act, even if you say it's a different crime, and even if one case is in state court and the other federal court, it sure sounds like double jeopardy to me. (Some fear the scenario where a prejudiced state court or jury let's a local off and he's free for good.  I sure don't see that happening in the Zimmerman case, but even if it were a major fear in general, the solution is to allow the feds to intervene when they've discovered a rotten court.)

So anyway the FBI has 10 special agents poking around in Florida (with help from 11 Florida investigators) to learn more about Zimmerman. And what do they want to know?

“Two FBI agents showed up here with a picture of Zimmerman asked me if I recognized him,” said gun dealer Khaled Akkawi, who was listed as a witness in the case. “They were pretty much asking along the lines of if he had made racial comments or anything. My employees told me it couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Didn’t the guy have a Sunday school in his house for minority kids?”

Before he shot the unarmed teen, Zimmerman mentored a black child, his family has said.

I don't care if he was the grand dragon of the local Klan.  Is Zimmerman to be tried for his politics?  Unfortunately, that's what hate crime laws amount to.  They punish you for the unpopular political views you held when you committed the crime.

We don't like racist beliefs (though there's some disagreement about what is racist--should juries be deciding that?), but they're not illegal in themselves.  They shouldn't be a factor in someone's prosecution.  The Supreme Court has let us down on this.  They should look at the issue again. Until then, the feds should back off, even if the case has lots of publicity.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/06/15/2851642/fbi-queried-gun-dealers-in-zimmerman.html#storylink=cpy

Friday, June 22, 2012

We Hate The Beat

Beatlemania was so big that a bunch of acts jumped on the bandwagon by writing songs about the band.  Most were positive but some attacked.  Here's an interesting list of 18 anti-Beatles songs at the A.V. Club.  They hit the big ones, including Allan Sherman, Peter, Paul and Mary and Rainbo (aka Sissy Spacek), and plenty of lesser known stuff.

But there's one they don't have, and it's probably my favorite.  I certainly didn't expect to see it on the list.  See, years ago, in Chicago, I bought a collection of local punk bands on a cassette tape.  I can't find the tape--it's probably at the bottom of some box--and I can find no trace of it on the interweb, but I still hum the first cut to myself occasionally. It's entitled "Kill The Beatles" and starts thus:

I'm so sick and tired
Of your boring old songs
I'm so sick and tired of it all
Makes me want to gag!
Makes me want to puke!
I'm so sick and tired of it all

Let's kill the Beatles
Kill the Beatles
Kill the Beatles
Kill the Beatles
And the eggheads who still like them
One down, three more left to go

Later the song goes into a "Chapman had the right idea" mantra that ends with "it's just too bad that he didn't, didn't get Paul McCartney first."

I played it for a friend and he said it reminded him of a kid he knew in high school who would turn his eyelids inside out to get attention.  All I can say is, job well done.

Justice

I was going to write about the Critics' Choice TV nominations because I thought they were surprisingly good, but I figured they're not big like the Emmys so I'd let it go.  But now they've given the awards, and they were different enough from how the Emmys are expected to be (nominations are coming soon) that it was worth noting.

Above all, Community won for best sitcom.  About time.  For the last few years Modern Family has been getting all the attention, while Community doesn't even get Emmy nominations.  Now if only people would watch.

Louis C. K. won for best comedy actor.  Not even sure if is performance warrants it, but certainly his show deserves recognition.  Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen won for their supporting work.  Some claimed Modern Family was cutting edge, but it's interesting that at its center is a conventional--but very well done--sitcom about a goofy dad and the rest of his crew.

Homeland won for best drama.  Whether or not it deserved the top spot, it was a riveting show and, as in comedy, it can be tiresome when the same title--in this case Mad Men, as deserving as it is--wins every year.  Unlike Community, I can imagine Homeland taking the Emmy.  Stay tuned.

Just like the Emmys, Bryan Cranston was named best dramatic actor for Breaking Bad.  He's so good it's hard to give it to anyone else.  Claire Danes won for Homeland, and I think she's got a good shot at the Emmy as well.

For supporting dramatic roles, Giancarlo Esposito won--will he have to split the Breaking Bad vote with Aaron Paul in the Emmys?  And Christina Hendricks won for Mad Men. It'd be nice to see her win the Emmy as well. (On the show she sold her body to get what she wants--I'm sure a lot of actors can relate to that.)

Another surprise--Late Night With Jimmy Fallon was named best talk show.  I had my doubts when his show started, but I have to admit he's gone on to create his own niche.

Also, Archer won for best animated show.  I can't say any more than that since I haven't seen a single episode.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

If You Choose To Accept It

Lalo Schifrin turns 80 today.  He's another one of those composers whose music everyone knows, even if they don't know the name.

He scored almost 200 movies and TV shows, but his best known piece is probably something that was originally written as background music.  Producer Bruce Geller heard it and made it the main theme of Mission: Impossible.  It's written in 5/4 time (though it was stupidly put into 4/4 by U2 for the movie).

AS He Was

Andrew Sarris has died.  He was probably the most influential film critic in the English language.  He certainly influenced me.  In college I read The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968, where he discussed practically every Hollywood sound director up to that point and placed him in a category--from the Pantheon (Hawks, Chaplin, Welles, Lubitsch) to The Far Side Of Paradise (just missing greatness--Capra, Minnelli, Sirk) to Less Than Meets The Eye (overrated big names--Wilder, Huston, Lean) to Lightly Likable (Hathaway, LeRoy) to a bunch of other categories.

I'm not saying he was always right.  Sarris himself changed his mind on some of the names.  But he created the categories and then filled them up.  Since then, they've always been in the back of my mind, something to compare against my own notes.  More important, and more than anyone, he imported, domesticated and popularized the auteur theory--the idea that the director is the author of the film.  It's since taken root and is the natural language, for better or worse, of almost every critic today.

The concept, in some ways, is ridiculous.  Film is the most collaborative of arts.  Some directors, especialy those who write, may be said to be the author of their work, but there have been and continue to be plenty of films where the producer, the star or the screenwriter are more central in forming the final product.  Then there's the cinematographer, the editor, the composer, etc.

There are other flaws.  Pauline Kael had a famous feud with Sarris, and noted the theory makes no sense in Hollywood, where auteurists sometimes claim it's how the director fights against the projects he's handed that demonstrates his style--as if expressing yourself despite, rather than through the script, the actors, etc., is what makes art.  The theory also fetishizes certain directors, allowing critics to find meaning where it wasn't intended, and to raise later, often slower work above earlier, often more exciting or popular work.

But so what?  We're all Sarristas now.  In fact, his influence was so great that directors are now convinced they're the authors of their films, and demand (if they can get it) complete control over everything.  They get possessory credit, too.  A movie is a Michael Bay film, not a Bruce Willis film, a Joel Silver film or a David Peoples film.

Sarris was a reliable, readable critic for decades, spending his best years at The Village Voice.  His first piece in 1960 was a ringing defense of Psycho and Hitchcock in general, at a time when the director was seen as a popular craftsman but not much more.  So from the start, Sarris was involved in controversy--with Kael, John Simon, Stanley Kauffmann and other critics eventually joining in and taking their shots--in a conversation that continues to this day.

I met Sarris a few years ago.  He came to LACMA to introduce Ernst Lubitsch's The Shop Around The Corner. Afterward, I went up to him and we talked a bit (maybe a minute or two) about how he'd famously changed his mind about Billy Wilder but still hadn't come around on Jerry Lewis.  He'd been a working critic for almost fifty years then, but you could see he still had that original enthusiasm.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Take It Away, Brian

A few days ago, we had the top living songwriter turn 70--in fact, we just finished celebrating.  And today, we've got another songwriter in the top ten turning 70, Brian Wilson.  Quite a week.









Final Mac Attack

Okay, one more salute to Paul McCartney.







Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wright Fight

Robert Wright is one of those public intellectuals who manages to be wrong no matter what subject he discusses.  Well, he's done it again, and this time it wasn't easy.

His take on the political battle between creationism an evolution is bizarre.  It would seem here's one area where we might agree.  After all, we both accept that evolution is the proper scientific explanation for the known facts.  But that's not what interests him.  He wants to know why it's become such a pitched battle in America and why it's led to right-wing mistrust of the scientific establishment in general.

Here's his explanation:

A few decades ago, Darwinians and creationists had a de facto nonaggression pact: Creationists would let Darwinians reign in biology class, and otherwise Darwinians would leave creationists alone. [....]

A few years ago, such biologists as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers started violating the nonaggression pact. [....] I don't just mean they professed atheism--many Darwinians had long done that; I mean they started proselytizing, ridiculing the faithful, and talking as if religion was an inherently pernicious thing. They not only highlighted the previously subdued tension between Darwinism and creationism but depicted Darwinism as the enemy of religion more broadly.

If the only thing this Darwinian assault did was amp up resistance to teaching evolution in public schools, the damage, though regrettable, would be limited. My fear is that the damage is broader--that fundamentalist Christians, upon being maligned by know-it-all Darwinians, are starting to see secular scientists more broadly as the enemy; Darwinians, climate scientists, and stem cell researchers start to seem like a single, menacing blur [....]

I reiterate that this theory is conjectural--so conjectural that "hypothesis" is a better word for it than "theory". The jury may remain out on it forever.

Meanwhile, some data to keep your eye on: Check out the extreme right of the graph above [of the Gallup poll showing American belief in evolution]. Over the past two years, the portion of respondents who don't believe in evolution has grown by six percentage points. Where did those people come from? The graph suggests they're people who had previously believed in an evolution guided by God--a group whose size dropped by a corresponding six percentage points. It's as if people who had previously seen evolution and religion as compatible were told by the new militant Darwinians, "No, you must choose: Which is it, evolution or religion?"--and pretty much all of them chose religion.

I'm glad he admits his theory is conjecture, but I don't think the jury is out.  I think it's obviously wrong.

First, the battle over evolution goes back to Darwin, if not earlier.  It's always been a hot topic and has affected politics of the day on a fairly regular basis.

Second, the big battles of the present were hardly started by Dawkins and Myers and their ilk in recent years.  I'd say they goes back to the emergence of the religious right, which happened in the 70s.  Evangelicals supported Jimmy Carter, even saw him as one of them.  But once he was in office, they felt betrayed for a number of reasons--such as Carter's opposition to aid for religious schools--and became solid members of the conservative camp.  In general, the religious right was feeling, more than ever, that the secular world was invading their space--they sure didn't think there was some sort of "deal" that worked, as Wright so blithely assumes.

Thus, there was a movement--that continues to this day--to take over school boards and pass laws introducing creationism into the curriculum. Dawkins and Myers' loud atheism comes far too late to have had much effect on this mindset.  (There are also other, even older, roots of right-wing suspicion of science, which is part of a larger suspicion of what they see as a liberal establishment overturning traditional beliefs.)

To top it off, Wright misinterprets the Gallup data.  He sees a jump from 40% to 46% in creationist belief in the past two years as significant.  This is a blip, since the rest of the chart, going back to 1982, shows belief regularly charting in the mid-40s. As long as he's playing number games, how does he explain the drop from 44% to 40% from 2008 to 2010 (and from 46% to 40% if you start in 2006)?  The New Atheist movement that he believes is causing the problem had already come out in full force by 2008, so it's easier to argue that their effect was to raise belief in evolution.  Perhaps the number jumped up because Christopher Hitchens died and so is no longer around to keep people honest?

Whether or not angry arguments against creationism are helpful is one thing, but to claim that the right's distrust of science is caused by it gets it backwards.  Rather, the angry arguments seem to be caused by years of anti-evolution fervor spearheaded by the religious right, who themselves believed they were pushing back against a secular government's intrusion into their lives.

PS  Wrights calls this "An American Story."  It's certainly notable here, but fundamentalists around the world fight against the theory of evolution, and I bet most of them have never even heard of Dawkins or Myers.

More From The Cute One

You didn't think I'd celebrate Paul McCartney for just one day?







Monday, June 18, 2012

Quickies

The Independent Film Channel is offering two new comedy showsComedy Bang! Bang! and Bunk.  I caught about 15 minutes of each, so this isn't a fair review, but TV is free (after you've paid your cable bill) and my time isn't (exactly).

Comedy Bang! Bang! is based on Scott Aukerman's podcast (which I didn't follow) and is a parody of talk shows, celebrity guests included.  This was already sort of done years ago on Fernwood 2 Night and America 2-Night.  It's all a bit too deadpan and ironic for me.  I'd prefer a little more wit mixed in with the surrealism--they only do a half hour each week, after all.

Bunk, hosted by Kurt Braunohler (don't worry if you haven't heard of him), is a game show where comedians do ridiculous things to win pointless prizes.  I said about I caught about 15 minutes of these shows, but that was an average--this one only got ten minutes and that seemed long enough.

Who knows, maybe if it's a hot day and I've got nothing to do I'll give them another chance, but for now, even with the regular TV season over, I've got better things to do.

When I'm Well Past 64

Sir Paul McCartney turns 70 today.  What can you say? He's the greatest songwriter alive.  Also a great musician and an infectious performer.







Sunday, June 17, 2012

Leftover Vanity Plates Of The Month

Saw 1 PASHON.  I'm guessing his one passion is his car?

NTCHPD8.  It's about a date, but is it not chips, or natch p, or what?

TEAPOTS.  Why the plural?  Figure you're buying seven letters?

BIGDRMS.  Probably big drums, though I saw no evidence inside.  What else?  Big dorms?  (BTW, a Michigan plate.  I've seen the dorms there.  Very small.)

BZSABARN.  Busy as a barn?  Is that an expression?

RCOVERD.  Not sure if he's referring to furniture or himself.

WLFBLOD.  Yet another car to give wide berth to.

Foster Home or Sutton Place

I finally caught the pilot of Bunheads, the new drama-comedy airing on ABC Family.  It's from Amy Sherman-Palladino, who created Gilmore Girls (which I heard good things about but never watched). 

Bunheads is about Vegas showgirl Michelle, whose career is going nowhere.  So she impulsively marries Hubbell, a guy she barely knows (he's sort of a sweet stalker) and moves to his place in the small coastal town of Paradise.  She's surprised to find he lives with his mother, Fanny, who teaches ballet out of a studio attached to the house.  Meanwhile, his mom, indeed, the whole town, is surprised that he married this gal he'd been talking about for so long.

While Michelle doesn't precisely love Hubbell, he's incredibly thoughtful and kind--really too good to be true.  Fanny isn't so thrilled about this new woman, nor is Truly, the local who actually loves Hubbell.

Fanny and Michelle are both talented dancers.  In fact, Fanny danced with the Ballet Russe before she had to give it up to raise her son as a single mother, while Michelle trained with the ABT and worked in Broadway choruses before ending up in Vegas.  It appears, though it wasn't made clear, that the show will be about Michelle teaching the girls in Fanny's class (or taking it over).  The big surprise at the end (SPOILER) is that Hubbell dies (I think) in a car crash--told you he was too good to be true--so the two women will have to learn to live together and deal with their young charges.  (It is odd that the town is so small that it's got no movie theatre or bookstore, but has a bunch of talented girls who will soon be auditioning for the Joffrey Ballet.)

As Michelle, Sutton Foster, one of Broadway's biggest musical stars, seems to have made the transition to TV without too much trouble.  The part seems written for her--she can certainly dance and presumably will get to show off her pipes.  And the dialogue features plenty of wisecracking which Foster no doubt mastered in productions like Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Drowsy Chaperone and Anything Goes. For that matter, Fanny is played by Kelly Bishop, a dancer in the original Chorus Line, as well as a veteran of Gilmore Girls. It's not clear, however, if her character will remain the antagonist, become nicer, or just move on.  There are also the four young women--who do their own dancing--portraying the central ballet students. No doubt they'll be featured a lot more.  After all, they're the bunheads--girls who want to be ballerinas.

How much you like the show will probably depend on how much you like Foster.  For the first hour, anyway, I'd have to say my reaction was positive.  Overall, pretty enjoyable, though I'm not quite sure where it's going.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Tangled Web

I often check in on Megan McArdle over at The Atlantic website.  Lately she's been on leave but now she's left for good, moving on to the greener pastures of Newsweek/Daily Beast.

It must have been quite an offer since it strikes me as a step down.  But who knows, or perhaps, who cares?  On the internet, we're all just a click away, and pixels are pixels.

Whether it was intentional or not, Megan has become a brand name and she brings a readership with her no matter where she goes, which is why I assume Newsweek, which has seen better days, wanted her.  I wish her luck, and hope (and expect) she won't change too much.

Wrong Age

Rock Of Ages, the movie version of the stage musical, opened yesterday. It features Tom Cruise and includes a lot of fun actors, such as Bryan Cranston, Paul Giamatti, Alec Baldwin and Catherine Zeta-Jones.  There's just one problem.

The movie promises classic 80s rock.  Now if you pick and choose, this could be okay, but that's not how it's worked out.  They promise songs from Foreigner, Reo Speedwagon, Def Leppard, Journey, Poison, Twisted Sister, etc.

I don't deny these acts were popular, but hearing them the first time around was bad enough.  I simply have no desire to hear their hits again in a major motion picture, whether it's the original version or a Tom Cruise cover.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Not Any Other Name

Happy birthday, David Rose.  Not to many people remember the composer and orchestra leader, but a few of his compositions you still may hear in the background.



A Bit Of Harry In The Day

Happy birthday, Harry Nilsson. He might be alive today if he hadn't drinken (drunk? drank?) himself to death.  In the late 60s/early 70s he was an exciting new songwriter and performer who looked like he might be the next big thing--even had a #1, his cover of "Without You"--but his taste was too quirky and his lifestyle too extreme. By the mid-70s his career had pretty much petered out. But he left behind some interesting stuff.







Thursday, June 14, 2012

George Alan O'Dowd

Boy George turns 51 today--a boy no longer.  He's certainly had his problems, but his days in the 80s as a soul/new wave singer fronting Culture Club were pretty solid.  In just a couple years they released a bunch of tuneful top ten hits.

Their only #1 was "Karma Chameleon":



But I think my favorite was this one:


I Like Ike

Happy birthday Cliff Edwards. Also known as Ukulele Ike (or Ukelele Ike, as it was sometimes spelled back then), he's best known today as the voice of Jiminy Cricket, but in his day was a top entertainer.





Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Crowded

Hey, free pastrami at Langer's if you drop by this weekend.  I never get pastrami, but this is literally the best pastrami sandwich in the country.

Twofer

We've got a couple birthday boys today, both minor artists who had their moment in the sun.

First there's Bobby Freeman, who had his biggest and best hit in the late 50s:



He had another top ten hit in a bit of a comeback in 1964:



What can I say? The guy liked dancing.

So that takes care of the 50s and 60s.  How about the 70s?  Well, if you want to get a feeling for what top forty music sounded like then, you couldn't do much better than Bo Donaldson (and The Heywoods) #1 1974 hit:

Animal Planet Has Jumped The Shark

I missed it, but last month Animal Planet aired Mermaids: The Body Found.  Here's some of their promotional material:

Once upon a time, there lived a little mermaid in an underwater kingdom. She ventured to surface, longing to communicate with people on land…

This is a fairytale told and retold to children everywhere; it’s a beloved story about a legendary creature that’s described in the mythologies of nearly every human culture in history. People across all continents who’ve had no communications with other societies have described the same half-man, half-fish anomaly – they’ve spoken about the same mythic animal.

What if there’s a kernel of truth that lives beneath the legend of the mythic mermaid? Now, in MERMAIDS: THE BODY FOUND…Animal Planet brings viewers into the world where the legend is real. The film blends real-life events and phenomena with the story of two scientists who testify they found the remains of a never-before-identified sea creature. Spectacular CGI animates a world where mermaids really do swim below the water’s surface, cooperatively hunt with dolphins and may continue to survive in an intricate society where they stay hidden in fear of their Earth-bound relatives [….]

MERMAIDS: THE BODY FOUND is a story about evolutionary possibility grounded in a radical scientific theory – the Aquatic Ape Theory, which claims that humans had an aquatic stage in our evolutionary past. While coastal flooding millions of years ago turned some of our ancestors inland, is it possible that one group of our ancestors didn’t retreat from water but rather went in deeper? Could they have ventured farther into sea out of necessity and to find food? The Aquatic Ape Theory makes it possible to believe that while we evolved into terrestrial humans, our aquatic relatives turned into something strangely similar to the fabled mermaid [....].

MERMAIDS: THE BODY FOUND makes a strong case for the existence of the mermaid, a creature with a surprisingly human evolutionary history, whose ancestral branch splits off from a shared human root. The film is science fiction, using science as a springboard into imagination and centering the story on [two] real-world events.

It's not until the end that they mention this is science fiction, not an actual documentary. And who reads that far? (They do have an Editor's Note up top, though I'm not sure if that was added after there were complaints.) Apparently, the show as well didn't mention it was a fake until the end credits.

The Aquatic Ape Theory has been generally discredited--not that it would lead to mermaids anyway--but I guess it was enough of a "springboard" to create fake characters and incidents and government conspiraces to tell a story on television.

The channel is called Animal Planet. Is it too much to ask them to stick to actual animals on our planet? We've got quite a few.

Turns out Mermaids got great ratings.  Makes me wonder how many who watched thought it was real?  What it doesn't make me wonder is whether they'll do more shows like this.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Other Brother

Happy birthday, Richard Sherman. He's half of the Sherman brothers (Roger died earlier this year), who were Walt Disney's favorite songwriters.





Horn Tooting

It's nice to start something and see it grow.  But until a friend sent me this, I wasn't aware that I began such a grand tradition in my law school.

Oh, I guess I'd heard it was still around, but I didn't know it became so big.  It's the University of Chicago Law School trivia contest.  It began as a lark and is now an official activity that's apparently one of the high points of the year.

I started it in the dorm where I lived as a first-year with other law students.  The year after I expanded it to the entire law school.  I was emcee and wrote the questions (pre-internet, mind you).  The students formed four-person teams--usually named after law-related phrases--and we had elimination rounds. After that, the champions took on the faculty all-stars.

It was popular from the start, which I attribute to the wide-ranging knowledge, competitive nature and general nerdiness of Chicago law students (and faculty).  That and the fact that Hyde Park residents are entertainment-starved.  We held the rounds in classrooms during lunch period.  In fact, I remember a few profs who weren't happy when everyone hadn't cleared out in time. (What I don't remember is all the planning.  There had to be some, but it wasn't like putting on a show--the whole thing just seemed to happen.)

It could have withered away, but I handed it off to a person (I don't want to mention her name without her approval) who obviously did a great job and turned it into a self-perpetuating activity. One innovation was to give the teams electric buzzers--I gave them clickers which was as hi-tech as I could manage.

So now we can find coverage of the contest from the University News Office:

The contest, always a highlight of admitted students weekend, usually favors student teams as faculty members struggle with the pop culture questions. This year, though, the student team - named Ann [sic] Rand McNally's World Atlas Shrugged - had a secret weapon that led to the demise of the faculty team Cert. Denied: first- year law student Ross McSweeney, who garnered 43 of the student points.

I looked for an action photo of professor Richard Epstein, trivia hot-shot from the early days, and instead found the one above featuring a future Supreme Court Justice. (You can see the fancy electronic apparatus as well.)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Roger That

I suppose there are minor spoilers for Prometheus in the following, but I'm not sure if it's worth worrying about.

Roger Ebert has some odd things to say in his rave (four stars--but then, he gives out four-star reviews like people give out candy on Halloween) for Ridley Scott's Prometheus:

Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" is a magnificent science-fiction film, all the more intriguing because it raises questions about the origin of human life and doesn't have the answers.

Raises questions?  I wouldn't say so.  Rather, it uses the not uncommon science fiction trope that humanity (or sometimes life) was seeded on Earth by aliens.  A perfectly decent story concept, but not one that raises any questions in the real world where we (including Roger) understand fairly well how humans came about.  And within the world of the movie, I thought they answered the question pretty clearly by the prologue that showed how it happened and then later plot points that showed the aliens share the same DNA with humans.

But Roger is still asking questions:

The most tantalizing element is how it plays with the role of these DNA twins [the alien humanoids and us]. Did they create life on Earth? The possibility of two identical DNAs as a coincidence is unthinkable.

Exactly, which is why it's not much of a question in the film.

This puzzle is embedded in an adventure film that has staggering visuals, expert horror, mind-challenging ideas and enough unanswered questions to prime the inevitable sequel.

The film does open itself up to a sequel, but I think Ridley Scott's already made one and it's called Alien.

No More Men

I watched some of the Tonys but I don't have much to say, not having seen any of the productions (though I must ask: does Mike Nichols really need another Tony?).  Anyway, I missed the last hour to watch the season's finale of Mad Men, "The Phantom," so let's talk about that.

There's always been a certain amount of sadness in the show, but it suffused the surroundings this episode.  And perhaps that's because, consciously or otherwise, everyone's reacting to Lane's suicide.

We start with Don who's trying to ignore a toothache. He says it'll go away, it always does, but ignoring pain doesn't make it go away.  Megan's mom Marie (played by Julia Ormond) is there for Easter, away from her atheist husband.  Her daughter has her own pain--Megan paid for a screen test but has learned it's just a company trying to get as much of her money as possible.  Meanwhile, mom doesn't think much of her daughter's talent.

On the commuter train there's Howard and Beth, Pete's train friend and the wife he slept with.  She's going to stay with her sister but avoids talking to Pete.  Clearly something's going on.

At work, Harry gets on the elevator with Joan.  He notes she hit the wrong button.  He suspects they're getting new office space, but she won't walk about it.  Clearly something's going on.

Meanwhile, Don thinks he's sees his half-brother Adam.  Don drove him to suicide, as he sort of did to Lane.

Ginsberg is failing at a pitch (due to stupid clients, it seems) and Don comes into help, but can't do much.  Ginsberg and Don don't seem to have the greatest relationship, and it's worth without Peggy to moderate (and the client wishes there were a woman there).

Pete gets what he literally dreamt about earlier--Beth calls and wants to meet him at a hotel.  He's stand-offish but she says it may be his last chance, whatever that means.

We see Peggy at work.  This is good because some thought she'd be completely out of the show. (We'll know a lot more about that next season.)  She's in charge of people here but work is still tough.  There's a new account with a nameless cigarette for women that's definitely going to be Virginia Slims.  Wow, if Peggy gets that she'll go far.

At the partners' meeting, we've got the empty chair of Lane.  The numbers are great, and will continue to be great--presumably thanks to Jaguar and other new business following that.  The partners wonder if they should buy office space upstairs. (When they first moved into the new office they pretended they had space upstairs). Pete leaves early (for the affair) and gives Don his proxy. Don is surprised to find you can leave the meeting early that way.

At the hotel Pete embraces Beth and she explains her situation. The sister thing is a cover story.  She suffers from depression (we might have guessed) and is going in the electroshock.  And not for the first time.  So she wants to be with Pete one more time since she might forget about him afterward.  There's an interesting situation.  Pete is a bit put off, but, just as he came to her, he's not going to leave her behind.

At Don's place Megan commiserates with a fellow actress friend--a continental type who tells Megan about a "Beauty and the Beast" type commercial that Don is associated with. She wants an audition and asks Megan for to put in a good word.  (She starts by saying she'd help Megan if she could.)  Megan says Don doesn't really do this but she'll try.  Meanwhile, some guy keeps calling and hanging up.  Clearly that means something.

After sex, Pete and Beth loll around, talking about what's coming up.  Aren't you happy now, he asks?  But Pete himself isn't happy. He'd be glad to run away with her.  Sound like Don about five years ago.  Anyway, she believes she needs the therapy, and can't go on without it.  Do they have the same problem?  Perhaps not.  She's seriously depressed, while Pete--is he just whiny and moody, or is it more?

Don comes home, tooth still hurting.  Megan has a favor to ask--can he get her an audition for this commercial.  Now that's a real actress.  Don says he can't be helping his wife, that's not how it works.  Besides, she wants to make it on her talent, and do artful things (he's still stung about her feelings on advertising)--what she doesn't need is the money. It is a bit odd, though--he was happy to help her out at the agency, but now if she rejects that, she might as well just be his wife.

The secret caller rings up.  It's Emil, Megan's father, for Marie.  But actually it's Roger Sterling doing an impression.  Last time he and Marie hooked up and he wants to see her again.  He's now living at a hotel and she should come over.  He's his very charming self and she, being French (or at least French-Canadian) seems willing to consider it.  Meanwhile, Megan goes into the bathroom and cries.

Back at the office it's quite crowded.  More business, more workers. There are even a bunch of people in Lane's office.  Don gets to his office and Joan is waiting.  She tabled the conversation last time because she worried about the money for new space.  But she admits more and more money keeps coming in, including a check for $175,000 from Lane's death benefit.  (It's still good if he kills himself?) Joan is pretty broken up about Lane.  She figures, understandably, if she's slept with him maybe he'd still be around.  He did throw himself at her, after all.  Don knows better (or more, anyway).  He decides they'll cut a secret check for $50,000 to give Lane's wife.

At Don's place Megan just lies in bed, depressed. Lot of that going around.  His mom tries to help, but she just wants her to stop chasing her dream.  It's a phantom (yes) when you don't have the talent.  Megan isn't thrilled to here this and Marie is just happy she doesn't live her life through her kids.  Off to Roger, I guess.

Don drops by apartment of Lane's wife, Rebecca (played by Embeth Davidtz--along with Julia Ormond some fine casting).  She's not thrilled will SCDP at all.  They filled him with false hopes (a lot of that going on).  She even found that photo he picked up from the waller in the cab.  She says a frosty goodbye to Don.  I'm guessing we won't see her again, but who knows?

Pete comes home.  Trudy is building a kidney-shaped pool.  And there's Tammy, crying. It's a lovely domestic scene, but Pete isn't happy.  Trudy isn't thrilled with his attitude either.

Marie meets Roger.  They jump onto the bed, but he, believe it or not, wants more than sex.  He wants her to take LSD with him.  The last trip seems to have worn off and he wants to try it again, especially after Lane has left them.  She's willing to try some things, but that's a little outre even for her.  Besides, the last thing she wants from Roger is any sort of commitment.

Don comes home and Megan is drunk.  She's pitying herself.  Don just wants her to be home waiting for him, and besides, she has no talent anyway.  Don wonders how it got this bad, and tells her to sleep it off.  Marie returns and tells Don the best thing he could do for her is to nurse her through her failure.  After that, he'll have what he wants.  But is this what the new Don wants?

Don't tooth is really killing him.  This is not the sort of plot point I like--it annoys us just as it annoys Don. So I'm happy he finally goes to a dentist.  While under, he sees Adam again, who says (a bit on the nose, perhaps, but it is Don talking to himself) that it's not just his tooth that's rotten.  He asks Adam not to leave him.  Don's lost a lot of people along the way.

At the hospital, Pete comes to see Beth.  He hopes they can start from where they left off, but is saddened to discover she really doesn't remember him. So he starts talking about his own situation to her. Once again, a bit on the nose, but he is talking to himself, in a way. Pete has gotten the life he expected but it's not really what he wants. (It's a good scene, but not as memorable as Don meeting Peggy in the hospital). Beth figures a little electroshock would do him a world of good.

Don, being Don, goes to the movies in the middle of the day. Who should he meet there but Peggy.  She did learn from the best, after all.  They talk about their jobs.  She's there because she needs time to think.  Don admits he's sad she's gone, but he's proud of her.  She's getting all that great cigarette money which Don blacklisted himself from. She's flying to Virginia soon, then the lights go down and the music for Casino Royale starts.

On the train, Howard wants to go wild with Pete--he's free, after all.  Pete is disgusted, so Howard knows she's the one he slept with.  They fight and after they're separated he gets into a fight with the conductor, who punches him and orders him off the train.  Pete can always make a bad scene worse.

When he finally gets home, he's got a split lip.  Trudy diagnoses the problem.  He needs that apartment in the city Pete had talked about earlier.  She may be right, if for the wrong reason.

At the office, Don watches Megan's screen test.  (He's smoking. I hope it's 24 hours after the abscess was dealt with.  That's how long his dentist told him to wait.  Speaking of which, I assume anyone watching the screen test would say "this girl's really got a mouthful of teeth.")  It's a "Carousel" moment, but there's no pitch.  Or is it?  Is Don trying to convince himself of something?

The next day, the five living partners look at the upstairs space.  We get a nice tableaux, and a preview, I suppose, of where next season may take us.

Next (some time later, I assume), they're shooting a commercial and Megan plays the part.  So Don interceded.  He's a big man, probably no trouble getting his wife work.  We have a long tracking shot as Don walks away from the set.  He's helping his wife, but is this how he imagined things, or has he turned a corner.

Nancy Sinatra sings "You Only Live Twice," the great theme to the other James Bond film of 1967, and we get one final look at the cast. Don is at a part, smoking and drinking, by himself.  Peggy comes out the shower (in a hotel in Virginia?) and sees one dog humping another outside the window.  It's her new life.  Pete listens to music on headphones--in his new Manhattan pad?  Roger looks out the window at the city.  He's taking another trip, and is naked.  Back at the bar, some women hope to pick up Don.  If his marriage is different from what he'd hoped, is he ready to be the old Don Draper?  We'll find out next season.

So what happened this season?  We went from 1966 to 1967, and there were changes aplenty.

First there's Megan.  A lot of people thought she'd be a quickie marriage, over before the season began. Instead, she was a central character (if not exactly a favorite one) and Don seemed to be trying to make things work this time.  We've never gone a whole season before with his having an affair.  Now she's getting help from him for her career--one he's not thrilled with.  So things'll likely be changing. (Now that Matt Weiner has established her character, I can almost imagine him getting rid of her between seasons.)

Which brings us to Don. He turned 40 and seemed to have turned over a new leaf. He's at least back to work and SCDP (will they change that soon) is expanding, but he's seemed more mature.  We'll find out if that's so next season.

Peggy was probably the biggest change. She's gone elsewhere.  She always seemed like the second lead of the show, and we don't even know if she'll be back.

Pete is still his unsatisfied self. No matter what he gets it's never enough. Will his Manhattan place help?

Ken seems to want to do well and even beat Pete at his own game. Interesting, in that he's actually a reasonable talented writer (or at least a decent hack) who can make a living at it.  I guess his pact with Peggy is now inoperable.

Harry didn't have much to do, but always seems to be the clueless guy who stumbles upward. Who knows, maybe next season he'll become a partner. At least he'll be getting a better office.

Joan lost her husband (good riddance) but is a divorcee with a baby.  She also recognizes she's losing her allure.  So becoming a partner, she may believe, was worth the sacrifice.

Betty we hardly saw.  She's still with Henry, and he still seems to love her, but if she were out of the show I don't think anyone would care.  Sally, meanwhile, shuttles back and forth, and seems poised to be a very screwed-up teenager. Will she be old enough to go to Woodstock?

Roger has lost his second wife, but drugs seem to have opened him up.  Maybe he'll meet the 60s halfway.  He just has to remember not to carry around so much cash.

Bert is just Bert.  He there for the memories as much as anything.  At least now he'll have an office to sit in.

Ginsberg is a dynamic talent, but not quite the legend that Don Draper was.  Give him a few more years.

And poor Lane.  He could have weathered the storm, but that wasn't his way.  His stiff sense of honor mixed with hopeless ambition and a feeling of being cheated did him in, it seems.  Too bad he couldn't have figured out how to stick around for the good years.  But this is a show where people fall by the wayside on a regular basis.

And we say goodbye to Sunday as the TV highlight of the week, at least until Breaking Bad starts up again.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

I Could Do This All Week

Let's do it, let's have more Cole Porter.





What's The Deal?

Happy birthday, Kim Deal.  Half her life ago, she started as bassist for the Pixies, a band that was never hugely popular, but very influential. ("Smells Like Teen Spirit" was Kurt Cobain doing a Pixies number.) In a more rational world, they would have been big.

Deal was their only female member, and her backing vocals helped form their sound.





While the Pixies were on a break, Deal formed her own band to express herself. It was the quirky alternative folk(ish)-rock Breeders. When the Pixies split up because of differences between Deal and leader Black Francis, the Breeders became her main gig.

They released the album Last Splash which, against all odds, was a solid hit, going platinum, and even had a single that charted



The album had a lot of fun tunes.



They might have gone on to bigger things, but due to exhaustion, rehab and other hassles, the band sort of fell apart, though they continued to play and record in different permutations.

Last decade, both the Breeders and the Pixies reunited. The Pixies went on tour and a generation that had grown up under their influence turned out in droves. Who knows what Kim Deal's next 51 years second has in store for us?

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