Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Happy 70th, Lobo. He had a real name, but no one called him by that.

Back in the 70s, rock music had completely taken over the charts, but for people who missed the soft pop music of the past, there was a mellow sound that was widely available.

Thaler Knows Best

Apparently the federal government is recruiting a "nudge squad"--behaviorists who will figure out how to move us in the right direction.  It's already been tried in Britain with great success, according to the people who support such programs.

I've been interested in the Nudge movement since it was popularized--some would say created--by the book Nudge written by my old friend Cass Sunstein along with economist Richard Thaler.

Thaler, of course, thinks it's a great idea. In fact, it's hard for him to understand the opposition:

I don't know who those people are who would not want such a program, but they must either be misinformed or misguided. The goal is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government by using scientifically collected evidence to inform policy designs. What is the alternative? The only alternatives I know are hunches, tradition, and ideology (either left or right.)

Well, Mr. Thaler, I can think of other alternatives.  For instance, a bias in favor of leaving people alone to run their lives.  Perhaps the government behaviorists will make mistakes in deciding what people should do, and their mistakes will be systematic, not to mention one-size-fits-all.

And perhaps having such a program will lead to bureaucrats who believe it should be applied to ever smaller and more personal aspects of our lives.  You may claim the program is just to advise on what the government is already doing, but even if that's the plan (and I question if it is) it hardly tells us where we'll end up.

And perhaps such a program, if it's considered a success, might be taken over by partisans who'll use it for political ends.

Now Mr. Thaler, don't get me wrong.  I do think I know a lot of things better than you do. (For instance, if I were in control of your life you'd never have said what you did.) But are you willing to give up control to me, or at least allow me to make it tougher for you to try to do things differently? If you don't, maybe you can understand why some people are at least a little nervous about giving government, which already has a official monopoly on rulemaking, yet a new program that could easily lead them to find more ways to make our decisions for us.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Great Guy

Happy birthday, Buddy Guy, one of the greatest bluesmen around.

Blue's Clues

I mentioned Woody Allen's latest, Blue Jasmine, in yesterday's post. It's getting good reviews and looks like it'll be a hit.  Fine with me, but really, while it's a better than average "serious" film by Woody, it still shares the flaws of so much of his work--thin characters, slapdash plotting, even a general cluelessness regarding how people live.

(Spoilers ahead.)

It's a sort of Streetcar Named Desire meets Bernie Madoff.  Cate Blanchett and Sally Hawkins both do good work (and are part of the epidemic of non-American actors playing American roles). I wasn't planning to beat up on the film, but after reading Richard Brody and David Denby overpraise it in The New Yorker, I wanted to respond.

Brody writes "Allen has crafted a masterwork of construction. His writing is pointed and lucid, aphoristic and exemplary."

In fact, the construction is a shambles, depending on coincidence and even nonsense.  The writing is also wanting, full of scenes where people openly announce their beliefs and feelings.

Let me give a few examples.  Blanchett plays Jasmine, who used to live in luxury until her crooked husband Hal (Alex Baldwin) was arrested, and is now penniless and living with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins).

In a flashback, Ginger visits Jasmine in New York and while touring the town spies Hal with another woman.  Fine. New York may be a big place, but you're allowed one coincidence to get the plot going. It has some story value, but mostly peters out, and Jasmine later finds out from another friend that Hal is a serial cheater and everyone in town knows it.

Brody notes "The spring of a plot coils tighter through the practical stages of Jasmine’s struggle to regain a place on earth."

In San Francisco, to get back on her feet, Jasmine plans to become an interior decorator.  These are the kinds of jobs people do in Woody Allen films, though they usually become photographers when they discover they've got an eye for it. A course is too expensive, but she discovers you can get an interior decorator...certificate? can't remember...on line.  So she takes a computer class to learn all about this mysterious thing called a computer so she can learn how to become an interior decorator.  Now I realize Woody is 77 and still uses a typewriter, but really, isn't there anyone in San Francisco willing to turn on Jasmine's computer and get to the website where she can get this totally worthless training?

A friend in the computer class invites her to a tony party in Marin County.  Since she's been hanging out with one-dimensional blue collar types, this finally gives her the chance to wear her fancy clothes and meet an eligible rich man, as she depends on the kindness of strangers.  She meets a guy all too easily.  Woody knows where he wants the plot to go but can't be bothered to make their relationship believable. Instead, we have an impossibly perfect guy, Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard)--handsome, smart, ambitious, articulate, wealthy--who falls for her immediately. Also, his wife just died and he needs an interior decorator.

Jasmine lies about her past to avoid unpleasant questions, and they're in downtown San Francisco to purchase an engagement ring when who should they run into but Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), the construction worker who used to be married to Ginger and lost all his money investing with Hal.  This is a pretty big coincidence, and the movie already used up its quota. (When Brody writes "there’s a plot twist, too good even to hint at, that arrives like a thunderbolt" I think he means this one.)

Augie, who's just in from Alaska, tells off Jasmine, spilling the beans and making Dwight dump her on the spot. Augie also mentions he just saw her son Danny who'd run away (leaving Harvard and a promising career) and is now in Oakland.  This is a double coincidence--Augie knows where her son is, and the son just happens to live nearby.

Now maybe I missed the preparation for all this. Maybe there was some mention of Augie stalking Jasmine, preparing to run into her in the jewelry district just before she got her ring.  Maybe I missed the line where we discovered when Danny repudiated his mom, he went all the way across the country to Ginger, even though Jasmine and Ginger were all but estranged, and then Ginger helped set him up dealing in second-hand instruments rather than be a lawyer or whatever else he wanted, and also contacted Augie about this even though by that point they were almost certainly divorced.

In well-written drama, things don't just happen, they're prepared for.  If Woody had spent a little time on construction, he could have had Jasmine's house of cards fall in on her naturally--some flaw in her character made other characters do the things they'd do to destroy her, or somehow she gave herself away despite her attempts not to.  But no, Woody needs the plot to go somewhere, so he has his puppets just do it.

And I'm not even getting into the simplistic characters and plot mechanisms surrounding Chili (Bobby Cannavale), Dr. Flicker (Michael Stuhlbarg) or Al (Louis C. K.).

At one point, Jasmine takes a job as a receptionist at a dentist's office, and she's horrible at it. (I realize this isn't the toughest job in the world, but would she really be hired with no experience?)

Here's how David Denby sees it:

The miracle is that we feel for Jasmine—or, at least, our responses to her are divided between laughter and sympathy. When she takes a job as a receptionist in a dentist’s office, and the patients can’t decide when to schedule their next appointment, her irritation at their fumbling is both funny and recognizable.

I don't think so, David. Sometimes you have to work out your schedule with a receptionist, and one who's snippy or frustrated with you is doing a rotten job and should be fired.

Denby ends his piece, as he does so many of his reviews, trying to tie the film to how it relates to the world as he sees it:

“Blue Jasmine” may be derived from Williams, but Allen has merged Williams’s fable with the reality of 2013. Jasmine’s economic slide, to one extent or another, has been experienced by millions of Americans. In all, this is the strongest, most resonant movie Woody Allen has made in years.

To one extent or another?   She had a fancy apartment on Park Avenue as well as a beautiful place in the Hamptons, shopped at the most expensieve boutiques, ate at the fanciest restaurants, and traveled around the world. Yes, many Americans went through an "economic slide," but very few can relate to that.  For that matter, most didn't fall so low, with no job, no obvious skills, a husband committing suicide in jail, a son who's disappeared, time spent in the loony bin and hooked on pills and alcohol.  We may be moved by her plight, but I don't see it resonating too well with the average experience of Americans in 2013.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Hickory Dickory Dice

I just caught Andrew Dice Clay's comedy special, Indestructible.  Dice was as big as standup got twenty-odd years ago, but he's spent a lot of years in the wilderness since.  This special apparently caps his comeback.  But is it any good?

Dice was something back in the day. He managed to be funny without being particularly clever or witty--not easy.  Many hated him, tried to drive him out of show biz, calling his material and his character repulsive, but he truly knew how to put his act over as a performer.

Years later, he's thicker in the middle and thinner on top, but he's still got his chops.  He interacts with the audience through most of the show and it all flows naturally, as if he's making it up on the spot (except for his famous Mother Goose rhymes at the end).  Unfortunately, the material is weaker than in the past--not that it was ever that strong--and his act has less insight. You'd think he might have gained some perspective over the years, but if he has it doesn't show.

His audience still seems to be the same. (They like the show, of course--it's a cable special.) They hoot at his filthiness and love when he calls them names.  But the show seemed mostly a hollow experience.

PS  Many comedians aren't much as actors, but Dice Clay was always an actor first.  And he's quite good in Woody Allen's latest Blue Jasmine.

Used To Be All That

Operetta isn't exactly a hot style any more, but back in the day, it'd be hard to beat our birthday boy Sigmund Romberg.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Proctor Exam

Happy birthday, Philip Proctor.  He was one of the four members of the Firesign Theatre, a comedy troupe that had its greatest years in the 60s and 70s.  Their surrealism wasn't for everyone, but they had and continue to have a strong cult following.

Storm Warning

I was in the library and saw A Storm Of Swords, the third book in the George R. R. Martin series "A Song Of Ice And Fire," so I checked it out, since the third season of my favorite show, Game Of Thrones, is based on the first half of the book.  It's not the type of book I generally read--a modern novel in the fantasy genre--but I was intrigued to see how it compared to the show.

The show itself features numerous characters, but the novel has even more. Literally hundreds.  There's even an appendix of about fifty pages listing all the names in the novel, according to which of the Houses they belong to.  There are also four helpful maps that show the territory where the action takes places--I was constantly referring to them to get a sense of place.

The novel is over 900 pages, and while the show follows the basic plot,by necessity it simplifies the action--each season, after all, is only ten hours.  But the cuts, and changes, aren't just to shorten, they also are often to heighten the drama, sometimes improving on the books, sometimes changing things in ways that work better in a visual medium.  Also, since it has fewer characters, sometimes one character on TV will do what several characters did in the book.  For instance, Melisandre travels to fetch Gendry because she needs royal blood to sacrifice, and prophesies that Arya will be involved in much death.  In the book, Melisandre has a different Baratheon bastard already at Dragonstone so doesn't need to make the trip, and an old crone is the one who sees Arya's fearful future.

Another major difference is each chapter is told from the viewpoint of one of the characters (though described in the third person).  For the record, in Storm Of Swords--I've heard it's different in Martin's other novels--it's Jaime, Jon, Catelyn, Tyrion, Sansa, Arya, Bran, Samwell, Davos and Daenerys, plus a prologue and epilogue.  So many of the major characters in the show--Littlefinger, Cersei, Varys, Robb, Stannis, Melisandre, Joffrey, Tywin, Brienne, Jorah--are only seen through the eyes of another character. For that matter, there's no Theon at all.  We get a glimpse of a body parts, but no direct action.  (I did complain about the third season they didn't give him enough, but now I know why.)  Also, we get to know directly what these ten characters are thinking.

So what this amounts to is ten mini-novels rather than one whole novel.  The characters sometimes interact, but most of the time are on their own.  It's natural for the reader to prefer some to the others.  For instance, I find Arya more interesting than the rest of her family (Sansa, Catelyn, Bran).  I also prefer the action in the East (Daenerys) to the action Beyond The Wall (Samwell, Jon).  But none of the characters are boring, so I never felt the urge to skip over them--I wonder how that would work, since not only do they occasionally intersect, but one story will often refer to action happening elsewhere.

Reading the novel also gave me a sensation I've never quite had before.  That's because the first half or so I mostly knew from the third season of Game Of Thrones.  But then, as I got further in, I got into unknown territory. So for half the book, I knew what the expect--with the occasional surprise where the show decided to do something differently--and suddenly I was reading ahead, finding out what will happen in season four.  I'll definitely still watch--it should be interesting to see how the show interprets the novel--but I think it's better to not know what'll happen next, since much of the fun is the plot twists.

The novel is well done for its genre (though I wouldn't call it a classic).  I think the problem is the whole series of books is that they feature plenty of action and plot twists--essentially every chapter ends with some sort of surprising development--but it's all a bunch of characters who endlessly maneuver (and sometimes die), but doesn't really have any obvious endpoint.  Storm Of Swords, as long as it was, wasn't a novel, it was part of something bigger.  Most of the characters who survived now stand at a crossroads, wondering what action to take next.

I don't think I'll read another Martin book.  They're fine for fans, but I prefer getting him through the TV show.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Fink Ploy

Like all too many artists, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd has partaken in the anti-Israel bigotry common in Europe and has been calling for sanctions against the state.  Now word has got out that in his concerts he includes the Star of David displayed alongside dictatorial symbols.

Here's the part of the article that interested me:

[Waters] had planned to publish a letter calling on musicians not to perform in Israel, but recently said he was reconsidering his position in order not to hurt people he knew who would be affected by the issue. By this he hinted at the possibility that artists who boycotted Israel might be hurt by pro-Israel organizations.

So Roger wants to punish Israel because he doesn't like its politics, but he may not because he fears people who disagree with him might have the nerve to take action.  How dare they.

Excuse Me

The East Coast may have Anthony Weiner, but out here I think we have the better sex scandal--San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, a Democrat who's been accused by several women (I think it's up to seven now but it may change before this is posted) of sexual harassment.  What does that mean?  Pretty much what you'd expect--forcible kissing, groping and suggestive comments, often of staff members.

Local Democrat leaders are calling on him to resign.  His reaction?  He says what he did was unacceptable and inexcusable, and "words alone are not enough," but he won't leave office.  So as far as he's concerned, I guess it's at least partly excusable. He promises he'll become a better person, and will enter intensive therapy (but not so intensive that it'll stop him from serving), so that'll have to be enough.

He also says he's not guilty of the charges and will be vindicated in court, so what exactly did he do that was so inexcusable? I guess he's in that odd area where he did something that can't be accepted or excused, and that requires serious therapy, but is not legally actionable.

My favorite quote comes from City Council President and Democrat Todd Gloria: "There is no place in the Democratic Party for those who harass, intimidate or do not fully respect women."  Is Todd implying he should go to the Republican party?  I don't know, seems to me if we look at the past twenty years, the Democrats are the ones more comfortable with serial sexual harassers in high office.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Letter's The Thing

I just read Dear Liar, a play, such as it is, dramatizing the correspondence between George Bernard Shaw--whose birthday is today--and Mrs. Patrick Campbell.  There's always a danger that the reading of letters will be inert as dramatic material, so the playwright, Jerome Kitty, helps it along with a fair amount of narration explaining what was going on in-between, not to mention generous helpings from some of Shaw's work itself.

Shaw and Mrs. Pat had a strange, complicated relationship. (She remained Mrs. Patrick Campbell for her professional career even though her first husband, who'd left her at one point, died in the Boer War.) She was one of the top actresses of the British stage in the 1890s when Shaw was just getting started as a playwright. It tooks him years to become estasblished, but he always had his eye on her, hoping to interest her in one of his works.  He finally caught her attention with an intentional potboiler, Pygmalion.  They were ready to do it in 1912 when she was in an accident and the production was put off for a couple years.  After the play premiered in Vienna (in German) she was finally ready to play Eliza, and she helped convince Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree--one of the top actor-managers in the West End--to appear as Higgins. (As Shaw makes clear, you can't have just one star in Pygmalion if you want it to run).

But something else happened during their exchange of letters.  Shaw fell for Mrs. Pat, hard.  He was in his mid-50s, but acting like a schoolboy, even though they never had a physical relationship.  The main trouble was Shaw was married (though he and his wife had no physical intimacy either).  Mrs. Pat also felt for Shaw, but she married another during the rehearsals, perhaps to put the matter to rest. In any case, the show, even with the three big egos fighting behind the scenes, was a great success when it opened in 1914.  It was probably her best known role (even though she was almost fifty yet playing a teenager) and probably his most popular play.

That's the first act.  The second act is rougher, as World War I breaks out.  Shaw gets a lot of flack for publicly opposing the war while Mrs. Pat loses her son.  As they age, Shaw gets only more famous (writing Saint Joan and winning a Nobel Prize) while she not only gets to be the age where it's tougher to pull off leads, but also gets a reputation for being difficult.  The two fight more often as well, especially over what's to be done with their letters. Shaw doesn't want or need them published, but they both kept them.  Which is why we have this play today, which is a decent if brisk look into two complicated lives.

Time Is On His Side

Mick Jagger turns 70 today.  He's still going at it.  He must love it, because he sure doesn't need the  money.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Vocal Ease

Happy birthday, Annie Ross, the highest-voiced member of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross.

Hard Work

President Obama made another big speech where he claimed we need bipartisanship to solve our problems and the reason we don't get it is because the Republicans refuse to do everything he wants.  Or something like that.  Most of his speeches on the economy say the same thing.  He called any disagreements with him mere bickering, and said the Republicans secretly know he's right but are afraid to say so. (He also noted it was time to stop investigating him and his people over all those scandals--they're just distractions, after all.)

There was a time, of course, he didn't need the Republicans. In the first two years of his Presidency, he had complete control of the Congress and passed most of what he wanted, including the Stimulus, Obamacare, new banking regulations and the federal budgets.  So you'd expect us to start seeing the results by now.

I'd have to say they're not great.

Since WWII we've had a series of ups and downs, but Obama's years, for whatever reason, have been unusually bad.  The highest unemployment since the War--10.8%--occurred in December 1982 when Reagan was in office.  People were saying it was another Depression.  Whether due to Reagan's policies or not, in a year and a half unemployment dropped to 7.2%.  By the time Reagan handed the reins over to Bush 41, it was around 5%.

There was a recession late in Bush's term where unemployment reached as high as 7.8%.  Al Gore called it the worst economy since the Depression.  Unemployment dropped considerably from that high point, mostly during the Clinton years (which also featured the first Republican Congress in a couple generations), but the bubble burst when Bush 43 was elected and unemployment in his first term went as high as 6.3%. Nancy Pelosi called it the worst job creation since Hoover.

Unemployment was down to 4.4% in 2007 but then the economy cratered. By the time Obama was elected in November it was up to 6.8%. So the first thing he did was pass the Stimulus.  White House economists predicted this would hold down unemployment but by October 2009 it was up to 10%.  By November 2010 it was 9.8%.  It finally got below 9% in October 2011.  It finally got below 8% in October 2012.  It's now at 7.6%.

So under Reagan, unemployment droped from 10.8% to 7.2% in 18 months. Under Obama, unemployment dropped from 10% to 7.9% in three years.  And unemployment was never as high as 7.9% during all the years of both Bush 41 and 43.

This is the longest sustained high unemployment in the post-War era.  The response of the President's supporters? "Imagine how much worse it would have been without Obama!" You have to have a good imagination, since they're asking us to imagine the economy being worse than what's already the worst we've lived through.

President Obama now says we're not solving our problems due to gridlock. Many agree.  But I think a little more gridlock in the past would have served us well.  And perhaps more is called for in the future.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Hi Bob

Happy birthday, Bob Eberly.  He was a popular singer in the big band era, generally associated with Jimmy Dorsey.

Bun Done

My main TV wish was for the renewal of Community, and that wish was granted, even if it's not a perfect deal. If I had a second wish, it was for Bunheads to be renewed.  It was far from perfect, but it had spirit, some nice numbers, and the great Broadway musical star Sutton Foster.

Unfortunately, the ratings were never good, not even for ABC Family, and the show wasn't cheap.  But it had rabid fans and critical acclaim, so maybe they'd find a way.  They didn't.  After waiting a long time, they've finally dropped the ax.  (Were they waiting for the Emmy nominations and got nothing?)

So Bunheads joins the list of promising shows that never got the chance to blossom.  Back to Pretty Little Liars. Nothing to see here.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Singer Siegel

Happy birthday, Janis Siegel, member of the Manhattan Transfer as well as solo artist.

Flipping Out

When I borrowed Kevin Cook's biography of Flip Wilson from my local library I wasn't expecting much.  I knew Flip as a smooth performer who could tell jokes well, but did little of interest besides hosting a variety show in the early 70s that hasn't exactly held up.  I didn't expect his life to be so compelling.

He was born Clerow Wilson in 1933 in Jersey City. The tenth of twelve kids, his family was poor, and got even poorer when his mom took all the money and ran off with another man. Little Clerow went to live with his grown sister Eleanor, who also cheated on her husband. For the rest of his life, Wilson had trouble trusting women.

Seeing a comedian at a live show, he decided that's what he wanted to do.  Meanwhile, he lived in foster homes, ran away a lot, was put in a boys' school and in general had a tough time of it. But occasionally he'd meet friendly adults who'd help him out.  Though underage, he signed up for the air force (and right after that the Korean War started) but didn't have the education to fly planes. He did learn to type, however, and became a prized clerk. Then he shipped out to the Pacific--took him a few days to find his sea legs--and found out he could entertain when he asked to give a lecture on the sex life of crabs and scored big laughs. He was asked to do more routines and a popular one had him reciting pseudo-Shakespeare. One airman in the audience shouted "He flippeth his lid!" and a new name was born.

After his discharge in 1954, he decided on a long-range, fifteen year plan to make it to the top.  He also was quite a reader, and was taken with Max Eastman's 1936 classic Enjoyment Of Laughter, a fairly heady book, but Flip was the analytical type, trying to figure out what worked and what didn't when most comedians were more instinctual.

He worked as a bellboy at a San Francisco hotel where the highly popular Louis Jordan and his band were playing.  Flip asked to talk a bit during their breaks, and soon found himself an attraction.  He got a reputation and took to the road, scoring on the Chitlin' Circuit.

He spent years acquring craft, and crossed over to smarter clubs and whiter audiences.  He had a black edge to his act, but wanted to be able to make any audience laugh.  By the early 60s, he felt he was ready for the big time.  A few other comtemporary black comedians were making noise--Dick Gregory and Bill Cosby especially--while Flip was still on the outside looking in.  Then a friend, Redd Foxx, started hitting it big, and when Johnny Carson asked Redd who's the funniest guy around, he said "Flip Wilson." In no time, Carson wanted Flip.  This was back in the days when the Tonight Show was in New York and lasted 105 minutes.  Flip was booked a couple times, always in the last slot, and got bumped when Johnny let the bigger names keep talking. But eventually he got on and scored big. Flip became a regular, even a guest host, and became one of the big comedy names of the 60s.

During this time, Flip had relationships with many woman.  Then there was Blonell, the mother of his children.  She lived in Miami and he was generally on the road, sending her money and occasionally dropping in.  Flip also smoked an awful lot of marijuana and did more than his share of cocaine.

By the end of the decade, he was big enough that NBC wanted him to star in a show.  He and his manager insisted they do it his way or not at all--it would be a variety show (even when sitcoms seemed a safer bet) and Flip wouldn't just star in it, he'd produce it and own it.  They agreed and The Flip Wilson Show, debuting in 1970, became a top TV hit.

The show was a mix of old and new, as well as black and white.  Any given episode might have some old-time performer who'd made a mark in movies of TV, and some new act that was hot on the charts.  It was a mix the audience loved, but it was Flip they loved above all.  He'd come out and do a monologue, and then appear in all the sketches that hour.

Wilson worked like a madmen, all his waking hours, to make sure the show ran just as he envisioned.  It sometimes dealt with black topics, but it was light on its feet and never angry.  His characters--many of whom he developed in stand-up--became national obsessions, especially Reverend Leroy of the Church Of What's Happening Now and even more Flip's tough, sassy Geraldine. His catchphrases, like "The devil made me do it" and "What you see is what you get" spread like wildfire.

Flip was at the top, partying with the biggest names in show biz.  He also was able to help old friends. One of his closest was Bobby Darin, whom he'd opened for in Vegas.  Darin's career was in a lull, and his appearances on one of TV's highest-rated shows helped bring him back.  (Darin had a weak heart and died in 1973--Flip took it hard.)  He also hired a couple of comics he'd known from a few years back, George Carlin and Richard Pryor.  They both had breakdowns in the late 60s and went from traditional comics to cutting edge figures--which made Wilson sort of a transitional figure, hipper than what had come before, but not as hip as his charges.  After four years, his show was on the downslide, partly due to competition from The Waltons, and Flip shut down the show before it was canceled.

His fifteen-year plan had worked, but what do you do when you've reached the summit and seen it all?  He was rich enough not to have to worry about money, but he had to do something.  He brought his kids over to his home in Malibu (mom didn't want to come so she got a nice settlement), played Vegas, did charity work, fired his manager, got married again, kept doing drugs and contemplated suicide.  He also did a bit more TV, including Charlie & Co., CBS's attempt to clone the huge new Cosby sitcom, but that lasted one season.

In the 90s he got liver cancer and died in 1998.  At his death he was mostly a forgotten figure--certainly not as famous and beloved as Richard Pryor or Bill Cosby. But Flip had helped blaze a trail that quite a few comedians have traveled down since.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Out Of The Woods

Congratulations to Phil Mickelson for his come-from-behind victory in the British Open.  The day before it looked like it'd be a shoot-out between Woods and Westwood, but everyone up top fell away while Phil had an amazing five-under par day, and finished three strokes ahead, the only players to be below par.

I've always felt a little sorry for Mickelson--as sorry as I can feel for someone so rich and successful.  He had to come up around the same time as Tiger Woods, and has always played in his shadow. While he gets recognition, it's nothing compared to  what Tiger gets.  Without Woods around, Mickelson would be the top golfer of his era, and would probably be recognized (more than he is now) as one of the all-time greats.

As it is he's won 42 tournaments and 5 majors.  I wonder if he ever thinks what those stats would look like if he didn't always have to face Tiger.  (For the record, Woods has won 78 tournaments and 14 majors, and has been playing a shorter time.)

The Einstein Of Comedy

Happy birthday, Albert Brooks.  Great comic writer, director and actor.  Even in his earliest days everyone knew he was an original.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Does The Name Ring A Bell?

Happy birthday, Taco. Irving Berlin once said a hit song is a good song. When Berlin turned 95, Taco turned an old hit of his into a new hit, making the song good again.

Back To Bacharach

I just read Burt Bacharach's memoir Anyone Who Had A Heart.  Bacharach has a curious place in American music--he came of age pre-rock and roll, and never fit in that world, yet had his greatest success alongside the glory days of rock.  So he's got this distinctive sound that conjures up the 60s like no other, yet is unlike anything else from that age.

Bacharach was born in 1928 and grew up in Forest Hills, New York.  His family was Jewish, but that doesn't seem to be a central part of his identity.  His dad was Bert Bacharach, famous columnist, but Burt was a quiet, shy type who studied music and went in his own direction, eventually eclipsing his father's fame.

Burt studied music at McGill University and after a stint in the army worked as a pianist, conductor and arranger for various acts, most notably Marlene Dietrich's.  They had a close but not sexual relationship, and she was a big supporter in his early songwriting efforts.  From her he learned professionalism--she'd take as long as necessry to get it right, and go on even when hurt.

Burt married--and divorced--young to a beautiful woman named Paula Stewart. Burt himself was devilishly handsome, in a world where most songwriters (as he notes) look like dentists. So he never had trouble finding women.  He later married and divorced Angie Dickinson and Carole Bayer Sager before settling down in his 60s with Jane Hansen, a ski instructor half his age.  The daughter he had with Dickinson, Nikki, was a troubled child and the couple, before and after their split, had trouble with her.  As an adult, she'd commit suicide.

There's plenty in the book about his personal life (and personal failings) but it's the music we care about.  He worked as a songwriter in the Brill Building starting in the 50s, and worked with several lyricists before settling on his greatest partner, Hal David (who looked like a dentist).  David's lyrics may not always be the most inspiring, but he knew how to come up with a phrase ("LA is a great big freeway/ put a hundred down and buy a car") and he knew how to make the words sit right on the music. Later the two became associated with singer Dionne Warwick, who became the best-known exponent of their songs.

Burt not only composed, but worked in the studio, trying to control every aspect of his songs.  He has too many hits to list, but just a few might give an indication of his style and range: "Baby It's You," "(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance" (not used in the film), "A House Is Not A Home," (There's) Always Something There To Remind Me" (love the parenthetical "there's"), "Alfie" (maybe his personal favorite though it's never done it for me), "What The World Needs Now Is Love," "24 Hours From Tulsa," "What's New Pussycat?," "The Look Of Love," "(They Long To Be) Close To You," "Wives And Lovers," "My Little Red Book," "Do You Know The Way To San Jose," "This Guy's In Love With You" and "I Say A Little Prayer."

His music tends to be more jazz-inflected than the rock of his day, using, generally, more sophisticated harmonies.  He also lets the lines run as long as he thinks they need to be--he won't force a line to be four or eight bars if seven or nine or thirteen feels better, and if he wants to change the time signature throughout the song, or use a lot of syncopation, that's fine, too.  He's also notable for his imaginative orchestrations.

He was occasionally asked to write songs for movies, and was nominated for several Academy Awards, finally winning on his fourth try for "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head." Years later he got another Oscar for "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)."  He was also asked to write the score for a Broadway show, Promises Promises, which turned out to be a huge success and produced three hits--the title tune, "I'll Never Fall In Love Again" and "Knowing When To Leave."  Yet he never really wanted to be on Broadway and didn't enjoy the experience.

Bacharach also became a popular recording artist himself and spent more and more time performing.  But the 60s were his height, and he never reached that level of success--or quality, I'd say--again.  The turning point may have been his score for the 1973 film Lost Horizon.  It was a notorious flop, and not only humiliated him and hurt his credibility, but also led to him breaking up with his collaborators David and Warwick. He'd continue to have the occasional hit--sometimes writing with his new love and lyricist Carole Bayer Sager--but it hasn't been the same since.

Still, his music is alive. In fact, he keeps getting rediscovered.  He and Elvis Costello collaborated on a song and then an album  He appeared in the first two Austin Powers films.  His music was featured in My Best Friend's Wedding.  And so on.

To this day, he's working on new projects.  Maybe we'll hear from him again.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Relatively Weak

I finally got around to watching Dave Foley's standup special on Showtime, Relatively Well.  I didn't know he did standup.  I know him best as a member of the sketch comedy troupe The Kids In The Hall who later starred in his own sitcom, NewsRadio.  I liked the former, not so much the latter, but thought Foley was a fairly talented actor. As a standup comedian, however, he's not as impressive.

The first half of the show is mostly personal stuff--his sex life, his two divorces, and so on.  The second half delves into politics, religion and his philosophical musings on the world.  But no matter what the subject, the content simply isn't there.

About halfway through the show, Foley let's us in on a secret--he's smart.  He then begins riffing on how we fear smart people today, when we should be fans, the same way we worship physical talent in sports heroes.  The irony is Foley may say he's smart (even if for comedic reasons), but his material isn't smart enough.  The observation aren't bad, but they're not that original, and Foley rarely gets beyond the generic that would make his act truly incisive.

To be fair, the hour goes by pretty smoothly.  However, it never cuts too deep, or really surprises you. 

PS  He has a bit about how he thinks Sarah Palin is stupid and hateful but he'd still gladly have sex with her.  And then to cover it up with his friends he'd tell them he thought it was Tina Fey.  I just want to note that though there is a certain resemblance, I've always thought Tina Fey was the better-looking of the two.  Am I alone in this?

Now We're Cooking

Happy birthday, Paul Cook.  He's the drummer and probably the least important member of the Sex Pistols, but hey, it's still the Sex Pistols.

Friday, July 19, 2013

May Day

Happy birthday, Brian May.  As a guitarist for Queen, he had one of the most distinctive sounds in rock.  He also wrote some of their biggest songs.  And is an astrophysicist.


The Emmys are the most predictable of awards.  Unlike the Oscars, the Tonys or the Grammys, they get to nominate the same shows and names years after year.  This year was no different, as certain favorites get yet another shot to take something home for their mantle.

Here are the main nominations with comments:

Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
Damian Lewis, Homeland

Hugh Bonneville is the head of Downton Abbey the place, but he's not the lead of Downton Abbey the show, but I guess he's got to go somewhere.  Jeff Daniels does a fine job, but it's such a rotton show.  Damian Lewis was overrated last year, here's hoping he doesn't win again.  Bryan Cranston is always great, but maybe it's time for Jon Hamm to finally win one of these.

Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Connie Britton, Nashville
Claire Danes, Homeland
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey
Vera Farmiga, Bates Motel
Kerry Washington, Scandal
Robin Wright, House of Cards

Seven nominees? Why not ten?  Twenty?  They liked Connie Britton in her last show Friday Night Lights, so maybe it was a reflex to just keep nominating her.

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Miniseries Or A Movie
Benedict Cumberbatch, Parade's End
Michael Douglas, Behind The Candelabra
Matt Damon, Behind The Candelabra
Toby Jones, The Girl
Al Pacino, Phil Spector

The overpraised Behind The Candelabra got a lot of nominations, but will the two leads split the vote?  I'd think Douglas will get enough to take it. Most of these are actors playing real people.  Toby Jones was fine at Hitchcock in a weak movie. Pacino was fine as Phil Spector, too, though his was more an interpretation of than an impresonation.

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Miniseries Or A Movie
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Asylum
Laura Linney, The Big C: Hereafter
Helen Mirren, Phil Spector
Elisabeth Moss, Top of the Lake
Sigourney Weaver, Political Animals

Laura Linney get's nominated for the same role, but the category is different.  Nothing but names here.  And Elisabeth Moss gets a chance to lose twice for big awards.

Outstanding Host For A Reality Or Reality-Competition Program
Ryan Seacrest, American Idol
Betty White, Betty White's Off Their Rockers
Tom Bergeron, Dancing With The Stars
Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, Project Runway
Cat Deeley, So You Think You Can Dance
Anthony Bourdain, The Taste

Still the silliest of the big awards.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Jason Bateman, Arrested Development
Louis C.K., Louie
Don Cheadle, House of Lies
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory

A fun category, but Don Cheadle, though a name actor, isn't doing much in his lousy show.  Alec Baldwin's last chance to win for 30 Rock and Jim Parsons gets another chance to win for Big Bang.  Jason Bateman makes a comeback, and Louis C. K. is always a wild card.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Laura Dern, Enlightened
Lena Dunham, Girls
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation

It's depressing how Lena Dunham gets all these nominations.  Edie Falco is another case of good work in a rotten show.  Laura Dern may be another case of nominate the movie people who deign to appear on TV.  Last chance for Tina Fey to pick up another award for her show, another chance for Amy Poehler to win something, but if Academy favorite Louis-Dreyfus takes it, at least it's for good work.

Reality-Competition Series
The Amazing Race
Dancing With the Stars
Project Runway
So You Think You Can Dance
Top Chef
The Voice

Don't watch these shows, but doesn't The Amazing Race always win?

Variety Series
The Colbert Report
The Daily Show
Late Night With Jimmy Fallon
Jimmy Kimmel Live
Saturday Night Live
Real Time With Bill Maher

I do watch these shows, and why does The Daily Show always win?  And do talk shows and straight comedy shows mix?

Once again, warhorses Letterman and Leno--and for that matter Conan--shut out.

Drama Series
Breaking Bad
Downton Abbey
Game of Thrones
House of Cards
Mad Men

Now we're talking.  Haven't seen House Of Cards, but the other five are certifiably good shows (and weak onces, like Boardwalk Empire or, heaven help us, The Newsroom, nowhere to be seen).  The only questionable one, actually, is Downton Abbey, which is getting a little tired.

Comedy Series
30 Rock
The Big Bang
Modern Family

Girls? Ugh.  The rest are fine, and I guess, for the first time in four years, Community didn't deserve to be nominated so I won't mention it.  Apparently, Parks And Recreation isn't up to it either.  And no Arrested Development.  And goodbye Office, no award for you (not that you deserved one).  Also, no animated series.

Miniseries or Movie
American Horror Story
Behind the Candelabra
The Bible
Phil Spector
Political Animals
Top of the Lake

I guess it's Candelabra's year, though the Academy does have a thing for American Horror Story.

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama Series
Bobby Cannavale, Boardwalk Empire
Jonathan Banks, Breaking Bad
Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
Jim Carter, Downton Abbey
Peter Dinklage, Game Of Thrones
Mandy Patinkin, Homeland

I like the actor Bobby Canavale, but not his one-note character from Empire.  Once again we're treated to Aaron Paul plus one from Breaking Bad.  I'm still not sure how they decide which one to pick from Downton Abbey, though Dinklage is clearly the go-to guy from Thrones (though did they pick the wrong Lannister?).  Shockingly, not a single nod to Mad Men.  I'd give it to Mandy Patinkin, anyway.

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama Series
Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Emilia Clarke, Game Of Thrones
Christine Baranski, The Good Wife
Morena Baccarin, Homeland
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men

No surprises here.  I don't think Anna Gunn is going to get it, but could it be the Khaleesi's year?  And it would be a nice surprise to see Christina Hendricks win something.

Outstanding Guest Actor In A Drama Series
Nathan Lane, The Good Wife
Michael J. Fox, The Good Wife
Rupert Friend, Homeland
Robert Morse, Mad Men
Harry Hamlin, Mad Men
Dan Bucatinsky, Scandal

These guest categories are usually reserved for big names who drop in.  It'd be cool to see Harry Hamlin win--he did do a great job.

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series
Adam Driver, Girls
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family
Ed O'Neill, Modern Family
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Bill Hader, Saturday Night Live
Tony Hale, Veep

An odd oversight--no Eric Stonestreet from Modern Family, who's won this award twice. Ty Burrell has also won this once, but will the Academy try to share the wealth with his Modern Family co-stars?  Was there no room for just one nominee from Community or Big Bang or 30 Rock or Parks And Recreation?

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy Series
Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory
Jane Lynch, Glee
Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Merritt Wever, Nurse Jackie
Sofia Vergara, Modern Family
Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock
Anna Chlumsky, Veep

Once again, seven?  Nominating Jane Lynch has become a reflex at this point.  Overall, good choices, and it'd be interesting to see grown-up Blossom take it.

Outstanding Guest Actor In A Comedy Series
Bob Newhart, The Big Bang Theory
Nathan Lane, Modern Family
Bobby Cannavale, Nurse Jackie
Louis C.K., Saturday Night Live
Justin Timberlake, Saturday Night Live
Will Forte, 30 Rock

So whether Nathan Lane drops in on a drama or comedy they nominate him. And extra nominatinos for Louis C.K. and Bobby Canavale (I thought he was a regular on Nurse Jackie) just in case they don't have enough already.  And no David Lynch--or anyone--from Louie.

Outstanding Guest Actress In A Drama Series
Margo Martindale, The Americans
Diana Rigg, Game Of Thrones
Carrie Preston, The Good Wife
Linda Cardellini, Mad Men
Jane Fonda, The Newsroom
Joan Cusack, Shameless

A lot of big names with weak performances.

Outstanding Guest Actress In A Comedy Series
Molly Shannon, Enlightened
Dot-Marie Jones, Glee
Melissa Leo, Louie
Melissa McCarthy, Saturday Night Live
Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live
Elaine Stritch, 30 Rock
Interesting that Melissa Leo got it for Louie and not Parker Posey.  And apparently anyone from Bridesmaids who hosts SNL gets a nomination.
Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Miniseries Or A Movie
James Cromwell, American Horror Story: Asylum
Zachary Quinto, American Horror Story: Asylum
Scott Bakula, Behind The Candelabra
John Benjamin, The Big C: Hereafter
Peter Mullan, Top Of The Lake
Scott Bakula, but not Rob Lowe, from Candelabra. Odd.
Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Miniseries Or A Movie
Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Asylum
Imelda Staunton, The Girl
Ellen Burstyn, Political Animals
Charlotte Rampling, Restless
Alfre Woodard, Steel Magnolias
Five different shows, haven't seen any.  Makes you wonder how many the voters have seen.
Outstanding Writing For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Dramatic Special
Richard LaGravenese, Behind The Candelabra
Abi Morgan, The Hour
Tom Stoppard, Parade's End
David Mamet, Phil Spector
Gerard Lee and Jane Campion, Top Of The Lake
Stoppard?  Mamet?  Is this the Tonys?
Outstanding Variety Special
The Kennedy Center Honors
Louis C.K.: Oh My God
Mel Brooks Strikes Back! With Mel Brooks And Alan Yentob
Saturday Night Live: Weekend Update Thursday (Part One)
12-12-12: The Concert For Sandy Relief
No Oscars? No Tonys? No way.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Up From The Coffin

Today is the birthday of Screamin' Jay Hawkins. Maybe it should be a national holiday.

He recorded a lot of songs, but there's only one that guarantees him fame.


After a slight dip, the ratings have been holding for the CBS summer miniseries Under The Dome, but I think I'm out.  When I watched the premiere I wasn't too impressed, but it's only gotten worse since.

The characters are still mostly cliches, but it's the action that truly fails.  A mysterious, impenetrable dome has descended over a village, which might make for a compelling narrative. Instead, we get pointless, ugly or nonsensical plotlines.

First, there are all these subplots that would be happening whether or not the Dome was there. I'm sorry, this is a show about a Dome, I don't want to waste 75% of the time on non-Dome related activity.  Most loathsome is the disturbed young man who chains up a girl he wants to love him in an underground shelter.  Are we supposed to get sadistic pleasure in her plight?

But worse is the general reaction of the public.  When they're not panicking for no reason, they're acting as if nothing much has happened--going about their way, even going to work.  I'd think an event of this magnitude would pretty much end business as usual.

Instead I would think, almost immediately, there'd be a town hall meeting. What would they discuss?  Everything they could about the Dome. After figuring out who's in charge, they'd set about finding out its dimensions, how deep it goes, what effects it has, etc. Instead, we get this character or that investigating such things, but no concerted effort, when the town should be thinking of little else.

And how about a census of who's still in town, names and numbers?  And some sort of list of all the food and water available, as well as drugs and related medicines, and gas and electricity, and so on.  Then they should figure out if they can find or create new sources if their supplies run out.

And, of course, all along they should be trying to get out of the Dome and, failing that, contacting people outside the Dome.

I don't know if the plot is taken directly from the Stephen King novel, or if the producers have changed a lot, but I don't care.  As long as these people are wasting my time, why should I watch?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

JC Superstar

Today is Jimmy Cagney's birthday.  He was best as a tough guy in films like Public Enemy, Angels With Dirty Faces, The Roaring Twenties and White Heat, but never liked being typecast and was always trying to break away from such roles, going independent more than once.

He succeeded best at breaking free in a film that by chance I recently watched, Yankee Doodle Dandy.  He got to return to his theatrical roots, dancing and (sort of) singing, and, in fact, won his only Oscar.

It's a musical biopic, a genre Hollywood used to be good at but has essentially given up.  The story is, of course, highly fictionalized, but the numbers (unlike in some other musicals, such as Cagney's great Footlight Parade) are done in a realistic style and much like the original versions.

The only problem I've got, aside from it being overlong (and a bit of a whitewash of a guy who was basically an unpleasant character), is the fact they're doing Cohan songs.  Occupational hazard, but really, his stuff doesn't hold up that well--it's corny and sing-songy and would soon enough be replaced by the far superior tunes of Kern, Gershwin, Rodgers and others.

Still, Cagney is a sparkplug who makes his scenes, no matter how hokey, work. And it's fun to see him in a role that lets him have this much fun.

Trial No Error

I'm honestly confused by the reaction to the Zimmerman acquittal--the anger, the violence, the hurt feelings from politicians, the media, celebrities and the public in general. For that matter, I'm confused by the partisan caste of the complaints.

No matter what you think of what happened, it seems to me--and I don't believe this is controversial--that the prosecution didn't make a case that proved a crime beyond a reasonable doubt.  There was simply too much that wasn't certain, and no way to prove that Zimmerman didn't have a self-defense claim.

This has nothing to do with left or right, it's a simple matter of facts and logic. I don't see how any fair jury could have convicted.  So that's that--even if you want to believe Zimmerman was a racist out gunning for a Martin, you should also believe this was the correct verdict.

Instead, we seem to have a reaction that because a young black man was shot, and a guy we'll treat as white did it, something must be done.  Well, maybe something should be done, but not a conviction that goes beyond the evidence. In fact, what's most disturbing may be the comnplaints from alleged civil rights leaders. I thought they supported the concept of due process, but apparently they're only fair weather friends, who drop their belief when they get the right victim and the wrong defendant.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Let's say happy birthday to Pinchas Zukerman, turning 65 today.  There's no virtuoso like a violin virtuoso.

Point Of View

Jenny McCarthy is joining The View. Founder of the show Barbara Walters says:

Jenny brings us intelligence as well as warmth and humor.  She can be serious and outrageous. She has connected with our audience and offers a fresh point of view. Jenny will be a great addition to the show as we usher in an exciting new chapter for The View.

She certainly can be outrageous--who knows how many millions would die if everyone listened to her anti-vaccine advocacy?

But then, this is a show that once had a co-host who was a 9/11 truther, and has another who's not only a creationist but isn't even sure the world is round.

At least they got rid of the conservative one.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Off The Island

A new fish restaurant just opened up down the block.  Thought I'd check it out for lunch. It's a franchise, not particularly fancy, and it seemed okay.  But this is not a restaurant review.

I was almost finished when out of the corner of my eye I noticed a big guy sitting down at the table next to mine.  I looked more closely and it was Jorge Garcia, best known as Hurley from Lost.

Living in LA I spot celebrities every now and then, but I was still fairly excited. I mean, it's Hurley!  I wanted to speak to him, tell him he's my fifth favorite Lost character, but, following my rule, I respected his privacy and left him alone.

Okay, not much of a story, but this was my first Lost sighting.

Surrender To Dorothy

Tin Pan Alley was mostly a gentleman's club, but there are a few females that sneaked in. One of the greatest was today's birthday girl, lyricist Dorothy Fields, who not only knew how to rhyme and scan, but could make it look effortless.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Swell Del

Happy birthday, Del Reeves.  He was a fairly popular country singer in the 60s and 70s, known best for novelty numbers.

Let's Hear From The Majority

The big talk in the Senate now is about Majority Leader Harry Reid's plans to go ahead with the "nuclear option," which would get around the filibuster rule--which, in essence, procedurally requires the Senate to have 60 votes to move forward--and replace it with a simple majority. (They usually need 67 votes to change the rules but Reid will get around that as well with a procedural trick.)

We've been here before, of course, when the Republicans had the majority last decade and the Democrats made speeches saying any change in the filibuster rule would be sticking a shiv in Lady Liberty.

Of course, we knew they were opportunistically lying then, so it's hard to get too mad about their hypocrisy today.  But no matter what you think of the filibuster, the question is--is it a smart political play? What is the chance of the Republicans taking back the Senate and the White House in a few years, making the Dems regret their decision almost immediately?

Megan McArdle, surprisingly, puts the odds at 70%.  Now first, things can change so quickly in politics that it's hard to have confidence in any numbers for something as far away as 2016.  But still, 70% sounds absurdly optimistic (if you support the Republicans).

First, the White House.  Megan says, looking at recent history, after eight years of any Presidency, the people are ready for a change.  I think this logic is spurious.  It's mostly a coincidence we've had so many "eight and out" cases lately. Hey, I can remember in 1992 when people said it was next to impossible for the President to last two full term, since except for Reagan no one had done it in decades--since then, of course, nothing but two-termers and pundits reminding us of the power of incumbency.

Before WWII, in fact, it wasn't uncommon for parties to have considerably longer holds on the White House.  And note, since then, when the new party comes in--Kennedy in 1960, Nixon in 1968, Clinton in 1992, Bush in 2000, it's generally not with overwhelming numbers.  Who wins the White House is often a matter of the economics of the time (mixed with whatever foreign policy problems are happening) and which candidates are going at it.

More important, the question is will the Obama coalition hold (presumably for Hillary).  This may signal a demographic change--it's arguable Reagan couldn't win with the makeup of voters today.  On top of that, Obama created an amazing get-out-the-vote machine that helped him win an election which, given the economic numbers, he probably should have lost. (Here's another useless pattern, Megan--no president until Obama ever won a second term with a smaller vote.)  Will this continue?  Will the Dems be able to target the persuadable as well as they did for Obama (while the Repubs fail in this task)?  Especially, will African-Americans continue to vote at historically high levels?  (I'm not even getting into demographic changes that could happen with an immigration bill, since that's somewhat down the road).  If the Dems can continue to outperform the Republicans in this manner, there's no reason to think they'll lose the White House any time soon.

Then there's the Senate.  I don't see the Republicans taking it back by 2016.  Mostly because of the rotten job they did in 2012.  That was their big chance. Due to being in the right place at the right time, combined with a number of Republicans imploding, the Democrats were able to gain a lot of seats in 2006 and get a huge majority in 2008.  The pendulum swung back in 2010, but even then, partly due to tactical errors, the Republicans were on the low side of expectations.  So in 2012, the Republicans were within striking distance, and it looked like they'd get an easy net of at least 2 seats. Instead, due to both Obama's ground game and more tactical errors, the GOP actually lost 2 seats.  So right now, if the Republicans were playing the game well, they might even have the Senate majority, instead of looking at a solid Democrat lead.

So what's going to happen in 2014?  The Republicans have an excellent chance of picking up some seats, but enough to take back the majority?  They'd certainly have to do better than they did in the past two elections, strategy-wise.  And it's not that easy to take down incumbents.  Look at someone like Al Franken.  He essentially got in on a fluke, but now is an established Senator with name recognition and a reputation--it would have been a lot easier to keep him out to begin with than unseat him.

So the odds are not great they'll take back the Senate in 2014.  And 2016?  That's when they'll have to defend the highly successful year of 2010, and may have to worry more about holding on to seats than gaining new ones.

So a 70% chance of taking the White House and the Senate in 2016?  Not too likely.  As pointless as these numbers are right now, I'd say they have a less than 50% chance of taking either.  Overall, the odds of taking both I'd put at around 25%. (The math may seem a bit odd, but I figure if they're doing well in one branch they'll have a better chance of doing well in the other.)

PS  Nate Silver has spoken.  It's obviously way too early to have any confidence, but he feels 2014 is shaping up as a big take-back in the Senate for Republicans.  Remember this is the class of 2008, where Democrats took net 8 seats from the GOP, so it's doubtful any Republican has to fear losing this time around (short of a scandal).

According to the numbers, with three Dems retiring in heavily red states, the Repubs start with a likely pick up in those seats.  Then there are three Dem senators in tossups and another three with leads but not wide ones.  No one knows what turnout will be like, but there's an excellent chance the GOP will pick up four seats, a decent chance it will pick up five, and a plausible chance it'll pick up six--the amount it'll need to take back the Senate. (But Al Franken is fairly safe.)

You can see how different things would have been if the Republicans had picked up two or three seats as expected in 2012--the Democrats might not even be contemplating the nuclear option.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Define Your Terms.

I was surprised when the Hollywood Reporter called something I thought idiotic a "truly great idea," but that was just a difference of opinion.

Now they report that Jean-Ralphio Saperstein, the character played by Ben Schwartz (who's been busy on House Of Lies), is returning to NBC's sitcom Parks And Recreation .  Here's how they describe him: "the cunning evil genius."

Have they been watching the same show?  I wouldn't use any of those words.  Jean-Ralphio has always struck me as a slow-witted lowlife hipster douchebag.

Mr. Jangle

Happy birthday, Roger McGuinn. He's the leading Byrd--singing, composing, guitaring--the one who was there through every permutation.

Friday, July 12, 2013


Everyone knows Bill Cosby is one of the premier humorists of our time. He's also a fine actor.  But on today, his birthday, let us recall he was also a successful musical recording artist, hitting #4 in 1967 with "Little Old Man (Uptight, Everything's Alright)."

Lincoln And Drinkin'

I just watched the first TV episode of Drunk History.  It's been on the Funny Or Die website for years and has now been picked up as a series on Comedy Central.

It's interesting to read the Hollywood Reporter review:

The web series Drunk History has been around for roughly six years now, delighting people who know when a truly great idea has been executed to near perfection. In this instance, it was really hard to go wrong: Get someone drunk -- no, really drunk -- and have them recount a moment in history.

Weird.  I feel exactly the opposite.  This is horrible idea and practically nothing can make it work.  Drunk people are obnoxious and annoying, and putting them front and center in the show is tiresome.

The first episode features three stories--Woodward and Bernstein investigating Watergate, the Lincoln assassination and Elvis meeting Nixon.  The actors--an impressive list, including Adam Scott, Jack Black, Bob Odenkirk, Will Forte, Stephen Merchant and Dave Grohl--are game, and it is somewhat intriguing seeing them lip sync to the drunken muttering.  But I just can't get past the fact this show is illustrating what jerky people are saying.

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