Saturday, November 30, 2013

Making something out of nothing

Hard to tell where the advertising ends and the news begins in this story, about Alderney and bitcoins. (Shouldn't bitcoin be capitalized? Is currency generally capitalized? US Dollar? Yen or yen? Japanese Yen or Japanese yen? Focus, CG, focus.)

Makes me wish for LAGuy's post on the constitutional coinage cases. Maybe the Chief can make something out of them and apply it to Detroit or wherever else seems handy.

Bucking The Trend

Speaking of food, I saw a spot advertising new items on McDonald's Dollar Menu.  For instance, there's the Bacon Cheddar McChicken, the Grilled Onion Cheddar Burger and the 20-piece Chicken McNuggets.

What caught my eye, though, was not the items, but the prices.  All of those above, and more, cost over one dollar.  Wasn't that kind of the point of the Dollar Menu?  And that's what these ads are really announcing. In fact, they've renamed it--it's now the "Dollar Menu & More."

Why would you do this?  Isn't everything available pretty much part of the dollar menu or more?  Decades ago McDonald's advertised two hamburgers, fries and a Coke with change for your dollar. Okay, inflation, but can't we hold the line on the dollar menu?

MC Hammer

Can it be?  Magnus Carlsen turns 23 today. He's spent so many years as the amazing chess prodigy that it's hard to get used to him as just the greatest adult player ever.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Zero Effect

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Ben Stiller is considering giving up acting for directing: " a director I feel much more freedom. There are just so many different kinds of movies that I can make that aren't limited by who I am as an actor."

I can't blame him for wanting to follow his muse, but I hope he doesn't go this way.  I've yet to see his latest, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, which hasn't officially opened, but I have seen his four previous films.  First came Reality Bites, which tried to be about a generation but generally didn't make it.  Then came The Cable Guy, the film that interrupted Jim Carrey's streak of big hits in the 90s.  After that Zoolander, a one-joke comedy based on a character from a sketch that should never have gone full-length.  Finally there's Tropic Thunder, an attempt at epic comedy, which was big, all right, but not funny enough.

I recognize each of these films has its defenders, but every single one was a disappointment to me.  Who knows, maybe Walter Mitty will change that, but right now, I definitely vote for Stiller as an actor.

Stray Day

Happy birthday Billy Strayhorn, the great jazz composer best known for his work with Duke Ellington.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Happy Turkey Day.  It's my favorite national holiday.  I'll be going to a friend's house to enjoy the meal and the company.  Hope you have as nice a time as I will.

What's that, you haven't prepared? Watch this:

Most Neighborly

Last year I watched The Neighbors, mostly because it was between The Middle and Modern Family.  The critics hated it but it sort of grew on me--as it did on some of them.  The concept was a group of beings from another planet live in a gated community in New Jersey.  They've been there for years when an actual human family moves in, a family who soon discovers who their neighbors actually are.  From that point on, the plots revolved around the aliens, particularly the leading family, reacting and adapting to the ways of earthlings, particularly New Jersey earthlings.

We've seen this concept before, but the eccentric performances from the two alien leads--Simon Templeman as Larry Bird and Toks Olagundoye as Jackie Joyner-Kersee--make it work.  This season, however, ABC consigned the series to the Friday night graveyard and I lost track of it.

But through On Demand I checked out their Thanksgiving episode to see how it was doing.  Thanksgiving episodes are a sitcom mainstay, and The Neighbors knows it.  In fact, that was the concept of the half hour. In addition to the regular plot--a Thanksgiving dinner disrupted by the fact the parents of the human father have split up--there's a metaplot. The aliens have been watching Nick At Nite reruns and now know all about Thanksgiving episodes, and treat the holiday as if it will be like one. They even have the other aliens watch from outside the window to supply a laugh track.

The Neighbors was much as I remembered it.  Mostly a generic, conventional sitcom except for the aliens occasionally erupting through.  Not bad, but not enough, I'm afraid, to make me seek it out on Fridays.  But I still like it better than most of the new sitcoms the networks have to offer.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Strummer Can't Talk

So, is it "fear in the down sex" or "fear in the gun sights"?

The latter seems to make more sense, but there's a quirkiness to the first that I'd like to think validates it. And where did "playing the blues of kings" come from? Wonderful, wonderful.

Just In Case

Interesting case coming up. The Supreme Court will hear arguments as to whether the Affordable Care Act goes beyond the First Amendment in forcing corporations to include free coverage of government-approved contraception (including abortifacients)

Of course, I think the Law is unconstitutional on a much larger basis, but the Supreme Court doesn't, which is why we got this case.  I don't know what the Court will do, but the reaction to this case was a bit more predictable.

Here are parts of a statement from the White House, with notes from me:

The health care law puts women and families in control of their health care by covering vital preventive care, like cancer screenings and birth control, free of charge. 

Free of charge?  Nothing is free, even if the government pretends it is.  What they mean is they're requiring the entire nation to pick up the tab.  Even if you don't want birth control, you have to pay for it.  (And what has this got to do with cancer screenings?)

As a general matter, our policy is designed to ensure that health care decisions are made between a woman and her doctor.  

This is pretty funny, considering the law in question is designed to put the government in the middle of every health care decision anyone makes

Patty Murray, perhaps our silliest Senator, had her own statement:

Allowing a woman’s boss to call the shots about her access to birth control should be inconceivable to all Americans in this day and age. 

Who says the boss is calling the shots?  Without this law, a woman is free to do what she wants.  What the law does is force her employer to pay for something even if the employer finds it objectionable on a religious basis. In fact, it forces the employer to pay for something even if the employee finds it objectionable.

We can’t allow legal precedent to dictate that the personal beliefs of those in positions of power can block those who aren’t from making their own health care decisions. 

This is the best line of all, since the whole point of the Affordable Care Act is, more than ever, people in positions of power get to decide what sort of health care you get, taking it out of the hands of the public.

Six Strings, Unlimited Talent

Jimi Hendrix died when he was 27.  If he'd lived, today would be his 71st birthday.  Even with such a short life, he revolutionized guitar playing.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mr. Mac

He's ill right now, so let's wish John McVie happiness on his birthday. McVie is the bass player in Fleetwood Mac--that "Mc" is the second half of band's name, in fact.

He and Mick Fleetwood have spent decades provided the solid backing so the main songwriters and singers in the band could make all those hits.

From Hunger

I haven't read the novels, but now I've seen both Hunger Games films.  Perhaps things are better explained in the books, but I had problems with the sequel.  (The following will give out spoilers for the movies, and I assume the books.)

The set-up for the whole series isn't bad--any battle royale where young people try to kill each other can't help but be fun.  We're in a dystopia where the government has an iron grip.  The nation is divided into the Capitol and 12 (or 13) districts, each surrounded by electric fences.  Katniss, our protagonist, is from District 12, a poor, coal-mining district.

Every year the Capitol sponsors the Hunger Games, where two teenagers--a male and female--are chosen by lottery from each district to take part in a game where they fight for their lives.  The point is to commemorate the last rebellion many years ago--the Games are both a cautionary tale, and the bread and circuses the public needs to distract them from tyranny and poverty.

The contestants form alliances, and also get sponsors from outside, but in the end it's all against all.  The last one alive wins glory and riches, the rest die.  No one (at least not in District 12) wants to win this lottery, but Katniss volunteers to take the place of her younger sister.

The first movie, and I'd guess the first book, deals with her life in District 12, her selection, her trip to the Capitol to prepare and then the Games.  Sorry to ruin the surprise, but she wins. In the second movie, she should be enjoying her victory, but in addition to feeling miserable about personal things, she's also become an enemy of the state as she's a symbol of defiance.  The President would have her killed if he could, but she's too conspicuous and popular.

So, in the second movie (and book), the leaders decide they'll have a special Games--a "Quarter Quell," since this is the 75th anniversary of the Games, and apparently every 25 years they do something special.  This time, they're going to have only former winners take part.

That's where they lost me.  First, the math is suspect.  There's only one winner a year (usually) so they'd have to go back way beyond the last 25 years to get 2 from every District.  In fact, it's imaginable there'd be some districts without any winners, the same way the Detroit Lions have never won a Super Bowl.  And once you get past 25 years, the contestants are starting to get long in the tooth. (There are some old contestants in the movie, but I still question it, since most would have won because they were swift and strong.)

Worse, this is a tactic by the President and others to bring down Katniss.  To make her look bad and then have her die.  But I don't buy the public would buy it.  If they love these games, then the public would be outraged at what is essentially a revocation of everything they stand for.  The winners are heroes, feted everywhere they go, guaranteed a good life, and others can live through them vicariously.  Now the state is saying victory means nothing, you're all going to die (but one).  It's as if the state started taking back lottery winnings.  If anything, this would make the public more rebellious.

Still, makes more sense than quidditch.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Full time dictionary

So I just read a statement, "women prefer part-time work."

The statement was part of an argument about how men and women view work in relation to both their families and their identities, not to mention the rest of their lives, arguing that women seek balance while men are more inclined to self-identify by work.

Whatever. I probably buy that but don't really care.

What I find intriguing is the idea of "part-time work." Isn't that sort of beside the point, and tied to an arbitrary or ad hoc idea of, presumably, a 40 hour work week or some other standardization?

Isn't it rather that we all seek the highest reasonable return for our investment, whatever that may be? Ultimately, it seems we have to work to meet a given budget, and we work to increase that budget if we are so inclined and able to do so. The "part-time" construct seems a misnomer. I suppose the statement means, all things equal, men will tend to work more because their view of balance would include more work overall, and that works for me. But then again, I would consider changing diapers to be a form of work even if it's unpaid, and you couldn't pay me enough to engage in many of the activities my women friends probably value.

Perhaps I'll go look up ColumbusGal and offer her my opinions on the topic . . . if you never hear from me again, let my last words be, "Ambrose Bierce!"


Happy birthday, Arthur Schwartz, one of the top tunesmiths in the first half of the 20th century.

A Tale Of Two Stand-Ups

On Saturday, two major names in stand-up premiered their new special.  By coincidence, I assume.

I'm tempted to say one was old, one was new, except Sarah Silverman is no longer a kid.  She's well into her 40s and has been doing this for over two decades.  Her HBO special, Sarah Silverman: We Are Miraclesisn't even her first filmed concert.  That honor goes to Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic, released theatrically in 2005.

Silverman has an odd comic persona--a cute girl with a potty mouth who makes all sorts of (fake) naive discoveries about ugly and disgusting things.  I think she can be funny, but I find her best in small doses.  In We Are Miracles, she does generally random material for an hour (actually, closer to 45 minutes when you get rid of the framing device) and while some of it scores--and too much of it doesn't--there's never any build.  There's a lot of sexual stuff, of course, a few feints toward politics, some looks back at childhood (which seemed to get more personal than usual--most of her stuff keeps you at arm's length) and an attempt or two to be cosmic, all from her cockeyed point of view.  Then she ends with a song.  It's entertaining enough that you don't get antsy, but her stand-up still doesn't seem made for long-form.

She shot the show in the small room at Largo.  I'm not sure if having a crowd of 39 people (she made sure you knew that) is good or bad for a special, which usually features a large crowd.  I suppose if the material takes hold it doesn't matter.

By the way, Largo is about a mile or two up the street from where I write this.  Meanwhile, up the highway is the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  That's where Comedy Central's Bill Cosby: Far From Finished was shot.  It's his first filmed concert in 30 years, but he's never really been away. Cosby is more than just a stand-up comic, he's an institution.  He's been at the top of the stand-up game for 50 years now, not to mention a major TV star.

Like many institutions, he's no longer "edgy," if he ever was.  He doesn't swear, he doesn't do racial material, he doesn't talk politics (in his comedy--he's politically involved in his personal life), yet, in some ways, he's the most radical comedian out there, even at the age of 76.

That's because he doesn't tell jokes, he tells stories--long stories.  He's not afraid to go minutes without laughs (not that that usually happens), and is sure the audience will stay with him.  He may be the biggest comedian of our era, but he's not especially influential simply because almost no one else can do--or has the nerve to do--what he does.

His latest special is just more of what we see him do on talk show appearances, where he generally performs material before doing panel. (And he's no longer a stand-up.  These shows are long so he sits down the entire performance.)  It's a little more pointed and concentrated, but his style still allows him to talk about what strikes him at the moment, and interact with the audience. The material is prepared, of course, but he, more than any comic, seems to be making it up as he goes along.

The special was mostly about his favorite subjects--relations between men and women, husbands and wives, parents and their kids.  He generally portrays himself as the sad sack who has to get around his wife and deal with his kids.  His act is also very physical. He may sit in a chair, but he's quite animated, acting out his scenarios.

And it's funny.  That's the key.  His material may be a bit looser than the material that made him famous in the 60s. (It'd almost have to be, since that material was mostly seen on TV and heard on albums, formats that require a certain amount of brevity.)  Whatever he has, he's still got it.  Far From Finished may not be up to his best material, but the title is accurate.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Feeling Blue

So the Blogfather says Romney would have won (what, if he'd been more competent focusing on the health insurance issue that he passed in Massachusetts?):

WHICH IS WHY OBAMA LIED: Poll: If Voters Had Known They’d Lose Their Insurance, They’d Have Voted For Romney.

Well, okay, technically I guess he just says this is why Obama lied.

As LAGuy does, as we all do, I find this balance of lying interesting. Someone (Mencken? Many people, of course) said only a fool would tell the public the truth all the time. And of course there is always the one way outrage: their guy lies, it's a mortal sin, our guy lies, it's remarkable strategy (if we're feeling particularly generous or upright, it's a regrettable necessity).

But would we be any happier with Romney? As with McCain, I'm frankly happier that, if we have to have these policies, at least let's have them attributed to the party that most openly admits its socialism. (I wonder what percentage of the Republican Party is socialist? Is it as much as a third, or even half? Or is it primarily focused in the leadership, in which case it isn't socialism, but is rather either fascism or simple corruption. As P.J. O'Rourke says, when buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators. And yes, I know you can't say fascism, so please tell me what the right word is when the state exercises its control of the means of production by something less than openly acknowledged ownership.)

So given the correctness of my views (i.e., assuming it), is America better off that Obama won and got his policies through? There was a similar question I had about Clinton. My biggest fear was less what he would accomplish, though I did fear that, but that rather he would act as a continued delay to the philosophies that Reagan represented, an interregnum, that might allow time for the collectivist side to regroup, retrench and prevail. (And of course, if that has already happened, or if it reaches its final stages soon, then it is Reagan that is the interregnum to the arc that launched with the second Roosevelt, if not the first.)

All very interesting, as my little yellow friends would say. (Thank you, Peter.)

Quite a week for me. Michigan tradition lost, Big Ten tradition lost, and now America lost. Maybe next week will be better.

The Hours

We're almost at the end of the 15-part (!) documentary, The Story Of Film: An Odyssey, shown weekly on TCM over the past couple months. It's created and liltingly narrated by Mark Cousins, and does nothing less than look at the worldwide history and phenomenon of film.

Cousins has strong opinions and clearly loves his subject.  He sometimes makes weird judgment calls, though that's only to be expected.  But I wonder if this Irish hipster (and you know he's a hipster because he doesn't comb his hair and doesn't wear socks) hasn't turned off the--I'm guessing--conservative TCM audience.  They like Hollywood classics, for the most part, and Cousins spends some time with them, but more often, in his arty way, looks overseas.  And every now and then he inserts his political views (generally stated as fact).

I don't know what numbers TCM is getting for the series--or gets in general--but I've noticed when this doc started it was featured in prime time on Monday and repeated on Tuesday.  Lately they've only been shown once, and then late on Monday.  TCM may not be that ratings-conscious, and they do adventurous things on a regular basis, such as show silent films and fairly modern indies, but still, is this epic testing their patience?

Best Birthday Wishes

A happy birthday to poor Pete Best, kicked out of the Beatles just as they were on the verge of stardom. His side claimed the guys were jealous of his looks, or had some other problem with him personally, but it's hard to believe it wasn't a ruthless business decision--now that we're going to record for real, we can't afford a drummer who can't cut it.

I don't know what happened, but here's some of Pete's drumming. Judge for yourself.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

My Little Pony

Geez, losing to Iowa?

Day was, I saw Michigan football as being on par with Ohio State, but as the decades have gone by, this year I am starting to have my doubts.

Probably that's only the accident of OSU being ranked pretty strongly right now, and needless to say they've had a long history of choking during these past same decades.

Kind of sad, though, isn't it, that I'm not debating myself over whether Michigan or OSU is rising to the top of the pack, but whether OSU deserves to be there or will fall back to its more natural state. Even if they win out this year, that won't really tell me. If they have a touch of luck and win the national championship (should that be capitalized?), it still won't really tell me (but it'll have the patina of evidence, anyway).

Well, what should I hope happens next week, what was back in my day the Big Game? Truly, I hope Michigan wins and acts as spoiler. That fits the drama of the Great Rivalry. (Or it merely establishes OSU as a pretender.) Plus, you know, I'm an alum.

But after that wish, i.e., as an alternative, I suppose I hope OSU takes it all. It'll really be depressing to have Big Blue lose and the OSU do the traditional Big 10 bowl choke. And yet, that's the way to bet, isn't it?


Guess who's birthday it is today?  That's right, Miley Cyrus.  Today she can start legally drinking, so who knows what'll happen next.

Hey, it's also Betty Everett's birthday, so let's celebrate that.

The Times They Are a-Changin' or Too Bad Chief Justice Estrada Can't Settle This

It's really too easy to note how hypocritical the Senate is to go with the nuclear option, but what fascinates me is no matter how obvious, no one can see their own hypocrisy.  Back in the old days, eight years ago, when the Republicans ruled the roost, they were frustrated by Democrats blocking their candidates, and considered getting rid of the filibuster rule that allowed 41 votes to send back any nominee the President sent over.  Democrats--including Senators Obama and Clinton--denounced this potential change, saying it attacked the very meaning of the Senate and democracy itself.  Ultimately, the Republicans backed away.

Now the Democrats find themselves in a similar position and decided that's enough, we're going nuclear.  And it's no big deal, stop complaining, live with it.  The President applauds the action, of course.  The New York Times editorializes that it's about time in "Democracy Returns To The Senate."  Compare this to the 2005 editorial where they explained the necessity of the rule, particularly for the President's nominations:

While the filibuster has not traditionally been used to stop judicial confirmations, it seems to us this is a matter in which it's most important that a large minority of senators has a limited right of veto. Once confirmed, judges can serve for life and will remain on the bench long after Mr. Bush leaves the White House. And there are few responsibilities given to the executive and the legislature that are more important than choosing the members of the third co-equal branch of government. The Senate has an obligation to do everything in its power to ensure the integrity of the process.

(You might think that legislation, the primary business of the Senate, is where the body can make its own rules, while voting on appointments, which are the primary duty of the President, would be harder to justify--a Senate regulation preventing an Executive decision--but let's not worry about that for now.)

Somewhat ironically (or maybe not ironic at all), this 2005 editorial was an apology, as the Times was officially changing its mind:

A decade ago, this page expressed support for tactics that would have gone even further than the "nuclear option" in eliminating the power of the filibuster. At the time, we had vivid memories of the difficulty that Senate Republicans had given much of Bill Clinton's early agenda. But we were still wrong. To see the filibuster fully, it's obviously a good idea to have to live on both sides of it. We hope acknowledging our own error may remind some wavering Republican senators that someday they, too, will be on the other side and in need of all the protections the Senate rules can provide.

I guess those Republicans read the Times and held off on changing the rule, realizing they might some day hope the Democrats would do the same.  Suckers.

Of course, according to the Times circa 2013, things are different now:

Given the extreme degree of Republican obstruction during the Obama administration, the Democrats had little choice but to change the filibuster rule.

Of course it's different.  While Obama and Clinton were president, it was the Republicans blocking Democrats, and that's bad.  While Bush was President, it was Democrats blocking Republicans, and that's good.  And if the Republicans take back the Senate and the White House, it'll be wrong again, and you can bet the Paper of Record will change their view once again, without any hypocrisy involved.

PS  From another 2005 Times editorial against the nuclear option:

Of all the hollow arguments Senate Republicans have made in their attempt to scrap the opposition's right to have a say on President Bush's judicial nominees, the one that's most hypocritical insists that history is on their side in demanding a "simple up-or-down vote" on the Senate floor. [....] This is all part of the Senate's time-honored deliberative role and of its protection of minority rights, which Republican leaders would now desecrate in overreaching from their majority perch.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Isn't it pretty to think so?

The seemingly inexorable march towards economic socialism and political statism has been accomplished through legislative and judicial ratchets which, once established, were all but impossible to reverse in part because the filibuster helped lock in the agenda and those supporting the agenda.

Because of the ratchet, the nation moved only in one direction: Towards redistribution of wealth, and bigger government.

Because of the ratchet, there was little or no hope of fundamental reversals.

Not anymore.

Re-viewing Reviews

Occasionally you read something in a film review that makes you look a second time.  Did I read that right?

For instance, in Kurt Loder's review of the film Nebraska we get this:

[Director Alexander] Payne has shot the film in widescreen black-and-white, a format that inevitably recalls such great ’70s movies as Badlands and The Last Picture Show.

I don't know if its inevitable it'll remind you of The Last Picture Show (didn't remind me) but I don't see why would it remind you of Badlands, shot memorably in color.

By the way, Loder goes on to state the film makes the streets of a small Nebraska town look oppressive, but, as often happens to me, I felt it looked sort of beautiful in barren black and white.

Weirder, in a Robert Blanco USA Today feature called "A tale of two series...", where he compares the faltering Homeland to the solid Good Wife, we get this:

[In Homeland t]he mystery we had to solve was whether Brody's suffering had turned him into a terrorist. But rather than ending the story, the solution led us to more interesting questions. Considering what he had been through, could you blame him? And considering what some of his enemies had done, could you root against him?

Could you blame him?  Yes!  Sure, he was put through torture and mind games by his captors, but he came back to America a terrorist. He strapped a bomb to himself hoping to blow up civilians.  I sure can blame him, and had no trouble rooting against him (and for Carrie Mathison, who suspected him).

It Was Fifty Years Ago Today

Half a century since the Kennedy assassination. Alas, more than half the people in America still think there was some conspiracy.  For this I mostly blame Jack Ruby, who prevented a trial where the public could have heard the whole case against Oswald.  But that's the way it goes.  To this day people still bring up the bad evidence suggesting a second shooter, apparently not aware how easily it's refuted.

But lately I've seen something new.  Not about a conspiracy so much as a mood.  That Dallas was a "city of hate." As if that has anything to do with the shooting of a president.

For instance, we get this in Slate (and elsewhere): a letter from a Nelle M. Doyle to Press Secretary Pierre Salinger warning JFK away from Dallas.  She writes about the "hoodlum mob" in Dallas, and ends her letter thus:

The people are crazy, or crazed, and I am sure that we must realize that their actions in the future are unpredictable.

Rebecca Onion (though maybe this should be in The Onion) in Slate runs with it.

As Steven L. Davis and Bill Minutaglio, authors of a book on Dallas politics in 1963write, Dallas was a hotbed of right-wing activism in the early 1960s. The city had strong historical ties to the KKK; in the 1920s, Dallas had the highest per-capita rateof KKK membership in the country. In the 50s and 60s, resistance to school integration and civil rights catalyzed rightist sentiment in the city.
Dallas was also home to Edwin A. Walker, a one-time general in the Army whose involvement with the ideology of the anti-communist John Birch Society and vocal opposition to Kennedy intensified after his discharge. Reverend W.A. Criswell, pastor of the powerful Dallas First Baptist Church, campaigned against Kennedy on the basis of his Catholicism during the 1960 election. And the Dallas Morning News, the largest newspaper in the state, was consistently conservative in its editorial coverage, attacking the NAACP, running editorials by prominent red-hunters, and commemorating the Confederacy in the name of “states’ rights.”
What does "right-wing activism" have to do with it?  Kennedy was killed by one nut--a communist nut at that.
In fact, I have to wonder if Onion is messing with us.  She brings up Edwin Walker.  She  must know that earlier in 1963 Oswald attempted to assassinate Walker for his anti-Communist beliefs.
Or is Onion, like so many others, of the mindset that hatred is some physical thing that descended on Dallas that day and killed the President?  And people keep making this mistake  Whenever someone is shot or attacked, certain pundits quickly check (or sometimes just assume) the person who did was affected by the wrong politics and go on to condemn those politics.  (And then they find out that person had beliefs closer to their own and say it's unfair to judge a crazy person by his politics.)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cheering the Big M

Since LAGuy and I can't say much about the old Maize & Blue, let's give it up for the Big M, the Top 25-Minnesota Golden Gophers!

Enjoy it while it lasts, though, boys and girls. Next few weeks are lookin' a bit rough . . .

Season So Far

The TV season is about halfway over and no new shows have excited me. A few I watch regularly--Masters Of Sex among the dramas and Brooklyn Nine-Nine among the comedies--but even they aren't exactly must-see. Still, as I've checked out so many shows, time for a progress report.

At ABC, you've got a bunch of new sitcoms.  Some people seem to like The Goldbergs, but I can't get into it.  Same for Super Fun Night, even though I like Rebel Wilson.  Then there's Trophy Wife, which has a fine cast but can't seem to get it together. My favorite new comedy on the network is Back In The Game because it has my favorite (relative) new face, Maggie Lawson. I hear, however, this show is the one that's sure to be canceled, so that takes care of that.

On the #1 network, CBS, you've got some new comedies which are doing well because they follow old, hit comedies.  You've got The Millers right after Big Bang Theory, so even if it loses half the audience it's doing well.  I watched about half an episode and that was enough. (How is it Will Arnett keeps getting shows?) After that is the Robin Willliams sitcom The Crazy Ones, which isn't bad, but not good enough to make me seek it out.  Then there's Mom, with a very appealing cast, including Anna Faris and Allison Janney, but also not enough to get me back.  I also hear Hostages is a solid drama, but the idea doesn't appeal enough to me to watch.

At Fox, in addition to Brooklyn Nine-Nine, you've got the retrograde Dads. I almost like how crude and outrageous its trying to be--it's almost a parody of an old, bad sitcom.  Except it really does feel like an old, bad sitcom.  In drama, they've got Sleepy Hollow, which seems to be doing well, but is too silly for me. (I barely watch Once Upon A Time any more, and when I do that fills my silly quotient for the month.)

Finally, on NBC (I'm not including cable since I don't watch anything new there except Masters Of Sex) we've got three new comedies on Thursday night, the night they used to dominate and now lose big.  Actually, NBC only has two returning sitcoms, and neither are true hits, so they need something. Unfortunately, they strike out most than any other net. (This is partly because it's easier to grow hits on hits.) First you've got Welcome To The Family, which did so poorly it's already been canceled. It struck me as their best new comedy.  Worse is Sean Hayes in Sean Saves The World and Michael J. Fox in The Michael J. Fox Show. Maybe I'm not giving them a fair chance, but in my quick sampling they both struck me as mirthless.  The big new hit on the schedule--helped by following The Voice--is the crime drama The Blacklist.  It's not for me.  I'm just not up for a case-a-week show unless it's really special.

So there you have it. Not much of a season so far, but really, I watch too much TV anyway.

Not Cole But Soul

Happy birthday David Porter, a great soul musician and songwriter at Stax.  With Isaac Hayes, he composed more than his share of classics.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Master In His Field

Syd Field has died. Outside Hollywood, that may mean nothing, but in this town, he's what Einstein was to physics, Darwin to biology, Freud to psychology. He took the mysterious art of screenwriting and made it material to millions.

His book Screenplay laid down the rules. Field looked at countless Hollywood movies and figured out how the classic story was constructed.  A screenplay should be about 120 pages long--each page representing about a minute of screen time--and made up of three acts.  The first act is 30 pages. You introduce the main situation and character in the first ten pages, and near the end of the act there's a plot point that pushes the protagonist into the serious problem which leads us into the second act, 60 pages long.  There are reversals along the way as the protagonist moves toward his goal, and another major plot point near the end of the second act which propels us into the third act, 30 pages long, that works it way to the climax.

This basic structure, as obvious as it may seem, swept Hollywood.  Not just writers were conversant in it--producers and their readers talked the language.  In meetings people would mention specific "plot points" or "second-act problems." If your script didn't conform---if you took too long to get to a major plot point--you'd get a note, or even a rejection.

Field created a whole new movement.  There have been numerous story gurus since (above all Robert McKee) and a bigger market for books on screenwriting than for screenplays themselves.  Some of these newer book even tell you pretty much what to do on every page (such as Blake Snyder's Save The Cat!--by the way, I was using the term "fun and games" in exactly the same way Snyder does long before he published his books and sometimes I wonder if he got it from me--of course, I got it from Edward Albee.)

A lot of people have blamed Field for the cookie cutter look of so many films.  They may have a point, but Field himself admitted it wasn't just about structure, it was about how you filled in that structure. Anyone can write a screenplay (and almost anyone did) but it's still content that counts.  Really he's beyond criticism.  Even if you reject his structure, that's the point--you're rejecting his structure.  Good or bad, it's his world we live in.

Diamond At The Mike

Happy birthday, Mike Diamond, aka Mike D, founding member of the Beastie Boys.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Oh Ray

It's Ray Collins' birthday (though he died late last year). He was a lead singer for the Mothers Of Invention in the early day, and his memorable voice can be heard on some of Frank Zappa's most enjoyable songs.

Mary, Mary

My favorite TV show of all time may just be The Mary Tyler Moore Show, so I was thrilled when Jennfer Keishin Armstrong's book Mary And Lou And Rhoda And Ted came out.  It is by far the most comprehensive look at the series.

The general outline I already understood, but Armstrong goes into detail about the development and production of the show.  Mary Tyler Moore had become a big name by the time The Dick Van Dyke Show, in which she co-starred, left the air in the mid-60s.  But her work after that in movies and on stage seemed to be going nowhere.  When Van Dyke did a TV special with Moore in the late 60s it got her a lot of attention and CBS was willing to commit to a series.  She and husband Grant Tinker, a TV executive, formed MTM Productions and decided to hire hot, young TV writers James L. Brooks and Allan Burns to create the show.  This was a bit of a risk, but they were looking for something new, and Brooks and Burns delivered.  The Van Dyke show itself had been the top in TV sophistication, but this new show was to go further, introducing Moore as a divorcee trying to create a new life in Minneapolis.  It would be funny, to be sure, but realistic.  Mary wouldn't get stuck in farcical situations like Lucille Ball (not that there's anything wrong with farce)--her show would be about the challenges faced by a young, single woman in the 1970s.

The network hated it.  The especially hated the divorce. (They worried people would think she divorced Dick Van Dyke.) If Moore and Tinker didn't believe in the talent they'd chosen, Brooks and Burns probably would have been kicked off the project.  But they stuck by them, figuring the best strategy is hire talent and let them do their thing. (Tinker didn't Tinker.) Still, to appease the network, Brooks and Burns had Mary leaving a long relationship rather than be divorced. The rewrite also gave them time to change Mary's job--previously Mary had been an assistant to a gossip columnist, now she'd be an assistant producer at a local news show.

The story behind the casting is fascinating. The men hired for the sitcom--Ed Asner, Gavin MacLeod and Ted Knight--had been kicking around for years, and while they'd had some success, this would be their big break. Knight himself was about ready to quit the business, and this show saved him. MacLeod came in to read for the part of Lou Grant, Mary's crusty boss, but he preferred Murray, Mary's friend. (Actually, Murray was originally seen as Mary's nemesis, but MacLeod was so nice they didn't play it that way.  For that matter, Ted Baxter, the arrogant anchor, was originally seen as a potential love interest, but after they hired Knight, older and more buffoonish, they went in a different direction.)  Asner's first read for Lou Grant was a disaster--he seemed too angry.  On the way out, he asked for another chance, and that second reading got him the role.  As opposed to these veterans, Valerie Harper, who played Mary's best friend Rhoda, was a dancer with little acting experience, but somehow took to the part as no one else they saw--she was so convincing that to this day many people think she's Jewish.  Then there was Cloris Leachman, who came in, sat on James L. Brooks' lap, and got the part of kooky Phyllis.

Meanwhile, other classic parts of the show were being developed.  For instance, there's the multi-level look of Mary's one-room apartment (with a cookie jar the props department always kept filled, even though Moore was diabetic and Harper was trying to lose weight). Sonny Curtis read a description of the show's format and somehow composed the perfect theme song, "Love Is All Around"--and then insisted he, rather than a name, be allowed to sing it.  He did have to change the words after the first season, since it originally started "How will you make it on your own?" By the second season everyone figured she'd made it, so it changed to "Who can turn the world on with her smile?" We also find out about the very cold Minneapolis day when the title sequence, where Mary throws her hat in the air, was shot.

The first run-through in front of an audience was a disaster.  There were technical problems, which didn't help, but by and large the crowd didn't like these characters, and the actors didn't rise to the occasion. Moore was devastated--her big comeback was going up in smoke.  Tinker called Burns and Brooks and told them to fix it.  The two didn't panic (though they did worry a lot).  They made a few minor changes--especially having Phyllis's daughter Bess say she liked Rhoda so the audience would understand this abrasive character was actually okay--but mostly they worked on getting the acting and technical side up to where they should be. (One actor, who played Mary's former boyfriend, complained about the script.  After the pilot started going more smoothly, he wondered if he might become a recurring character, but was never asked back.) Their patience was rewarded, and on the big night where they officially taped the pilot, the audience responded.  They liked Mary, they liked the situation, and they especially liked Ed Asner telling Mary "You've got spunk...I hate spunk!"

Even then, CBS wasn't thrilled and scheduled the pilot in a death slot where no one would watch. (Luckily, the deal Moore had required them to air it or it may never have seen the light of day.)  But then new management took over, axed all the "country" shows on CBS like The Beverly Hillbillies and Hee Haw, and hoped to develop a better demographic with hipper shows. MTM was put on Saturday, then a good night for TV.  The critics at first weren't impressed--and the network was still giving notes suggesting things like Mary should date a prince--but as the weeks went on the audience realized this was a smart, funny, classy show. During reruns more and more people caught on (and another new show on the same night, All In The Family, caught on even more).  By the second season it was a top ten show.

Through the years, the show lost some characters to their own series--Valerie Harper as Rhoda was the first to go, and soon after Cloris Leachman as Phyllis got her own show as well. But MTM barely stumbled as they were replaced by popular new characters: Betty White as Sue Ann Nivens the Happy Homemaker (her character was originally described in the script as a "Betty White" type) and Georgia Engel as Georgette.  Engel was especially helpful in humanizing Ted Baxter.  Ted Knight was worried he was becoming known as TV's biggest dolt, and this relationship--including a marriage and child with Georgette--helped deepen his character.

Armstrong also spends a lot of time discussing the women who wrote for the show. In an era when female sitcom writers were scarce, MTM featured many, including Treva Silverman and Susan Silver.  Part of it was common sense--Brooks and Burns wanted to tell real stories, and their show centered on what would happen to a woman of the time.  Unfortunately, Armstrong gives short shrift to the men (aside from Burns and Brooks)--great writers like David Lloyd, Ed. Weinberger and Bob Ellison are passed over quickly, if mentioned at all.

The show left TV after seven classic seasons, beloved and highly honored. It would regularly appear at or near the top of all-time lists, and the "Chuckles Bites The Dust" was recognized as perhaps the greatest sitcom episode ever. (Armstrong clears up the legend that regular director Jay Sandrich didn't want to shoot a show about death--he claims he was given a week off every now and then and decided to miss this episode so he could work the previous week with Eileen Heckart who played recurring character Aunt Flo.)

I don't think any of the actors ever topped their work on this show--but then few could have.  Moore starred in a few more shows, none of which were hits. Ed Asner as Lou Grant got his own show, a drama that lasted five years, which was respected but never as honored as MTM.  Gavin MacLeod starred in Love Boat and Ted Knight in Too Close For Comfort, successes, but not in the same class.

Burns would work in movies and TV, but it was partner Brooks who had the most impressive record.  He'd go on to create classic sitcoms Taxi and The Simpsons and also succeed in movies, writing and directing titles such as Terms Of Endearment and Broadcast News.

The people who worked on the show knew it was something special while they were doing it. The final season got harder and harder as they realized it was all coming to an end. The penultimate episode had Mary and Lou finally go out on a date and discover they weren't meant to be together physically. (Brooks actually thought this was a cop-out, but Moore insisted). The last show--where everyone in the newsroom is fired except for the incompetent Ted--has become a classic.

The series was taped in Studio City, in the Valley.  I've visited the site.  There's a small plaque that says "On this stage a company of loving and talented friends produced a television classic." Armstrong's book does a good job documenting that fact.

Monday, November 18, 2013


Here's a fine video of Bryan Cranston reprising Hal from Malcolm In The Middle.

Fun in itself, and obviously a parody of Newhart's ending.  And also a reminder of how different Hal is from Heisenberg.  It's hard to believe, but before Breaking Bad premiered some questioned hiring an actor so identified with a sitcom.

Just in case this is pulled from YouTube, here it is at the AV Club.

Hooray For Johnny

Happy birthday Johnny Mercer, one of the top lyricists and occasional composers in the Great American Songbook.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A service to the public

Often enough I do not agree with our Gov. Kasich, but I have to cheer him on this one.

A week or so ago I heard a news story on NPR (local affiliate) about a man on death row about to be executed in a week. His mother had some condition for which she needed an organ and he wanted to donate to her--and the state said no.

I'm all in favor of the death penalty. Ohio's done pretty well greasing the skids and keeping the pipeline moving. We're not Texas, but we're trying our best.

But why in the world would you say no to this?

Apparently the governor feels the same way. Good for him:

Convicted child-killer Ronald Phillips was in the Death House and had ordered his last meal when he got the word yesterday: Gov. John Kasich had postponed his execution set for today to determine whether his “nonvital” organs could be harvested as he requested.

Why not? Sounds like basic Christian charity to me (or whatever flavor you happen to like).

Goodbye Hello

The HBO Stephen Merchant comedy Hello Ladies hasn't gotten good numbers and it seems unlikely it'll be picked up for a second season. Still, who knows?  It's not all about ratings there--they let Enlightened go around twice.

But is it any good?  It was created by Stephen Merchant without his Office-partner Ricky Gervais, but with Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnisky, who worked on the American Office.  It stars Merchant as a web designer who works in Hollywood and is a loser when it comes to picking up women.  He seems to be playing a somewhat more hapless version of himself (I hope).  The rest of the cast are generally losers as well, including Nate Torrence who's made a career playing losers, and the lovely Christine Woods.

Like Merchant's previous work, this is cringe comedy.  We laugh at his hopeless attempts to ingratiate himself with the opposite sex, but are also horrified.  Not unlike the British Office or Extras, it can sometimes be hard to watch.  And it's also all a bit thin.  There are laughs, but not as much wit or depth as we might have hoped.

Merchant was excellent as Ricky Gervais' useless agent in Extras, but it's not clear if he can carry the whole show himself.  Perhaps if he were given a second season Hello Ladies would improve, but I'm not counting on it.

Find A City

Here's a story in the Washington Post that's creating a stir: the warnings France gives to its citizens regarding American cities.  It's always fun to find out how others view us. Here are some of their suggestions (check to link and maybe your city will be there):

Boston: Avoid walking at night in Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury, and be wary of "petty crime" in Chinatown, the North End and Fenway.
I usually go to the North End when I'm in town and it's not that bad, but I suppose you should always be aware of your wallet or purse.

New York: Be wary in Times Square and at the Statue of Liberty, and don’t go to Harlem, the Bronx or Central Park at night.
I've never had any trouble at Times Square or the Statue of Liberty, but I guess you have to watch out in crowded places.  And Central Park is still trouble?  I thought that was the 60s and 70s.
Baltimore: “Considered a dangerous city except downtown.”
A little unfair. Baltimore has gone through renewal, and I think that "downtown" has gotten a lot bigger. But it's true, step too far outside it and you're in The Wire.
Pittsburgh: The French urge their citizens to avoid Mount Oliver, Hill District, Homewood-Brushton and Hazelwood.
And many Americans advise you stay away altogether.
Detroit: “The center is not recommended after the close of business.”
Just the center?  This is the best notice Detroit has gotten in years.  (I worked downtown one summer and it's true that everyone went home before the sun set.)
Chicago: Stay away from the West Side and anywhere south of 59th Street.

So much for the Museum of Science And Industry.  They should also note where the West Side starts, and, for that matter, where it ends.
New Orleans: Northwest of Dauphine Street, northeast of Ursulines Avenue, north of St. Charles Avenue and south of Magazine Street are areas of concern.
And don't try to speak French here, no one will care.
Los Angeles: France warns tourists to take care in Hollywood, Santa Monica, Venice Beach and Long Beach, and to avoid Watts, Inglewood and Florence.
Hollywood is much better than it used to be, and Santa Monica, even with all the homeless around, seems pretty safe.  And if you want to hold on to your money, stay away from Beverly Hills.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Here Here

Hey, looks what's playing at the sub-run Regency Plaza Valley 6--Don Jon.  Okay, maybe not the biggest deal.  But in the film, there's a sequence where Joseph Gordon-Levitt takes his new girlfriend, Scarlett Johansson, out to the movies. The point of the scene is she likes stupid romantic comedies just as he like porn.

But that's neither here nor there.  The main thing is though most of the film seems to be shot out East, this sequence is shot at the Regency Plaza Valley 6.  Pretty cheap date.

Maybe I should go and before the film announce to the audience what they're about to see. Hate for them to miss it.

What Was That?

While watching old shows sometimes a line or moment will make you stop a second, and not for reasons originally intended.  For instance, any old movie that shows the World Trade Center can't help but make you think of 9/11.  In fact, the towers were shown on the credits to The Sopranos, but were removed in later seasons.

I was recently watching that show, a fourth-season episode where Christopher gets an intervention. It doesn't go well. He starts lashing out at everyone.  He even says to Tony with the way he's shoveling down food he'll die of a heart attack when he's 50.  Now that we know James Gandolfini would die of a heart attack at 51, it's harder to watch.

I also was just checking out DodgeBall, the 2004 comedy starring Vince Vaughn. As you may recall, Vaughn walks out on his team before the big match.  By chance he meets Lance Armstrong, who has a speech about how he didn't quit when he had testicular cancer and went on to win the Tour de France a bunch of times.

Of course, when you look at this scene now, you're not thinking of an inspirational speech so much as what we think of Lance Armstrong today, who doped up, lied about it, and has been stripped of his victories.  By comparison, Vince Vaughn's characters isn't so bad.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Oh Doctor

It's a sign of what a debacle Obamacare has become that the President yesterday gave the public a one-year reprieve allowing them to keep their old health care plans.  I never thought he'd do it.  Up till now he's said no to the slightest demands, knowing the law must go forward if it's to have a chance.  To waver (or waiver) is practically total surrender.

Not that his rhetoric signaled he gave up.  He made some apologies in passing, but by and large put on a brave face, saying things are getting better and he will stop any action to bring down the Affordable Care Act. He said there's no way he'll let the GOP drag us back to the broken system we had (but instead we must march forward to a new broken system).  While he's given up trying to claim he didn't mislead when he said the public could keep their plans if they liked them (and if my computer were working better I'd link to contemporary posts noting this wasn't true--and I said so not because I was so smart, but because it was obvious), he's still willing to add insult to injury, explaining to the public that they're apparently too stupid to understand they'd be better off signing onto the government plan.

There must have been tremendous political pressure on the President.  Probably party leaders made it clear he'd better do this or, at the very least, he understood steps would be taken with or without him so he'd best get out in front.  No matter how it happened, alas, it's a pretty cynical move.

First, of course, it's just a one-year deal--in other words, an attempt to put off the problem until just after the 2014 elections.  So a year later the problem will be back as big as ever--and you can throw in the employer mandate as well.

Second just where did he get the power to do this?  The Affordable Care Act is quite a piece of legislation, that apparently is or isn't law based on the President's whim.

Third, he has to know this can't work.  The law has already been passed (as Democrats kept pointing out a few weeks ago during the shutdown) and the insurers have already taken it into account. They've canceled millions of policies and the market has changed. They can't just uncancel them now.  At the very least, that would take a tremendous amount of work (for which they will not receive extra money) and almost certainly higher premiums, not to mention some legally necessary help from state officials. So, in effect, this move doesn't fix the problem, but gives Democrats someone else to blame for it over the next year.

In addition, the one-year reprieve only makes adverse selection in the insurance exchange that much more certain, plunging the overall system--which already was in trouble--into bigger disaster.  The whole point of Obamacare is to force everyone into a government-approved plan, one way or another. If it can't do that, it has no need to exist.

Republicans--and perhaps some Democrats--may still try to pass legislation to deal with the situation, but if it's anything of substance, the President will presumably veto it and, in any case, short of repealing Obamacare, I don't see how they can easily rebuild what has by this point been torn asunder. (I wonder if the insurers would challenge a law that demands they undo what they just did--and I wonder how Chief Justice Roberts would write that opinion.)

The politics has a year to play out, but no matter the result, we've got a strange situation.  There's this massive law, partly enacted, that seems to be on a collision course with itself.  I'm not sure what happens next.  Can it die while it's still on the books?

Doggin' It

September 21, 2013

I was recently at a Dodgers game.  It was fun, but there wasn't too much at stake.  The team has got their division.

I was, as always, impressed--if that's the word--with how much everything costs inside the stadium. It makes you long for movie prices. If the parking and tickets haven't broken you, this takes what's left.

Beer costs ten bucks, for instance.  The garlic fries are over seven bucks, a Coke is over five, peanuts over six, all-beef hot dogs over six, etc.  A smart person would eat before he gets there.

Everyone was buying the Dodger Dogs, still a deal at five bucks.  (I'm not that big a fan of hot dogs in general. I live around the corner from Pink's, the most popular hot dog stand in town, and I never go there.)

There's a problem, though.  The dogs are longer than the buns.  I guess this is supposed to make them seem overflowing, but I don't get it.  If you're going to have a hot dog, the bun and the dog should be about the same length, so you can have both in each bite.  For that matter, the bun is a good holder for condiments, but who wants mustard, much less relish or onions, sliding off your dog onto your shirt.

Do the dogmakers and the bunmakers work separately?

Thursday, November 14, 2013


My computer is working a bit, but not too well. Perhaps I'll be able to regularly put up new posts soon. We'll see. In any case, I plan to buy a new computer soon. I assume that'll solve any computer problems I've got (or will it cause new ones). So perhaps we'll be up and running normally soon. And perhaps Columbus Guy will continue to contribute.

Don't Knock It

August 27, 2013

In a piece by neurologist Richard Restak in The American Scholar called "Laughter And The Brain" we get this in the final paragraph:

Humor is constantly evolving—comics’ tastes change, as does what society considers funny. Our parents and grandparents would have found this sort of joke amusing: Knock knock. Who’s there? Madame. Madame who? Madame foot’s caught in the door!  We no doubt find it juvenile and embarrassing. “Humor” based on racial and ethnic stereotypes or physical or mental disabilities is no longer acceptable, which is all to the good. However humor evolves in the future, neuroscience will attempt to explain its mechanics.

We find it "juvenile and embarrassing"?  What I see is a pretty good knock knock joke, with a decent pun not to mention a meta-reference.  Perhaps it's a bit juvenile, but it's not the least bit embarrassing.

I don't see any racial or ethnic stereotypes, or even physical or mental disabilities.  Yeah, someone's in a bit of pain (not much at that), but jokes often involve some discomfort.

I really don't get what Restak sees here, yet he's the expert on humor.  Does this joke deal with some new sort of political correctness I'm not yet aware of?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


May 27, 2013

Matt Weiner used to work on The Sopranos, the show that would have vague, cryptic log lines to avoid giving away plot.  And now that he's created Mad Men, he's raised this to an art form.

Case in point, last night's episode, "The Better Half."  A fair amount of things happened in this hour.  To name a few--spoilers, of course: the newly-merged agency is still having power struggles; Peggy stabs boyfriend Abe in the gut and they break up; Pete considers looking elsewhere for work; an actress on Megan's soap makes a pass at her; Don sleeps with Betty.  If that last one isn't a headline I don't know what is.

So how was the episode described (presumably by the controlling Weiner)?  "Roger is plagued by a recurring dream; Joan goes to the beach." It's almost comically inept.  Not only does it not tell you about the big plot developments, it tells you practically nothing about the things it's allegedly talking about.  And it's not even correct.  If Roger had a dream, recurring or otherwise, I must have missed it.  And Joan does not go to the beach.  There's a short scene with about ten minutes left where Joan is planning to go to the beach.  We never see her there and it's of no consequence if she did go.

I must say I like this. I'm already watching the show, I don't need a come-on.  I'd rather know nothing about what's coming--I even avoid the "previously on" since that hints at what will be played up in the episode.

My ideal log line would be something like "If you're already a fan of the show, more of the same; if you don't watch it, check it out and you might like it."

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Hunger Games

February 23, 2013

A new restaurant opened up down the street.  It has a simple menu of a few sandwiches, soups and salads.  I decided to check it out, and when the cashier announced my price--I believe it was $8.45--she asked "do you want to round that up to nine dollars to fight hunger?" In other words, the extra I gave--I assume--would go to some specific charity.

Now I've got nothing against charity, and I've got nothing against fighting hunger, but I don't enjoy retail establishments forcing the issue.  Here I was in a position of having to say "no, I don't want to fight hunger" just to get my (overpriced) food.

I should have said "tell you what, if you're so keen on fighting hunger, why don't you take it out of your end?" And then in a few weeks, I could go in and announce "I'm making my own sandwiches, soups and salads now, and though you've lost my business, I'm sure you'll be thrilled to hear I'm saving a lot and giving some of it to good causes."

I've checked around and apparently a number of places have this deal.  If it's an unspoken option, fine, but if they're in your face about it, they making my continued patronage less likely.

Monday, November 11, 2013


Marshall Crenshaw turns 60 today.  I always felt he should have been bigger, but it's good to know he's still out there, rocking away.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

ET phone bank

Okay, 100 lefty celebs worth gobs of money, fine. (Did I tell you I saw Ben Stein?) Not sure what it gets me having Fareed Zakaria ($4 million) and George Soros (all the gold of Smaug) on the same list, but fine.

I just want to know one thing--who did Steve Spielberg ($150 million, about 40 percent of Tom Hanks) hire as his accountants?

Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

December 23, 2012

Christmas is almost upon us.  It's a nice time of year, even if you don't personally celebrate the holiday--bright lights, Christmas carols and so on.  But it's also a time when a certain segment starts complaining about a "War On Christmas" that sometimes has me longing for December 26th.

Yes, there are people who legally want to make sure we can't force our entire society to acknowledge Christmas (which is unquestionably a religious holiday) in our public square.  There are even others who would like private society to be a little more non-denominational--saying things like "Happy Holidays" over "Merry Christmas." But really, a war?

Even if the ACLU (often painted as the enemy) completely got its way, what would happen?  Would people not be able to put up their own trees and lights and decorations, and sing songs, and give presents to whomever they want?  Would they not be allowed to go to church and pray as deeply and solemnly as they wish? Just what is the end-game of those fighting this war?  Even if everything were ceded to them, most Americans would still celebrate Christmas, and do it joyously and openly.

I don't claim to be an expert on the Christian religion, but I'm pretty sure there's nothing in the New Testament that demands Christians take over their government and put religious symbols on display.  Quite the opposite, I've been led to understand.  So maybe, in this time of peace on earth and good will towards men, they can decide to stop fighting against this "war."  They may discover there was nothing really to fight against in the first place.

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