Thursday, October 31, 2013

Back from the Great Beyond

I feel like Patrick Swayze.

I'm not quite sure when ColumbusGuy became Someone Who Might Be ColumbusGuy, but since LA Guy is reprising hits and predictions, here's an old post I found when trying to discover the date of my demise:

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Barone takes note


So Ohio's going to set a new health care standard? He's right. It's a decent bill. But I'll believe these Republican boneheads will pass it when I see it.
posted by ColumbusGuy @ 5:05 PM


Guess I called this one right. This bill died in committee.

Suck it, Barone.

Red Sox (Yawn) Win Again

This recent series largely happened after I was asleep (usually on the couch in front of the game on the tube).  I usually wake up during the post-game or the late news so I can figure out what happened except when I go too long and I wake up to an infomercial about amazing new exercise regimes.   Then its really annoying to try and find out at 3AM.   Cable is a vast wasteland then despite all the options -even ESPN puts on their lesser crap then-so I usually have to go for my phone or laptop to see what's what and by then I'm awake, so I have to do work because I can't sleep.   A vicious circle for which I blame Bud Selig and FOX Sports. 

I don't mind late games when there is a reason for it- like its happening in a different time zone but I object when it happens locally.  Have many extra brie-eating left coasters are they getting to watch while the hometown fans battle sleep? I'm sure its the thrill of a lifetime to attend a world series game (Disclosure- I attended afternoon WS games  in 1971 and 1979 and it was great fun and we got to go out to dinner afterwards) but it doesn't look so fun to be out at midnight in late-October New England the night before a work day.   Its like they are trying to kill the game (and having McCarver announce seems like a deliberate effort to chase away fans and humans of all variety)- of course attendance, revenue and viewership are up, I'm told so what do I know. 

Update

Happy Halloween, everyone.

And in case you're wondering, I'm still having trouble with my computer but hope to have things up and running normally before too long ("too long" being defined as three weeks).  As readers may have noticed, in addition to running old posts, I'm occasionally able to get up a new one, so stay tuned.

While you're waiting, enjoy some of my favorite spooky songs:






Born In The USA

January 27, 2011

It's nutty to believe Barack Obama wasn't born in the U.S.  For that matter, it's nutty to believe, after he's been elected, that there's anything anyone can do about it.  But this I find interesting.  Arizona, and other states, are considering a law that will require candidates for President to prove they are "natural born citizens," as the Constitution requires.  This raises some questions for which I have no answers.

First, are states allowed to require candidates prove their Constitutional standing, or is it up to a federal authority to decide?  (While we're at it, could a state also ask all candidates to prove they're at least 35 years old, and been a resident for 14 years in the U.S.?) Can they pass such a law if they show no one at the federal level is requiring any proof?

Second, just what is a natural born citizen?  Has this ever actually be adjudicated?  (I could look it up, but I'm too lazy.)

Third, how do you prove you're a natural born citizen?  General records?  Testimony?  Will only a birth certificate do?  Can the state law decide the level of proof?  Let's say they require a birth certificate--if the candidate can't produce one (for whatever reason), would that, then, make him ineligible? Would he only be ineligible in that particular state, or would this chance his status elsewhere?

Finally, what if a state isn't satisfied with a candidate's evidence.  Can it then remove him from the ballot?  What if people write him in anyway?  What if people vote for a candidate that doesn't fulfill all the requirements?  Are those votes counted, or thrown away?

PS  I don't think this movement will come to much, but it won't be the first time someone tried to take down a competitor through ineligibility.  In fact, that's how Obama got his start.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Method To Their Madness

October 25, 2010

The latest Newsweek poll shows Democrats are closing the enthusiasm gap.  It's certainly possible.  Voters coming home to the base as the election nears is a common phenomenon.  I guess we'll find out soon enough. (Or will we?  Expectations for Republicans are so big that anything short of a blowout can be spun in the other direction.)

Trouble is, of all the major polls, I find Newsweek the hardest to buy.  For years now, whenever I hear of an outlier, it's Newsweek.  For example, the latest takes on the generic Congressional vote have everyone showing the Republican ahead by 7 to 11 points.  Except Newsweek, which is the only poll showing Democrats ahead.  It was taken a few days later than the others, but did the entire nation shift that quickly?

I don't know what methodology they use, but maybe someone ought to look into it.

Driven

I bought a new car last year and wasn't thrilled to discover it came with a computer that kept track of what was going on.  It watches the speed I drive, whether I'm wearing a seatbelt, etc.  And it was part of the cost of the car, rather than a built-in rat that they should pay me to include.

But it's not enough.  Now many states are planning on keeping track of cars themselves so they can tax drivers on a per mile basis.  I thought gas taxes took care of this issue, but there's not enough (of course, there's never enough) in the state coffers.

Americans don't buy as much gas as they used to. Cars get many more miles to the gallon. The federal tax itself, 18.4 cents per gallon, hasn't gone up in 20 years. Politicians are loath to raise the tax even one penny when gas prices are high.

"The gas tax is just not sustainable," said Lee Munnich, a transportation policy expert at the University of Minnesota. His state recently put tracking devices on 500 cars to test out a pay-by-mile system. "This works out as the most logical alternative over the long term," he said.

So we're screwed due to improved gas mileage (partly mandated by the states)?  I don't get it.  They don't have the political will to add a few pennies to the gas tax, but a newer, much creepier tax is an easier sell.

"This really is a must for our nation. It is not a matter of something we might choose to do," said Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Assn. of Governments, which is planning for the state to start tracking miles driven by every California motorist by 2025. "There is going to be a change in how we pay these taxes. The technology is there to do it."

There's also technology to intrude of every part of our life, but it doesn't mean we should take it lying down.  One of the great things about this country is we're free to travel about without hindrance.  A gas tax may be annoying, but it makes sense if it goes to build and fix the roads for those who use the gas--and it's anonymous.

So sorry, Hasan, but as far as how many miles I drive, much less where those miles are, that is not the government's business,

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Can You Hear Me Now?

There seems to be some unhappiness about the U.S. listening in to phone calls of world leaders and others overseas.  Further, it's noted, President Obama knew about it and approved.

The new disclosure came after it was reported that US intelligence operates a global network of 80 electronic listening posts, including 19 in European cities, notably Paris, Berlin, Rome and Madrid, according to Spiegel, the German magazine.

Well, duh.  The NSA listens in on domestic phone calls--a scandal. The NSA listens to phone calls overseas--them doing their job,

I assume all countries spy on others.  But I also thought, like passing gas at a party, it's a somewhat unpleasant thing that no one's supposed to make a big deal of.

Time Gets Reasonable

March 31, 2010

Time Magazine got some attention for it's "5 Reasons Republicans Should Let Go of Health Care." There's nothing I like better than the left giving the right helpful advice, and vice versa.

There have been a number of Democrats trying to help out the Republicans by telling them to accept the health care bill. And no matter how many reasons they give, it always comes down to these two (which, for some reason, they never mention):

1. We like health care reform, so don't mess with it.

2. We know it's pretty unpopular--why do you think we're still trying to sell it?--so the last thing we want is for you to unseat a bunch of Democrats by campaigning against it.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Lou

Wow, Lou Reed is dead.  One of the greats.

He's the godfather of punk, but who cares for influence when the original work is so great?  He had a lengthy solo career, well worth lookinginto, but it was as the leader of the Velvet Underground that he did his best work.  He sang lead most of the time, played guitar, and, above all, was their main songwriter.

The Velvets had a special sound, mixing basic rock and roll with the experimental.  The lyrics were also a mixture of the raw and the sophisticated.  They sang about drugs, sex and rock and roll in ways no one had ever attempted.  No doubt it was one of the reasons they didn't get much airplay.

In fact, the band was not that popular in its day (starting another trend--a recognized great rock bands without big hits).  It had a following, but the few albums they released barely cracked the charts.  Yet the Velvets were the type of band that influenced everyone who listened.  And the music kept selling, years later when many of the hit bands of their time were mostly forgotten.

I don't have the capacity to put up videos right now, but I suggest you go to YouTube and make it a Lou Reed day.  Or week.

Heroic Struggle

September 24, 2009

I finally caught the opening two hours of this season's Heroes. It's being repeated on the G4 Channel. (They're also starting the first repeats of Lost, season 5. It'll be fun to catch it again before the final season starts, this time knowing what's happening. In the first show when Richard aids the wounded Locke, we're as confused as Locke is.)

Anyway, it wasn't great, but it wasn't as bad as I feared. I have to admit, as weak as the show is, I enjoyed seeing many of the characters again. I probably shouldn't get too attached since I can't see it lasting beyond this season.

Claire is in college. I'm not quite sure where her story is going, though it seems to be separated from the rest of the show. She's also got a sidekick to help her solve crimes. I don't suppose they'll continue with the Nancy Drew arc. (Claire falls out of a building to test a theory. She looks around, but forgets to look up. She's spotted. Yep.)

Noah is still a company man, though a lot more conflicted. He seems to be drawing closer to Tracy, who was a little more interesting than last year. (Most Heroes fans can't stand Niki/Tracy, but I've always been willing to put up with her characters just to watch Ali Larter.)

The show still had Danko, who should have been killed a long time ago. Happily, he was dispatched before the episode was over. It's not the first time Hero has buried one of its mistakes.

Worse, the show still has the awful--and central--Nathan/Sylar plot, which is causing trouble, but which I wish didn't even exist. And while we're at it, Parkman is also seeing an imaginary Sylar. We've had imaginary characters before, we don't need any more. (I've always been of the opinion that, as popular as he is, Sylar should have bought it in the season one finale. It's true they've never introduced a successful new villain (or hero) since, but it was time to move on.)

Also, it seemed that Parkman's marriage may be in trouble. Is that possible? After going to so much trouble to reconcile him with his wife (which they shouldn't have done) would they dare break them up again?

Hiro, who went from being the most popular Hero to being the most tiresome, is still pretty annoying with his latest too-conscious venture into being a hero. Then we find out he's dying, which is more than this comic book show can take.

Peter is his usual boring self. He's trying to stay away from being a big hero--he just wants to be a little hero. (Actually, that's the theme of this season so far--everyone wants to return to normal life, so we'll waste some episodes until they're all drawn into a larger plot.) Noah brings Peter into an adventure, and they scuffle with one of the new villains. An excellent example of how bad the plotting is on this show is how they handle this. Noah hires Peter because he knows (through Tracy seeing Danko killed--Tracy tries to kill Noah but then decides not to without much reason, and then decides to kill Danko and decides not to) that these new bad guys are out to get something. The new guy (superfast with knives) kills someone in front of their eyes, but Peter fights him off and he runs away. What he wants is a compass. Later, Peter and Noah part, and Noah keeps the compass. Huh? He's in just as much danger now as he was while getting the compass, so unless he can keep Peter or someone by his side, he can expect with near certainty the guy will be back. (The guy was already coming back when he met them the first time.) So of course he attacks Noah (off screen) and takes the compass. Noah is saved by Peter, but certainly he could have had a better plan. Or any plan.

By the way, no Mohinder in the first two hours, not even narration. I can't even remember if he has any powers left over from last season. Maybe his new power is speechlessness.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

It Ain't The Meat

Mo Better Burgers was an institution in Los Angeles.  Located in a shack on the corner of Fairfax and Pico, there'd be lines for their Mo Better Meaty Meat Burgers.  Then, some years ago, it closed. I'm happy to announce it's reopened in a strip mall on the corner of La Brea and 9th.

Anyway, I was walking by recently when I saw an interesting sign on the door:

Sorry No Restrooms--Health Code Ordinance

Let me get this straight.  The health code prevents them from having restrooms? They can cook burgers there, but it's so filthy or digusting that the state won't allow the public to go to the bathroom there?  Not sure if I get it.

Kennedy And Heidi And Jane

May 31, 2009


Last week's episode of Breaking Bad, "Phoenix," may have been its saddest. Also it's most outrageous. We're a long way from the heartpounding danger and violence of the early season. Now it's the disaster of bad choices, which is a lot more personal.

The central relationship of the show has never been between Walt and his family, or Jesse and his parents. Certainly not Jesse and his junkie girlfriend, Jane. The heart of the show, planned or not, has been Walt and Jesse, the Odd Couple. Walt is smart, Jesse stupid. There was a time when Jesse at least seemed street smart, but he's lost even that. And while at first Walt seemed like a softie and Jesse the hardass, time and travails have revealed what they really are, and it's the opposite.

This should be a great time for them. After all they've been through, they finally made it. They're the big-time drug dealers they've worked to be. They got the big score. But Jesse's so screwed up on drugs now that any money he gets will only lead to disaster, and perhaps a trail that leads to Walt.

Walt, meanwhile, needs to share this side of his life with someone, and Jesse's the only one who understands. Walt got a new addition to his family this week, but felt like he lost a member when Jesse was high and working with his blackmailing girlfriend.
 
Poor Jane is dead, which was the saddest and ugliest thing the series has shown. Plenty of people have died, but this hit home. Sure, it's her fault for using, but she was off, and her relationship with Jesse brought her back. Speaking of which, Walt trying to reconnect with Jesse got her on her back, which made her choke on her vomit. And Walt just stood there, watching. He may think it gets him Jesse back, but it's hard to believe first-season Walt could have done it. This was more a Tony Soprano move (except he'd have helped her along).

It was sure looking like Jesse and Jane fit those two body bags, but it always seemed a bit too convenient. Guess we'll find out tonight who it really is.
 
PS Walt's family believes they need money, so his son started a website. It looked pretty convincing so I wondered if it was real. It is.

PPS The TV season is over, so this is the last new show I have to write about. Its ending this Sunday. What'll I do then?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Reid In Need

Harry Reid doesn't see a grand bargain on the budget coming any time soon.  The ultimate problem?  Taxes are too damn low:

Reid’s comments underscore the ongoing disagreement between the parties about new revenue as part of a larger deal.

“The only people who feel there shouldn’t be more coming in to the federal government from the rich people are the Republicans in the Congress,” Reid said. “Everybody else, including the rich people, are willing to pay more. They want to pay more.”

He didn't reveal what "rich" means, but he did reveal his worldview. As far as Reid is concerned, America is full of private citizens who have a lot more money than they need or deserve and are just dying to give it to Reid if those darn Republicans weren't stopping them.

Likes To Find The Essence Within

Happy 60th, Keith Strickland. You may be the least appreciated member of the band, but hey, you're one of The B-52s and that's good enough for anybody.






Friday, October 25, 2013

Better Than The Bunch

September 29, 2008

Last week I noted how the Star Trek movies are a unique case of a TV cast reuniting to improve on the original. But even when a new cast meets an old show, the results are rarely inspired. Most movies based on TV shows just don't work.

One of the problems is Hollywood, when given a choice, updates the show, trying to make it relevant, but often jettisoning what was charming about it in the fist place.

That's why The Brady Bunch Movie is so impressive. It's a rethinking that actually works. This is partly because the original was fairly ridiculous, and the filmmakers recognized this. So they kept the 70s sensibility, and the silly sets and music, and dumped it into the present--the 90s, that is (which will soon look as dated as the 70s)--and let the laughs come from the culture clash.

It's hard to keep a full-length parody going, but at just under 90 minutes, the movie is light on its feet and doesn't wear out its welcome. It's especially helped by Jennifer Elise Cox as the psychotic Jan, Christine Taylor as the lovely Marcia (she looks just like the original only more beautiful) and, above all, Gary Cole as the gnomic Mike Brady. Cole has the voice down so perfectly that I laugh every time he opens his mouth.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Entourage Outrage

Here's another quick new post.

I watched Entourage through its eight seasons with less and less interest, and while it had an audience, I was a bit surprised to hear a movie announced a while ago.  It's not like the show had huge numbers. Wasn't it played out, anyway?  But I guess after another HBO comedy, Sex And The City, became a surprise blockbuster, they figured let's roll the dice again.  (Though Entourage was not the same TV phenomenon.)

One of the last Entourage plots featured Kevin Dillon's Johnny Drama and Andrew Dice Clay playing himself holding out for more money before they did a job, even though both desperately needed a comeback.  They won out in the end, and now we're getting a real-life version of that.  Turns out the Entourage movie is on hold because most of the cast is unhappy that co-star Jeremy Piven has a better deal.

This makes sense, since Piven's Ari the agent is the breakout character from the show, not to mention probably the biggest name from the cast.  While I suppose all five lead characters are necessary to get the movie off the ground, the single most important is Piven's.

Warners, who owns the property, insists on keeping the budget down, and producer Mark Wahlberg has said the movie will start shooting "As soon as them guys stop being so greedy."  Adrian Grenier, who plays Vinnie Chase, the star within the show, responded "I will sign any deal that gives ALL the boys an opportunity to share in the upside of success EQUALLY" (capitalization his).

I can understand his wish for more money, or at least some back end if the movie does well, and who knows, maybe he'll get it.  But no one needs to make any movie, especially an Entourage movie.  So the question one asks is just how well has the cast of Entourage been doing since the show left the air?  (I haven't noticed much from any of them except Piven.)

With so little leverage, perhaps they should swallow their pride and take their paychecks (which would seem sizable to most people).  And if the movie does well, they will have a back end--they can get more money for the sequel and will probably get other offers.

Either way, I don't particularly care. I just want to know what's holding up the Party Down movie?

Sorry

March 31, 2008

"Florida has become the sixth U.S. state to apologize for slavery."

I don't think too much of this.

1) It's moral preening. "We're great, other people are evil." I mean they're not apologizing for something they actually did, like raise taxes--that would be nice--but for the actions of others.

2) America has already apologized for slavery. It's called the 13th Amendment.

3) It's an empty gesture--if we're lucky. The resolution calls for "healing and reconciliation among all residents of the state." Well, anyone who feels aggrieved may look at this apology and ask for some action to back it up. Either they won't get it, and go on feeling aggrieved, or they might get it, and suddenly we've gone from apology to bad government programs. (In the unlikely case it's a good government program, let's do it anyway without apology.)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Resolved

September 28, 2007

Finally, something important. In the midst of so much pointless debate these days, here's one that counts--Star Wars On Trial. In this book, they discuss eight issues:

1. The Politics of Star Wars Are Anti-Democratic and Elitist.

2. While Claiming Mythic Significance, Star Wars Portrays No Admirable Religious or Ethical Beliefs.

3. Star Wars Novels Are Poor Substitutes for Real Science Fiction and Are Driving Real SF off the Shelves.

4. Science Fiction Filmmaking Has Been Reduced by Star Wars to Poorly Written Special Effects Extravaganzas.

5. Star Wars Has Dumbed Down the Perception of Science Fiction in the Popular Imagination.

6. Star Wars Pretends to Be Science Fiction, but Is Really Fantasy.

7. Women in Star Wars Are Portrayed as Fundamentally Weak.

8. The Plot Holes and Logical Gaps in Star Wars Make It Ill-Suited for an Intelligent Viewer.

My peremptory conclusions:

1. True. Lucas makes feints toward democracy, but his heart isn't in it. And while we're at it, the Federation is a military operation.

2. False. The Force can be used for good and bad, and the good side (ignoring Lucas's cheap shot at Bush in Star Wars III) is pretty easy to spot, and generally aligns with what we'd call religious virtues.

3. Haven't read the novels, though I assume they're not great SF. On the other hand, I doubt they're what's responsible for other SF not selling well--if anything, they've opened up the market.

4. False. First, there's a lot more SF because of Star Wars, good and bad. Second, there'd be a bunch of FX extravaganzas no matter what--Star Wars moved them in the direction of SF. Third, most of the "thoughtful" SF before Star Wars isn't that great.

5. False. Star Wars took an ill-respected cubbyhole packed with nerds and turned it into a popular universe packed with nerds.

6. False. The division between fantasy and SF has always been a bit overblown anyway, but as far as I'm concerned, it's got the hardware, and no elves, so that's good enough.

7. False. Women in Star Wars, like women at Star Wars conventions, are lonely, not weak. Sure, they tend to be damsels in distress, and the Jedi seem to be a patriarchy (Leia's alleged powers notwithstanding), but the women are still pretty tough.

8. False. Sure, there are plot holes, and a lot of Star Wars was jury-rigged. But when you're creating an entire new world, you're gonna have some parts that stick out.

I hope that settles things. But if not, please let me hear what you have to say.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

To Your Health

Just have a little time to get in a new post here about the President's speech on the new health care website.  He admits there have been some glitches, but he promises they're bringing in top IT guys to get the system running right.  Now they're bringing them in?

But glitches can be fixed. What interests me is the underlying insurance plan.  As President Obama put it, it's a "good deal" and a "great product."  Really?  If the product is that wonderful, why are you fining people who don't buy it?

Oscar's Top Ten

February 26, 2007

I'm not going to comment on last night's Oscars. Kinda dull, no real surprises, what is there to say?

Over at Rotten Tomatoes, however they're listing all the Best Picture Oscar winners ever from top to bottom according to how the critics rated them. Here are the top ten:

1. The Godfather
2. On The Waterfront3. All About Eve
4. Sunrise (A bit of a cheat since it won a special best picture Oscar in the first ceremony, while Wings won the regular Best Picture Oscar.)
5. Rebecca
6. Marty
7. The Best Years Of Our Lives
8. Lawrence Of Arabia
9. The Godfather II
10. Casablanca

I thought I'd make my own top ten list, but going over the winners, I realized how few of them I truly love. Nevertheless, here's my list.

1. Annie Hall
2. The Godfather3. It Happened One Night
4. Sunrise (I'm cheating, too)
5. Casablanca
6. The Sting
7. Rocky
8. The Godfather II

For the last two, it's some mix of The Lost Weekend, Grand Hotel, The Best Years Of Our Lives, All About Eve, The Apartment, Kramer Vs. Kramer and Schindler's List.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Munsters

October 30, 2006

Here's a recent comment we received about spooky music:
My favourite is not exactly Halloween but within the ambit of the theme- the theme of "The Munsters" (instrumental only). I also like Butch Patrick's 20 years later novelty tune "What Ever Happened to Eddie, the Kid From Mockingbird Place?" which was done to the theme.
I love The Munsters theme. It was done differently in the two seasons the show was on--first with a great organ backing, then with a cool guitar lick. I'm not that impressed with the Butch Patrick novelty since the words are so poorly written. Just look at the title. If you know the tune, you can see that "Eddie" is sung over three notes. Horrendous.

Far better is the actual lyric (rarely sung) to The Munsters theme. (It's still far from perfect. Compare it to the superior job done on I Dream Of Jeannie, Bewitched of The Odd Couple.):

When you are walking down the street at night
And behind you there's no one in view.
But you hear mysterious feet at night,
Then the Munsters are following you.

If you should meet this strange family
Just forget what some people have said,
The Munsters may shake your hand clammily
But they're not necessarily dead.

Behind their house you mustn't be afraid
To see a figure digging with a spade.
Perhaps someone didn't quite make the grade
With the Munsters, with the Munsters.

If when you're sleeping you dream a lot,
Ghoulish nightmares parade through your head,
And then you wake up and scream a lot,
Oh the Munsters are under your bed.

At midnight if creatures should prowl about,
And if vampires and vultures swoop down.
And werewolves and fiends shriek and howl about,
Oh the Munsters are out on the town.

One night I dared peak through their window screen,
My hair turned white at such a crazy scene.
Because every evening its Halloween
At the Munsters, at the Munsters.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Something New

I've got about five minutes on a friend's computer, but that should be long enough for this entirely new, fresh post.

Now that the shutdown is over, President Obama made a speech about how politicians shouldn't listen to bloggers.  I'm honored he thinks we have that much power.

But much better, his list of people he believes that politicians who oppose him must be listening to includes "talking heads on radio."  This misses the whole point of talking heads.  It's a TV term.  On radio, hearing just one person talking was the norm.  But then came TV, which added a visual element, and nothing much happening became a problem. (As opposed to the radio disaster known as "dead air.")  Now, a serious discussion of political issues offered nothing on screen except the total lack of action known as a talking head.

I suppose the phrase has become so wide in its usage you can get away with it, but "talking heads on radio" is not unlike (and I've heard this too) saying "African-Americans from Africa."

Poll Position

April 30, 2006

Today's LA Times has a front page poll that seems designed to get certain results rather than find the truth. The headline: GUEST-WORKER PROPOSAL HAS WIDE SUPPORT.

How do they conclude this? Well, they asked people which approach they prefer to illegal immigration, "only tougher enforcement of immigration laws" or "enforcement and guest worker program." Not surprisingly, given a choice of solution A or solution A plus B, the vast majority picked the latter (Californians 70% to 22%, the nation 63% to 30%).

The paper's excuse is these are the two choices being offered the public. Even if this were true, it doesn't mean they shouldn't try to find out what people actually believe. For instance, they could have offered a third choice--only a guest worker program--and see how that played. Or they could have asked, straight out, which is more important, greater enforcement or a guest worker program. I guess they were afraid of what they'd discover.

(They also might also have mentioned more about plans to make illegal immigrants citizens, since "guest worker program" in the question above was apparently described as a plan that "would allow undocumented workers to work legally in the U.S. on temporary visas.")

PS They did ask further questions about different proposals. It's touching to see how they lovingly describe the guest worker program and make tougher enforcement sound quite harsh. Here's the wording they used:

Do you support or oppose the following proposals.

Create a guest worker program that would give a temporary visa to noncitizens who want to work legally in the United States. The program would provide a path to permanent resident status if certain requirements were met.

Allow undocumented immigrants who have been living and working in the United States for a number of years, and who do not have a criminal record, to start on a path to citizenship by registering that they are in the country, paying a fine, getting fingerprinted, and learning English, among other requirements.

Fence off hundreds of miles of the border between the Unted States and Mexico, and toughen immigration laws by making it a felony to be in the United States illegally.

PPS I always hated it when blogs got linked and added something to welcome new readers, until it happened to me. Hello, all you kausfiles fans out there. Please check out the rest of Pajama Guy. We write about all sorts of stuff--heck, we hardly ever write about immigration. Later this week I'll be discussing The Da Vinci Code and how to get rid of pigeons. Perhaps you'd enjoy our highly popular post last month on great screenplays.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Riled Up

Happy birthday, Jeannie C. Riley. In the late 60s and 70s she had a bunch of hits on the country charts, but only one top 40 hit on the pop charts.  But it went to #1, and how many people can say that?


Marquis And Reprisal

Though he died two centuries ago, and has become associated with certain ugly practices, there's been plenty of interest in the thought of the Marquis de Sade.  There's certainly been a lot of debate over his work, mostly on the left, since he writes in favor in what some would call absolute freedom, others, license.  In a  piece in The Baffler, Hussein Ibish notes his influence on the modern world. (Ibish also has some questionable conclusions about modern American society--the piece is entitled "The United Sades Of America"). Still, to even bring up his name in polite company is asking for it:

...I visited one of D.C.’s landmark bookstores, Politics and Prose—a literary venue known, as its name suggests, for furnishing customers with the conceit that they’re browsing and shopping in a vaguely subversive fashion. But as I walked up to join the store’s cultivated and edgy communitas, I committed a terrible error: I asked a clerk where I might find the works of the Marquis de Sade. My request made its way up through an increasingly consternated group of shop assistants; I had to repeat it several times before they fully registered what I was asking for. At that point, I was told to leave the store immediately. [....] It was as if I had asked for a how-to manual for murder, kidnapping, or child abuse—or, at a minimum, the most objectionable form of pornography.

It's an interesting article, but really I bring it up to be rough on Ibish, since after exposing how small- minded one side (his side) can be, he goes on to attack the right--at least part of it--with a casualness and arrogance that's quite something.

It's threaded throughout the piece, but let me give you an example:

While many on the intellectual left have sought to grapple with Sade more directly, Sade also exerts a suitably perverse influence on the present-day American right. To take just one example, elements of Sade’s thought—via an embarrassingly reductive caricature of Nietzsche—thrive in the robust American cult of Ayn Rand.
 
Mitt Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan frequently cited Rand as his most important inspiration, and Rand’s unabashed championing of economic elites was also echoed by Romney’s own notorious dismissal of the 47 percent of Americans who don’t earn enough money to pay income tax and therefore needn’t be bothered with.

No matter what you think of Rand's influence on today's right (or de Sade's influence on Nietzsche, or Nietzsche's on Rand), she's still a fairly marginal figure among Republicans, even for Ryan, who may be inspired by her, but supports programs and budgets that put him well outside the world of Rand.

Then there's Romney's statement, which Ibish characterizes like a partisan rather than someone trying to understand it. It was certainly a gaffe (spoken privately to a group of supporters), and it did make him look uncaring. (Obama had a similar gaffe about voters who cling to guns and religion when he first ran).

But Romney wasn't dismissing the 47% who don't pay income tax as worthless human beings, he was mostly saying (in a conspiratorial way) that they weren't going to vote for him anyway so he can't worry about their votes, he needs to win the election with votes from the other 53%.  It still is an ugly way to put it, but the former governor of Massachusetts wasn't planning on punishing the 47% if elected, or getting rid of massive government programs.  He believed his style of governance would help the poorest, by making government programs smarter and helping those in need to become more independent.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Lost Opportunities

November 29, 2005

The following is about the TV series Lost. If you don't watch the show, much of it will be unintelligible. Furthermore, it contains spoilers if you ever intend to catch up. Read at your own risk.

Many fans of Lost complain the story moves too slowly. This is partly because each episode feature flashbacks. Since I consider this fleshing out part of the overall story, I don't mind, but it does take away considerable time that would otherwise be spent on the island.

If anything, I'd complain that they often skip over big moments too quickly. There are so many things going on, and so many unanswered questions, that the show is a bit like plate-spinning, where the writers have to keep running back to older stories to make sure we're updated. And in some cases, they miss scenes and even stories that could have been great.

For example, in the first season, Locke and Boone find a hatch and spend several episodes trying to open it. Their quest ultimately leads to tragedy. At this point, Sayid goes to Locke and demands to know what's been going on--"no more lies." Oddly, though, the next episode has Sayid and Locke leading Jack to the hatch. The potentially great scene of Sayid discovering the hatch had been passed over completely.

Last week, though, there was so much going on, the writers could hardly deal with it. They either ignored, or treated shallowly, or put on hold, about 95% of the storyline.

Two weeks ago, we had the tailies, along with original castaways Sawyer, Michael and Jin, traveling across the island to find the other survivors. Meanwhile, Shannon chased after a (phantom?) Walt, with Sayid following her. The two groups met with the surprise ending (that had been published on the internet weeks before) of Ana Lucia shooting Shannon.

So last week, there was a lot to deal with. What happened, after a brief tussle, was Sayid being tied to a tree while the near-nutty Ana Lucia tried to hold everyone together at gunpoint. Eventually all got free and went over to the original survivors' camp, while Jack came back to meet Ana Lucia.

Now there were a lot of characters meeting each other and exchanging info, but there was even still more missed. Alas, a lot of it was glossed over by the now-cliched (and never entertaining) Lost ending of music played over slow-motion reunions. And even more time was taken up with Ana Lucia's flashback, where we discovered she was equally unpleasant back in her days as an LA cop. (I have to admit I've found her character to be a disappointment. Michelle Rodriquez as the "tough gal" is a cliche. Her first appearance on the show was as a surprisingly flirtatious babe. Since then, all we've seen is the tough chick, before and after. Another deficiency--I believe hers was the first original flashback that didn't show what she was doing in Sydney flying to Los Angeles.) Luckily, the tailies also feature Mr. Eko, who's great.

So here are just a few of the big things the characters are learning in the episode, any one of which could make for a big scene, even a big episode: That the guys on the raft were lost at sea. That Walt was taken from them while Sawyer, now close to death, was shot. That they made it to land. That they met others who were survivors from the tail section. That these people had found a cement structure of some sort rigged with electricity. That "the Others" had killed or taken most of the tailies.

In the other direction, Jin, Michael and Sawyer had a lot to find out--in particular this hatch had been found and opened, and there were a lot of amazing things down there, especially the button that needs to be pushed every 108 minutes. (Incidentally, Michael and others sure had a lot of faith in Jack as a doctor--there's no way they could have known he now had the medicine needed to fix Sawyer.) Heck, they didn't even know that Arzt had blown up yet.

Then there's the Shannon story. She's dead and that's hardly registered on anyone. And while it seemed like there might be some sort of stand-off between Sayid and Ana-Lucia, it kind of fizzled out. And what about the phantom Walt? I believe Michael mentioned to Sayid Walt was taken, but Sayid didn't bring up the visions of Walt that he and Shannon had.

Then there are all the reunions, which were mostly glossed over in the ghastly slow-mo sequence--Jin and Sun, Rose and Bernard, even Michael and Vincent the dog.

The episode ended with a face-off between fellow leaders and flirters, Jack and Ana-Lucia. There are a lot of places to go from here. I hope they don't miss the best scenes.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Smile When You Say Liberty

October 31, 2005

Stephen Breyer, the soft-spoken Justice, has made some waves with his book Active Liberty: Interpreting The Constitution.

The work expounds on his judicial philosophy. It's at least in part a response to Antonin Scalia's book, A Matter Of Interpretation. Scalia believes judges should strictly interpret legal text, following the original meaning of the words. Legislative intent should not be used--if the legislators intended something, they should have written it down.

I find Scalia's approach both insufficient and extremely difficult to do properly. (I note it's extremely difficult because many act as if strict interpretation is a piece of cake. In fact, the one time I spoke to Scalia he agreed his approach was not meant to be easy.) But I'm here to write about Breyer's methods, which I also find faulty. What is the right approach? I don't know--I hope some day I will.

Breyer believes we should use a document's underlying values to aid in our understanding. I generally agree. There will always be ambiguities and we need something to help us interpret the language. But there is also danger in this approach. It's easy enough to get the words wrong--it's easier still to get the values behind them wrong. This approach invites extremely wide variation, allowing one to go so far as use words against themselves if you believe the people who wrote them would agree with your outcome (and as long as you're reading their minds, why wouldn't they?).

Specifically, Breyer believes in "active liberty." He believes those who created the Constitution had an underlying belief in promoting citizens' participation in government. At least Breyer has laid his cards on the table. There are two obvious problems here: one, he's wrong (or at least may be) and two, even if he's right, what to do with text that seems to go against him--ignore it? interpret it away? grudgingly accept it?

When I read the Constitution, especially the Framer's version, what I see is as much a fear of public participation as an embrace. The Founding Father's put in plenty of buffers to prevent "the people" from having too much say. Of the three branches of government, only one-half of one is chosen by direct voting. Now one may claim the Constitution has changed since then (and I believe the Constitution evolves, whether you like it or not, but that's a separate argument), but it sure seems like Breyer's already on shaky ground.

Worse, though, is Breyer's application of his theory. In practice, it seems to make him favor programs liberals like and disfavor programs conservatives like. (Scalia, many would claim, has this problem in reverse.)

Some note that Breyer, showing he believes in active participation in government, defers to legislators more often than most of the others Justices. This sort of "judicial restraint" can be a fairly meaningless stat. Because the present-day Court leans to the right, it's more likely to question laws the left likes, hence we'd expect Breyer to leave things alone--when laws the right likes come before him, he has no trouble striking them down.

Let's look at Breyer's opinions. Remember, he's trying to "promote democracy."

When it came to campaign finance reform, Breyer upheld the McCain-Feingold law that regulates a system that creates a lot of political speech. Some might have thought the "no law" clause in the First Amendment meant "no law," but this doesn't faze Breyer. He believes that reducing the influence of money (or at least trying to ) in our politics will help build public confidence in the system overall, thus encouraging democratic participation. It's not that Breyer's wrong about the effects of the law--though he is, he is--it's that this is the sort of social engineering considerations a legislator should make, later to be judged against the constrictions of the First Amendment.

Then there's affirmative action. Once again, Breyer has a "just so" tale to make it agree with his thesis. It turns out allowing affirmative action promotes the public's belief in institutions. There are two obvious problems with this. It doesn't, and if it did, so what?

But at least one could claim these two examples show a Justice willing to defer to legislators in tough cases. Let's see how he performs on laws that liberals traditionally don't like.

He disallows school vouchers on religious grounds, on the basis they might create disagreement among sects, against the unifying intentions of the First Amendment. Once again, he's carefully selected his view of both our history and the present-day situation, this time to strike down what many legislatures want. Then there's abortion, which Breyer backs all the way, even when the vast majority of the public would like to pass laws that don't make abortion illegal, but merely create certain hindrances. Is there a single issue in the history of the United States where public participation has been more notoriously denied, and with such little textual justification?

I have serious questions about Breyer's approach, but perhaps someone should actually try it before I reject it.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

If Only

February 26, 2005

Last December, Michael Gorman, president-elect of the American Library Association, wrote a particularly foolish editorial in the LA Times. (He was president-elect back then and is still president-elect. Just how long between the election and the inauguration?) He was worried that letting people get information in books more easily through Google would hurt serious research. (Honest, that is his argument.) I blogged about it then.

In fact, Gorman received a lot of criticism from blogs. (There is, alas, no indication he ever read Pajama Guy's take.) So much that he retreated to the safety of the Library Journal to write about his cruel treatment.

He appears to have been unnerved by his confrontation with the blogosphere. Yet, somehow, I doubt any cheap shots he received were worse than Gorman's own clueless arrogance:
"Given the quality of the writing in the blogs I have seen, I doubt that many of the Blog People are in the habit of sustained reading of complex texts. It is entirely possible that their intellectual needs are met by an accumulation of random facts and paragraphs."
Is it too late to make this guy the president-unelect?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Playing It Safe

November 30, 2004

Sasha Frere-Jones reviews Eminem's latest album, Encore, in The New Yorker. Sasha's not impressed, but he does like one thing: the song--and video--"Mosh."

"Mosh" is, as Frere-Jones puts it, a "furious jeremiad against President Bush." True enough. But then he goes on to claim, amazingly, that putting out the song required bravery, rather than being the perfectly safe act it was.

Worse, Frere-Jones seems to think "Mosh" is a serious anti-war statement. Here's a portion of the lyric: "Let [Bush] go fight his own war let him impress daddy that way/ No more blood for oil, we got our own battles to fight on our own soil." This is the kind of stuff that gives mindless sloganeering a bad name. The video, which suggests that Bush and Bin Laden are in cahoots, does the impossible by being even stupider than the song.

I don't blame Eminem. He's got talent and knows what sells--there's no reason to expect him to understand anything about world politics . But I would hope for a slightly higher level of criticism from The New Yorker

Monday, October 14, 2013

New Math From The New York Times

August 25, 2005
Sharon Waxman of The New York Times adds her two cents to the discussion of Hollywood's disappointing summer. Sales are down 9% and attendance 11.5% from a year ago. Why?
There's finger-pointing everywhere (DVDs, bad movies, too much action, outside competition, savvier audience, etc.), but the truth is it's hard to tell too much about wider trends from yearly fluctuations.

If I had to guess, it would seem to me the size of success of the top films, more than the failure at the bottom (which by definition involves less money), helps determine overall ticket sales more than any other direct factor.

Waxman gives the back of her hand to this theory:
The blockbuster hits of last summer, including Spider-Man 2, Shrek and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban performed more or less on the same level as this year's hits, including Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, Batman Begins and War Of the Worlds. But too many big-budget movies, including The Island and Stealth, flopped entirely, while other films, from Bad News Bears to Herbie: Fully Loaded to The Great Raid, were disappointing.
"More or less." Let's look at the numbers, shall we? (All grosses domestic, since that's what this is all about.)

2005: Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith: $379 million. War Of The Worlds: $231 million. Batman Begins: $202 million. Total for 2005's top three summer films (at present): $812 million. Since they're not completely played out, let's charitably raise the total to $822 million.

2004: Shrek 2: $441 million. Spider-Man 2: $374 million. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: $250 million. Total for 2004's top three summer films: $1,065 million.

So last year's three top summer film alone grossed $243 million more than this year's. Seems to me that goes a long way--most of the way--in explaining this year's "underperformance."

P.S. Let me pile on. So "Bad News Bears, to Herbie: Fully Loaded, to The Great Raid, were disappointing"? Bears (gross - $32 million), maybe, but Herbie (gross $64 million) had decent legs and might be called a minor hit, while Raid (gross - $7 million, and plenty expensive) was a complete disaster.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Oldies But Goodies

With my computer down, it's hard for me to put up new stuff.  But there's something I can do pretty quickly.

So, until the problem is cleared up (which may be a while), when there isn't already a new piece stored up for that day, I will run one "classic" Pajama Guy post each day to keep you entertained.

See if you can tell the difference.

Also, if you want to go back to the original (though I don't know why) I will provide a link. Just click on the title of the post.

What's Alan Watching?

I just read Alan Sepinwall's The Revolution Was Televised, about how TV drama has changed, well, dramatically, in the past decade or so.  It covers a lot of the same ground Brett Martin's Difficult Men does--the starting point of the revolution is The Sopranos, and it's since continued in shows like The WireDeadwood, The Shield, Mad Men and Breaking Bad.  The two biggest differences are 1) Brett Martin is a general reporter who is turning his attention to the men who created these shows, while Sepinwall is a TV critic (first at the Star-Ledger--Tony Soprano's paper--and now on the internet) who approaches from below, having watched these shows when they were first on, often reviewing them episode by episode and 2) Sepinwall includes network shows in the revolution, such as Lost, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, 24 and Friday Night Lights.

Sepinwall is probably the most readable TV critic around, so it's nice to have him on record about this era.  Each chapter gives us the history of one particular show as well as his take on it.  Reading The Revolution Was Televised brought back a lot of memories, both good and bad (mostly good).

Take Lost.  For five of its six seasons it was my favorite show ever, and even if the sixth was disappointing it can't take away the memory.  It had a strange genesis, where an ABC head on his way out came up with the idea and ordered it made quickly after the first pilot script he saw didn't cut it, and it went on to help the network turn itself around.  Sepinwall goes into all this, but also explains the rise and fall and rise and fall of the show.  It was the most expensive pilot ever, but no one was sure it would get beyond that, and when it was picked up the producers figured it'd go one season and that would be it, so didn't plan much after that--when it became huge they were in despair.  They'd figured the characters out (incuding Locke, whose story told in the fourth hour, "Walkabout," was when the series clicked for a lot of fans, including me), but now had to go heavily into the Island's mythology (the Dharma Initiative, Jacob and the Man In Black and so on)--otherwise, they would have just ended the season as a great miniseries where the characters face down the Smoke Monster at the end. They had to figure how to keep everyone on the Island and introduce new characters and do quite a bit else.  They also didn't show what was in the hatch till season two, which drove fans crazy.

By the third season they were in trouble again. As it was, the tailies introduced in season two hadn't gone over that well--though Desmond and Ben sure did--but now they had to keep things going indefinitely, and many felt the show was running in circles.  Nikki and Paulo certainly didn't help.  So, with everyone talking about the new show Heroes giving satisfying answers to its mysteries, the producers convinced ABC to put a cap on the episodes.  The producers wanted five seasons, the network wanted eight, they settled on six.

They also had another trick up their sleeve--some of the Losties would get back home, only to realize they had to go back.  And, this allowed them to pull one of the greatest coups in TV history: Jack's flashback at the end of season three was actually a flashforward.  Lost became a different show now that they were sure where they were going.  It got a little more sci-fi (they'd tried to avoid too much at first) and it seemed poised for a powerful ending.  Sepinwall does a great job pointing out the good and bad of season six. Not just the alternative universe, which was an interesting switch with a suprise ending that most fans didn't like.  But also the action on the Island.  Some of the mysteries were ho-hum, some weren't solved, but worse, the story, which should have been like an express train at this point, had stops and starts.  We were invested in the story and the characters, and now we're spending the first half of the season at the Temple, with new characters. We'd heard about the Temple for some time, but it was too late to introduce something like this--who cares about the distractions provided by Dogen and Lennon when it's Jack, Kate, Hurley, Sawyer, Locke, Ben, Juliet and a bunch of others that we cared about.  Then there was the Richard backstory, which the fans had been waiting for, but stopped the present-day story dead. Biggest of all, there was the episode where we learned the origin of the Island's magic, as well as Jacob and the Man In Black.  Turns out their mother was as tight-lipped as everyone else on the show when it came to revealing secrets, but worse, just as the action in the present was coming to a fever pitch, the show stopped dead to look thousands of years into the past. The producers, though they still defend the finale, now admit it was a mistake to stop the story just to let the audience in on secrets--the right way to do it would to have been to let the Losties discover the secrets along with the audience.

Then there's Battlestar Galactica, a show that was better than it had any right to be, but still wasn't good enough.  It was a remake of a silly show from a few decades back, but the basic premise was actually pretty good--humanity has been mostly destroyed by Cylons, machines built by humans, and those left were on a mission to find Earth as the Cylons chased them.  Then after 9/11 the whole concept took on a new gravity.  That's when producer Ronald Moore--who'd worked on the later Star Trek shows--created a manifesto that declared this show wouldn't be about weird aliens or the same sf drivel we've gotten used to, but would be about realistic and flawed humans in desperate straits.

Another great change--the new Cylons looked like people, which not only saved on special effects and costumes, but also added a sense of paranoia.  Moore, however, he wasn't much on planning too far ahead.  He played a lot of it by instinct.  Let's put Helo on this planet and see what happens.  Let's have Six inside Baltar's head.  Let's have the last five Cylons be different from the first seven.  Let's have visions of an opera house.  Let's have them sing a Dylan song.  Let's make Starbuck an angel.  Sometimes it worked, but as things went along, it led to disappointments--including a highly controversial ending that was rejected by many fans. To be fair to Moore, he has a good argument about grand plans in TV.  It's hard enough to plan one season, much less a multi-season arc.  Your main job is creating a gripping story each week, so what good is knowing how the show ends in five years when you get canceled this year. Anyway, budgets and actor availability may stymie your plans--as it did with Moore, who wanted more time on civilian ships but didn't have the money for sets--and what do you do if the audience doesn't like a new character or plot direction, keep it up for years just to spite them?

My biggest difference with Sepinwall comes in the BG chapter. He claims the creative high point of the series came in seasons 2 and 3 when the humans decide to settle in New Caprica, and we flash ahead a few years where the Cylons find them and occupy their planet.  High point?  This was arguably when the show jumped the shark--certainly when it went in the wrong direction.  There were good moments after, but the show was never the same.  In the early seasons, there was constant tension as humanity was on the brink and barely understood their enemy.  Settling down on a planet meant the search for Earth was over--the whole mission of BG--so the show was, in effect, grounded.  It lost even more tension when the Cylons became more familiar. (There was also a trial for Baltar which was mostly pointless.)  And the political parallels, which used to be intriguing but not so on the nose that they slowed down the action, were now so obviously rubbing Iraq in our face that the show became tiresome for that alone.

The final revelations regarding the Cylons had some good moments, but overall this was when Moore's chickens came home to roost, and we saw he didn't really have much of a plan.  It's not that you need to know everything--the Breaking Bad chapter shows creator Vince Gilligan only had the vaguest concept in mind and he and his writers regularly painted themselves in and out of corners.  But then, that's part of the fun in this age of TV drama. Shows have arcs like never before.  Some showrunners, like David Chase in his Sopranos, are ornery, trying to avoid giving the audience what it wants while giving them what he thinks they need.  Others, like David Simon in The Wire, are doing something almost beyond television, presenting a modern version of a Victorian novel, taking in all society, and willing to concentrate for some time on characters we might not notice in other shows.

And all along, Alan Sepinwall is watching, telling us what he thinks.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Don't Be Discouraged

Today is Moment Of Frustration Day, which is perfect for someone whose computer isn't working.

Of course, when you think about it, every day is moment of frustration day.  In fact, you're pretty lucky if there's only a moment of frustration.  It's not how much frustration you get, it's how you handle it.

I never understood the people who said count to ten when you're angry.  It's not like you forget what you're angry about.

Anyway, have a happy frustration.  Today it's okay to enjoy it.

Just In Case You Were Interested

I was looking at the American Film Institute's list of Hollywood's top 100 movies.  Don't ask me why.

And I decided to think about how I felt regarding each film. Don't ask me why.

And I decided to post my results.  Not film by film.  That's too much work.  But overall.  Don't ask me why.

So here it is, my take on AFI's top 100:

Really Good: 53

Good: 12

Okay:  16

Bad:  19

Overall, then, not bad.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Because LA Guy's Computer Is Broken

Hey sportsfans- I see LA Guy has asked us to stand up again and post something.   Actually I would like to post more but I when I get caught up in posting & commenting, I tend to lose focus on things I should be doing -like the job I'm paid to do or interacting with my family and unsuccessfully trying to convince my teen that I am not a moron (yes, I hear you saying "good luck with that").

So here are some random thoughts to ensure that your screens are filled with new words for a period of time

-The Pittsburgh Pirates had their first winning and playoff season in 21 years though it sadly ended this week after they dropped 2 straight to the Cards in the first playoff series after being up 2 games to 1 and getting everyone's hopes up.   This is somewhat of a dissatisfying ending as I have enjoyed bashing the self-proclaimed best management team in baseball or BMTIB for short over the past 5 years of the 20 year reign of shame but now I guess I have to give them their due. 

To recap: The team had a horrid three year run (299 losses) from 2008-10 with a sleepy nonpersonality manager  and they seemed to just be playing at playing ball- the games had the feel of extended spring training.  There were bizarre stunts like having the pitcher bat 8th and trading the team's young and surprising Home Run leader, Nate McLouth on June 1st (!), 2009  for 3 unproven prospects one of whom, Charlie Morton went on to have the worst April and May ever (1-11, 9.00+ ERA) in 2010 since Steve Blass in 1973 (for whom a disease was named).  (Interestingly, one other pitcher had a longer stretch with a 9.00+- 92 earned runs in 90 innings- none other John Van Benschoten, the Pirates #1 pick in the early 2000s).

The team showed life under new manager Clint Hurdle in 2011, reaching 51-44 in July (a big deal because they not been 7 games over .500 since the 90s)with seemingly smoke and mirrors  before collapsing and going 21-47 over the rest of the season.  And then almost the same thing occurred in 2012- 63-47 in first place on August 8 and then going 16-36 to finish under .500 for the 20th straight season.

Therefore when the team started out well again in 2013 and the two prospects from 09 (Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton) were key contributors, fans like me felt snakebit but the team continued to excel - reaching 26 games over .500 on August 8 (that date again) which proved to be a high point as they never got back to that rarefied height until the last day of the season when they swept a strangely subdued Cincinnati team and then vanquished them in the play-in Wild Card game.

At this point it seemed to be a team of destiny but their problematic bats fell silent in the last 2 playoff games.  Baseball writers outside of Pittsburgh are opining the team won't be back soon.   Oh well wait till next year- if they don't win, I can still have fun mocking the management.  But I'd rather they win. 

- The Steelers really stink this year but more people in Pittsburgh watch them than watched the Pirates this September.

-Do you think Harvard is more embarrassed about graduating Ted Kazcynski or Ted Cruz?

In A Pickle

I wonder how many times I've ordered a sandwich and asked them to hold the pickle.  I've got nothing against the occasional pickle by itself, or even on the side at a deli.  But honestly, I can't think of a single sandwich that's improved by a pickle.

It's one of those things, like salt and pepper being the two spices on every table, and ketchup and mustard the two condiments.  For some reason, a whole bunch of sandwiches automatically come with a pickle.  Lettuce and tomato I can sort of understand, but a pickle just gets in the way.

I don't mean to offend the pickle manufacturers guild, or whomever.  Growing up I even knew a girl quite well whose father worked at a pickle factory, and she often wore shirts with pictures of pickles on them.  I'd just prefer pickles not be automatic so I have to opt out.

Go West

Happy birthday, Dottie West.  She was a popular country artist in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Unfortunately, she died from injuries sustained in a car crash in 1991 when she was 58.






Thursday, October 10, 2013

Notice

I'm still having trouble with my computer. I'm writing this from another computer, but in general I don't have enough time to put up new posts. So until I get my old computer fixed, or get a new computer, the only posts that will appear will either be old stuff I've stored up (which will get pretty sparse very soon) or something new if I can steal the time.

Sorry for the inconvenience, but let me remind you--how much do you pay for this blog?

Also, maybe the other Guys could step up for a while.

Miller Time

Steve Miller turns 70 today.  He played hippie rock in the late 60s and early 70s, but really hit it big in the 70s with single-oriented rock, starting with "The Joker," a #1 hit.  He had a handful of hits in the 70s and a big comeback #1 hit in the early 80s, "Abracadabra."  Here are some of those song in between.








Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Language Masters

As I've been noting, my computer isn't working properly so right now the only way to post new stuff is to use someone else's computer, but that means my time is limited.

So instead of reviewing a bunch of new shows I've been watching, mostly sitcoms, let me just say something quickly about Showtime's Masters Of Sex.  Not about the quality of the show (which I like, especially leads Michael Sheen and Lizzy Kaplan), but about the diction.

The show (so far) is set in the 50s, and, of course, the clothes, hair, sets, cars, etc., are designed to look like the 50s. But then the writers drop in some modern phrase and it takes me right out of the action.

Three examples:

The hospital administrator tells Dr. Masters (I'm using quotation marks but paraphrasing) "I said no and I meant no. What part of that don't you understand?"  "What part don't I understand--well, that last phrase, which I've never heard before in my life but sounds like some sort of joke."

When Virginia Johnson tries to prepare a couple for copulation which she and Masters will observe. "Just be natural. Don't get too much in your head." "Don't get in my head--how can I avoid that...if I had any idea what you're talking about."  (Actually, she then goes on to make a "head" pun to point out the anachronistic line even further.)

Johnson asks her son, who's in trouble at school, "in what universe is it okay to spit at your teacher?"  "Well, since there's only one universe I guess it would have to be this one."

Browne Notes

Believe it or not, Jackson Browne turns 65 today.  He was making music professionally as a teenager, so he must be pretty sick of it by now.






Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Key Decision

I like to travel light.  I only have six keys I carry. I think that's on the low side. I've seen people with ten or more--who didn't have janitorial duties.

But even with six, I'd like to cut down.  I note I have one key, had it for twenty years, that I never use.  This is because I've forgotten what it's for. I'm strongly tempted to take it off the key chain.  But I fear as soon as I do, I'll think "oh yeah, that was for the safe deposit box where I store my millions."

So it's still there. But maybe the statute of limitations has run out.

PS  I can't remember the last time I went to a hotel and got an old-fashioned key.  In this brave new world, is it time to give them up? That would be great. Keys as we've had them are clunky and inconvenient.

Chase Scene

Chevy Chase turns 70 today.  Years ago, people found it hard to believe he had the same name as the suburb of Washington, D. C.  Now they're surprised to find there's a place that shares the name with the celebrity.

Chase did great work as a writer and performer for National Lampoon's radio and theattre shows, but rocketed to fame the first year Saturday Night Live aired (even though he was originally just on the writing staff). He soon left and became a movie star, which lasted about fifteen years, twenty if you want to be generous.

He also hosted a talk show in 1993 that was one of the all-time flops. He kept working, making films no one saw, often not even released in theatres.  In the last several years he was a regular on one of the great sitcoms, Community, even if he never appreciated it, putting it down regularly and eventually quitting.

But today I want to look at the musical Chevy, who once even played in a band with Walter Becker and Donald Fagen before they founded Steely Dan.






Monday, October 07, 2013

There's Always Room For Cello

Happy birthday, Yo-Yo Ma.  One of the greatest cellists with one of the most memorable names.






The Spice Of Life

I know Sid Caesar's writers--comedy legends like Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Woody Allen and Larry Gelbart--but after that, it's hard to think of famous behind-the-scenes names in the world of TV variety, as opposed to so many I can name who did sitcoms and dramas.  And yet, old-style prime time variety was a mainstay on television in the 50s, 60s and 70s, before it died in the age of MTV.

Which is why I checked out When Variety Was King, the memoir of Frank Peppiatt, a big name in the format, even though I'd never heard of him.  And it turned out to be an entertaining story about a guy who--at least in his own book--is pretty charming.

Peppiatt grew up in Toronto and Montreal during the Depression.  He loved movies and radio, and as soon as he graduated from college started in radio at the bottom, though his salesman father wanted him to do something more substantial.  Even when he became successful his father never really respected his choice.

He rose through the ranks and along the way met his writing and producing partner John Aylesworth.  They also got into the strange new world of TV.  The CBC was the only network in the country, and was willing to try out new things then, including giving these two writers their own variety show to star in.  It was a low-budget affair, but they made up in spirit what they lacked in dough.

They split up for a while because they couldn't find a job in Canada that paid them enough as a team, and both eventually found their way to New York, where the real money was.  Frank got a good job working for Steve Allen.  Unfortunately, Frank's wife, Marilyn, a former band singer, hated America, and so for years Frank worked in the Big Apple and would return to his wife and three daughters in Toronto when he could.  Eventually he convinced Marilyn to move to New York, where they bought a house in the suburbs that she spent so much time and money fixing up that it became her full-time job.

Frank and partner John teamed up again on a Bing Crosby special in 1959, which led to a lot of other work with big names, such as variety shows or specials starring Andy Williams, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland.  They were also hip enough to create the rock show Hullabaloo.

Frank's father always wondered what his son did.  Just write intros and cross-talk between songs?  Well, he and John wrote sketches too, but his main talent seemed to be as an idea man, creating situations that made whover was on the show that week look good.

While Frank loved his work, his marriage was faltering.  Eventually he and his wife separated, and later divorced.  She always claimed he left her penniless, but apparently she sold the house without his knowledge and took the kids back to Toronto, and then for years after he supported her.

The team kept working with big names, such as Julie Andrews, Jackie Gleason (a great talent but a big jerk) and Sonny and Cher.  But their biggest success was sort of a surprise.

It was the late 60s, and country music, though not that respected in show biz meccas Los Angeles and New York, was huge throughout the nation. So they created a summer replacement show for CBS called Hee Haw.  By now experienced producers, they shot it cheaply in Nashville by shooting all 13 episodes worth of one feature, striking the set, and going on the the next bit until they had enough to put together the entire season.

The show was a big hit, and was picked up for the regular season.  But then came the great country purge of '71, when CBS wanted to change its demographic and canceled all rural-themed shows.  Frank might have moved on, but he and some partners decided to put Hee Haw into syndication by putting up their own money and producing the show themselves.  This wasn't done. Syndication was almost always for programs that had already run on a network.

It was slow going at first as no one wanted to buy ads on a show that had been canceled.  But once the ratings came in, advertisers lined up, and Hee Haw lasted an amazing 23 seasons.

During this time, Frank married a woman named Valerie, who, like his first wife, seemed to spend all her time spending Frank's money on their house.  He worked on other shows, but after almost three decades in the business was burned out.  At one point, he went into his car and literally found himself unable to drive. He spent six months in a psychiatric institute and got himself straightened out.  One question he asked himself was why did three of the people closest to him--his father and two wives--not respect the work he did.

When he got out, he found his partner John had moved onto a new project without him. Frank continued working, including a variety show with Barbara Mandrell, but eased himself out of show business.  Perhaps just in time, as prime time variety was all but dead.  He also divorced Valerie, and later married a woman named Caroline.  That marriage is ongoing.

Frank presently resides in Canada.  He's got his daugthers and his grandkids.  There hasn't been a good variety program in prime time for decades.  Maybe it's time for a comeback.

PS  What's with editing these days? Someone should have noted it's "Jack Paar," not "Jack Parr," and "Kaye Ballard," not "Kay Ballard."

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Tagging

I finally got around to watching Donald Glover's standup special Weirdo.  It wasn't bad, but because it was on Comedy Central they had to bleep out all the swearing.  Not hearing these words doesn't kill the humor, but it didn't help.

Worse, there was one bit in particular which the censorship rendered nigh incomprehensible.  I was able to figure it out in context, but I'm guessing for a lot of viewers it was pretty much pointless.

Glover has a lot of bits about kids--in fact, it's the majority of his show--and much of that is about how horrible children are.  The routine I'm referring to has a nanny from Trinidad who loses her patience with one African-American child who sasses her.  She (I believe) calls him a "niglet."

I question if racial references should be bleeped at all, but this word is a new one.  How did they know we shouldn't be allowed to hear it?  In any case, if we can't hear it, there's no joke.  What's the point?

I'm reminded of a bit Emo Philips did on broadcast TV many years ago.  He talked about having sex with a woman who "was shaking from the hair on her head to the [bleep] on her toe." What could he have said that was so nasty?  I figured out the word was "tag." Either let him say it or cut it out entirely.

Unbound

When I learnd about Greek drama in college it was easy enough to remember who wrote the plays.  There were seven by Aeschylus, seven by Sophocles and nineteen by Euripides.  That's it.  Other tragedians were known by name, but none of their plays survived except in fragments. (Comedy was even easier, since only Aristophanes' work survived from that golden age.) There was some question over the attribtution of Rhesus to Euripides, but I hadn't heard about any other problems.

It's not a coincidence these were the only three who made it.  They were, presumably, the best at their craft, and after their deaths their plays continued to be performed, thus their texts survived.  In fact, I believe the three's most popular plays were collected in one book and many copies were made, so we have the best of the best--plus a partial compendium of Euripides, which explains why he's got more than the other two combined.

But now I hear--though the debate has been going on for years--that scholars have great doubt that Aeschylus created Prometheus Bound.  I'm surprised, since it's known to be part of a related trilogy, which was Aeschylus's specialty. (All the tragedians wrote trilogies plus a satyr play for competition, but they weren't always about the same subject.)

Apparently the weight of scholarship is now claiming the play, rather than being an early work from Aeschylus, might have premiered much later, and been written by his son. This also strikes me as odd since the stagecraft seems a bit older (if I recall), without the innovations Sophocles and Euripides brought to tragedy.  What's their evidence?  First, Zeus is treated differently here from how he's treated elsewhere in Aeschylus. Not that impressive.  Second, and here I can only take their word, more and more scholars are claiming, based on meter and diction, this doesn't seem like Aeschylus.

I guess we'll never know.  The real question is does it matter who wrote a play, or signed a painting, or directed a fim, etc.  It shouldn't, but somehow, it does.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Kafkaesque

Not that long ago The Atlantic published an attack by Joseph Epstein on Kafka.  It seemed so silly I wondered if Epstein had actually read Kafka.  Now in the same magazine we've got a piece on Modernism that starts thus:

Beckett wrote “unenjoyable” books, says Martin Amis. Paulo Coelho believes Joyce’s Ulysses caused “great harm,” while Roddy Doyle doubts any readers are “really moved by it.” “Shabby chic” is the Financial Times’ verdict on modernist architecture. You hear it often these days, this grousing about difficult, pretentious modernism: Woolf, Kafka, Stein, and Picasso come in for it too. The emperor has no clothes.

The author of the piece, Michael Levenson, may not agree with such sentiments, but I want to know who are these people calling Kafka difficult and pretentious?  He may be deep but he's not difficult.  And he's not pretentious either, though people who talk about him, and use words like Kafkaesque, may be.

What makes Kafka special is how he can write about the specific and the concrete and yet create a world that seems ineffable, just beyond our grasp.  And his language (though I admit I read him in translation) isn't high-flown, or confusing, but matter-of-fact in describing astonishing things.  It's also perfectly clear and beautiful at the same time.  In addition, Kafka is often quite funny.

I don't think I need to defend Kafka. He's a classic.  But I sometimes think he may be getting a reputation that might keep readers away.  Too bad. They're missing a lot.

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