Tuesday, June 30, 2015

He's All Right, Jack

Let's say goodbye to Jack Carter, the last of the old-time comics. He was around so long, 50+ years ago he was making fun of how the kids are today.

Busy Miss Lizzy

Happy birthday, Lizzy Caplan.  She's been working regularly in TV and movies since she first appeared as a recurring character on Freaks And Geeks.  She's presently starring in Masters Of Sex on Showtime and appears in movies such as last year's notorious The Interview.  But to me, she'll always be Casey Klein on my favorite sitcom of the past decade, Party Down.

Monday, June 29, 2015

SC latest

I've updated the post below on the major Supreme Court cases decided at the end of its term.  As I note, it's depressing how predictable the voting was along political lines.


Chris Squire has died.  He was a founder of and bassist and songwriter for my favorite prog rock band Yes.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

National Story

I just got around to reading Rick Meyerowitz's Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Writers And Artists Who Made The National Lampoon Insanely Great. It came out in 2010 and if you see it in a bookstore it's probably remaindered. It's hardly the first book about NatLamp.  There are personal reminiscences by former editor Tony Hendra and publisher Matty Simmons, and the most comprehensive work of all, Ellin Stein's That's Not Funny, That's Sick.

This one is different in that instead of telling a story, it gives tribute to the major writers and artists, one by one.  Each gets a little essay about what they were like--usually by former Lampoon contributor Rick Meyerowitz, but sometimes by other Lampoon people--followed by a selection of their work.

All the usual suspects are here: Doug Kenney, Henry Beard, Michael O'Donoghue, Sean Kelly, Anne Beatts, Brian McConnachie, P.J. O'Rourke, Bruce McCall, Ted Mann, Shary Flenniken, Jeff Greenfield and quite a few others.  It's an oversized, 320-page book, so there's plenty to look at.

It includes a lot of stuff I still remember, such as John Weidman's New York State Bar Exam, Michel Choquette's Hitler retired on a tropical island and Ed Subitzky's self-containted world history of a comic strip.

There's not much to say about the book, since it's mostly reprints of classic stuff. If you've got a coffee table around, it'd be a nice thing to page through.

While reading it I was wondering if anyone's ever thought of doing a documentary of the magazine's story.  Sure enough, it was just made, though as far as I know hasn't yet been released.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Would one?

One would think that New England Guy's sentiments are the growth of a diseased root. Hardly a distillation of essence.”

(just a repost but I enjoyed this)

As The Case May Be

Don't have too much to say right now about the Supreme Court's all-but-over term.  Here's a piece I posted a few weeks ago on then-upcoming cases.  Of more interest may be Denver Guy's comment, where he bravely predicted the results.

How'd he do?  Read the following and judge for yourself.  (And see my comments, remembering I haven't read these cases, just the reporting on them.  I'll try to update when all the cases are in.)

1. Obergefell vs. Hodges. I think the S.Ct will strike down on equal protection grounds all State Constitutional and Statutory definitions of marriage that require the parties to be of different sexes. They will leave open the question of whether marriage, by any other name, equally protects the citizens' rights to marry each other one on one. The next case will be Colorado and other states that have parallel civil union and marriage statutes. If separate but equal is (again) ruled insufficient, the last case will be whether states can eliminate all references to marriage in their statutes and change the name formally to civil unions.

I think the Court went further than this.

2. King vs. Burwell. I actually think Roberts will join the conservatives this time and rule that the ACA says what it says, arming the Republican Congress with the leverage to amend the statute. As PJ Guy says, it won't amount to much - just a test of who can spin the result and subsequent amendments better.

Both Roberts and Kennedy joined the liberals.

3. Zivotofsky vs. Kerry. The President wins the question of who decides what nations are recognized by the US passport authorities (Jerusalem is left disputed, Israel supporters get to rail against the S.Ct.)

The Court did indeed declare, 6-3, this is the President's call.

4. Elonis vs. U.S. Kennedy champions free speech and Facebook threats - crimes require intent. This also doesn't make too much difference - courts have always had to decide if threats are credible (would a reasonable person be alarmed).

A pretty easy call.  It's distressing the vote wasn't unanimous, with Justice Thomas showing once again a troubling, limited view of free speech.

5. Texas vs. Inclusive Communities Project. Fair Housing Act is constricted again, as I think a majority does not like disparate impact as a basis for discrimination claims. Never forget the three levels of deceit: lies, damnable lies, and statistics.

It was a good year for the liberals, as once again Kennedy joins them in a 5-4 opinion.  Some claim that the opinion has certain limitations built in, but the big question is always more important than the small qualifications.

6. Arizona State Legislature vs. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. I think the S.Ct declines to rule that the "people" can operate as a sort of "legislature of the whole," to create redistricting committees. Republicans in Arizona and Democrats in California both lose.

Arizona can use an independent commission for redistricting.  This is a 5-4 Ginsburg opinion, so I guess it's considered a liberal win, though I'm not entirely sure why.

7. Michigan vs. EPA. No call on the EPA case. The regulation at issue is aimed at real pollutants like mercury. I think it is clear that EPA has authority to act, but I don't know if they violated their own procedures for developing the reg.

A 5-4 Scalia opinion saying the air pollution rule went too far.  Once again, the vote aligns along political lines.

8. EEOC vs. Abercrombie & Fitch. No call on the head scarf case. I would lean toward the right of businesses to present the look they want as long as it is for business purposes. Could a Vampire retail outlet bar employees from wearing crosses? I think so.

I'm a little surprised the hijabs won 8-1.

9. Horne vs. U.S.D.A. I think this S.Ct. is gradually cutting back the authority of the Commerce Clause, and so will undo the price support system for raisins.

The conservatives finally win one, 5-4, dealing with the great raisin scourge.

10. Walker vs. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans. States should win the right to restrict what they put (say) on their specialty license plates. It simply is not too great a burden on public speech to require someone who wants to sport a confederate flag to buy a bumper stick vs. having it on their license plate created by the State. Equal Protection does not mean every special interest group has a right to make the State speak on its behalf.

I wrote about this earlier.  The case didn't seem especially political to me, so I was disappointed that the liberals voted in lockstep, joined by the predictably anti-confederate Justice Thomas.

11. City of Los Angeles vs. Patel. No call on whether cities can require motels to keep guest registries to facilitate police activities.

Limiting inspection powers (at least for now), the liberals take this one 5-4 with help from--who else?--Justice Kennedy.

12. Glossip vs. Gross. No call on whether States can decide how to execute death sentences. But if the States lose, look for several to reinstitute the firing squad, which was never declared cruel or unusual, and is still allowed by the Fed. military in cases of dissertion, I believe.

A 5-4 Alito opinion allowing states to execute as they wish.  It's depressing how so many of these vote splits are political.

13. Ohio vs. Clark. No call on whether teachers can testify in place of 3-year-olds who are too young to take the stand. It seems to me that babies are evidence, not accusers, and therefore the teacher would be testifying as to her personal observation of the evidence, not conveying hearsay evidence.

Unanimous decision allowing the testimony by sidestepping the Confrontation Clause and claiming the statements weren't made to create evidence.

Friday, June 26, 2015

More Orangey Goodness

I just finished the third season of Orange Is The New Black.  It came out two weeks ago so that was fast.  The show hasn't changed much, but this season was less about harsh prison life and more about comedy. There's still danger, fear and hardship--people get hurt, even killed--but most of the plots were on a lighter, even sillier, level.

For instance, a major plot was Piper--the protagonist, if there is one--trying to make money selling soiled prison panties to the outside world.  (Apparently there is a business in used panties, though I'm not sure how Piper could guarantee the authenticity of her wares to unknown buyers.) Another plot had silent Norma attracting a cult.  Yet another had women pretending to be Jewish to enjoy the kosher meals the prison offers.  Then there's Crazy Eyes, who starts writing serialized sci-fi porn that the inmates can't get enough of.  There was also a plot where a Martha Stewart-like woman was on trial and the inmates were hoping she'd be sent to their prison--it seemed to be dropped (not unlike the real-life story, where Stewart was not sent to the prison that Piper Kerman went to), but at the last second, it looks like she will be locked in with the gang, but not till next season.

Maybe the biggest change is Larry, Piper's former fiancé, is off the show.  So rather than wonder about her relationship with her boyfriend, the show concentrated on Piper's relationships within the prison, especially with past and present girlfriend Alex.  There's still plenty outside action, though, following the guards and others, as well as in numerous flashbacks for the many characters (there must be thirty to forty regular or recurring roles to keep straight).

The flashbacks were an important part of the show, as always. (Did Lost invent this flashback structure?  I can't recall a show before it that had them as a regular feature.)  They were interesting, but they seemed to be intended to show how different and unexpected the prisoners' backstories are--one followed a cult leader and ended up pushing him off a cliff, another was an Amish girl who left home and got involved in drugs.  I admit it's good drama to have varied stories, but in reality, I believe a lot of people behind bars have stories that are all too similar.

The main story this season was Litchfield Penitentiary is going to be closed down until it's taken over by a corporation. Unfortunately, this led to the expected clichés of a soulless business doing a bare bones job to make short-term profit.  Not the worst plot, I suppose, except for the first two seasons we already had plenty of corruption and complaints about not enough spending.  For example, this season the corporation supplies the cafeteria with large bags of terrible-tasting prepared food (thus the demand for kosher meals).  Okay, fine, but what about the first two seasons where people complained about the meals?  Red, who's back running the kitchen, is now treated as if she's a gourmet chef.

Anyway, a show still worth watching.  And Piper's got enough time left for at least two more seasons.

PS  In one sequence, where a rabbi is questioning prisoners to see if their conversions to Judaism are real, one character says something like "Rush huh, shosh, shosh..." which the CC interprets as "gibberish." Sorry, but that's her attempting to say Rosh Hashanah.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


One of the first things I learned from Mary-Lou Weisman's biography of cartoonist Al Jaffee is that he's still at MAD magazine.  I haven't read it since I was a kid, but he was, in fact, a regular there before I was even born.

Considering how important MAD has been in Jaffee's life and legend, the book spends surprisingly little time on his years there.  In fact, there are only two chapters devoted to MAD.  Most of the book is taken up with his childhood and early adult years.  Not what I would have chosen, but since this is the only book likely to be written on the subject, you take what you can get. And one other thing you get is illustrations by Jaffee himself--has that ever happened in a biography, pictures but no words?

Jaffee was a great cartoonist before he joined MAD, and became one of the most popular of the "usual gang of idiots." He created at least two regular items for which he's still remembered.

One is the Fold-In.  Other magazines had foldouts, so Jaffee decided to do the opposite.  In each issue he'd create a cartoon on the back inside page that would fold in to reveal a different drawing, with the worlds printed below revealing the answer to the question asked. Jaffee was not only clever enough to come up with the idea, but also had the talent to pull it off month after month.

The other feature, which may be even more famous, is his "Snappy Answers To Stupid Questions." Of all the many comic concepts he introduced to MAD this took off as no other.  You're probably familiar with it--Jaffee would draw a picture where someone asks someone else something obvious.  On the right would be three word-balloons with smart alec answers plus a fourth you could fill in with your own response. (Did anyone ever fill them in?)  For example, one character says to someone who's just wrapped his car around a tree "Have an accident?" The three answers are "No, thanks!  I already have one!,"  "No, I'm a modern sculptor!" and "No, I'm starting a junk yard!"

Both these features were collected into a series of popular books.  But Jaffee did a lot more. For instance, he created another bit, "Don't You Hate...," that was also turned into a number of books.  And he came up with ridiculous inventions, some of which were later patented by others, such as a Ferris Wheel for parking cars, or an ashtray with suction to take in the smoke.

Mad isn't what it once was.  What magazine is?  But I get the feeling his stuff will be remembered long after the magazine is gone.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

About that name "Kentucky"

Is this a joke? Mitch McConnell to Kentucky Capitol: Lose the Jefferson Davis Statue

Why stop there? Are you racist or something? What about "Kentucky"? Or Georgia? Say, wasn't Mitch McConnell born in Alabama? Can we get rid of him?

Keep trying, Mitch. If you go far enough the New York Times will like you and vote for you.


Adam's Apple: A protuberance in the throat of man, thoughtfully provided by Nature to keep the rope in place.


True Detective was the big premiere Sunday on HBO, but it was followed by two comedies making their debut, The Brink and Ballers.  And just as True Detective is no Game Of Thrones (or no True Detective), these two aren't exactly Veep or Silicon Valley.

The Brink is the better of the two. It's a political comedy starring Jack Black, Tim Robbins, Pablo Schreiber and Aasif Mandvi. The pilot has a crisis brewing in Pakistan, where a psycho leader in a coup threatens to use captured U.S. missiles to attack Israel (I think that's what happened--wasn't entirely clear).  So the question is how should the U.S. respond.  Any direct action can lead to an avalanche of trouble, but so can doing nothing.

Tim Robbins plays the Secretary of State, who likes kinky sex but is (as far as I can tell) meant to be a fairly responsible advisor.  There's Jack Black as a U.S. Embassy functionary in Pakistan who gets stuck out on the streets but is able to fax some valuable information to the White House.  And Schreiber ("Pornstache" from Orange Is The New Black) is the drugged-up pilot who's flying toward Pakistan to drop bombs near some residential areas.  A decent cast.

The show, like pretty much every political comedy, is fast-paced and cynical.  It's not as clever as Veep--not yet, anyway--and also has the unfortunate habit of occasionally dropping in extraneous political comments from the lead characters which aren't funny or witty enough to justify the preaching.

Right now things are on the brink.  There are only eight episodes, but does that mean they'll keep up the brinksmanship each episode? I'll watch next week to see if it gets better.  I guess that means the show is on the brink.

Ballers is Entourage meets North Dallas Forty.  A lot of it is about luxuriating in the glamour and girls of pro football, but it's also about the toll the life takes.  We're introduced to leading man Dwayne Johnson (who's a true movie star these days--he doesn't need TV) waking up and popping pain pills like they're M&Ms.  He's an ex-NFL player who's been signed to a financial management firm for his connections, A good guy, he sees football players aren't ready to deal with the money they're making, but he needs to recruit more to hold on to his job.

Johnson has charisma, but so far the show isn't that compelling. Unless it improves quickly, I'll be leaving before halftime.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Fact not in evidence

"The chief justice actually crafted his opinion in such a way as to ensure that his writings on the Commerce Clause were not written off as dicta"

From a guy who says he doesn't understand the federalism argument, but he's going to comment on it anyway.

Reporter Reporting

I don't know what's with the trades these days.  Variety online often comes across as if it has no editing, but now we get this oddity from the more reliable Hollywood Reporter regarding a closely-watched (in this town, anyway) case on patent law:

In today's ruling, Justice Elena Kagan says that the old precedent must stand untouched under what's known as stare decisis.

"What we can decide, we can undecide," she writes. "But stare decisis teaches that we should exercise that authority sparingly."

In her analysis, Kagan says that very strong justification is needed to depart from stare decisis and allow inventors to make deals that provide them royalties past a patent's expiration.

The piece, by Eriq Gardner, uses the phrase "stare decisis" three times in three sentences without explaining it.  I would think some explanation is required, as Gardner himself feels the concept is unusual enough that he introduces it with "what's known as...."

Perhaps the reader could glean its meaning from context, but would it be too much to ask for a quick definition?  For all I know, a lot of readers might think stare decisis is something substantive, rather than Justice Kagan simply saying she's following precedent.  (And is that really what the case turned on, rather than the interpretation of precedent?  Don't know, haven't read it.)

PS  If you didn't click on the link, you may wonder why this particular illustration.  It's not about the complex web of previous cases Kagan alludes to, but rather the case itself, which is about royalties for a Spider-Man toy.

His Music Will Go On

Hollywood's in shock right now--James Horner, probably the most popular composer in movies, just died.  He was piloting his own small plane when he crashed.

He scored well over a hundred films, and many TV shows.  He was nominated for ten Oscars, winning two for Titanic.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Gag me

You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to wonder why LAGuy hasn't blogged on the Reason gag order.

I suppose it's time to shoot me some US attorney. I hear's they's good eatin'.

Alumni Update

Some of this blogs readers may be aware several of the guys attended law school at Chicago in the 80s.  Amongst our well-known colleagues is the current director of the FBI (though I can't say I remember ever meeting him).   I was startled this morning to receive the following email which at first I thought was a alumni fundraising appeal.   I reproduce it in its entirety for the full effect but I note: 
  • - I feel they sort of give away the game a bit in the heading.    
  • - Really?- the Feds use an aol address?
  • - Really?  "favour"? and they really should capitalize "united states"- unless that is meant to be subterfuge.
  • - I feel comforted knowing they care about us "dear citizens"
  • -Columbus Guy- what do you know about Mrs. Bailey from OHIO?
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in conjunction with other relevant Investigation Agencies here in the State have been informed through our Global intelligence monitoring network that you have an on-going transaction with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as regard to your over-due contract payment which was fully endorsed in your favour. It might interest you to know that we have taken time in screening through this project as stipulated on our protocol of operation and have finally confirmed that your contract payment is 100% genuine and hitch free from all facet and of which you have the lawful right to claim without any further delay. We will further advise that you go ahead and deal with the governor office of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) accordingly as we will be monitoring all their correspondence with you.
In addition, also be informed that we recently had a meeting with the Executive Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, in the person of Mr Godwin Emefiele and Mr. Paul Jones along with some of the top officials of the ministry regarding your case and they made us to understand that your file has been held in abase depending on when you personally apply for the claim. They also told us that the only problem they are facing right now is that some unscrupulous element are using this project as an avenue to scam innocent people off their hard earned money by impersonating the Executive Governor and the Central Bank office. We were also made to understand that a lady with name of Mrs. Joan C. Bailey from OHIO has already contacted them and also presented to them all the necessary documentations evidencing your claim purported to have been signed personally by you prior to the release of your contract fund valued at about US$8,000,000.00 (Eight million united states dollars).
More so, we were advised to warn our dear citizens who must have been informed of their contract payment from the Central Bank of Nigeria, to be very careful prior to the on-going internet irregularities,  so that they would not fall victim of ugly circumstances.  In case they are already dealing with anybody or office from the Central Bank of Nigeria are strictly advised to STOP further communication with them in their best interest and thereby contact the real office of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) via the below information:
OFFICE ADDRESS: Central Bank of Nigeria,
Central Business District,
Cadastral Zone, Abuja, Federal.
Capital Territory, Nigeria.
Email: central.bank05@gogo.mn
Tel: +234 802 612 7936
NOTE: In your best interest, you should ignore any message that does not come from the above email address and phone number for security reasons.  Meanwhile, you are hereby advised to contact the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria via above details immediately and request for instant attention to your payment files as directed herein, so as to enable you receive your contract fund accordingly.
To enable them attend to your payment files, you are required to reconfirm and authenticate your personal data/particulars as listed below for onward processing and release of you fund as we will not be held liable for any wrong payment.
FULL NAMES: __________________________________
CITY: _________________________
STATE: __________________________________
ZIP: ______________
SEX: _______________
AGE: __________________
TELEPHONE NUMBER: _____________________
Ensure you follow all due process as required by Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria in order to hasten up the whole procedures of your fund transfer to your designated account.  Bear in mind, that the Central Bank of Nigeria equally has an operational operandi (payment protocol) in line with international banking policy. So, you should adhere to avoid any delay which maybe detriment your fund transfer.
Once again, we hereby advise you to contact them via the above email address and make sure you forward to them all the necessary information which they may require from you prior to the release of your fund to you. All modalities have already been worked out and we will be monitoring all your dealings with the CBN’s governor in respect to your fund transfer. Thus, you have nothing to worry about as far as we, the FBI is concerned.
Henceforth, you should always update us as to enable us be on track with you and the Central Bank of Nigeria. Finally, we want you to contact them immediately via the above email address so as to enable them attend to your case accordingly without any further delay as time is already running out.  Should you need more information(s) in regard to this notification, feel free to get back to us on this email address so that we can put you through and as well guide you during and after your successful actualization of this project.
Thank you very much for your anticipated co-operation in advance as we earnestly await your urgent response regards to this matter.
Best Regards,
James B. Comey, Jr
Federal Bureau of Investigation
J. Edgar Hoover Building.
935 Pennsylvania Avenue,
NW Washington, D.C.
E-mail: jbcomey310@aol.com

New Detective

The second season of True Detective just premiered on HBO. Since it's an anthology series, with a new cast and storyline each year, it might as well be a new show.  The only thing that holds it together, aside from being a crime drama, is writer/showrunner Nic Pizzolatto.

Last season was the talk of TV.  Starring two movie actors, it was about partners getting together again to solve an old crime, but the emphasis was as much on their characters and opposing philosophies as anything else.  This year we've got four movie actors--whose careers could maybe use a boost--Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch.  And instead of being set in Louisiana this time it's Southern California (La. to LA).

This time around, however, the bloom is off the rose. At least so far.  You can tell right off the bat it's not as good when the theme song, "Nevermind" by Leonard Cohen, can't compare with the first season's "Far From Any Road" by the Handsome Family.

Farrell, McAdams and Kitsch are all dark and brooding cops of one sort or another.  Vaughn, meanwhile, is a businessman/criminal who happens to be dark and brooding.  Farrell is a hard-drinking hothead whose wife was raped (so he isn't sure if it's his own son).  McAdam's is also a drinker, who gets a police raid going to stop her sex artist sister from giving her regular performance.  Kitsch, a highway patrolmen with a controversial past as a war veteran, doesn't drink but does take drugs before sex.  And Vaughn (with his wife, played by Kelly Reilly) runs a casino but is involved in corrupt deals and is going for a big score.

They mostly operate on their own, though Vauhgn gives Farrell information on his wife's attacker, and later wants him to lean on a journalist who might be finding out too much.  Near the end of the pilot, Kitsch stumbles upon a crime scene (he simply pulls his cycle off the road at night and there it is).  A city manager who Vaughn needed to meet with is dead.  More than that, some kinky or creepy or occult stuff has happened to his body.  Sure enough, Farrell, McAdams and Kitsch are assigned to the case--seems pretty crowded.

The first season of True Detective started with a creepy crime, but that was always the MacGuffin--it was the great dialogue and interplay of the characters that mattered most.  Sure, it could be dark, but it was fascinating. This time around, it's just dark.  Most of the lines fall flat.  And most of the characters, especially Vaughn, seem to be walking through their roles.  Farrell has a little fire, but that's because his character is supposed to fly off the handle--which makes him more obnoxious than anything else.

Pizzolatto earned enough respect with last season to keep me watching.  But these characters, or the plot, or something, better get interesting soon or I'll just wait it out till season three. If there is one.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

So, Larry, tell us how you made that decision

[Apple said ]editors should have "great instincts for breaking news, but be equally able to recognize original, compelling stories unlikely to be identified by algorithms."

Of course the story makes clear that what they really mean is "unlikely to be identified by the sucky algorithms of Google and Facebook." As reported by Yahoo.

Test Case

Bernie Sanders is in town.  A lot of Hollywood progressives are impressed.  Of course, he's not getting anywhere near the support Obama got, or Hillary Clinton is getting.  You may wonder why people who hire accountants to make sure they pay the least amount of taxes possible, and have agents and managers and lawyers to negotiates the best deals, would want someone in office who seems likely to raise their taxes.  I have to assume they feel good about that vote, and figure they can take the cut in income without feeling it.  I'd be more impressed if they actually had something to lose.

Bernie, like Hillary, is promising to fight against the Citizens United case, and get the kind of money out of politics that would make it harder to criticize him  Okay, he doesn't put it that way. He says billionaires (though absolutely everyone can contribute money to get their message out under Citizens United), except the billionaires who run the media, for some reason (the reason being if you limit the "media" (the media being officially recognized sources, though from our founding days anyone could spend a little money and put out a pamphlet to get their point of view heard) from speaking during an election, the revocation of the First Amendment is so obvious not even Bernie Sanders can pretend it's something else, plus the media tend not to criticize Dems as much as Republicans) have to be stopped from speaking out.

Well guess what, we've got a test case. Donald Trump has decided to run.  He claims he's worth 9 billion.  Let's have him spend 8 billion to get elected.  If he wins the election--no, if he even wins the nomination for his party--I'll be convinced that billionaires have the mystical power to cloud the electorate's mind with money alone. But if 8 billion can't even win him a single state, then maybe Hillary and Bernie should stop speaking nonsense about money in politics.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Seeing doom

So it's been quite the weather here in Columbus this weekend and today especially, and consequently I've spent a fair amount of time with accuweather.

And what I've discovered is the map behind their radar site seems to provide a remarkable level of detail around the entire world, or at least the usual zones between the circles. They don't seem to have access to radar data in Europe and Asia, or at any rate are not publishing it, but it's nevertheless remarkable. For seeing the world down to road level, I think it's nearly as useful as mapquest or google maps--partly because it works more quickly.

Headline of the Day

Heinz says sorry for ketchup QR code that links to porn site

Ten or fifteen years ago, they attempted to make ketchup more interesting by making it in various colors like green, pink and light blue.   I guess the modern day mad men are always looking for a new angle.  Not every idea can teach the world to sing...

Sorry Girls, She's Married

Happy 70th, Anne Murray.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Usual Suspects

As a revenue-raising measure, Texas allows private citizens to design their own special license plates. One group wanted to display the Confederate battle flag, but the state refused--under the law it was allowed to reject applications offensive to the public.  The Supreme Court just came down with an opinion allowing Texas to make this call, despite First Amendment objections.

I could see the case going either way, though I disagree with the outcome.  But what was too predictable was the majority in the 5-4 decision.  All four liberals on the Court, plus one crossover from the conservatives, Justice Thomas (as I expected considering his previous opinions).  Any Justices could go either way, one would think, so why is it that the liberals were uniform in rejecting the First Amendment argument?  There was a time when the left seemed to be the stronger supporters of freedom of speech, but I don't see how anyone can claim that any more.

By the way, the state's Solicitor General argued that drivers "cannot commandeer the State into promoting the Confederate battle flag on a state-issued license plate." First, who's commandeering anything?  The state offered this service to its citizens (at extra cost).  Second, how is the state promoting this flag?  As long as it doesn't pick and choose what plates to allow regarding political issues, it won't be seen as promoting anything but freedom.

Tommy We Can Hear You

Happy birthday, Tommy DeVito.  He's the guy who formed the Four Seasons, playing guitar and singing.  He left in 1970, but not before recording a lot of great material.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Negative Capability

Schoolteacher Dana Dusbiber has created controversy with her Washington Post editorial on why she doesn't want to teach her charges Shakespeare when she could be offering them more relatable material.  As controversies go, this one is pretty tired.  I've been hearing it at least since I was reading Great Books in college, and presumably it goes back much further.  There have even been books delving into this debate. The controversy is especially tired inasmuch as no one is strongly opposed, as far as I can tell, to drawing from wider sources of literature, as Dusbiber suggests.

But still, there's been a number of articles dealing with this issue, most using the same old (and often convincing) arguments in favor of great literature.  However, the New Republic has published a rebuttal of Dusbiber that's particularly bad, and almost made me turns against Shakespeare, so I thought I'd discuss it.

It's by Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, and is entitled "The Progressive Case For Teaching Shakespeare." She rehearses an argument you've heard before--that reading Shakespeare, or Chaucer, or Milton, or other DWEM, brings us into an alien world, teaching us how people could and did view things differently, giving us greater perspective on the world.

Understanding the past—especially its radical divergences from and continuities with the present—is more important than Dusbiber appears to believe. [...T]he jarring disparities between then and now can open up a political imagination that is foreclosed by living purely within the confines of current social and political thinking.

Fine, except that Bruenig quickly makes a radical divergence of her own.

Reading the literature of the past opens a window into a world in which the assumptions that dominate our lives were not yet imagined or fully formed, and shows us how people might live without the principles we mostly accept without question now. Consider, for example, past understandings of the poor. An 1189 sermon by French theologian Alain de Lille argues Christ could no [sic] live among princes, knights, or merchants, becase [sic] they live by plunder and greed: "Where then, can Christ live? Only among His paupers." It is one thing to entertain the thought of such a civilization that doesn't view poor people as deadbeats, leeches, or shiftless layabouts, and another altogether to peek into the interior lives of people who lived in such a world. Some medievals, for example, thought highly enough of the poor to seek their help in the afterlife: John Aderne, a 14th century English physician, advised that a good doctor "visit of his earnings poor men...that they by their prayers may get him the grace of the Holy Ghost." None of this is to say that the poor had it better then than now, only to point out that the way poor people are broadly conceived in our society -- as morally corrupt people who take advantage of others -- is not a necessary, logical, or obvious view.

So that's the purpose of great literature--to reinforce a shallow, bigoted view of modern politics?  If Bruenig looks at the past and can only come up with confirmation of her close-minded misunderstandings of today's debate, then who needs Shakespeare?  Might as well teach Mother Jones in the classroom and be done with it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

An Actor Prepared

Ask a young moviegoer about Robert De Niro and the response might be "He's the guy in those comedies with Ben Stiller." Or, if it's a more hip moviegoer, "He's the guy who's in every other film that comes out, mostly bad ones." Shawn Levy's biography of De Niro helps conjure up a time when he wasn't just a grand old actor with his best days behind him, but an up-and-comer who'd immerse himself in roles as no one had ever done.  And a time when he was the first among equals, more respected even than contemporaries like Pacino, Nicholson or Dustin Hoffman.

De Niro was born in 1943 in Greenwich Village, the son of two painters.  His parents soon split and his father left the country, bumming around Europe on a quest for his art.  De Niro grew up in little Italy, known as "Bobby Milk" for his pale looks.  He turned toward acting and studied with Stella Adler, who herself had studied with Stanislavski.  De Niro had his father's single-mindedness, becoming someone who'd prepare for any role with meticulous research.

In the 60s, when others his age were part of a revolution, he was quietly observing the world, taking it all in.  He served his apprenticeship throughout the decade, working regularly in movies and theatre but getting paid little or nothing.  In the early 70s, however, he exploded into public consciousness with two parts in 1973--as different as could be--both startling in their own way: the slow country boy Bruce Pearson, a baseball player with a terminal illness in Bang The Drum Slowly, and the heedless, wild Johnny Boy, a street kid from Little Italy whose time is running out in Mean Streets.

The critics took notice, and his audience was growing.  Levy details the immense preparation he did for each role.  For instance, in Bang The Drum Slowly, De Niro, who'd never been into sports, took baseball lessons, in particular learning to be a catcher.  He also went to spring training to talk to ballplayers and soak up the atmosphere.  Then he went down to Georgia (the film is set in the South) to see how people dressed, talked, etc.  He took a tape recorder and interviewed numerous people, peppering them with questions.  He also read up on his character's illness, Hodgkin's disease.  He spoke to doctors about it.  He learned how to chew tobacco, though it made him sick.  And, of course, he dug deeply into the script, making copious notes, planning his character's journey, yet leaving room to explore.

Few actors could come close to him in groundwork, and this was before he became a major star.  He kept it up through the next decade, turning in memorable performances (and winning two Oscars) in films such as The Godfather: Part II, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Raging Bull, The King Of Comedy and Once Upon A Time In America.  Not all his films were great, or even good, but every performance was memorable, and different from the previous one..

Once he hit his 40s, he still worked hard, but maybe not quite so hard for each role.  And his batting average wasn't quite so high.  Still, the films he made in the rest of the 80s and 90s contain some memorable titles: Brazil, The Untouchables, Midnight Run (showing he had comedy chops), Goodfellas, Awakenings, Cape Fear, A Bronx Tale (the first film he directed), Casino, Heat, Wag The Dog and Jackie Brown.

Then a film came that changed his career.  He'd long been respected, but not the kind of guy who starred in huge hits.  Compare this to, say, Nicholson or Hoffman, who did have occasional blockbusters.  But in 1999 he did a comic turn as a mob boss with mental problems in Analyze This.  It was the biggest hit of his career up to that point.  Then in 2000, in another comedy, Meet The Parents, he played an ex-CIA agent whose daughter is getting married to someone he doesn't approve of.  It was even bigger than Analyze This.  The sequel in 2004, Meet The Fockers, was even bigger.

So late in his career, the most serious actor of his generation reinvented himself as a comedian.   Not that his earlier roles had failed to show humor, but he had never had the all-out gift for comedy of, say, a contemporary like Dustin Hoffman.

Meanwhile, he was working more than ever, often in what seemed to be projects mostly about the paycheck--Showtime, Godsend, Righteous Kill, The Family, Grudge Match and quite a few more.  Only occasionally would he appear in a title that reminded audiences of his former glory, such as Silver Linings Playbook. And that's where he is today--in his 70s, still in demand, but not someone whose next film is eagerly awaited.

The book also goes into his business ventures and personal life, but spends most of its time--as it should--discussing his film work.  There were points it could have used an editor--for instance, on page 479, his character Jack Byrnes in Meet The Parents is referred to as "Jack Burns" (where's Avery Schreiber?).  And a paragraph on page 210 notes that in the late 70s, "with the shooting war and the danger to American lives over" that Hollywood started making Vietnam pictures.  Later in that same paragraph, Levy notes that director Francis Ford Coppola could finally make his Vietnam film with "the shooting war and the danger to American lives over." I think this is an oversight, not a style choice.

But, overall, a fine book.  Recommended.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The End?

An unsettled and unsettling finale to Game Of Thrones' fifth season   And while it had its moments, I think "Mother's Mercy" was the weakest finale of any season yet.

It starts in Stannis's camp.  Last we saw him he was burning his daughter to get favorable weather.  Congratulations, Stan, you got it.  But at what cost?  After seeing what he did, his sellswords have deserted him, taking the horses (who knew sellswords were so sensitive?).  This to a force that's already had a high attrition rate.  Oh yeah, and his wife has hanged herself.  Even Melisdandre rides back to Castle Black for some reason.  But Stannis moves forward, as he must.

At the Wall, Jon is telling Sam the horrible things he's seen.  Why not tell everyone at Castle Black, Jon, since they're the guys who think your plans are stupid? Add in testimony from the Night's Watch you took with you and maybe the rest will listen.  Anyway, Sam wants to go to Oldtown, taking Gilly and child along. (I checked--it's on the other side of the continent.  A smart move with the White Walkers ready to invade.) There he'll study to be a maester, which makes sense--he's a reader, not a fighter. And it'll be nice to get a new setting. Next thing you know, Sam is leaving.  Better watch it Jon, you don't have too many friends left.

We see Stannis and what's left of his crew walking across the snow--a sorry spectacle.  And I might add not that satisfying, dramatically.  This is what's left of the large forces we saw swooping in against Mance Rayder in last year's finale?  We've spent the entire season waiting for a clash between Stannis and the Boltons, and all we'll get is an anticlimax?

Inside Winterfell they don't seem overly concerned. Meanwhile, a hooded Sansa breaks out of her room, using a corkscrew or something like that.  She manages to march to the high tower, presumably to light a candle and get Brienne's attention. (What can Brienne do if she does see it, anyway?)  Meanwhile, Pod--boy, we haven't seen him in a while--spots Stannis's troops on the march. He rushes to Brienne: "Hey, your sworn enemy is hear."  With comic timing, she walks away just before the light in the tower comes on.  Wasn't she standing there for like two or three months waiting for a signal?

Winterfell isn't waiting for a siege.  The huge Bolton army (who knew they had so many?) rushes out to Stannis's beleaguered troops and engulfs them.  Soon the Baratheon forces are slaughtered, and an injured Stannis gets to think about what he's done. Just then Brienne shows up and announces she's there to avenge Renly.  Stannis takes it like a man, but let's list everything disappointing about all this.

1)  As mentioned earlier, after waiting for a battle the entire season, this is a big nothing.  It's not just there's not enough action--we wanted to see a real struggle for control of Winterfell.  When Agamemnon killed his daughter, he then went on to fight a real war, only being killed when he returned home many years later.

2)  Up till now, as annoying as the Red Woman could be, her powers were true.  Now are we to believe everything she told Stannis is bull?  All those vision she and Stannis had were lies?

3) Brienne has been waiting a long time for revenge, but this is hardly worth it. She could have done nothing and he probably would have bled to death.  And she gets to walk in after the battle is over and just luckily run across the King?  Wouldn't the Bolton forces have been looking for him?  (By the way, we don't see the final blow, but I can't imagine Brienne would hold back.)

4)  First the Iron Bank backs King's Landing, which runs out of money and can't repay on time. So they lend a huge amount to Stannis to take the city and repay them. He didn't even come close. I'd say it's time for everyone to take their money out of this bank.

5)  Maybe it's too much to ask, but wasn't Littlefinger supposed to swoop in at some point, or will that be next season?

6)  We don't even get to have any revenge on Ramsay, who's idiotic plans have apparently worked. He even gets to kill a soldier who's just surrendered for good measure.

Anyway, we're back in Winterfell, and Sansa is out and about.  Myranda, aiming an arrow at her, isn't happy about this.  She explains Ramsay has plans for his bride. This is still a part of the story I don't get. I'm not saying Ramsay would be a pleasant fellow to be married to, but Sansa is a jewel--an actual Stark, the only living one as far as anyone knows, who confers legitimacy on the Boltons, so she should be treated well at all times.  Apparently, though, Ramsay just wants a baby or two and then the flaying, or whatever, can begin.

Finally, Theon/Reek has had enough. Now? I mean I'm glad he finally did something, but he's had plenty of chances already.  He tosses Myranda off the railing and she falls to her death (I think).  In for a penny, in for a pound, so now both Theon and Sansa must flee. (Why?  Can't Reek just stick around?  No one saw what he did.) They climb along the parapet and jump off together.  Do they survive? Land in a snowbank, or a hay bale?  Or is it a double suicide?  We'l have to wait a year to find out (though I assume they made it).  By the way, a lot of good Brienne did.  Let's look at her track record.  Sworn to Renly.  He died.  Sworn to Catelyn.  She died.  Sworn to Arya. Loses her.  Sworn to Sansa. She runs away, maybe dies, without the slightest help from Brienne. This is not a woman you want protecting you.

Next we see a guy. Is that Prince Doran?  No, it's Meryn Trant. And in case you don't remember what a jerk he is, he's whipping underage girls.  The third doesn't squeal, so he sends the other two away to work on her.  We know it's Arya. She shows her face, and it's not Arya, but we know it's Arya with another face.  She's ready to kill him, and we're ready, too. She jumps on him, stabbing his eyes, then doing a little more stabbing. A lot of revenging going on in this episode.  And this time we get to see it in all its gruesome glory.  She announces who she is and why she's killing him.  (It's not enough she and Brienne have to kill these guys, they've got to explain first.) Then she slits his throat as calmly as if she's giving him a shave.

Another named crossed off the list. But back at work, they won't be happy at her freelancing.  You'd think they'd make an exception for a guy like Trant, but apparently not.  Jaqen and the faceless gal who works there know all about it, of course. News travels fast--immediately at the House of Black and White, I think.  So a debt is owed. Looks like they're going to poison Arya, but do they dare to kill a beloved character?  No. Jaqen drinks it.  He dies and Arya is heartbroken. But it's not Jaqen, just a no one with countless faces.  The real Jaqen (?) appears and Arya goes blind.

This is not a satisfying plot point. Perhaps it's poetic justice, but we need Arya to move on. Losing her sight (temporarily? or some permanent Japanese killer sort of thing) is a drag--we've spent a whole season on Braavos, time for her to move on, back to Westeros and do what she does best.

At Dorne, Jaime, Bronne and Myrcella are saying their goodbyes at a pier.  If there's going to be any action in this storyline, not much time left.  On the ship, Myrcella tells Jaime she knows he's her dad and she's okay with it.  It's like the sitcom Alf. At first almost no one knew he was an alien, but by the end it seemed like more people knew than didn't. Same for Jaime + Cersei.  It's a touching scene.  Too touching. You know there's going to be trouble. Sure enough, Myrcella starts bleeding through the nose then dies...of a poisoned kiss from one of the Sand Snakes. Figures.  Couldn't anyone see this coming?  Anyway, revenge for Oberyn and a huge headache for everyone else.  As if Cersei didn't have enough trouble. (Speaking of which, we still haven't gotten to King's Landing, which we didn't see at all last week.)

In Meereen, Tyrion, Jorah and Daario sit on the steps of the castle (or whatever the place is called), apparently having escaped last week from the Great Pit. Dany is gone and they're forlorn.  Tyrion says "you love her" and seems to be addressing Daario as well--he already made the point about Jorah last week.  A still injured Grey Worm comes in with Missandei.  GW isn't happy about Jorah being there, but soon things are sorted out. Okay, fine, but what to do now?  Dany was last seen flying North, into the wilderness.  The Imp wants to help, but he doesn't have the chops.  So Daario and Mormont will go on an expedition to find her. Meanwhile, Tyrion will run things, with the help of Grey Worm, who has the respect of the people (well, at least the soldiers to keep them at bay) and Missandei, who has some experience at least at helping those in charge.

As Tyrion surveys his new city, who should walk up behind him but Varys (the actor was in the credits). Huh?  Wasn't Varys the sworn enemy of Dany?  Can he waltz right into the city?  I guess he does have a lot of connections.  Anyway, it looks like Tyrion now has a Hand.  But really, Dany was stuck here long enough, do we need more time in Meereen?

Now we cut to Dany on a grassy hillside.  She tells Drogon they must go, but when she tries to climb aboard, nothing doing. Drogon was willing to swoop in to save her, but now I guess he's tired. This cab is no longer in service.  She needs to get back to Meereen, but she also needs food, so she walks into the nearby valley.  Soon some horsemen surround her--look like Dothraki. It's old home week. (She takes off a ring--is that from Khal Drogo?  Couldn't tell.) I'm not sure how they'll react to her, or how she'll react to them.  And we don't find out--that's the end of her story this season. She usually gets happier finales.  (And is Drogon just too beat to swoop in one more time?--plenty of good meat surrounding her is he's hungry.)

We finally get to the inevitable--King's Landing.  Cersei still in her cell, and ready to deal.  She goes to the High Sparrow and confesses--it's the only way to get out.  She admits to sex with Lancel.  After all, they've got her dead to rights. She denies the other accusations, like incest, far more fiercely than she confessed to the sins.  So it's not the end, just the beginning--she still has to go on trial.  She asks just to see her son again--Mother's Mercy.

Sure she can.  All she has to do is have her hair shorn, her clothes ripped off, and walk through the citizenry, while shoeless on cobblestone, back to the Red Keep.  (At first I thought it was actually Lena Headey's full nudity, but it's probably some sort of CGI deal, since they avoid too much in the close-ups.)  It's an excruciating journey.  She's Marie Antoinette and the Little Folk throw things and shout imprecation during her journey.  She breaks down, though I'd think she'd be thinking on her walk about how she's going to torture the High Sparrow as soon as she can, and also the Septa following behind her ringing a bell and shouting "Shame!"  Or perhaps she's thinking We really should have built the church closer to the castle.

She finally gets inside the castle.  Qyburn immediately cloaks her, while Pycelle and Kevan watch, doing nothing. (What dicks.  They may hate her, but come on, she's the Queen Mother.)  The next surprise--Frankenknight marches out.  Apparently Qyburn has brought the Mountain back to life.  The enormous zombie (?) carries her off.  Next season look for some damage. Though, to be honest, I'm not sure how much she needs yet another soldier.  All Cersei needs to do is get that pantywaist Tommen in line and the Faith Militant better watch out.

Speaking of which, what about the Tyrells?  With all the concentration on Cersei, we have no idea if Margaery and Loras are still languishing in jail, or if Olenna has done anything.  For that matter, is Littlefinger still in town, or on the move?

Back at Castle Black, Davos is making a hopeless plea for help from Snow. But we know it's pointless even if the Lord Commander wanted to help.  Then the Red Woman rides in. Hmmm.  She doesn't say anything, but it's obvious by her presence that things haven't gone well.  Is she planning to hitch her ride to another horse?

Now Snow is sitting by candlelight, reading the latest ravens, when Olly marches in saying there's information about Uncle Benjen--they've been looking for him since season one!  He rushes out, but the audience wonders if something else isn't at hand.  Sure enough, there's a small band waiting for him, and a sign that says "Traitor." They stab him, saying "For the Watch." The coup de grace is delivered by Olly.  And Jon Snow's body is down, blood spreading beneath him.

So let's review.

In King's Landing, Cersei is at least back with Tommen and ready to plot revenge, but plenty of the townsfolk perhaps wouldn't mind a little Sharia law.  In Dorne, Jaime and Bronn have escaped, but peace doesn't seem likely since they're bringing back a beautiful corpse, not to mention in Trystane a useful hostage.  In Meereen, Tyrion is now overseeing the mess, while Daario and dying Jorah search for Dany, who's out in a meadow with the old gang.

In Braavos, Arya will continue her training (?), but without vision.  At Winterfell, Brienne has apparently avenged Renly, but missed Sansa.  Sansa and Theon are either dead, or running away on broken legs.  Roose and Ramsay are more in charge than ever, but they won't be happy they've lost their Stark. (Speaking of which, no Bran this year, or Rickon, but certainly we haven't seen the last of them.)

Above all, there's Castle Black.  Sam is gone, on his way to Oldtown, to read more books and have more sex.  But back at the Wall, Davos and the Red Woman seem to be stranded for now.  And the mutineers have taken over.

But what of Jon Snow?  Is he truly dead?  He sure seems to be, but can it be true?  He has a lot left to do.  He's the one who'll fight against the White Walkers.  We don't even know who his real mom is.  I still think he'll be back, no matter what the producers say. In fact, isn't Melisandre part of a religion that raises people from the dead?

Anyway, we've got to wait 2016 to find out.  Not the greatest ending, perhaps, but the season sure flew by.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Critical Mess

Stephanie Zacharek has some odd moments in her latest LA Weekly reviews.  (By the way, the Weekly site is so loaded down with stuff it's pretty hard to navigate.  Was the tradeoff worth it?)

For instance, in her review of Jurassic World (which is a surprisingly huge hit--everyone knew it would do well, but even so...), we get this:

Sexy eye-candy guys such as B.D. Wong and Irrfan Khan show up in minor roles, doing things like flying helicopters and explaining dinosaur genetics.

I'm not saying these guys are ugly, but eye candy?  Chris Pratt, sure, but I don't think these two, talented though they may be, were hired to make the ladies sigh.

Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised.  Look at how Zacharek started her review of the recent I'll See You In My Dreams starring Blythe Danner:

As a middle-aged woman, I rarely have a conversation with other middle-aged women in which the subject of movies "for us" fails to come up. They just want something to go to see in the theater, something that tells a story about the things real people in middle age or older (and not just women) go through. I'm relieved to have a film to recommend to them.

Really?  I think it's better for critics to recommend films that aren't dull.

Her other major review in this week's issue is for Me And Earl And The Dying Girl, filmed in Pittsburgh.  She writes:

Some scenes were even filmed in the house in which [the screenwriter] himself grew up (and where his parents still live), a pretty Victorian that's well kept but also comfortably worn around the edges. The shelves in the living room are lined with books that you can tell weren't chosen and arranged by some production designer.

Unless she's got inside info, how can she tell?  I don't expect a critic to necessarily understand that much about film production, but in a picture with any budget at all, you spend a fair amount of time arranging each shot.  That would include the books on the shelves.  It might even include the shelves themselves.  Perhaps everything was already there, but even then you'd move things around to get the look you're going for.

Speaking of Me And Earl, this is from the Carl Kozlowski review in the Pasadena Weekly:

Anyone lucky enough to have been around at the time regards the 1980s as the greatest era for teen movies, with director John Hughes serving up such classics as “The Breakfast Club” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and Cameron Crowe directing “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “Say Anything.” These were films that treated teens and their issues with respect, showing both the humorous highs and the angst-filled lows of high school life in a way that resonated at a universal level.

I don't know if the 80s was a classic time for teen movies (or if you had to have been around at the time to understand that), but I can tell Carl that Amy Heckerling directed Fast Times At Ridgemont High.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Nothing new under the sun

Another day, another dollar.

Give A Guy An Inch, He Thinks He's A Ruler

Governor Lincoln Chafee has announced for President.  That barely qualifies as news.  But one part of his platform has got a lot of attention: he wants America to go metric.

I remember when I was a kid being told the U.S. would make the transition before very long. I memorized the conversion formulas (2.54 centimeters is an inch, a kilogram is 2.2 pounds, a mile is 1.6 kilometers, a healthy human body is 37 degrees Celsius) and waited. Nothing happened.  It was just around the corner, but I guess we haven't hit that corner yet.

Would the metric system be a good idea?  Sure.  Rather than worrying about ounces to pounds, or inches to feet, etc., having everything be in tens of each other makes it easy.  But then, some people say there are more efficient typewriter keyboards, but we've learned QWERTY and I don't want to change.

Truth is, down deep, I like how ornery the U.S. is.  Who cares what the rest of the world does?  Our leaders may think they know better, but we're in charge, and it's too much of a hassle to change.  So that's that.  Live with it.

Or as Grampa Simpsons put it: "The metric system is the tool of the devil! My car gets forty rods to the hogshead and that's the way I likes it."

Saturday, June 13, 2015

How many Apple II's is that?

So all the DNA on earth equals 10(21) supercomputers, in both storage and processing power, apparently.

Fine. Good to know. Thank you.

How many Kaypro's is that?

And I see elsewhere that ABC news prophesied in 2008 that by June 2015 New York City would be underwater because of global warming, which means you folks there have two weeks to pack your crap and get the hell out.

I bring that up because I'd like to know, seven or eight years from now, how many supercomputers will equal that same amount of DNA? I assume the DNA side will hold constant, though it might not. (I suppose global warming implies it will drop to zero.)

So what do you suppose? 10(3) supercomputers (which sounds like a lot to me, but probably not so many to a supercomputer or my DNA)? 10(10)? One leering machine, to direct them all?

Many Rivers' To Sing

Happy birthday, Rivers Cuomo, the singer and guitarist for Weezer, and one of the best songwriters out there.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Some endorsement

[T]he Clinton Global Initiative, which by the way, has been one of the most important driving forces of humanity around the world in the last century.

This guy must have flop sweat about underselling. I think he can dial it back a touch here. Is it BTW, or WTF?

Staying Regular

Efforts to block "net neutrality" have been turned back.

The ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington means that the FCC's tough new net neutrality rules will take effect on Friday — with the Internet to be reclassified as a regulated communications utility.

Hooray!  The one thing in our life that's really worked is finally going to be regulated.

Book 'Em

The third season of Orange Is The New Black premieres today on Netflix.  Just by chance, I saw the book the series is based on in the library, so I checked it out to see what the real story is.  As expected, the series is highly fictionalized--real life can be moving, but doesn't work the same way that drama does.

The book is by Piper Kerman--in the show she's Piper Chapman.  Just out of Smith College in the early 90s, Kerman had a relationship with an older woman, and soon found herself part of the jet-setter/drug smuggler crowd.  In one case, Kerman helped carry some money over a border.  She eventually moved on, and met a nice guy named Larry.  But years later, as the old gang was rounded up and jailed, someone dropped a dime on Piper and the feds arrested her.

She pled guilty, and as drug laws in our country call for serious time, could have spent years behind bars.  She actually had to wait over five years for her sentence, since the feds thought she might be useful in bringing down one of the kingpins, and decided to supervise her rather than throw her in jail. When she finally was sentenced, she got fifteen months--thirteen with good behavior.  She surrendered herself to the authorities at the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut.  Most of the book is about her life there.

This being Piper Kerman's story, it's not the usual prison memoir--there's less violence and more crying, for instance.  But even at a minimum security place like Danbury, life is miserable.  There's no privacy, the food is horrible, and the people in charge often treat the inmates poorly.  And as an inmate, you are at their mercy--if it comes down to your word against theirs, they win.

Much of the book is about the many women Piper met, trying their best to deal with the situation.  They divided into cliques, often based on ethnicity, but Kerman seemed to be friendly with all types--perhaps being an educated, white, middle-class blonde she was something of a novelty.  Many inside were doing long stretches and so had hardened themselves to the place, while others were leaving soon and wondering what they'd do next.  Piper was sometimes sad to see her friends go, even if she knew it was a happy day for them.

Kerman doesn't think much of our prison system.  We're warehousing people, not teaching them how to deal with life when they get out.  And we've been incarcerating at a very high rate since the 80s, partly because of harsh drug laws that imprison non-violent offenders, who make up a large portion of the inmates. (I generally agree with this assessment, but also have to admit that since we've a been upping the prison population crime levels have dropped precipitously.)

The prisoners make do with what they've got, which isn't much--what is sent them, what they can afford at the commissary and what they can smuggle in.  They live in dorms, each sharing a space with another inmate.  They also have jobs, and Piper was assigned electrical work.  A useful skill, but the shop was run by man who was one of the least pleasant characters Piper met.  She was also much in demand among the prisoners for her writing skills, which they'd request when trying to get GEDs or something from the court system.

It's interesting to compare the book to the show, to see how TV dramatizes something that's powerful in real life, but wouldn't play on the tube.  For instance, the most popular character in the program might be Crazy Eyes, who's involved in numerous plots.  In the book, she's just a woman (a Latina, not an African-American) coming over from a rougher prison, who has designs on Piper.  Piper makes it clear she's not interested and that's that.  Then there's Pop--Red in the show.  She and Piper have some slight problems at first, but soon become close friends.  In the TV version, there's a huge struggle between the two where Piper is basically threatened with starvation.

For that matter, in the show, Piper discovers a lost screwdriver and that becomes a big deal--being found with such a weapon could mean trouble.  This leads to major plot developments, whereas in real life, she tossed it in the garbage, worried about it a little, and then it was over.  In the show, Piper is sent to solitary, which never actually happened. And in the show she and Larry go through all sorts of ups and downs, while in real life he was stalwart and she never stopped loving him.

The show also goes into great detail about the backstories of the prisoners, while in the book their histories are occasionally mentioned, but not much more.

Prison does offer Piper plenty of time for introspection, and she realizes she did something wrong and can't blame anyone else. In fact, seeing all the troubles drugs cause among the inmates, she realizes the damage she did to society.  (That's what she writes, anyway, and I have no reason to doubt her.)

Martha Stewart was sentenced while Piper was inside.  Danbury actually pretended it was filled and stopped taking new prisoners to avoid getting Stewart.  The inmates were disappointed, but Kerman figures the last thing this poorly-run institution wanted was a spotlight.

Just before she was scheduled to leave, she flew, via con air, to Chicago (by way of Oklahoma, where she spent some time behind bars) to testify in a drug case.  She met her old conspirators, whom she hated, though she grew to understand them a bit. And where they were held was worse than Danbury. (She also goes to the federal courts building on South Dearborn, where I've spent a lot of time, and also notes what a dump Chicago's Congress Hotel is--from what I can see, she's probably right, though I'm sure it was a classy joint fifty years ago.)

While in prison she got regular visits from family and friends (though her grandmother died when she was inside--unlike the Piper in the show, she could not get a furlough).  And when she got out, she had a life, and a job, waiting for her.  She wondered what so many others she knew in prison would do.  Even in good times they had it rough--being ex-felons, many would go back to a life of crime, or at least a life lived in an underground economy, and many would go back to drugs.

Kerman now regularly talks on prison issues.  Whether people are listening is another story.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

It's a better quality CCC


They lost their cherished CCC+!

Does this imply S&P has more than 52,728 grades? Surprising they need that many. But on the other hand, what with the multiple intelligences, our education system could use a grading scale like that.

These guys should watch the Unknown Known

Headline? Bush was wrong. Amazing how much of the press just prints a narrative, and anything that is said is just fit into that narrative.

“The idea that we could fashion a democracy in Iraq seemed to me unrealistic. I was concerned about it when I first heard those words,” Rumsfeld said, adding, “I’m not one who thinks that our particular template of democracy is appropriate for other countries at every moment of their histories.”

We Have To Go Back

The A.V. Club has been reviewing Lost episodes, a new one every Wednesday.  They just got to "Through The Looking Glass." I've written so much on Lost that I'm not going to re-review the hour, but reading about it reminded me that this was probably the greatest mind-blowing moment ever on TV. (There will be major spoilers ahead, so please watch all episodes of the show before you read on.)

Lost had taken TV by storm in its first season, garnering huge ratings and an Emmy for best drama (the latter never to be repeated).  And it was able to deliver exciting plot twists on a regular basis.  There are a couple of them before "Through The Looking Glass" that particularly stand out to me.

First there's the reveal of John Locke's condition at the end of "Walkabout"--the moment I saw him in a wheelchair was the moment I became hooked on the show.  Then there's the cold open of "Man Of Science, Man Of Faith," which begins season two--it seems to be some sort of flashback, but is ultimately revealed to be a present-day look at what's inside the Hatch.

But as amazing as those moments were, the ending of "Through The Looking Glass" topped them. I remember I watched the show at a friend's house.  This was back in the day when you watched something when it first aired, and I did my best to avoid any East Coast spoilers.

It was a two-hour finale that featured yet another Jack flashback.  But this is a different Jack.  Bearded, depressed, addicted to drugs, suicidal and troubled by some unknown person's death.  We follow him around, not quite sure what to make of it.  He arranges to meet with someone.  The meet takes place at the end of the show.  A woman comes out of the shadows--it's Kate!

And you're thinking: "Wait, he didn't know Kate before the Island.  Did he actually know her?  Was the whole plane crash some sort of plot.  No, it can't be, too much doesn't fit. We saw them alone, and they were learning about each other, not discussing old plots.  So that must mean this is the future!  And now Jack is saying they have to go back. So they got off the Island.  Who else got off?  Why do they need to go back?  And who died?"

Lost was more than halfway done at this point, but this signaled there was plenty more mystery, and plenty more life in the show.  The flashback format had been worn out--how much more could you learn about these characters?  This opened up whole new vistas.

I loved seasons four and five, but found six a great disappointment.  But even with that, nothing can take away the power of watching this episode the first time.

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