Friday, September 30, 2016

The other species are just passive aggressive about it

They essentially found that where a species is on evolutionary tree of life tells a lot about how violent the species is to its own kind.

There's a sound journalistic practice if ever there was one: Tell us what essentially is going on.

Bright Idea

I just received a post card from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.  They say sit tight, they'll soon be sending me LED light bulbs.  They claim each bulb will save $238 over its lifetime.  (Or maybe that I'll save $238 over the lifetime of the bulb, which isn't quite the same thing.)

If they want to send me stuff, who am I to turn it down?  It's true about five years ago, just before they banned incandescent bulbs, I bought a whole bunch of them, and still have enough left to last a few more years.  But I'll switch if they make it easy.

My main question: is everyone getting this post card, or can they tell from my energy use that I'm a holdout who need convincing?  I'd hate to think that someone at the DWP is taking a personal interest in me.

For that matter, if I get their LEDs, but keep using the old bulbs until I'm out, will someone be paying me a visit?  You may think the DWP wouldn't bother to visit, but there's actually a warning on the post card:

For your safety and security, be mindful of LADWP impostors.  Ask for identification and don't let anyone into your home without verifying their identity.  LADWP staff will never enter your home without your permission.

That's supposed to reassure me, but for some reason, it creeps me out.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

It was *that* close

I'm not sure what I find more disturbing about this article.

That it really did boil down to one man's decision (who was not the president) to *not* launch nuclear weapons.

That I didn't know this. A deficiency in reporting, or a deficiency in my education and attention?

That the tone of the article is, "Did you know that once there was such a thing as the 'Cuban Missile Crisis'?"

The Party Left

A good friend told me about the blog of one of her good friends. Figured what the heck, I'll link.  He sure doesn't like Hillary. (So I guess he'll have plenty to write about the next four years.)

A Blake Block

I just read A Splurch In The Kisser: The Movies Of Blake Edwards by Sam Wasson, who previously wrote a pretty good biography of Bob Fosse.  This is less biography than a series of essays on Edwards' films.  A "splurch in the kisser" is literally a pie in the face, but Wasson uses it as a metaphor for taking stuffy people, and society in general, down a peg or two--as part of Edwards' style mixing social comment with slapstick.

Edwards was a successful director, but has not gotten a lot of critical attention.  The critics may have a point.  The 30s had Lubitsch, the 40s had Preston Sturges, the 50s had Billy Wilder and the 60s had...Blake Edwards?  To represent the best of Hollywood comedy?  Seems like a comedown.

But if you're not looking for Olympian heights, Edwards has a more than respectable filmography.  Born in 1922, Edwards began as an actor, but soon got into writing and then directing and producing.  He served an apprenticeship in TV and minor movies, and by the end of the 1950s had a major hit--Operation Petticoat, starring Cary Grant and Tony Curtis.

He hit the 60s running, with Breakfast At Tiffany's and, showing his dramatic side, Days Of Wine And Roses.  Then came The Pink Panther, which was designed as a jewel thief caper, but turned into the introduction of Edwards' (and Peter Sellers') most famous creation, Inspector Clouseau.   It was followed almost immediately by another Clouseau spectacle, A Shot In The Dark.  With one hit after another, Edwards was at the top of his game.

But the next ten years were nothing but films--some quite expensive--that didn't turn a profit, though some have cult followings, such as The Great Race, What Did You Do In The Way, Daddy?, The Party and Darling Lili.

By the mid-70s he looked washed up, so he (and Peter Sellers, whose career was also ailing--Sellers and Edwards didn't get along, by the way) returned to Clouseau, and turned out three hits in a row, The Return Of The Pink Panther, The Pink Panther Strikes Again and Revenge Of The Pink Panther.

Edwards, with newfound power and prestige, did three films next that combined his sort of slapstick with his sort of characters, and made, arguably, the most Edwardsian films of all--10, S.O.B., and Victor Victoria.

It was the early 80s, he was 60, and though he'd make films for another twenty years, he never hit the same heights.  He tried to revive the Pink Panther films, but now that Sellers was dead, part of this involved using outtakes, and they just didn't work.

The rest of his films were mostly comedies that didn't get much attention, though Skin Deep (1989) has some moments of interest.

It's hard to make the case that Blake Edwards is in the same league as the comedy forebears he so admired.  But he had a specific, recognizable style, and he did have something to say.  He certainly did enough work of interest that he at least deserves a book summing up his output.  Like this one.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Judging by their covers, women's magazines are obsessed with lists of what men are looking for.  I've read some of these lists (generally in waiting rooms) because I want to know what I allegedly find interesting in women.

Here's a short list that's readily available on the internet (and there are numerous others if you want to bother), with my added comments:


The point here is you can't just talk your way into a man's heart, you've got to do things, like, they suggest, play ping pong.  Maybe, but sometimes men just want to sit down and rest.  The argument is that men don't "feel it" for you because of what you say.  I don't know--talking is a good start.


There may be something to this, but it shows how these lists are affected by social change.  Would this have appeared on a list published in the 1950s?  (And, in general, are these lists about what men want, or about what women want men to want?)


Well, yes, if given the choice of a bawling baby, a drama queen, a screaming harpy or an emotionally mature woman, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he leans toward the last one.


Are they even trying?  There are only four items on this list and they come up with this tautology?  Yes, I agree, men are attracted to women they're attracted to.  Thanks for clearing that up.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Where was Posner?

Severed head found inside bag floating in McKinley Park lagoon

Coming Of Age

A few years ago a friend who worked in show biz called me, incensed.  The IMDb had started listing his age.  He even thought I might have given them the information, though I had no idea when he was born.

The main thing he wanted to know was how he could get it removed.  I told him he could ask them to take it down, but it's doubtful they would.  Otherwise, there was nothing he could do--if the information was accurate they had a legal right to put it out there.

Until now.  Governor Brown has just signed a bill that requires the IMDb to remove people's ages from their website.  The law is supported by actors' unions who believe their members are discriminated against due to their age.

I assume the IMDb and other affected by the law will challenge it in court, and I assume they will win.  It seems pretty clear the First Amendment gives them the right to publish the truth.  An actor's age is not a state secret.  If others discriminate based on this information, the IMDb can't be held responsible.

In fact, this seems so clearly unconstitutional that I wonder why politicians--who took an oath to uphold the Constitution--are wasting our time with this nonsense.  If it's repealed, will they try something else, or will they shrug and tell their constituents "hey, we tried"?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Under Cover

Today is the first Presidential debate.  It may determine who'll be our next chief executive.  Will I be watching?  No.

For years--as far back as the 90s--I have been avoiding debates, speeches, almost any appearances of politicians.  I find it better for my digestion.  Most of the things they say are annoying, since they manage to promise everything while saying very little. (Actually, they sometimes make specific promises which end up being annoying as well.) Having to watch them speak in real time isn't worth it.

Even before the internet was everywhere, you could find out what they said in their speech/debate the next day or so.  And anything important would be reported widely.  Nowadays, you can find out everything almost immediately afterward, and that's good enough for me.  And while we're at it, if you're reasonably well-informed, you'll see they rarely say anything you didn't expect them to say.

Reading a transcript is much more enjoyable.  You can stop whenever you like.  You can speed through or skip past the most irritating parts.  And you can drill in on something if it truly makes you laugh.

I admit Trump adds a new element.  He's a compelling figure because you never know what will come out of his mouth.  But it's still not worth it.  I'll forgo the joy of seeing something unexpected to avoid all the disturbing things that will predictably be said.

So don't expect a deep analysis of tonight's debate the next day on this blog (from me, anyway).  And certainly don't expect liveblogging.  I've got over a hundred channels--there's got to be something worth watching when they talk.  Or maybe I'll just read a book.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Speaking of intromittent organs

Not fun. The Italians would tell you, it's a duty.

Picture This

It's Comic Book Day.  Yeah, I didn't know about it either, but it's here, nevertheless. (Not to be confused with Free Comic Book Day, which was in May. Sorry.)

At Pajama Guy we've debated the worth of comic books.  Are they a true art form?  A useful stepping stone to real literature?  Or just cheap enjoyment for the semi-literate? If that last characterization seems harsh, remember the scare in the 1950s when parents across the nation worried that comic books were leading to the destruction of American youth.  That's why the Comics Code Authority was imposed in 1954, and kids have been well-mannered ever since.

There have been a number of books written about the form, but let me take this day to recommend what many consider to be the classic, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, by Scott McCloud.  Published in 1993--as a comic book, of course--it shows the grammar of comics, and explains what they can do, looking into the past but also toward the future.

The book notes that comics engage us in a special way, since we the reader finish the comic, as it were, by filling in the gaps between its panels.  And McCloud himself is the narrator, appearing to us, explaining things to us, moving the story along in which he is a character.

He followed this book with Reinventing Comics in 2000 and Making Comics in 2006.  Both worth checking out, but Understanding Comics is the essential one.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

When I was younger it was every day

I'd say it's surprising we need a government program for that, but apparently nothing exists except for government programs. Hmm. Maybe George Soros would help fund ObamaF*ck.

September Singalong

Lots of birthdays today.  Let's have them sing out.

Anthony Newley

Jim Henson

Linda McCartney

Gerry Marsden

Friday, September 23, 2016

The GF experience

"Freeing up money from our general fund to invest in other academic programs would generally be viewed as a positive" says the school district about a program in which districts pay college credit expenses (usually to public universities, though not always).

It's all about how the state would pay for it, he says.

Because the state doesn't have a General Fund, or for that matter taxpayers.

Thank God for free healthcare, or I'd go insane.


Readers of this blog may have picked up a sense that I'm only a half-hearted fan of Bruce Springsteen.  Not true. I think he's really good.  I just don't think he's the greatest, as so many others do, so it may seem like I damn him with faint praise.

But it is his birthday today, so let's celebrate all that is Bruce.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Because alcoholic hacks who will betray you for a dollar are good partners

Doesn't the code of professional responsibility prohibit practicing with non-lawyers?

"Boehner will work frequently from both the D.C. and Cincinnati offices, but will also be traveling to the firm's other 44 offices around the world."

A Prince Among Men

Prince Buster died last week.  One of the top names in the early days of ska, let's pay tribute.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A fact not in evidence

Some day, probably not in our lifetimes but perhaps not long after, machines will be able to do most of the tasks that people can.

What could possibly be the grounds for that statement? Is there any reason whatever that this person has any competence to judge whether it's six months out, or 600 years?

Heaven Can't Wait

It sounded like a horrible idea--a sitcom set in heaven.  Heaven is a place where only good things happen, and drama is based on conflict.  Actually, one reason I tuned in to The Good Place was to see how they get around this problem. Another is that it's created by Michael Schur, of Parks And Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  Also, it stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, two talented and charming actors.

The NBC show starts with Eleanor (Bell) waking up in the afterlife and being assured she's made it to the "good place." Explaining this to her is Michael (Danson), who's designed the particular neighborhood where she and 321 others will live.  Turns out very few get into the good place--the vast majority end up in the bad place (but don't worry, that's their problem).

Eleanor moves into a house specially designed for her, where she meets her soulmate, Chidi, who was a Professor of Ethics and Morality.  (That an ethics professor would be considered a good person is apparently not meant as a joke.) There's just one problem, and here we get the conflict: they've got the wrong person.  Eleanor has been mistaken for someone else. In fact, based on the flashbacks we see, Eleanor was a pretty terrible person, and even average people don't make it to the good place.  She confides in Chidi and now he's got the moral dilemma of whether or not he should turn her in.

We meet some of the neighbors, who were all super-altruistic in their lives. (I recently read an article about people who overdo altruism--they feel so bad about not sacrificing as much as possible that it's almost a mental illness.) In particular, we meet Tahani--who did a lot of good but is rather vain about it--and her soulmate Jianyu, a monk who has continued his vow of silence in the afterlife.  So we understand just because people are good enough to get in doesn't mean they can't be annoying.

Next thing you know, horrific things are happening to the neighborhood, and it would seem to be due to Eleanor's mistaken presence.  Michael is distraught, especially since this is the first neighborhood he designed.  Chidi decides to teach Eleanor to be a better person, which might solve the problem.  Meanwhile, someone else (we don't know who yet) discovers Eleanor isn't supposed to be there.

So what drives the series--at least for now--is will Eleanor be found out, and what will happen if she is.  Schur claims he knows where he's going with the show.  I hope so, since the basic concept doesn't seem like enough for a long run.

One other problem is, aside from Eleanor and Michael, the characters are pretty one-dimensional. Maybe that'll improve as things move forward.  But the setting is novel and good for a few jokes, so I'll keep watching, at least for a while. Sooner or later, however, it's got to get deeper, or more clever, or I don't see how it can continue.  Jokes about how good everyone is and how bad Eleanor is can only take us so far.

In other evidence that the TV season has started, Kevin James returns to CBS in the sitcom Kevin Can Wait, where he plays a recently retired cop.  I didn't watch his first show, The King Of Queens, and now that I've seen the pilot for his latest, I'm pretty confident I'll never watch it again.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

You used too many words

What they meant to say was "The Death of Journalism."

I admit even that would be insufficient; journalism died long ago.

[T]the Times ran its “News Analysis” atop Page One while relegating its news story on Trump’s press conference to page A10. Moreover, “News Analysis” stories generally offer context. They don’t offer thundering condemnation. Yet thundering condemnation is exactly what the Times story provided. Its headline read, “Trump Gives Up a Lie But Refuses to Repent.” Not “falsehood,” which leaves open the possibility that Trump was merely mistaken, but “lie,” which suggests, accurately, that Trump had every reason to know that what he was saying about Obama’s citizenship was false.
The article’s text was even more striking. It read like an opinion column"

Do tell. No such analysis for a Clinton, I suppose. Meanwhile, here's Elizabeth Warren, celebrated:

Elizabeth Warren in Columbus: "Donald Trump has more support from the Aryan Nation and the KKK than he does from leaders of his own party" Massachusetts senator also calls Trump a "selfish low-life"

Oh, The Places You'll Go

A friend just sent me a piece in the NY Post listing "The 15 best places to live in the US."  Drumroll, please:

1.   Bozeman, Montana
2.   Bellevue, Washington
3.   Charlottesville, Virginia
4.   Long Beach, California
5.   Denver, Colorado
6.   Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
7.   Ann Arbor, Michigan
8.   Bend, Oregon
9.   Minneapolis, Minnesota
10. Lexington, Massachusetts
11. Asheville, North Carolina
12. Hoboken, New Jersey
13. Portland, Maine
14. Nashville, Tennessee
15. Cleveland, Ohio

You see these sorts of lists all the time, but it's often hard to figure out the criteria.  Lists that are specific--lowest crime, best climate, cheapest rents--they're easy to understand. But this grab bag seems pretty bizarre.

I've been to most of these places and, as nice as some of them are, I don't get it.  For instance, #1, Bozeman.  A pleasant place in many ways, but remote and awfully cold in the winter. (Warm weather is not a factor on this list.)

Or Long Beach.  That's a place I usually tell friends to avoid when they visit out here.  Has it improved lately?

Then there's Philadelphia.  For years it was a punch line for comedians, but I guess it's gone up in estimation.  But it's a big place with well over a million people.  Some spots are wonderful, but a lot of it you wouldn't even want to drive through.

It's nice to see Ann Arbor on the list.  It's one of my favorite places, but you better like the atmosphere of a college town.

And what of Hoboken? The main thing about it is it's easy to catch the train into Manhattan.  So is that why you live somewhere--because you can go somewhere else?  True, the place is relatively cheap.  One of the reasons it's so cheap is because you're not living where the action is.

I liked seeing Portland, Maine on the list.  I haven't spent much time there, but it's a nice burn on the other Portland, which so many think is hip. (In fact, the hipper cities, like Seattle, San Francisco, etc. didn't make this list.)

I've enjoyed the short stays I've spent in Nashville, but I don't love country music.  Is that legal there?

Finally, we get Cleveland.  The Mistake By The Lake.  I know there are some very nice areas in Cleveland, as there are in any city of some size.  But one of the selling points they mention is that median house prices are $60,000.  If that's the measure of a best place to live, then I suggest they drive up the road a piece and move to my hometown of Detroit.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Non-Michigan Guy Visits Michigan

I travelled to Grand Rapids last week for a conference.   Sorry that I missed the Gerald Ford Presidential Library (saw it on the way to the airport and hadn't realized it was so close) and got to see a lot of the artprize  international art competition all around town which was fairly cool. Also quite enjoyed the quirky Public Museum and the GRAM. I would have liked to enjoy the veritable plethora of beer and bar food establishments ("Beer City" T shirts were on sale everywhere) but I just dropped some weight this summer and didn't want to go backwards.   The drunks on the 26 minute flight to Detroit were a bit of downer (that and the bored TSA stiffs who made me check my bag because of a jar of Michigan blueberry jam) but otherwise it was a fun trip.

This is the only picture I took.

False premise

"Speechless" is right.

"In an all new comedy, Minnie Driver stars as a mother who will do anything for her family--fighting to give her son with cerebral palsey a 'voice'."

If there is anything funny about the situation, political correctness won't allow them to show it. Even if they have the talent to make it funny, they won't, they'll be too busy preaching.

Ugh. Can we bring back "About a Boy"? I know transactions costs make it prohibitive, but I'm sure millions of Americans would make a promise to watch it. (And screw their consent. Obamacare can cover this. Just issue a directive that we've already promised it, so get it done already.)

Semi-Live Blogging The Emmys

I'm home and the Emmys are on.  Might as well blog it while I watch.  But this post won't go up till just after midnight, so it's not quite live-blogging.

It's starting with host Jimmy Kimmel doing a parody of the O.J. Simpson White Bronco it's about Modern know what?  I'm not going to discuss this stuff.  Let's just assume there'll be a ton of Donald Trump jokes (wonder what's the over/under?) and concentrate on the gigantic number of awards--that's more than enough.

Supporting actor in a comedy series.  I'd hate to see Louie Anderson win for his stunt casting.  Most of the rest (including only one Modern Family performer) are pretty good.  The winner is Louie Anderson.  Oh well, no one ever accused to TV Academy of great discernment.  Maybe I should stop watching right now if it's going to be like this all night.

A commercial featuring Ty Burrell, who just lost.

Comedy series writing, a big category (as far as I'm concerned).  Some of the stuff I don't know (who has time to watch all that TV?).  I guess I'm rooting for Silicon Valley, which has two nominations.  Veep has two as well.  No network shows nominated.  Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang win for Master Of None, which I haven't seen.  Could it be because Aziz is an actor and has plenty of friends?  (Actors know more people than writers.) Yang makes a political statement, which makes me want to watch his show less.  (Actually, it wasn't too bad--I'm sure we'll get much worse as the evening wears on.)

Supporting actress in a comedy.  Love to see Kate McKinnon win, even though it's hard to compare sketch comedy with sitcoms.  The winner is Kate!  Excellent.  Her Hillary Clinton is the biggest political bulls-eye on SNL since Tina Fey did Sarah Palin.  Kate is so moved she can hardly speak.  I wonder if this will cause trouble with the ensemble when the show returns.

Peter Scolari (who already won an Emmy last week) presents the comedy directing award.  Three Veep nominations.  That will split the vote.  Jill Soloway wins for Transparent.  She won in this category last year.  She believes she's changed the world.  I don't know--it's just a TV show.  And it's on Amazon, so I haven't seen it.  She says she wants to "topple the patriarchy."

Keegan-Michael Key (who already lost in the supporting category) presents for lead actress in a comedy.  I'd like to see Ellie Kemper get it, though Julia Louis-Dreyfus keeps winning these things (one to a customer I say).  Louis-Dreyfus wins for the fifth time in a row, showing the Dreyfus fund doesn't believe in sharing the wealth.  It's hard to feel bad about it since she does a very good job. In accepting, she makes a political statement, but it makes sense based on her show, and is a decent joke.

Out comes Jeffrey Tambor (who will probably win an Emmy tonight) for a tribute to the great Garry Shandling.  Hey now!

Commercial, then a Bill Cosby joke that bewilders everyone.

Now it's time for lead actor in a comedy.  Like to see Thomas Middleditch win, but I don't think the Academy believes he's showing enough range.  So Jeffrey Tambor, as expected, wins.   I guess there was no way to avoid Tambor doing the Shandling tribute followed by this.  A heartfelt acceptance speech until the end when he insists on making it political--Jeffrey, you won for your acting ability. (He says it'll be okay if he's the last non-transgender to portray a transgender.  Not good enough--quit your job and give up all the money you made if you truly care.)

The first hour is almost over, and we leave comedy.  It's time for outstanding reality show.  Maybe I should go get dinner.  The Voice wins, by the way.

Writing in limited series.  Fargo deserves to win.  You've got two nominations for it, one for The Night Manager, and three for the O. J. Simpson thing.  O.J. wins.  Sounds like it might not be a good night for Fargo.

Supporting actress for limited series. Would like to see Olivia Colman for The Night Manager.  The winner is Regina King for American Crime.  Second consecutive win for her.  I've never seen the show. 

Directing for limited series. Hard to care. Three nominations for O.J.  Maybe they split the vote, since a director for The Night Manager (featuring Tom Hiddleston, who presented the award) wins.

Supporting actor in limited series.  Some good choices. I'd like to see Bokeem Woodbine from Fargo. Fargo has two nominees.  O.J. has three.  Night Manager has one (Hugh Laurie, who never seems to win).  O.J. wins again--Sterling K. Brown as Christopher Darden.

Lead actress in limited series. Some big names.  Sarah Paulson for O.J. wins--looks like Simpson's got his revenge.  And, once again, nothing for Fargo.

Lead actor, limited series. More big names.  O.J. has two nominees, Courtney B. Vance and Cuba Gooding, Jr.  Vance wins (over Emmy perennial Bryan Cranston--the voters prefer O.J. over LBJ).  I bet Cuba's thinking who cares, I won an Oscar.  Vance gives a fine speech until the last second when he yells "Obama out, Hillary in." Why do these actors think we care?

Best special. Would be great if Bill Murray's shaggy dog Christmas show won, but a Sherlock one-off does.

Best limited series. Though Fargo should win, can there be any question? (Hey, Roots is nominated. I forgot all about that show.)  O.J. wins.

The Emmys are more than halfway over (allegedly) and it's time for the variety awards.

Aziz Ansari, who was cut off accepting his award, finishes his speech.  He makes an anti-Trump joke.  Where or where would we be without celebrities to show us the way?  Now he gives the writer award for a variety comedy special.  The winner is Patton Oswalt--a real surprise.  But he's a nice guy, so no one can complain except the losers.  Actually, they shouldn't begrudge it to him since he lost his wife this year. (Still would have been fun to see Triumph the Insult Dog win.)

Trouble with the broadcast.  Is it everywhere, or just Time Warner Cable?  Can't say it would be a loss if my TV were out for the next ninety minutes. (I'm watching live.  The entire show will be re-broadcast during prime time out here, but there's no way I'll sit through this again.)

Okay, it's back.  Looks like Kit Harington and Andy Samberg presenting best variety show.  Among others there are the three late-night Jimmys, but some mainstays missing (no Colbert, no Daily Show, among others).  Seinfeld's Comedians In Cars thing is a weird choice for this category, but the rest I get.  John Oliver wins.  Why not?  There's no Daily Show to vote for, so give it to the next best thing (and Oliver is pretty good).  He thanks a bunch of people and walks off--he gets to talk politics each week, why waste it here? Jimmy Kimmel comes out and complains, and his nemesis Matt Damon appears and mocks him. (A decent bit, and also reminds us of the difference between TV glamor and movie glamor.)

Award for variety director.  Presenter Laverne Cox comes out and seconds Jeffrey Tambor's statement about employing transgender actors.  Like Cox.  Must be great when justice and selfishness line up. Winner is the two guys who did Grease Live.

Best variety sketch series.  SNL is in there, of course, and a bunch of other decent titles.  Key And Peele wins. I don't watch their show regularly, but what I've seen is pretty good. Key thanks home town Detroit.  We Detroiters are always happy to hear a shout-out.

Now we're finally in drama. Best writing.  Some good choices, including Mr. Robot and Game Of Thrones.  Benioff and Weiss win for Game Of Thrones, suggesting it'll be a GOT night.

Supporting actress in drama.  Will Maggie Smith, who never shows up, win again?  Three nominees from Game Of Thrones.  The winner is Dame Maggie. Excellent.  She's won Tonys and Oscars, so she doesn't need this shindig.

Now directing in drama.  Gotta be GOT, but it has two nominations so may split the vote.  But, sure enough, GOT, and equally sure enough, for "Battle Of The Bastards."

Supporting actor in a drama.  Love to see Jonathan Banks finally win one of these.  Two choices from Game Of Thrones.  Jon Voight is listed too, though he's one of those guys who wins Oscars, not Emmys.  And the winner is Ben Mendelsohn for Bloodline?  Who?  What's that show again?

Henry Winkler comes out to pay tribute to Garry Marshall.  It's been a tough year on great TV Garrys.  Now comes the memorial section. I get why they do this, though I wonder if people watch it 1) to see how many they recognize and 2) decide if each one is important enough to be included.

Lead actor in drama.  It'd be cool if Rami Malek's spooky performance in Mr. Robot won. (Kevin Spacey is nominated--another guy with Oscars who can't win Emmys.)  Hey, Rami wins. Hooray.  He's funny and gives a heartfelt speech. I check his profile on the IMDb and ten seconds after he's won, he's listed as having won.  I guess there are people whose job it is to update as quickly as possible.

Lead actress in a drama.  Be nice if Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black won, and amazingly, she does, after losing for the role last year and not even being nominated before that.   Have the Emmys decided to make sense?  Now everyone gets to hear what she sounds like without an accent--and it's American (well, North American).  I go to the IMDb faster this time and her win is not up yet.  I refresh and now it's there.  That was exciting.

Nothing left but the big awards.

Best comedy series.  Pretty sure five-time winner Modern Family's days are over.  But will Veep win again, or Silicon Valley, as I hope, or something else?  The winner is Veep. No surprise, and it's a good show, so I can't complain.

Best drama.  Anything but Game Of Thrones would be a shock.  And GOT wins, second year in a row.  (The two weakest years of the show are the two winning years.  Took a while for the Academy to catch up.)  GOT is now the winningest scripted show in Emmy history--though many of the awards are technical.

And we're done, right on time. Did ABC threaten the producers saying Don't mess around--who do you think you are, the Oscars?

Jimmy Kimmel comes out and says "hit 'em with the Hein."

Some pleasant surprises, especially near the end, so all the annoying choices (and shows like Silicon Valley and Fargo getting skunked) can be forgiven.

If you want to see a list of winners and nominees, they're all over the internet, including here.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

What we talk about when we talk about love

West Virginian Put Out Cigarette In Her Boyfriend's Eye

According to the police report, tThe boyfriend stated [more liberal bias, the paper says he 'complained'] that he "did not have sight in his eye."'

"I can't see, man! I can't fucking see!"


Edward Albee, probably the most important American playwright of his generation, has died.  While I wouldn't say he quite matches the triumvirate of O'Neill, Williams and Miller, he's at the top of the next tier.

And he was truly a man of the theatre, sticking with it till the end, rarely venturing out to Hollywood or other literary endeavors.  Of course, he comes from the Albee family that owned many vaudeville houses, so I guess the theatre was in his blood.  (Actually, he was adopted, so maybe not his blood.)

He burst on the scene in the late 1950s, at the age of 30, a fully-formed playwright.  The liveliness and the language that would enthrall theatregoers are there in his earliest pieces, the one-act plays The Zoo Story, The Death Of Bessie Smith and The American Dream.  His work was confrontational and somewhat surreal, and he was thought to be part of the Theatre of the Absurd, but Albee was in his own category.

The early work showed a lot of promise, but he was living in an age when true success still meant a Broadway production, and he got it with one of the most stunning debuts any playwright has ever had--Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? in 1962.  The original production, starring Uta Hagen, Arthur Hill, Melinda Dillon and George Grizzard, was more than just a hit, it was a landmark in Broadway history.  When the movie version came out in 1966, starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor--and his script intact--it was also a highly-respected hit.  (I'm not a fan--I think it loses too much of its impact on screen).

The play was lauded, winning the Tony Award, but was also controversial, which is why it was not given the Pulitzer Prize. It's not like it was beaten out by a better play--they gave no Pulitzer for drama that year.

His next original Broadway production, starring John Gielgud and Irene Worth, was the highly symbolic Tiny Alice, which has its champions, though I find it inert and pretentious.  Better was his next production, A Delicate Balance, starring Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy and Albee favorite Marian Seldes.  It's about the existential terror felt by the upper middle class (sounds charming, no?).  This play won the Pulitzer, though many feel it was given to make up for Virginia Woolf.

He wrote some more experimental work in the late 60s and early 70s, and then in 1974 came out with Seascape, about a couple on the beach that meet up with intelligent, human-sized lizards.  The Broadway production starred Deborah Kerr and Frank Langella.  It was not a hit, but won Albee another Pulitzer.

In the 1980s he had more productions of original work--The Lady From Dubuque (1980) and The Man Who Had Three Arms (1983)--but they flopped, and Albee started to seem like a figure from the past.

Then, in the 1990s, he wrote Three Tall Women, about three women of different ages (or three aspects of one woman). The play did not make it to Broadway, but became successful nevertheless, with major productions around the world. (It helped that it was cheap to stage and had good parts for women.) The play, more personal than usual, and easier to relate to than the previous decade's work, put Albee back on top.  It also won him his third Pulitzer Prize.

His next--and last--original production on Broadway is one of his best, The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? (2002), featuring Mercedes Ruehl and Bill Pullman.  It's about a married man who falls in love with a goat, and the fallout that ensues.  It featured the trenchant wit of Albee at his best, and won him his second Tony Award for Best Play.

That was his last original play on Broadway, but in his last decade or so the Great White Way featured no less than four revivals of his work.  With plays that have great parts of actors, and still holds the stage, it's a good bet his work will live on for a long time.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

A bomb goes off in the New York Times news room, and no news is hurt

So says the NYT:
"Not long after, the structure holding up the curtain that had provided a backdrop for his remarks collapsed, sending American flags toppling to the ground. No one was hurt."

Reporting was contributed by Yamiche Alcindor, Nick Corasaniti, Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Jonathan Martin.

My question is, where is the reporting that was contributed, since it didn't show up in the story?

(But I do think they should win a Pulitzer for that last line. The pathos just hits you right square in the chest.)

Headline potpourri

What does the Democrat think of low taxes, the Constitution, Lewinskis and Michigan's prospects this year?

Because he's a doctor. I forget, is that covered in first year? Or is it something they do in residency?


Oktoberfest starts today.  I'd ask why Oktoberfest starts in September, but people are too busy drinking to give a coherent answer.

Friday, September 16, 2016

If they can develop a self-paying consumer, they'll be set

Mary, Mary

Mary Travers, of Peter, Paul and Mary (guess which one) died on this day in 2009.  There never was a folk group like them, and their sound still has the power to both soothe and provoke.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Delightful on the surface

"While we can’t run around diagnosing prominent figures without clinical testing, experts have identified some classic psychopaths from history. They include Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Saddam Hussein, and fictional characters such as Shakespeare’s Richard III and Cassius.
[We can't do it, but we did it! And it was fun!]
"In a study by Oxford University psychologist Kevin Dutton, published in Scientific American Mind, Donald Trump scored 171, edging out Hitler at 169 but behind Henry VIII (178) and Saddam Hussein (189). Hillary Clinton slotted in between Napoleon and Nero at 152.
[It was a close run thing! AND it was science!]
"But Lilienfeld said that while Hitler may have some traits, he doesn’t quite fit the mold, because he was “paranoid and odd,” while most psychopaths are delightful on the surface."
[The article provides some helpful pictures, too, e.g. of Hitler, and Christian Bale]

On John

I occasionally watch reruns of  Dear John on Antenna TV, just as I occasionally watched it when it first ran on NBC from 1988 to 1992.  It got to follow Cheers at first so it did okay in the ratings, but once they moved it, it crashed and burned.  But four seasons is about enough for syndication.

Still, why?  No one thinks anything of this show.  It was based on a British sitcom I've never seen.  It's about a support group for divorced people.  At its center is John, whose wife walks out at the start of the show (leaving behind a Dear John note, of course).

The pilot isn't bad, actually, but after that the show quickly settles into mediocrity.  The cast is game, and has some decent actors, like Jere Burns and Harry Groener, though they play one-note characters.  John, the "normal" one through whom we experience the series, is acted by Judd Hirsch, who played a similar character on the far superior sitcom Taxi a decade earlier.

The main question: why isn't this better?  Hirsch had certainly shown what he could do, and creator Bob Ellison had written for The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  But on Dear John, the jokes are obvious and the plots ordinary. (Maybe the original was the same, and they successfully copied it.)

TV writer Mel Tolkin once said it's just as hard to write a bad show as a good one. Maybe that's the point.  Even with top talent, if the spark isn't there, nothing happens.

PS On my first trip to Los Angeles I went to Paramount to see a show taping.  Dear John was available. (I would have preferred Cheers, but that was a tough ticket.) The only thing I remember about the episode was the weak ending, and when I later watched it on TV, they'd reshot it. It was still pretty weak.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Would that be a 'yes' or 'no'?

Must be why he gets paid the big bucks.


Peter Bart was a reporter at The New York Times and Wall Street Journal before becoming an executive at Paramount in the 1960s.  He was there in the Robert Evans years when the studio turned itself around with such hits as Love Story (1970) and The Godfather (1972).  In the late 1980s Bart became editor-in-chief at Variety, and stayed at there for two decades.

So what's he been doing lately, at an age when most have retired?  He's hanging out online at Deadline Hollywood, regularly offering his opinions on the latest in show biz.  I'm sorry to report that what he has to say is...not great.  I usually ignore it, but a recent piece was so wrongheaded that I felt it was time to respond.  It's entitled "Is Tom Hanks Trapped In His Jimmy Stewart Persona?"

We like to compare stars of today with stars of the past, and the Stewart/Hanks connection makes sense--both beloved names for many years and noted for playing All-American, basically decent men.

But the particulars of Bart's argument are bizarre.  The question in the headline itself poses a false dilemma.  Jimmy Stewart had one of the greatest careers ever in movies, and Tom Hanks isn't far behind, so neither seem trapped.

Here's Bart's characterization of Stewart:

[....] I’d argue that Stewart’s era in Hollywood was much friendlier to stars than is Hanks’. While Stewart could seem like a blank canvas, the studios were committed to assembling high-voltage star combinations around him. Among Stewart’s leading ladies were Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall and Grace Kelly. Sharing top billing with him were the likes of John Wayne, Cary Grant and George C. Scott. The  [....] Jimmy Stewart’s career sustained its pace because Hollywood, in its often clumsy way, understood how to treat its stars.

There's so much wrong here I don't know where to begin.  For one thing, Stewart's "era"?  He came up in the mid-1930s--the heart of the studio era--but then took off several years for World War II.  When he returned, he grabbed the reins of his own career, choosing his projects and becoming one of the first stars to demand a percentage of the gross.  He was a big name throughout the late 40s and 50s, and continued making films in the 60s and 70s, well after the studio era, even as his stardom waned.

And the studios weren't committed to "high-voltage star combinations" for Stewart.  Of course there were stars in his early pictures--he was at MGM, which had more star power than anywhere else, so naturally there were other big names in his films, especially when he was doing supporting work.  And yes, he often appeared opposite major female stars--that's how being a leading man works.  As it is, Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again and Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story needed his heat as an up-and-comer more than he needed theirs--their careers had been faltering when they appeared with Stewart.  And why bring up Lauren Bacall?  She appeared with Stewart in The Shootist (1976), long after the studio system died, and both were there to support leading man John Wayne.

As for male co-stars, except at the beginning of his career, Stewart was generally the one big name in his films.  He first appeared with John Wayne in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) when his best year were behind him and the studio system was essentially dead.  He appeared with Cary Grant in one film, The Philadelphia Story (1940), where both were there more to prop up Katharine Hepburn.  As for George C. Scott, Stewart appeared with him in Anatomy Of A Murder (1959)--at the time Scott was an unknown and being in a major film with Stewart was a big break for him, not Stewart.

Here's what Bart says about Hanks:

While Hanks too has had some talented co-stars (Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle), he has essentially carried his best known hits, such as Forrest Gump, Cast Away or Philadelphia. They were Hanks vehicles. His career, to be sure, originally took off as a result of light comedies like Splash and Big, but as a young actor he soon ran into a wall of losers like Punchline, Joe Vs The Volcano and Bonfire Of The Vanities. Jumping in desperation from William Morris to CAA, Hanks came to represent one of Mike Ovitz’s success stories, with the young agency helping connect him to challenging roles in Gump and Philadelphia. [....]

Still, Hanks has not had the benefit of a studio machine behind him as Stewart had, and hence has regularly hit speed bumps. Films like Larry Crowne and The Thing You Do have apparently reminded him that his talents resided in acting, not directing. In recent years the Hanks name has appeared on curious projects such as A Hologram For The King – movies that would suggest he gets bored when not working.

Once again, where to start?

First, as established, Stewart's post-WWII leading man career had him appearing in films he generally chose, and ones where he usually he carried the movie, so the basic premise is false.

Second, why claim Hanks carried Philadelphia when he shared the lead with Denzel Washington?  And would you say Hanks carried Saving Private Ryan, or was that ensemble work?  The Green Mile certainly has a pretty solid supporting cast.  And look at other hits of his, such as A League Of Their Own, Apollo 13 or Catch Me If You Can. The first two are more ensemble efforts and in the last he's playing support. (Other ensemble pieces include the Toy Story films, if you want to count them.)

As for the speed bumps, they happen in any lengthy career.  Stewart certainly had his share of flops.  And I should add a lot of people like That Thing You Do!.  I prefer it to a lot of Hanks' hits.

Bart's also troubled that Hanks is stuck playing All-American nice guys, like Stewart did.  But Stewart often played characters with serious moral ambiguity.  Just look at his Westerns for Anthony Mann, or his Hitchcock films.  Though Stewart has the screen image of a nice guy, he often showed an angry streak, and sometimes a fair amount of lust.

Hanks, too, has had fairly diverse roles.  Saving Private Ryan had him play the hero, but the film was savagely violent.  In Philadelphia, he played a gay man with AIDS at a time that wasn't too common for big names.  He's a hitman in Road To Perdition and a criminal mastermind in The Ladykillers (and in the latter has a wild Southern accent).  In The Terminal he's an Eastern European. In Cloud Atlas he plays several roles, including a thug with a cockney accent.  Yes, he often plays the good-guy hero--an occupational hazard of leading men--but he's stretched plenty.

But Bart is still worried:

[Hanks] has played essentially the same character in his last few movies — the stolid and stalwart hero in Captain Phillips, in Bridge Of Spies and, now, in Sully, in which he’s the brave pilot who can land on water if not walk on it.

First, Hanks is 60.  Generally, when male movie stars hit their 50s--it happened to both Hanks and Stewart--it's harder to pull off romantic leads and action parts, so that Hanks is still a lead is not insignificant.  And that his choices are more limited is predictable.

Second, these three films are moneymakers, so if this is a rut, who wouldn't want to be in it?  (And yet, when Hanks tries something different like A Hologram For The King, Bart blames him for taking the project.)

Finally, Hanks is still trying new things.  His title role in Captain Phillips may be heroic, but the most memorable moment is at the end, when he's rescued and basically suffers a breakdown.  Too bad Bart, who mangles the past and has trouble seeing the present, didn't notice.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

OCR on steroids

:Researchers have devised a way to read books when they’re closed. . . . Researchers from MIT and Georgia Tech are designing an imaging system that can read closed books. A paper published Friday in the journal Nature Communications describes a prototype for this ingenious system that correctly identified the letters on the top nine sheets of a stack in which each sheet had one letter printed on it."


I've been watching Peaky Blinders.  It's a period crime drama produced in Britain and available on Netflix.  There have been three seasons so far, each with six episodes.  I've watched the first season and like what I've seen.

It's set in Birmingham, England in 1919, one year after WWI ended.  The memory of their service still haunts many of the characters.  The Peaky Blinders are a criminal gang that pretty much runs the city.  The gang itself is run by the Shelby clan, with Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) at the top.  He's got two adult brothers, Arthur and John, one adult sister, Ada, and one kid brother, Finn.  While the men were away at war, the criminal enterprise was run by their Aunt Polly.

As the action starts, they steal a bunch of armaments from a local factory (they thought they were taking something else).  This could mean trouble since the Crown is tremendously interested in getting it back--they fear it's fallen into the hands of communist revolutionaries, or the IRA.  So the authorities send in tough guy Chester Campbell (Sam Neill), who's previously worked in Belfast, to retrieve the material.  His methods are even harsher than the Shelby's.

Here are a few of the plot twists along the way (first season spoilers ahead):

--Freddie Thorne, a communist agitator who saved Tommy's life in France, is secretly seeing Ada.  Tommy isn't happy about this development, and want him out of town, while Campbell hopes to arrest and question him.

--Tommy plays communists, IRA members, police, gypsy gangs and bookies all against each other.  At one time or another, he seems to support or oppose each group, and it's hard to be sure where he stands.

--Grace, a beautiful young woman, comes to work as a barmaid at the Garrison, a pub and hangout of the Peaky Blinders.  But she's actually an undercover agent sent in by Campbell to get close to Tommy and gather information.

Overall, there's a lot going on for six episodes of TV--enough plot for twice as many hours.  And now that I've finished the first season, I'm not sure what new complications they'll introduce. But I do know I'll be watching.

One warning--the accents are pretty heavy.  It should probably be watched with the closed captioning on.

Monday, September 12, 2016


Johnny Cash died 13 years ago today.  I'm not that into country, but certain artists transcend their genre.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Throwing rocks

This is a nice piece of journalism: Two pilots in unarmed fighter planes intending to take down Flight 93 by raw impact. All of it seems unbelievable, but I believe it absolutely.

I was about two weeks into my first reporting job, and, having no idea how to respond to any of it, was driving the outer loop around Columbus on my way to the state emergency response center, which I had previously visited. From the outer loop you can see the skyline, of course, and the remarkable image was the city's police helicopter--hovering in fixed position over the capitol building.

Fourteen years ago I interviewed those guys in the helicopter, and it was essentially the same story. They had no idea what they were going to do, but that was one thing they were thinking. Putting aside the courage that would be involved and overcoming the self-preservation instinct, I have to think it would have been technically a hard thing to do; I can't imagine ordinary flying experience gives you the ability to bring two paths together; rather the opposite.

Two or three times during the day the FAA ordered all traffic down, including police helicopters. I'd love to know if that order was universally followed, and what our American pilots were thinking.

My own mission ended in failure. I could not gain admission at the emergency response center. But I did get an indelible image: While I sat in the parking lot watching the locked doors, one person did drive up and gain admission: A delivery driver from Papa John's.

Fifteen Years

It's been fifteen years since the events of 9/11. Hard to believe so much time has passed.  Everyone has a story about where they were that day.  I'm not sure if I've ever told mine on this blog.  So here goes.

A few days earlier, I'd driven to Vegas to meet a friend of mine who was in town on business.  She worked as a lawyer for an alcohol company. (I'm not sure exactly what she did, but it sounds fun.)  As such, she was able to get me into a party they were throwing on September 10th at the Hard Rock.  I don't really drink, but the tacos were free.

I was planning to leave on the 11th.  Around 2 in the morning I wasn't very tired (Las Vegas can do that to you) so I figured I'd drive back right then and make good time.  A bit over three hours later I'd reached the outskirts of L.A.  I was getting a little tired so I pulled off into a mall parking lot and closed my eyes.

I slept maybe an hour.  When I woke up and turned on the radio, it was all over the news. (The attacks started around 9 in the morning out east, which is 6 over here.)  It's now easy for me to imagine a scenario where I was taken in for questioning.  Remember those planes were bound for Los Angeles, and here was this mysterious guy sleeping in his car (a sleeper agent?) in an otherwise empty parking lot.

I got back on the highway and it was packed. I guess everyone was driving back home.   I also noticed there were no planes in the sky, as the government had grounded all flights.  It was an eerie feeling.  I listened to the radio with horror. (I'm sure I checked the news stations, but mostly I listened to Howard Stern.)

The traffic was slow all the way to Hollywood where I lived.  I wanted to get home as soon as possible so I could call my family back in the Midwest to see how they were doing (pre-cell phone days for me) and let them know I was okay.  Only a few days later did I call friends in New York, since I figured they were getting enough calls.  Some of them knew people who died.  One friend had been there in 1993 during the first bombing of the Towers. (Many people have forgotten that attempt.  There was also a guy who planned to bomb LAX on New Years' Day 2000, but was stopped along the way. If he'd succeeded, that might have been our 9/11 before 9/11.)

That night I called my friend in Vegas.  She was having a rough time.   She needed to get back to Chicago, but couldn't.  Her flight had been canceled, of course, and all available cars were rented.  She had to stick around until the end of the week.  Maybe if I'd stayed a bit longer I could have taken her to Los Angeles, where she could have at least rented a car.

Pacing ourselves

So as the year moves along to a post I don't want to read (actually, two of them), do we want to render judgment on anything, apart from my trenchant wit and ability to appeal to the common man's understanding? Say, LAGuy's best film year in review? My most comprehensible post? The role that PajamaGuy himself played in all of this?

Saturday, September 10, 2016

September Sports

Some top sports people having a birthday today.

Arnold Palmer:

Roger Maris:

Bob Lanier:

Randy Johnson:

Friday, September 09, 2016

Let This Be The Last List

There have been a lot of tributes to Star Trek, this being its fiftieth anniversary and all.  As part of the celebration, the Hollywood Reporter lists the top hundred episodes of all Star Trek shows.

Quite an undertaking, but I don't have much to say about it, since I only truly know the original series.  I've watched a fair amount of Next Generation, but missed as many episodes as I've seen.  And I've only caught a few stray hours from Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise.  The only thing I can judge on the list is how it ranks episodes of the original.  And here I was surprised.

The #1 episode of all time--for all the shows--is "City On The Edge Of Forever." No surprise. In fact, it would be a surprise if it weren't there--it'd be like a top movie list without Citizen Kane.  The next two choices from the original series, at #3 and #5, are "Balance Of Terror" and "Space Seed." I don't know if they'd be my picks, but as expected.  Then #8 is "Mirror, Mirror"--another likely title to show up on the list.

Then we get to #11: "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield." Come again?  If you're a Trek fan you know which one I'm talking about, but if not, it's the one where two aliens fight each other because they have black and white faces, but the black and white are on different sides.

It turns out this is Shatner's favorite, but I don't know anyone else who agrees*.  This heavy-handed allegory on race relations has usually been considered an embarrassment, even among the weak episodes of the third season.

The list soon follows with mainstays like "A Piece Of The Action" and "The Trouble With Tribbles," but it's hard to read any further.  Putting "Battlefield" up so high--or on the list at all--sort of makes the whole project pointless.

*I just read this article in Variety where people connected to Star Trek pick their favorites, and to my surprise, two of them listed this episode, including Jonathan Frakes.

Thursday, September 08, 2016


I just watched the first two episodes of the new FX half-hour Atlanta, created and produced by its star Donald Glover.  He's a stand-up comedian and a rapper, but I know him best for his role of Troy Barnes in my favorite sitcom of the last decade, Community.

Atlanta is a bit more dramatic than that series, and Glover's character, Earn Marks, is more mature, and also more troubled.  (The show is also pretty weird, but so was Community, though in a different way.) Earn left Princeton three years ago--for reasons not divulged--to return to his hometown of Atlanta, but doesn't seem sure what he's doing there.  He's barely earning any money, and doesn't have a regular place to live--we see him at his girlfriend's place, where the baby girl they made also resides.  When he visits his parents, they want nothing to do with him, figuring he just wants money.

But Earn has a plan. He goes to his cousin, a local rapper known as Paper Boi (Bryan Tyree Henry), and offers to manage him and get his career off the ground. Paper Boi has his doubts, but Earn sets his mind to it and, with the help of payola, gets the rapper's single played on a local station.  While it's on the radio, the two get into an altercation outside a nightclub and Paper Boi (I think it was Paper Boi) shoots someone.

That's the first episode.  The second has them at the police station.  Paper Boi gets out quickly because he's been in the system before, but Earn spends the whole episode sitting around, along with other arrestees, waiting to be processed.  Paper goes about his business outside--along with his friend Darius (Keith Stanfield), who's a bit out there--but notices things are different.  Word has spread about the shooting and Paper Boi is getting the sort of notoriety that can help a rapper, but he doesn't like the experience.

The show isn't bad, but is it good enough to make regular rotation?  The comedy is done in a mostly deadpan style, and, while it has some decent moments, is rarely laugh-out-loud funny.  It also takes its time with the plot.  I don't know if I'll be in it for the long haul, but I've liked Glover enough in the past to stick around for a while to see where it goes.

PS  It's playing at the same time as one of my favorite shows, Halt And Catch Fire, so I guess I'll catch the rerun.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Woody And Walt

I just read Three Years In Wonderland, the story of the making of Disneyland with an emphasis on C. V. Wood, the park's first general manager.

Wood, born in 1920, grew up in Texas.  He was a charmer, but seemed best at hell-raising, an art he perfected with his close group of friends who named themselves the Bombers.  He ended up working at the Stanford Research Institute, which was hired by Walt Disney in the early 50s to study the feasibility of opening an amusement park.

Disney himself was looking for a new challenge.  His years as an innovator in animation were behind him, and now, along with older brother Roy, who ran the studio's financial side, he was just trying to keep from going broke.  Walt started playing with toy trains, which got bigger and bigger.  Soon, he wanted to build an amusement park in some empty acreage he owned across from his studio in Burbank.  His plans, however, kept getting bigger and bigger, and more and more expensive. (From the original concept to the final cost, the price doubled, then doubled again, then double once more.)  This is where Wood was hired.

Most of the actual research was done by Wood's partner from SRI.  Wood was more the salesman--a guy who could convince people like Disney they were brilliant and that he would do everything he could for them.  Areas around Los Angeles were investigated and they decided to put Disneyland somewhere in Anaheim, where the new highway from L.A. to San Diego was going through.

They needed to purchase numerous parcels of land so they kept the buyer secret to keep costs down. Even then, it was a tremendous hassle, and almost didn't work.  But the Anaheim politicians helped out (they were willing to close down a street and make it part of the park) and Wood got every deal signed one way or another--he'd promise, for instance, that a house wouldn't be torn down so someone's daughter could continue to live there.  How she'd live in Disneyland would be something that could be solved later.

Roy liked Wood's work, and hired him to help manage the financial side of building the park.  Here he was at odds with Walt.  Walt Disney wanted creative people to be in charge, and made sure that his studio people got to determine what would be in the park--even if others had to take their notions and turn them into reality.  Wood's most important job was to raise money. Disney had gotten enough to start the project by promising to create TV shows for ABC (a network that was way back in third to NBC and CBS, and thus willing to take a chance) and having the network guaranty bank loans.  But as things got ever more expensive, more money was always needed, and Wood tried to convince numerous companies to sponsor rides or exhibits, or lease shop space in Disneyland.

Most experts doubted the project would pay off.  Amusement parks were loud, rowdy and often seedy places, with rides that gave people sensations but not much more.  Disney wanted to change the amusement park to the theme park. A self-contained space that gave the whole family a special experience, with rides that would affect them emotionally.  He was a storyteller, and wanted to transfer that talent to his park.  No one was sure how to do it, or even if it could be done.

No one knew how hard it would be the build the park, either, and with the opening date of July 17, 1955 set, it looked like it wouldn't open in time.  Truth is, it wasn't ready, but open it they did.  It was a hot day and people's shoes sank into the newly poured asphalt.  Though it was invitation only, more than twice as many showed up as expected and the place was a madhouse.  It took hours to get on a ride, and was hard to just walk around.  Quite a few rides, shops and exhibits weren't open yet.  There was a gas main leak.  All the rides but one (the jungle boat) broke down during the day.  Food ran out before the day was over, and there were no water fountains.  And only pay toilets. Though Disney tried to put on a good face, it was a disaster, and the reviews were not great (it didn't help that he refused to serve alcohol to the press).

It took a while to turn things around, but eventually the park put Disney on firm financial footing (for the first time ever). But within months of the opening, Wood was fired.  There are a number of reasons.  First, there's only one star at Disneyland, and that's Walt.  Second, they had different styles, with Wood focusing more on the bottom line while Disney liked to dream, and Wood liking dirty jokes and plenty of drinking while Disney was a bit more prim.  Third, and probably most important, Wood was a bit shady.  He hired a bunch of Bombers to work for him (though he'd done that before, and there may be nothing wrong with hiring people you trust).  He also had that house he promised to keep standing secretly burned down during construction.  By far the worst, he took kickbacks from companies.

If the book has problems, it's that it sometimes loses focus on Wood. And the ending feels abrupt. We don't quite stick around to see Disneyland turn into a major success, and Wood's future career, where he helps with many other places and changes the face of the amusement park world, is summed up in a few lines.

Wood has since been scrubbed from official Disney history, but this book should at least do something to redress that oversight.

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