Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Courts ramp up scrutiny of Justice Department

Justice Department ramps up scrutiny of candidates and independent groups

Can't Obama just give this job to the FCC?

Time Has Come Today

Thank goodness it's March 3, Election Day out her in Los Angeles.  For the past few weeks my mailbox has been stuffed with mailers from all sorts of politicians I have no intention of voting for.  (And if I was thinking of voting for them, getting their mailings made me less likely).

Even worse, for the past week or so I've been getting around five calls a day from various campaigns.  I can almost always tell immediately it's political because they're cold calling countless people and there's a slight pause before they respond--usually long enough for me to hang up.

Does this sort of stuff actually help?  It only annoys me. In fact, I'm so annoyed I almost don't want to vote and encourage it.

Last Laugh?

I watched the first two episodes of The Last Man On Earth, a new Fox sitcom starring Will Forte (that did pretty well in the ratings). The concept is everyone was wiped out by a virus in 2019 except Tucson resident Phil Miller.  He travels around the country but can't find anyone, so he settles in to a long, lonely yet luxurious life.

The idea is different, to be sure, but in its most basic form, not that appealing for a sitcom.  For a movie, yes--it's been done, in fact--but the idea of seeing the same guy week after week, and no one else, would get tiresome.

Happily, by the end of the pilot, Phil has found another person--the quirky Carol, played by Kristen Schaal.  So he's found the last women on earth, and she's got her own ideas of how things should go, which cause friction.

While the first two half hours weren't bad, the show still threatens to be rather limited.  Other actors have been announced for future episodes, though it's not known if they'll be in the present of the show, or flashbacks.  But even if they're still alive, it sounds like this is just another version of Gilligan's Island with dirtier gags.

I think I'll keep watching (a half hour opened up when Parks And Recreation left the air) but if it doesn't promise more, I may not last much longer.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Grammar Nazi says, "Not quite right."

Cause and effect


I just read Bill Nye's Undeniable: Evolution And The Science Of Creation.  I know this is "Bill Nye, the Science Guy," but I wasn't too impressed.  I've got no problem with a book helping explain evolution to a popular audience, but there are a lot of better ones out there.  We've seen most of these arguments before, and Nye's writing is pedestrian.  Still, if it helps clarify evolution to some people, fine.

Then on page 191 there's this:

A woman came up to Michael Faraday after he performed [a demonstration of electromagnetism] and asked: "But, Mr. Faraday, of what use is it?"  Faraday famously replied, "Madam, of what use is a newborn babe?"

This reply is so famous it's usually attributed to Benjamin Franklin at a balloon ascension by the Montgolfier Brothers.  In fact, the line is an old gag that was probably never uttered by either man.

Nye tops it with another Faraday zinger:

William Gladstone, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in England, reportedly asked Faraday a similar question. This time, Faraday responded--with perhaps more malice--"Why, sir, there is every probability that you will soon be able to tax it."

An even better line, but once again, an urban legend.

Anecdotes like these may help history come alive, but when the purpose of your book is to explain biology and debunk nonscientific theories, it's probably best to get these things right.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

I'm in love

"I'm looking for someone who is going to be inspirational and going to give people the reins by making their position [as president] less powerful than the American people."

Someone that I used to know

Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over.

Here’s how I know how the next conservative can become president of the United States: by being hopeful and optimistic because this is the greatest country on the face of the earth,” he said. "All we have to do is quit hating on people, 'the other,' you know, like Eric Holder and President Obama say we do."

Second place liar: "But what I’ve learned is you can’t even have a conversation about that until people believe and know—not just believe, but it’s proven to them—that future illegal immigration will be controlled. That is the single biggest lesson of the last two years.”

It's great that you've learned that, Marco. May you spend the rest of a long life focusing with Nimoy-like intensity on how that complex lesson cost you the presidency.

Runner Runner

So it looks like there's going to be a Blade Runner sequel.  Harrison Ford has signed up to play his same character, Rick Deckard (though how prominent he'll be we'll see).

Sounds like a bad idea.  First, Blade Runner was not a hit.  It's maybe a cult classic, but even when it was re-released a decade later no one came out to see it.

Second, it's not much of a film.  It's actually a big muddle.  Yeah, I has an interesting look, but very little plot and what plot it does have isn't much.  There's also all sorts of different cuts--with or without the narration, with different endings, etc.--none of which can fix the central problem of a weak film.

Third, it won't be directed by Ridley Scott, who was by far the most important person in making the film what it was--if you really thought it was special, why have a second-rate version?

Fourth, do you duplicate the look or try something new?  If you duplicate it, it's been copied so often it'll look old and tired.  If you try something new, what's the point of the remake--it's practically the only thing the film had going for it to begin with.

So if this happens, don't expect me there on opening day. Unless the film is good--it's always time to make a good film.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Transparency of the Decade Award

Wow, kudos to Robert McChesney:

“At the moment, the battle over network neutrality is not to completely eliminate the telephone and cable companies. But the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.” 

“Our job is to make media reform part of our broader struggle for democracy, social justice, and, dare we say it, socialism.”

"[H]e admitted he is a socialist and said he was 'hesitant to say I’m not a Marxist.'”

Boy, does Obama need to call him to the White House and say, "C'mon, Bro, help me out here. This is how you say it."

And kudos to Fund for some pretty basic but nonetheless remarkable reporting.

This is of a piece with candidate Obama's statement that it might take 10 or 15 years to get to single payer.

Pareto, schmareto

"I'm the 56th most popular star!"

Definitely not safe for work. Related: Google scraps plan to block porn on Blogger

The End Of The Genesis Project

Wow, this is a big one. Leonard Ninoy is dead.  He had a long and varied career, but, of course, he'll be remembered for one role.

As a young actor, he appeared in numerous TV shows in the 50s and early 60s.  With vaguely "off" looks he often played exotic and sinister characters. Just by chance I turned on an episode of Daniel Boone yesterday from the mid-60s and there was Nimoy playing a nasty Indian brave.  In an age of widespread Westerns he played a lot of Indians.  He also appeared in an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with another guest star, William Shatner.

He could easily have been just another character actor, making a living yet barely known. But then he go the role of a lifetime.  Or, to put it better, he took a part and turned it into the role of a lifetime.  He was hired for the Star Trek pilot, which didn't fly.  Creator Gene Roddenberry was given the money to make a second pilot, and he had to decide who'd be in the new cast, and NBC would have liked him to get rid of the "weird" character, but Roddenberry stuck with Nimoy.  Even then NBC was nervous about Nimoy's satanic look and tried to downplay it--until he became the show's breakout character, even more popular than Captain Kirk, and NBC couldn't publicize him enough--to the chagrin of lead William Shatner.  He even became, against all odds, a sex symbol.

Still, that could have been that.  The original series was never that popular, and was canceled after three years of middling ratings.  Nimoy received three Emmy nominations for the role, but never won--losing to Eli Wallach, Milburn Stone and, for some reason, Werner Klemperer.

Nimoy's new fame put him on a higher track, and his next major role was as a regular on a real hit, Mission: Impossible.  Meanwhile, Star Trek was kept alive in syndication by a growing and fanatical fan base.  There was enough interest that an animated series using the voices of the original cast was on for one year.

Then, in 1977, Star Wars was a huge hit and Paramount, which owned Star Trek, realized there was money in sci-fi films.  So they made a huge Star Trek film--there was such pent up demand that it made money, but it was so bad (and so clueless--the audience didn't want to see new characters in charge of the Enterprise) it almost killed the franchise.  Luckily--thanks to director-write Nicholas Meyer and others (but not to Gene Roddenberry, who became a figurehead at this point), the second Trek movie, The Wrath Of Khan, though much lower in budget, was much higher in quality--many still consider it the best Trek in any medium--so the movies lived.  But not Spock, who died at the end. (Sorry for the spoiler).

But you can't keep a good half-Vulcan down, and he came back to life in the third film, The Search For Spock. It wasn't easy though--the producers had to let Nimoy direct.  He did a decent job, and an even better job on Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which made the most money in the series.

All this led to a reflowering of the brand, and soon there were several Star Trek spinoffs on TV, and more than one new series of Star Trek moviesm  including the modern and highly successful reboot, which featured Nimoy, still the most popular figure in the Star Trek universe.

Meanwhile, Nimoy kept acting--theatre as well as movies and TV--and established a career as a director, helming the huge hit Three Men And A Baby.  He also had time to publish two volumes of an autobiography, I Am Not Spock in 1975, which apparently pissed off fans, and led to I Am Spock in 1995. (He also recorded some albums, but the main thing that can be said about them is he's a better singer than Shatner.)

In some ways, Star Trek fandom is a silly thing.  The original show was imaginative but crudely done. It's not worth building a religion around. (It's not Star Wars, after all.) And yet, with its unprecedented fandom, it brought happiness and a sense of community to millions, and that probably wouldn't have happened without Nimoy.  So while the man may be gone, it's good to know the love he spread will live long and prosper.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Seeing unicorns

Holy cow, a liberal able to think a thought.

I give him a star for "spectacularly unviable." May he someday apply it to Bushitler and Hitlery both.

Kernels Of Wisdom

This week's episode of Modern Family occurred entirely on a MacBook. A gimmick, but I thought it was pretty well done.  The plot has Claire connecting to everyone from O'Hare Airport, and one runner has Cam reminding her to pick up a canister of Garrett popcorn.

I've never had Garrett.  Never even heard of it.  But they didn't make it up for the show, it's real.  So I checked out the website to see what I'd been missing.  And the first screen that came up had this announcement:

In honor of Black History Month, we're donating 10% of all Tin sales to Black Ensemble Theatre.

A decent enough charity, if not high on my list.  And it's Garrett's money to do with as it will.  Or is it?  If I buy something there, isn't it my money they're handing out?  And if they're regularly donating to various causes, aren't prices higher than they'd be otherwise?

I understand some companies believe in civic-minded virtue, and, to be more cynical, public charity can make for good publicity.  Further, I bet high-end popcorn consumers don't fret too much about a little extra cost.  But couldn't I have a say? I don't mean putting a check on a list next to my preferred charity, but a choice where they don't give to charity at all and I get a discount.  I'll pocket the money and, if I feel like it, maybe I'll give it to charity.  Maybe I'll even give it to the Black Ensemble Theatre.  But let me decide.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Nice little savings account ya got there. Shame if anything happened to it.

Germany Sells Five-Year Debt at Negative Yield

Plus some bonus useful advice: "“Obviously, this could be a positive or a very big negative. It depends on how corporates and sovereigns react.”

Obviously, you idiot. Buy low, sell high and you'll be fine.

Anno Domino

One of the greatest of the early rock and roll masters, it's Fats Domino's birthday.

Wigging Out

Josephine Wiggs turns 50 today.  Who's she?  A rock musician who, on bass, was one of the least known members of The Breeders.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Seems unlikely

The Left Regrets Making Scott Walker A Thing

I can see the attraction of the statement, but the article says nothing of the sort. It also assumes a fact not in evidence, that "the Left" is capable of such self reflection. Right now I think the Left is in full destroy mode (along with the Manhattan Media, but of course I repeat myself).

Now, if he is elected president, I'll believe it. Surely it will strike them then that in hindsight it didn't work out so well. But for now, I'm wondering if this poor writer has an editor, or any ability to separate an idea that attracted him from what is actually on the page.

He's also wrong that Walker is a "surprise" frontrunner. It's entirely predictable, not that he would be, but that any competent analyst would have put him high on the list of possibilities to be the frontrunner. Cruz would be a surprise, only insofar as he has been successfully demonized--more reason to think the Left would have no regrets at this point, because they have every reason to believe their methods work. Perry would be a surprise, but again only insofar as he has dug himself into a hole and is showing indications that he's perhaps not quite solid on conservative principles. Jindal has potential but doesn't seem able to close the deal, and the Paul line seems like it might need a third generation.

Carson, now *that* would be a surprise. For whatever reason, this is not a field where first time amateurs seem likely to succeed.

Other than that, the field is full of nuts like Huckabee and obvious false fronts, retreads of the McCain and Romney variety of apologists who think the thing to do is to apologize for being American. The Dems have that market covered, guys, and even if that happens to be your business model, don't make the mistake of thinking it's a worthwhile appeal. Those guys would have better success calling themselves Democrats and saying they're reaching across the aisle in collecting all their endorsements and fundraising from the usual corporatists.

Update: Let’s stipulate up front that Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, is an odious politician whose ascension to the Presidency would be a disaster. Sure, why not. It's clearly necessary to all that follows, which boils down to "We hate conservatives because they believe Obama is an odious politician whose ascension to the presidency would be a disaster." (Grammar Nazi says "lower case," unless you are an actual fascist, in which case it's upper case, if you know what's good for you.)

Park It Here

Just a quick tribute to Parks And Recreation, which had its one-hour finale last night.  The whole final season, set in 2017, was close to a goof as it was, so it was fitting to see all the characters have their dreams come true even further in the future.

P&R stumbled out of the blocks, but eventually recovered and, indeed, kept improving.  In that way I'd compare it to Newhart, another show that was too straight at the beginning, but just kept piling up the eccentricities of its characters--and got rid of the boring ones--and, for that matter, making the people of the town weirder and weirder. Pawnee, Indiana is supposed to be a small town, but whatever sort of odd house or club or restaurant or store was needed for the plot always turned up.

The characters were essentially doing their own little routines, which was fine, but every now and then there was some real chemistry, such as the surprising connection between Andy and April (who started in completely different spheres--Andy, in fact, was Ann's original worthless boyfriend), and, above all, the center of the show, Leslie and Ron (certainly not Leslie and Ben).

So goodbye, Parks And Recreation--you've freed up thirty minutes in my weekly schedule, so I'm now free to find another sitcom.

A few random notes:

--alas, the death of 30-year-old producer Harris Wittels put a damper on things, especially, no doubt, for the cast and crew.

--what was that shot at the Wolverines?  Is there something going on here?

--seeing the future every time Leslie touched someone felt like it came out of Lost.

--the message was very pro-public work, which is fine--especially if we remember it came from people making a ton of money in the free market.

Let George Sing It

Happy birthday, George Harrison.

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