Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Giving thanks

"What financial tool are you most thankful for?"

Tony, obviously.

You Don't Say

America is an English-speaking country, but we've got tens of millions who speak Spanish as well.  The interesting question is what's the third-most popular tongue.

Here's a map that shows the most common language in each state after English and Spanish, and there are some surprises.

A few I could guess pretty easily.  Polish in Illinois (I've lived in Chicago and seen all the Polish delis), Italian in New Jersey, Portuguese in Massachusetts, even Arabic in Michigan doesn't surprise me.

And while I knew French would be the language in Louisiana, and I'm not shocked it also shows up in the northeastern states bordering Quebec, I wouldn't have guessed it's also spoken so widely in West Virginia, the Carolinas, Alabama, Maryland, Delaware and Connecticut.  (And Florida has French Creole.)

And what's Russian doing in Oregon?

Then there are the surprising pockets of Asian languages.  Vietnamese in Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Washington?  Tagalog in California, Nevada and Hawaii? Korean in Virginia and Georgia? Hmong in Minnesota?

There are also a few native tongues still playing big.  Navajo in Arizona and New Mexico, Yupik in Alaska, and Dakota in South (but not North) Dakota.

And the winner with the most states--German, which dominates the middle of our nation.  

PS  The page linked above starts with this sentence.

Despite growing efforts to make English the official language of the U.S., America's linguistic landscape is only becoming more multifaceted and diverse every year.

1) What evidence do they have the effort is growing?  It's been around for quite a while. Seems to me the effort has been getting smaller for some time.

2) Multifaceted and diverse?  Are they getting paid by the syllable?

3)  That there's a movement to make English official is a tangential point at best.  Why start with an unnecessarily argumentative introduction?

4)  They seem to think it's odd that the languages people speak grow more diverse while there's an effort to make English the official language.  Sounds perfectly logical to me.

Mac In The Back

Happy birthday, John McVie, the Mac in Fleetwood Mac.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

I'm Really Screwed

Got a scam call yesterday.  It was a guy claiming he's from the IRS.  He had a heavy accent--sounded like he was from India--and didn't act like a government official (not that the IRS would call me directly--they'd probably send a notice first) and I was ready to hang up on him immediately, but the one in a thousand chance it was real kept me on the line a while. (That's why the government is so scary.  Say what you want about big corporations, only the government can come and arrest you.)

The guy verified my address--because, after all, how could anyone find out my phone number and address unless they're in the IRS?--and said I was being charged with something.  I honestly had trouble understanding what he was saying, his accent was so thick.  Then he connected me with his supervisor.

The new guy was quite hostile.  He said he worked for the IRS and I'd committed a crime. I'd defrauded the government and owed money, and might be facing jail time.  For the record, the regulation I broke was #7869126532-RER.  I asked him who he was and he said he already told me.  Then he said--I couldn't understand it all clearly--that I better act quickly since my assets would be frozen, my employer would be notified, my passport would be taken and I could be deported. (Aha!  They discovered I was an immigrant.  Sure, I've been in America almost all my life, but I was born in Canada.  These scams often involve preying on this fear.)

Then he said I would be arrested within the hour.  I think he was about to make a deal when I'd finally had enough--I said I'd call my lawyer and they could talk to him. I don't have a lawyer, but I wouldn't have called him anyway.  I considered calling the government hotline to report what happened, but what could I tell them except it was another scam call. I don't have caller ID and even if I did I'm sure they've got a way to cover it up and make it look like it's from a government office.  I thought the scamsters might call back, but I guess I made it clear by my demeanor that I wasn't buying it, and they went on to the next name on the list.

Or maybe the Feds will be showing up soon and this will be the last post I put up for a while.

Ready Eddie

It's the centennial of Eddie Boyd, the blues pianist.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Cross Words

I just read The Crossword Century by Alan Connor.  Crosswords were invented in 1913, thus the celebration.  Connor is a British writer who has a weekly column on crosswords in The Guardian, so you think he's be the perfect person for this project, but I found it disappointing.

It's a short book--under 200 pages--made up of short chapters, about five pages per.  They jump all over the place and never coalesce into a satisfying whole.  It makes me wonder if this isn't just a rewritten collection of short pieces.

Connor divides the book into two parts, Across and Down, though I can't see the distinction.  He does say that, like a crossword puzzle, each chapter could be read separately, but even if each chapter were delightful (and few are), that's not enough.  He starts with a chapter on the history of the game, but after that it's one unrelated piece after another.  Also, being British, he discusses the cryptic-style puzzle more than the regular crossword Americans are used to.

PS  I did like how he gave clues for the title of each chapter.  Some samples:

1.  All the rage, but beginning to fade? (3)
2.  The writer's craft? (10)
3.  Who wrote words for sharks to sing? (8)
4.  Crazy to be seen in Georgia, twice? (4)
5.  Break this with some eggs? (4)
6.  The sound of Webster's, up to a point? (9)
7.  Sounds like a fight, for two people? (4)
8.  As seen on TV--or on a laptop? (7)
9.  What dumb spies seek? (12)
10.  A detective with sticky feet? (7)

I'll add in a little illustration here so you can avoid peeking at the solutions.


1. FAD

Yes, We Know

Happy 69th, Lee Michaels.  He only had one major hit, but I think it's worth a spin.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Wife Vs. Secretary Vs. Critics

I recently watched Wife Vs. Secretary on TV.  It's a 1936 film featuring the kind of star power only MGM could provide, with Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy and up-and-comer Jimmy Stewart.  It was a big hit in its day--almost everything Gable and Harlow made in the 30s were hits--but time hasn't been kind.

The story is about Van Stanhope (Gable), a successful businessman and a wonderful husband.  He's in love with wife Linda (Loy) and dependent on secretary Whitey (Harlow).  Linda trusts her husband, but when events conspire to make it appear Van and Whitey are having an affair, she plans to leave him.  Meanwhile, Whitey's fiancé Dave (Stewart) isn't too thrilled either and leaves Whitey.  By the end, all are wised up, with both couples back in each others' arms.

The performances are all fine, and it's got the usual first-class (if not always exciting) MGM gloss.  The problem is we're right in the middle of the screwball era, and we've got great comic performers (Loy and Harlow starred in a classic MGM screwball earlier that year, Libeled Lady), yet the film, directed by Clarence Brown, is muted.  It's often described as a comedy, but I'd call it a drama.

They should have gone one way or another.  There are plenty of farcical complications, and it could have been wild fun.  Or they could have gone the drama route, with Gable and Harlow not only attracted to each other--they've got the real chemistry in the film, not Gable and Loy--but actually having an affair.  But whether it was the Code, or Louis B. Mayer, everyone in this film is so decent that no one does anything wrong.

A missed opportunity.

Brazilian Wax Tracks

Happy birthday Brazilian composer Claudio Santoro.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Clint Clips

The Hollywood Reporter has a piece by Stephen Galloway on Clint Eastwood's chances of picking up an Oscar for his latest, American Sniper.  Galloway speculates a film celebrating a Navy SEAL may not play that well with the liberal Academy voters.

I haven't seen the film so it's hard to comment, but I doubt the wisdom of his claim.  I think the voters will respond to a piece if they believe it's sufficiently dramatic and important, and Clint regularly fools them on both counts.

I'll need to see the film for myself.  I saw a trailer and it sure didn't look like there was any glorification. Look at how Galloway describes Clint's situation:

...Sniper's point of view fits less comfortably with the liberal-leaning Academy than Eastwood's two previous best picture winners — one a paean against violence (Unforgiven), the other an elegy about boxing (Million Dollar [Baby]). This movie celebrates real-life Iraq War hero Chris Kyle (Cooper), who had more killings than any other soldier.

So Galloway gets it wrong. Million Dollar Baby was no elegy about boxing.  It was a full-throated appeal in favor of euthanasia, something liberals tend to support.  If Galloway can't see that, I'm not sure I can trust his opinion on American Sniper.

PS  While we're at it, here's an article in the Reporter about the politics of the latest entry in the Hunger Games series.

Apparently both right and left claim the story shows their vision of the world.  Unfortunately, you've got Hunger Games star and noted liberal Donald Sutherland misinterpreting things:

Last year actor Donald Sutherland, who plays the evil President Snow in the Hunger Games movies, was also surprised to learn of a conservative interpretation. “Could someone from the Tea Party sit down and look at this and think of President Snow as, say, President Obama?” a writer for ScreenRant asked. “No chance,” Sutherland said. But then he thought about the question for a while before dismissing millions of conservatives as racists. “Oh, I see what you’re saying," Sutherland said. "Well, the Tea Party doesn’t look at Barack Obama as a dictator; they look at Barack Obama as a black man in the White House … That’s what generates their hatred."

I understand the left doesn't like the right, but the way so many liberals casually call people who disagree with them racist is despicable.  The irony is it's the left a lot more than the right that insists we should be paying attention to skin color.

Then you've got critic Andrew O'Hehir:

"There are many reasons to describe The Hunger Games as a work of calculated genius, but one reason is that its parable of Empire and Resistance feels relevant without being specific, and appeals equally to anarchists and Tea Partyers,” O’Hehir writes.

Good point, except why does he oppose anarchism and the Tea Party?  Tea Party people generally want smaller government.  It's Occupy Wall Street, even if many members are avowed anarchists, that seems to be demanding bigger government.

I'll Have A Hoagy

Happy birthday, Hoagy Carmichael, one of the top American songwriters ever. Not a bad performer, either.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Not just as good. Better. Way better

"Androids can now also take on a variety of human jobs such as receptionist and even news readers."

I particularly like the pop star idea. Let's give that one five years. It's going to have to be something special, with some serious tattoos.


Mike Nichols has died.  A major film director, but I often wonder if that was his greatest talent.

He attended the University of Chicago in the 1950s and later got involved with the Compass Players, who'd morph into Second City.  He teamed up with fellow performer Elaine May, and together they conquered the comedy world, making a hit on TV, Broadway and in recordings.

They were at the center of the new comedy arising then, along with Lenny Bruce, Shelly Berman, Bob Newhart and soon after Woody Allen and Bill Cosby. Nichols and May represented a wit and sophistication rarely seen before in popular entertainment. But the team split up and Nichols looked for something else.  He started directing and realized this was his métier.

He may have been better at directing for the stage than anything else. I can't say for sure, only having seen his production of Spamalot--the Tony-winning musical that needed his hand to become Broadway-ready--but when one looks at the plays that started his career, it's stunning how he started at the top.  Above all, he helped establish Neil Simon with the blockbusters Barefoot In The Park, The Odd Couple, Plaza Suite and The Prisoner Of Second Avenue (you may think it was all Simon's scripts, but read the playwright's memoirs and you'll see what a difference Nichols made), but also did Murray Schisgal's Luv and the Bock/Harnick musical The Apple Tree.

Later notable stage productions include Streamers, The Real Thing, The Gin Game and Hurlyburly.  He also became a significant producer, presenting unknown Whoopi Goldberg on Broadway and bringing in the musical Annie.

But he's best known to us for his work in film.  I don't know if any other director who began with such a one-two punch, making a couple of films that were both critically admired and huge hits.

In 1966, there was Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, the controversial Broadway show which he faithfully adapted (which probably couldn't have been done on screen a few years earlier).  I don't think he adds much to the play itself, but he doesn't mess it up, which is something.  Then, in 1967, came one of the best films of the era, and one of the biggest hits in the history of movies, The Graduate.  True, a lot of it comes from the amazing performances of Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, and the Buck Henry screenplay closely following the Charles Webb novel, but I'm not sure if anyone else could have pulled it together.  I find some of his directorial affectations the least interesting stuff in the film, yet Nichols, attuned to the comedic feel of the times (without, ironically, being that political), was a the right man for the job, and created a classic.

He never really hit the same heights again in his lengthy film career.  He followed up those two works with a huge flop--a heavy adaptation of the novel Catch-22.  The lighter, smaller MASH, released the same year, caught the insanity of war a lot better and was the hit Catch-22 wanted to be.  After that came Carnal Knowledge, an unusually-shaped film with an openness about sex that challenged the censorship of the time--but the Jules Feiffer script has not aged well.

After that came two out-and-out flops, the sci-fi drama The Day Of The Dolphin and the farce The Fortune.  Nichols was working with big stars, such as George C. Scott, Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson, and trying different genres, but he seemed to be floundering in the 70s.

The 80s saw at least a bit of a return to form, with better-formed and more successful films such as Silkwood, Heartburn, Biloxi Blues (Nichols' only Neil Simon film, and one of the better big-screen adaptations of the playwright's stage work) and Working Girl.  Maybe Nichols wasn't swinging for the fences quite so much, but he wasn't striking out either.

He started the 90s with a bunch of misfires--Postcards From The Edge, Regarding Henry and Wolf, before creating one of his biggest hits and best comedies, The Birdcage.  After that, Primary Colors--some like it, but I consider it a missed opportunity--and the major flop What Planet Are You From?.

In the 2000s, he adapated some plays for TV--Wit and Angels In America.  Not unlike Virginia Woolf, I'd say he didn't add much to them, but respected the material enough not to screw them up.  His final films were minor--Closer and Charlie Wilson's War--but a reminder that he still could put out something respectable.

Over his career, he won the EGOT--an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony--and in his final years, collected all the lifetime achievement awards--National Medal Of Arts, AFI, Kennedy Center, etc.  But he never retired.  For instance, in the last few years, he directed Philip Seymour Hoffman in Death Of A Salesman and Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz in Betrayal.

When Nichols was young, he discovered what he wanted to do--direct. And, lucky man, that's what he got to do, at the highest level, for the rest of his life.

Master Harold

Harold Ramis would have been 70 today. He maybe did his best work as a writer and director, but let's watch some of his mastery as an actor.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

So close, so close and yet so far, -are

I never quite know what to make of Megan McArdle, but she does a pretty good job here, managing to combine effectively and coherently the truth about both IT departments and financial accounting.

That is, she does a good job all the way to the end, when she completely does a little cartoon train crash: "It means that we've lost track of whose side we're on."

No, Megan, however sweet and confused you may be, the one thing they have not done is lose track of which side they are on. Indeed, the only thing they know is the side they are against. Even beheadings are not as evil as the side they are against.


Let's say goodbye to soul singer Jimmy Ruffin.


Happy birthday, Gary Green, guitarist for Gentle Giant.

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