Movie Chat

Two "Match Point" jokes:

1. It was funnier than "Hollywood Ending".
2. Trivia: killing the girlfriend and an innocent bystander was the original ending to "Annie Hall".

Then I saw Narnia with young Master Delicious. Is Aslan Hobbes? He's an animation when he's alive and just stuffed when he's dead. What a different, and less solemn, movie that would be! The El Capitan show, featuring their mighty Wurlitzer, they have before the movie is pretty cool, also.

SPOILER: Aslan is Jesus.



Lots of comments about this post over to Crooked Timber -- is there an American empire? But there needs to be more talk about the "soft empire" -- the way America found the world brick and left it Starbucks.


Check it

I really should read the paper more often. From the LA Times:

calendarlive.com: Hollywood should rewrite own script: "Los Angeles moviegoer Leonard Kolod recently spent $9.50 for a Beverly Center showing of New Line's 'A History of Violence,' only to be bombarded by nearly a dozen advertisements and previews preceding the film. Kolod complained to Loews Cineplex, but rather than placate its customer, Loews admonished Kolod in an e-mail that ads 'have been part of the cinema experience for many years' and are necessary to offset costs as 'screen actors are now receiving upwards [of] twenty million dollar salaries per movie and the films themselves are costing over one hundred million dollars to produce.' To which the Leonard Kolods of the world will say, 'Next time, I'll wait for the DVD.'"

Emphasis added. Of course the Beverly Center theaters, as I know firsthand, are atrocious. But still -- here the theaters are, entering a time of crisis. They feel the best way out of this crisis is to shit up the experience of going to a theater. Then it's somebody else's fault that they shit up your experience.

I draw a parallel of sorts to my own medium of network TV, where, in the limited time I have been in this business, the shows have gotten about a minute shorter. In other words, the networks are so worried about you watching cable that they're giving you less of what you watch network television for. Genius! (I wouldn't mind so much if all that extra time weren't going for promos.)



Yesterday I ran into a writer friend of mine, who like me is writing a pilot.

HIM: I'm writing this, and I realize that I'm a very bad writer.
ME: I know. I feel like, at most, 70% of a man right now.

That's what the first draft is like.

But today I am starting to rewrite! And, as much as I hate writing, that's how much I like rewriting. First drafts are a pain in the ass -- they're wasteful, such a huge percentage of stuff that you know as you're writing it will never see the light of day.

But then you make your decisions about what to do with this junky pile of papers that represent the failure of your career, and indeed the failure of your character as a human person, and start rewriting and it starts to feel better. Almost everything you do is improving the script -- except for the intractable problems, like one's lack of talent. But even that, now that your mood is better, doesn't seem insurmountable.

Then what am I doing here instead of rewriting? I can't take too much good feeling, that's what.


The Meme of the Four

Via BOP and Teachout, which I haven't read lately:

Four jobs you've had: Meatroom clerk, record store clerk, temporary secretary, Executive Producer

Four movies you could watch over and over Annie Hall, Spinal Tap, Duck Soup, Godfather II

Four places you've lived: Palo Alto, Brooklyn, Hoboken, Hollywood

Four TV shows you love to watch: Simpsons, Daily Show, The Office (USA), Hockey Night In Canada, esp. "Coach's Corner"

Four places you've been on vacation: Brewster, MA, Nice, Quebec, PQ, Kona, HI

Four Websites you visit daily: Deadspin, Andrew Tobias, The Morning News, Digby

Four favorite foods: Zankou chicken, Stilton, oysters, really fresh porter

Four places you'd rather be: Saratoga Springs, NY, Paris, SBC Park (ne Pac Bell), in The New Yorker



From John Spencer's obituary in the Los Angeles Times:

"Right after he signed the contract for the pilot, his agent called again to say he'd just come across 'the best new American play' he'd ever read, called 'The Glimmer Brothers,' Spencer told The Times in 2001.

Again, it was a role that Spencer felt he couldn't pass up.

He played Martin Glimmer, a dissolute trumpet player who's about to pay the final dues of a hard life, at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts during 'The West Wing's' summer hiatus in 1999.

Two years later, he revived his well-reviewed role in 'Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine' — same play, different title — at the Mark Taper Forum while filming 'The West Wing.'"

Question, class: Who wrote this play? Who knows? Who gives a shit -- it's just the writer! This is the best new American play ever and the LA Times doesn't care to tell us who wrote it. I guess it really is a Los Angeles paper after all!

N.B. -- It was written by Warren Leight, Mrs. D and I saw it at the Taper, and agreed this morning that, while a nice enough play (and it's a great part for Spencer and he played it for all it was worth), if it's the best new American play ever that says more about the theater than about the play.


What's the matter with TV

Today we had trouble breaking episodes in the room (i.e. thinking of stories), because we didn't have our showrunner, because he was on the phone fighting off notes from the executives telling him to take out jokes from an episode we'd shot, because the jokes were be too mean.

Let us grant the incorrect premise of the executives and say that their notes would make the episode, what, 5% better. Even so, it's at the expense of the future, yet-unplanned show. That show is some unknown percentage worse, because the showrunner's energies are devoted to beating back notes.

Often executives behave as if show creators' time and energy were not zero-sum, while they make it negative-sum, by sucking the energy out of them.

Blog of the climate of the climate blogs

Let others be scared of terrorism; that's penny-ante stuff. We want to be scared of la longue duree; it's more existential-y. Thus climate change is perfect. The natural contrarian in me would love to believe that, because it's the fashion to be scared of it, it means that everyone's wrong. But I don't see the evidence.

What I have been doing is reading a bunch of climate blogs, so from time to time I will bring you a Delicious RSS (DRSS) of what I find. Today, for example, via Climate Change Blog, we have Dr. James Hansen, who's Senate testimony in 1988 was the first big alarm bell, writing in the International Herald Tribune:

The Earth's temperature, with rapid global warming over the past 30 years, is now passing through the peak level of the Holocene, a period of relatively stable climate that has existed for more than 10,000 years. Further warming of more than one degree Celsius will make the Earth warmer than it has been in a million years.

Business-as-usual scenarios, with fossil fuel (CO²) emissions continuing to increase at 2 percent per year as in the past decade, will yield additional warming of two or three degrees this century. That implies practically a different planet.

The Earth's climate is nearing, but has not passed, a tipping point beyond which it will be impossible to avoid climate change with far-ranging undesirable consequences. These include not only the loss of the Arctic as we know it, with all that implies for wildlife and indigenous peoples, but losses on a much vaster scale due to rising seas.



Words of wisdom from my son

"The cartoonier you make it, the funnier it is."

Attention holiday geeks!

Some dude has written the old Holiday Lights program, where you can put Christmas lights around the edge of your screen, for Mac OSX.

And this shall be a sign unto you!


The Cosmic Harmony Is Built On Dissonance

I've been drinking and paying bills, so the following, via BOPNews, I really "responded to" (to use current Hollywood parlance):
Think Denk: Hemiola with a Conscience:

"Now, I associate with each past piano teacher some wisdom-pearl, and John Perry was the first to express to me, so that I really heard it, the very obvious notion: how much poorer Bach would be (nothing, in fact) without the dissonances. (A pianist in master class had forgotten to tie over a crucial dissonant note). This composer, who we imagine so in touch with the cosmic harmony, such a master of musical logic and organization: the logic is built, so to speak, on a sea of contradictions, an uncountable array of types of dissonances.(Ugly, ugly dissonances!) Sometimes you hear Bach performances where these dissonances really 'speak,' and also quite often you hear them only by the way... the dissonances become like fresh herbs stirred into a stew too early, losing their flavor in the slow cooking. It is so easy to take them for granted, to forget their edge. "

Emphasis added by me, or rye whiskey, it's not clear which.


Sounds Dirtier Than It Is Dept.

BBC NEWS | Antarctica's ice bottom exposed

(Alternative title for this post: "Suck on this, Mars!")


Road q and a

Q. What kind of car should a guy drive who has a bumper sticker that says "Unlock Your Mind Through Hypnosis"?

A. An Infiniti, of course.

Ignorance and dust

I really ought to read Majikthise more:

Personally, I'm a huge believer in what Hirschman calls "ignorance and dust"--not caring about tidiness and not cultivating any special skills to produce domestic order. One of the way society controls women is by setting unrealistic bourgeois aesthetic standards and foisting them on women. One way women can resist the patriarchy is by rejecting these standards as unreasonable.

Mrs. D. and I have removed a source of domestic discord by perpetuating existing class relations and hiring a cleaning lady. But even before our cleaning-lady days, we were both slobs, so neither of us could posess the high ground to criticize. It's sort of a Mutual Assured Untidiness.

Majikthise should go further, as I do implicitly, and claim that untidiness is a sort of mark of genius -- it's the lack of cleanliness that's next to godliness. Up to a point, of course.


A link for you

Overheard in New York

UPDATE: Tried to send the HTML from my cell phone, I guess that's not possible.


Speaking of Arts & Letters

as I just was, that guy Denis Dutton used to be a loudmouthed global warming skeptic. Yet I don't see much of anything anymore supporting his position. I wonder what it is now...

Consolations of Latkes

I enjoyed this very much, but when I brought it into the room apparently some others had heard of it. Story of my life, I guess. Sample quote:

In every possible world, there is a latke. How do we know this? By discovering that it is impossible to imagine a world in which there is no latke. Try it.

First, imagine a world. Put in everything you need for a world; this is to be a whole world, not a fragment.

Now add in a latke.

Now take that latke out. It cannot be done, can it?

(Via Arts & Letters Daily)

UPDATE: I am reminded that Molly O'Neill's New York Cookbook has a funny recipe for latkes, specifiying Kitty Carlisle's version of "Beat Out That Rhythm On A Drum". Plus potatoes, of course. You can see it here.


And The Fair Land

You may not drive
A great big Cadillac
Gangster whitewalls
TV antenna in the back

You may not have
A car at all
But remember, brothers and sisters,
You can still stand tall

Just be thankful
For what you got

(diamond in the back, sunroof top,
diggin the scene with the gangsterlean, oo-ooo)


Desired iPod feature

If you're listening to a podcast or something really long, like a movement from a symphony, and then you want to listen to something else -- like William DeVaughn's "Be Thankful For What You Got" -- the iPod should be able to remember where you left off.

Maybe I should just turn this blog into "Sound Off!" items like this.



I've seen a couple of new NHL games on my TV box. Flow is better but one does wish for a little more physical play in the corners. I was watching some game where there was a nifty two-line pass, but a change that seems big to me is the way they moved the blue line out. It seems like it prevents defenses from really packing it in; it creates space, and space is something the old NHL was missing (partially because of the size of the players; I think the NBA has the same problem).


At the Hollywood bowl, by a friend of mine:

"So -- Everquest Girl is flying out to see me."

Which brings to mind my favorite snippet of overheard conversation, while I was waiting for a meeting at my agent's (stop yourself, from reading, if you've heard this before). Two fresh-faced baby agents, or possibly assistants, pass each other in the hall:

Baby agent 1: Gangsta!
Baby agent 2: What it is!

What it is. Awesome.


Another reason the LA Times stinks.

Today's Plaschke column, well-destroyed here.

It's no fun seeing the LA Times suck, to see it stink so bad it comes wrapped in itself. If they weren't famous for hounding you at home if you cancel your subscription I'd do it.

Ooh, the Food section looks good today, though.


Comment spam

Apologies for the comment spam. Right now it's easier for me just to delete them by hand (for that artisanal-blog touch) than turn on word verification. But who knows, you guys may learn something you didn't know about Cialis.

Q: "Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani?"

A: "It's in my nature."

(Inspired by Brad DeLong.)


A tiny feature of the Southern California landscape

Little old ladies with black umbrellas in the brilliant sunshine.

We lose Scheer for this


Those who defend McCain's amendment and attack Cheney and Bush feel a nice warm glow, as if they're basking in virtue, as in a hot tub, sipping Cabernet. But there is no virtue in joining a crowd, even if the crowd is right — and this one isn't.

McCain is a bona fide hero. But there's nothing courageous in standing firm with virtually the whole cultural leadership of this nation and the Western world, under any circumstances. It's too easy. To take a principled stand that you know will make people loathe and vilify you — that's what integrity, leadership and moral courage are all about. This time Cheney is the hero. McCain is taking the easy out.

(Emphasis added) Some notes:

1. Does this mean that Gelernter enjoys the "integrity, leadership, and moral courage" of al-Qaeda? Who's more loathed and villified than those guys? Oh, I know who! I forgot that Gelernter hates liberals more!

2. Don't you get the impression that Gelernter is for torture just because the rest of the Yale faculty is against it? This passage makes me think that he prefers al-Qaeda to liberals (or "liberals") -- al-Qaeda neither hot tubs, nor Cabernets, after all.

3. The hot tub-Cabernet line in general: tou-fuckin-che, dude. You nailed me. But when you're as fat as I am, you don't get into a hot tub unless everyone's been drinking, believe me.

4. If right-wing froth were in short supply I could understand why the LAT is keeping this guy and losing the left-wing froth of Scheer. But it isn't. No wonder the circulation's dwindling -- LAT management think this guy and Plaschke (and if Gelernter wrote shorter paragraphs he would be Plaschke) commit quality journalism.


Hiltzik (4)

Hear him!

Routed and pained, the Friends of Arnold will now declare that California is ungovernable. Baloney. All we know for sure is that it’s ungovernable by a blustering lout without the capacity to compromise and lacking a genuine program. Schwarzenegger doesn’t have an education policy. He doesn’t have a fiscal policy—neither a revenue plan nor a spending plan. Energy and water policies? He hasn’t even started on those.

He’s not a stupid or lazy man, but he has been a stupid and lazy governor. He doesn’t spend very much time in Sacramento, so he’s never learned the ropes. He surrounds himself with toadies who stoke his sense of entitlement and his paranoia about powerful enemies. He seems confused about the depth and origins of the opposition to his policies, because he has never met voters in their natural habitats, only on stage sets.

The Schwarzenegger tragedy is that he actually could have been a great governor. No one ever came into office boasting anything like his charisma and popularity. He was perfectly positioned to deliver home truths to the electorate—you either have to raise taxes or really cut the budget. He did neither. The turning point in his administration came two months before he was even elected, when he repudiated the observation of his own economic guru, Warren Buffett, that Proposition 13 had created too many tax inequities.

A Hollywood note: to me the difference between Reagan and Schwarzenegger is that one was an actor and the other is a star. Reagan's career was as, essentially, an employee: he was a cog in a business, one who came to sympathize with his employer no doubt, but somebody who understood he was replaceable.

Arnold is a star. There is no limit to how much his ego can be stroked, and this has been going on, for him, for 20 years. Such a man is particularly ill-suited for the messy business of governing (particularly in a state capital).


Among the many things I don't get

There are many things in life that are incomprehensible (as opposed to mysterious), and I've made my peace with that. But one thing I really don't get is "Work hard, play hard.". What's so great about that? It has "Work hard" right there up front. I'll never be an American.


What I Believe

Making television shows would be much more fun -- and the shows themselves would be better -- if all the executives still drank at lunch.


Alito nomination

De feminis non curat lex.


They're not wrong

I saw this article in the Wall Street Journal on Friday and it made me think of the notes process for a writer. The gist is that -- well, just see:
brains have a remarkable talent for reframing suboptimal outcomes to see setbacks in the best possible light. You can see it when high-school seniors decide that colleges that rejected them really weren't much good, come to think of it.

You can see it, too, in experiments where Prof. Gilbert and colleagues told female volunteers they would be working on a task that required them to have a likeable, trustworthy partner. They would get a partner randomly, by blindly choosing one of four folders, each containing a biography of a potential teammate. Unknown to the volunteers, each folder contained the same bio, describing an unlikable, untrustworthy person.

The volunteers were unfazed. Reading the randomly chosen bio, they interpreted even negatives as positives. 'She doesn't like people' made them think of her as 'exceptionally discerning.' And when they read different bios, they concluded their partner was hands-down superior. 'Their brains found the most rewarding view of their circumstances,' says Prof. Gilbert."

The article goes on to state that this quality is what maintains our species belief in God. But what it really reminded me of is when you get a devastating note from the network, one that requires you to rebuild an entire story, and you sit there looking at the whiteboard at your new, jerry-rigged story...and suddenly, you see all the advantages of the new way.

"They're not wrong," you say about your network masters. Oh, but they may well be. But why dwell on it?


Hiltzik (3)

My favorite LA Times columnist now has a blog. Check it out.

My least favorite LA Times columnist? So many to choose from...

Reaction to the Miers withdrawl

"And always keep a hold of Nurse
For fear of finding something worse."


Poor Kos

As if trying to help the Democrats isn't bad enough:

"I'm a full-time blogger, a soon-to-be author, and I am building a network of sports blogs called SB Nation which has nothing to do with politics, but I am biased toward the Cubs, A's, Bulls, Bears, and Blackhawks. "

At least Bill Wirtz doesn't head up the DNC...


Schwarzenegger Bullshit Watch (18, crony division)

Mercury News:

"...an hourlong interview with the governor will soon run on the Spanish-language Univision television network, whose owner is a large Schwarzenegger donor."

What's Spanish for Sinclair?


Attention Santa Monica!

Beachfront property not so valuable after all!

No Escape: Thaw Gains Momentum - New York Times:

"Those authors and many other experts have settled on the same picture of the region late this century: tundra retreats and forests spread; most sea ice disappears in late summer; coastlines wear away under the assault of wind-driven waves on waters that previously were sheathed in ice; permafrost turns to bogs; and ancient lakes that once sat atop permanently frozen ground drain like unplugged bathtubs.

Climatologists say the effects eventually could extend far beyond the sparsely populated north, contributing to climate and ocean shifts that could dry the American West and possibly slow north-flowing warm currents in the Atlantic Ocean that keep northern Europe milder than it would otherwise be.

The effects could also include a sharp increase in the rate at which seas are swelled by melting glacial ice and far greater warming as even more greenhouse gases, locked in permafrost and the Arctic seabed, are liberated by warming.

For example, American and Russian scientists studying lakes in northeastern Siberia recently reported that the melt of permafrost is generating methane, a potent greenhouse gas. In spots, so much methane is being released that roiling streams of bubbles prevent the surface from freezing even in the depths of the Siberian winter.

The most that can be expected, some climate scientists say, is to limit the human contribution to warming enough to forestall the one truly calamitous, if slow motion, threat in the far north: the melting of Greenland's ice cap.

Rising two miles high and spreading over an area twice the size of California, this vast reservoir - essentially the Gulf of Mexico frozen and flipped onto land - contains enough water to raise sea levels worldwide more than 20 feet. In recent years, the ice sheets of Greenland have been building in the middle through added snowfall but melting even more around the edges in summer. Many Greenland experts say the melting is already winning out."
I imagine that the Broadway season will be affected, as well.

Humor from the LA Times?

'Frasier' back as legal drama - Los Angeles Times:

Starts off as a regular Hollywood-news story:

How can a hit television series like "Frasier" gross $1.5 billion and yet be $200 million in the red?

That's the issue at the center of a recent lawsuit filed against Paramount Pictures by two talent agencies seeking answers to how "Frasier" — the Emmy-winning NBC sitcom starring Kelsey Grammer that ran for 11 seasons — can claim that it never turned a net profit even though it was one of the most successful shows in television history.
The joke's way down in the piece, though, after the jump. Here's the setup:

The key to unlocking the mystery of Hollywood accounting often lies in the contractual definition of net profits, according to O'Donnell, the attorney in the Buchwald case. He also noted that clout plays a key role in the way a contract is structured. If you are a star like Eddie Murphy, your contract is more favorable than someone else's further down the food chain.

And here it comes -- wait for it...
"I think talent agencies probably are on the same lowest rung of the Hollywood clout ladder as the writer," O'Donnell says

Hahahahahaha. The same as the writer! How rich! Welcome to the bottom rung, guys. The difference is that we're not surprised to be here.



I let a dear friend of mine look at this blog, and I have to say I was a little embarassed at how shitty it is. Fortunately she hates her blog too.

The hope here is that, having passed through the hot fires of embarassment, I emerge tested and determined to do better. The guess here, however, is that like most embarassing things, I just try to pretend it never happened.

Oh, right, TV: Notes on pitching

I have recently been pitching stuff around town (use of the word "town" to refer to "various Los Angeles-area corporate outposts of entertainment conglomerates" being both irritating and inevitable) and offer the following random observations:

• The most important thing in pitching TV comedy apparently is this happened to me. Your buyers are hoping for a show that can run a hundred times. They don't think your great idea about lesbian gators in space, howsoever funny it might be, has a hundred episodes in it. Something about your hilarious marriage, and how your wife tells you to pick up the towels in the bathroom but you never do, that stuff generates stories every day. So unless you can convince them that lesbian gators in space happened to you, you might as well work on your "Two and a Half Men" spec, because you're not selling nothing.

• People don't laugh all that much. (Even when you control for the fact that it's my stuff.) This freaked me out at first. A more experienced writer explained why: because they're thinking hard during your pitch -- have we already committed to an pilot like this, if we did this where would it fit on the schedule, do we have deals with any actors that might fit in here, can I bear to be in business with this person, etc., etc.

• The whole process of pitching seems a little archaic to me: like, why don't we all do two-page writeups of our ideas and then they can decide? Then I realized that the trial-by-fire element is as important as the idea. The executives could be betting their careers on you (a little). So they want to put you under some pressure and see how you do. If you run a show there will be times when you have to make choices under pressure, after all. On the other hand, this can't be too effective as a weeding-out process, because there are still tons of showrunners with poor administrative skills who can't make decisions under pressure.

• I must have a couple more but I want to get this up and get the ball rolling.


Spoiled Modern Baseball Fan

Game 7 of the 1975 World Series is on ESPN Classic. How come there's no box with the score and inning on it?

Seriously, they could do it. It would help.

Also, check out the red blazers on the American League umps. Choice.


Noted with agreement

From Digby, on the Republican big tent:

"Wait until Big Business understands that after they get their tax cuts and deregulation they'll have to contend with a generation of creationist witch burners to sustain a first world economy. "

Of course there is the servant class to consider...


The case for good grammar (guest appearance: My Secret Unicorn)

Recommended without comment is this from Alicublog.

Money graf:

At the very least good English is a civilizing hobby, like horticulture or chess[...] Making a proper sentence requires a kind of mental engineering that causes even a strongly-felt emotion, coming out of the id like a compressed jet of molten lava, to confront a divided pathway of choice, which often leads to another series of choices, and then another, etc., thereby cooling and – when it all comes together in speech or writing -- condensing the product.

I would only go on to add that this thought dovetails nicely with my pet educational hobbyhorse, a magnificent secret hobbyhorse of a kind that would only be drawn on an empty page of one's Social Studies notebook: mandatory teaching of Latin. Talk about getting an education in grammar! There's nothing like a dead language for taxonomy. This hobbyhorse is so imaginary, however, that I might as well call it my secret hobbyunicorn.


Megadittos, TT

I actually own the discs that Teachout is talking about here, and I second what he says (particularly about "You're Not The Only Oyster In The Stew"):

Most anthologies of classic jazz recordings appear to have been put together on the how-could-they-possibly-have-left-that-one-out principle, but the aptly named The Quintessence: New York-Camden-Los Angeles 1929-1943 (Frémeaux & Associés FA 207, two CDs) really is just as advertised, containing thirty-six unerringly chosen tracks that comprise between them the quintessence of Fats Waller as both singer and pianist. If you can listen to “Baby Brown,” “Sweet and Slow,” or “You’re Not the Only Oyster in the Stew” without breaking out in an ear-to-ear smile, you might as well button up your hair shirt and stick to Machaut or Tori Amos. God didn’t mean for you to be happy.


Explore his web links? Sign me up!

I know I shouldn't pick on TimesSelect, because that's the fashionable pose, and usually I prefer to try to be early for the backlash. (Plus I pay good money for the WSJ, so it feels hypocritical.) But I can't resist when I see this enticement on the Op-Ed page:

"Paul Krugman: Money Talks Explore the columnist's lists of web links and read a recent Q&A with readers"

I get to see what Paul Krugman is linking to? And it's only 50 dollars? I'm sorry if I got shoe prints on your nice jacket but I don't care who or what I step over to sign up!

I'm late to the party

I'm sure, but I'm enjoying the increasing use of the word "fucktard." (Here, for example, but elsewhere too.)


Random baseball thought

Everyone talks about Red Sox Nation all the time, yet I feel like I never hear about Cubs Nation. Is that because Cub fan-itude is less about nationalism and more about a way of life? Is the nation that Cub fandom most resembles Provence? Do we need to send Peter Mayle into those bleachers?

Okay, back to work.


I'm back

And I have made more work for myself, so the posting will be sub-trickle.

Nice to see hockey, though.

No one blogs about what is truly significant.

In the Arts and Leisure section for God's sake:

The pump operator's story reflects a spirit of civic responsibility that rallied in humble quarters like these when Hurricane Katrina roared through the Gulf Coast, soon to be followed by Hurricane Rita. At the same time, it illustrates the degree to which the once-solid foundations of that system have become an illusion. For decades now, we have been witnessing the slow, ruthless dismantling of the nation's urban infrastructure. The crumbling levees in New Orleans are only the most conspicuous evidence of this decline: it's evident everywhere, from Amtrak's aging track system to New York's decaying public school buildings.[...]

The great American cities of the early 20th century were built on the vision of its engineers, not just architects. That spirit can be found in the aqueduct that William Mulholland built in the 1910's, transforming the parched Los Angeles desert into a sprawling urban oasis. And it paved the way for the soaring skylines of Chicago and Manhattan architects.In New Orleans, that vision was embodied not by the ornate facades of the French Quarter but by elaborate networks of pump stations, levees and drainage canals that transformed a quiet 19th-century town into a modern metropolis - one of the great engineering accomplishments of the 20th century."

[...]Today, the true descendants of these visionaries are more likely to be working in the Netherlands or Spain than in a major American city. Bilbao, for example, may have gained cultural cachet from the success of its Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum. Yet the strongest evidence of the city's enlightened planning is the enormous investment it made in a new high-tech subway system designed by the British architect Norman Foster. It's hard to imagine a similar undertaking in an American city today, especially when the federal government seems more concerned about doling out private contracts than reversing decades of neglect. The challenge we face is not just about infrastructure. It's about reknitting the connective tissue that binds us into a functioning society. This cannot be accomplished by retreating into a haze of denial; what's needed is an honest acknowledgment of what's brought us here. New Orleans was a warning.

Indeed, the anti-city people have run roughshod over the rest of us, to America's detriment, for too long. I blame air conditioning, and Thomas Jefferson.


Pitch week

This is the week I pitch my brilliant idea for a situational comedy around town so blogging will slow from "a crawl" to "nonexistent". I leave you, however, with this juicy piece that makes you
a) wish Mencken were still around, but also
b) profoundly uneasy:

"Prosecutors in the United States say jurors schooled in crime investigations through watching TV dramas are making it tough to prove cases because they expect to see sophisticated forensic evidence, even in white-collar trials.

Alice Martin, the US state prosecutor for the Northern District of Alabama, said the so-called 'CSI effect - a reference to the hit television show about gruesome crime scene investigations - hurt her in a recent corporate case.

Ms Martin has told a white-collar crime conference at Georgetown University Law Centre in Washington how jurors' expectations hurt the case against HealthSouth Corp founder Richard Scrushy, who was acquitted of securities fraud and other charges in June.... Ms Martin says jurors in post-verdict interviews said 'we needed a fingerprint on one of the documents or we needed him [Mr Scrushy] to say the word 'fraud' on the audiotape' that was secretly recorded by a former HealthSouth finance chief.

'They said, 'they always do fingerprints on TV',' Ms Martin said."


Oddly philosophical Bugs Bunny line that popped into my head while driving on Laurel Canyon

"She may be ugly now, but she was somebody's baby once."

BBC Science page

Is just full of climate-change related news today.

First, Heatwave makes plants warm planet:

"A new study shows that during the 2003 heatwave, European plants produced more carbon dioxide than they absorbed from the atmosphere. They produced nearly a tenth as much as fossil fuel burning globally.
The study shows that ecosystems which currently absorb CO2 from the atmosphere may in future produce it, adding to the greenhouse effect."

And, Aviation 'huge threat to CO2 aim':

UK homes, firms and motorists will have to cut carbon dioxide emissions to zero due to air travel growth, a study says.

Even if such growth is halved, the rest of the economy will need cuts beyond targets set for 2050, said the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

Aviation is regarded as especially polluting because of the large amount of fuel used at high altitude.

Of course, this latter one is subject to the "if current trends continue" extrapolation error. What if there's a lot less air travel growth because the fuel is so expensive? Etc.


Emmy notes

Yeah, I watched it, bitches. Some notes:

-- The room, to a man/woman, thought the thing as a whole was lame. It's bad enough being the red-headed stepchild to movie people; we don't have to go and prove it.

-- The Daily Show's writing win: A tremendous step forward for the White community. Also, boys. Snarky white boys in general should just feel tremendously empowered this morning.

-- It was funny that they brought Frederica Von Stade out to sing the Star Trek theme, and she seemed to be having fun. But I couldn't help thinking that, 40 or 50 years ago, they would have given her her own Omnibus special or something.

-- I already forgot who won, and I've actually been to the Emmys. I can only imagine how America feels. (Although my only being able to imagine how America feels is kind of a long-standing problem I have.)


The Second Crawford School

I just saw this on Alex Ross's blog:

"JD Considine has analyzed the chord that Bush is playing in the famous guitar picture, taken at the height of the Katrina disaster. It seems to be a strongly dissonant sonority consisting of the notes G, G#, A, B, C, and D. Considine speculates that Bush was trying to play a G-major chord and messed up, but I suspect that our Commander-in-Chief, mindful of the inherent tendency of the musical material, has followed Schoenberg over the threshold of atonality. Here he plays the pitch-class set named 6-Z11 in the Allen Forte system -- a hauntingly ambiguous chord that brushes against the ghost of a now defunct tonality even as it stares ahead remorselessly into the chromatic future. I am looking forward to the rigorously atonal works that Bush will have time to write on Trent Lott's porch."


Another million-dollar idea

For Ben and Jerry's: a pint of ice cream that plays up the fact that you eat ice cream when you're depressed. When I brought this up in the room, someone suggested the name "You're Better Off Without Him Mocha," but then we thought that was too girly, so then we thought maybe half the package would be "Better Off" and the other half, for the guys, would be, "The Bitch Was Crazy Mocha."

But then I thought they should get a Heath Bar or something and mix pieces of it into the ice cream and call it "Breakup Breakup." Bam, a million dollars, right there.

If someone has already thought of this, I would not be surprised, but I still claim that I was there first.


From The Independent, via Stoat

Global warming 'past the point of no return'

A record loss of sea ice in the Arctic this summer has convinced scientists that the northern hemisphere may have crossed a critical threshold beyond which the climate may never recover. Scientists fear that the Arctic has now entered an irreversible phase of warming which will accelerate the loss of the polar sea ice that has helped to keep the climate stable for thousands of years.

They believe global warming is melting Arctic ice so rapidly that the region is beginning to absorb more heat from the sun, causing the ice to melt still further and so reinforcing a vicious cycle of melting and heating.

This place is turning into fucking Russia (2)

From the president's speech:

" 'It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces.'"

Emphasis added, or, in reality, soon to be added.


Executive speak

(Hopefully one of a series.)
On a given moment in a script: "We think there's more fun to be had." This equals, "We think this should be funnier."

One's imagined reply:

"Well, if there were more 'fun to be had,' we probably would have had it, seeing as we're fucking comedy writers."

Actual reply:




We were talking about this piece in the room the other day. It's pretty funny.


WWOZ in exile

Obviously there's the human cost, but part of what we love about New Orleans is the music, and a bastion of that is WWOZ. WFMU, the freeform station of the nation, and home of the fabulous classic soul DJ Mr. Fine Wine, is allowing them some bandwidth so they can play your classic Crescent City favorites.

Let us continue on undaunted, the way Professor Longhair would've. And throw a few shekels their way if you cann.

BREAKING: WSJ Editorial Page Saner Than News Pages

According to yesterday's Wall Street Journal (which I actually subscribe to but am stealing from Billmon:

The Bush administration is importing many of the contracting practices blamed for spending abuses in Iraq . . . The first large-scale contracts related to Hurricane Katrina, as in Iraq, were awarded without competitive bidding, and using so-called cost-plus provisions that guarantee contractors a certain profit regardless of how much they spend."

Contrast this with Pete Wilson's Op-Ed from today's paper:

Second, we took a page from the book of private sector incentives for accelerating performance. We told contractors bidding to repair the bridges that they must submit bids that specified not only the cost but the date of completion, and that they must agree to an added condition: For every day they were late, they would incur a penalty of $200,000; and for every day they were early, they would be rewarded with a bonus of $200,000. The winning bidder, C. C. Myers, Inc., put on three shifts that worked 24/7. In order to prevent any delay in the work, they hired a locomotive and crew to haul to Los Angeles steel sitting on a siding in Texas. Myers made more on the bonus than they did on the bid.

That's how you line the pockets of contractors! By making it a win-win!

The Wisdom Of Crowds

Baseball style. (Via Fire Jim Tracy.)


It's not Republican or Democrats

Who failed us. It's conservatives. Check out even the conservative National Review on Blanco in 2003 :

"Similarly, given that the conservative Blanco only marginally differed from Jindal on policy points (her slightly-more-liberal view on abortion rights helped her with suburban women), it's hard to see how national Democrats can translate her victory into a winning game plan elsewhere."

And the mayor, of course, was a Republican-turned-Democrat. So are they all honorable men.

This place is turning into fucking Russia

Tight Constraints on Pentagon's Freedom Walk:

"Organizers of the Pentagon's 9/11 memorial Freedom Walk on Sunday are taking extraordinary measures to control participation in the march and concert, with the route fenced off and lined with police and the event closed to anyone who does not register online by 4:30 p.m. today.The march, sponsored by the Department of Defense, will wend its way from the Pentagon to the Mall along a route that has not been specified but will be lined with four-foot-high snow fencing to keep it closed and 'sterile,' said Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense."


You're welcome

From something quoted in this Yglesias post:

"A generation's worth of survey data has demonstrated a causal link between levels of TV viewing and civic disengagement."


Professional Tennis Query

I play tennis, badly, and often find myself losing the first set, 6-4, and then getting in a shame spiral and trying too hard and suddenly I'm down 3-0, so I pack it in and lose 6-0, something like that. And that's the kind of thing I've come to expect from me, a bad athlete with a worse state of mind.

What I don't understand is that this seems to happen in professional tennis all the time. It seems like I see lots of 7-5, 6-1 scores, or, on the men's side, 6-4, 6-3, 6-0. I mean, Jesus, you're a professional, don't pack it in. You have customers! I don't get it at all.

On the other hand, there are lots of shitty TV shows where the writers are just hoping to be through in time to get home for dinner. But then writing was never accused of breeding character...

Idea I'm storing here

Chili's presents... The United States of America.

"...and the home of the baby back baby back ribs.". Play ball!



Not only does the emperor have no clothes, he's ugly when he's naked.



This article on FEMA I found through Yahoo, by the Seattle emergency-management director:

"Witt fought for federal funding to support the new program. At its height, only $20 million was allocated to the national effort, but it worked wonders. One of the best examples of the impact the program had here in the central Puget Sound area and in western Washington state was in protecting people at the time of the Nisqually earthquake on Feb. 28, 2001. Homes had been retrofitted for earthquakes, and schools were protected from high-impact structural hazards. Those involved with Project Impact thought it ironic that the day of that quake was also the day that the new president, George W. Bush, chose to announce that Project Impact would be discontinued."

Somehow this FEMA regime makes one uneasy, if one were living say, in an earthquake zone.


The independent Menlo Park bookstore where I spent a lot of temping money is no more.

Sometimes civilzation goes all at once, and sometimes it goes brick by brick.


Would it help

If we called Katrina the Ronald Reagan Memorial Hurricane? I think it would buck up everyone's spirits tremendously.


Just posting about "Just Asking"

Mark A. R. Kleiman writes:

"How is it that the entire debate about the Kelo eminent-domain decision has run its course without anyone mentioning that the President of the United States made most of his huge fortune by arranging for exactly that sort of taking of private property for private use?"

Schwarzenegger Bullshit Watch (17)

Now the Angels stink.


One of the signs my life might be a little dull

I notice, with pleasure, new billboards on my commute home.


National Anthem notes

Hollywood Bowl, a couple of weeks ago -- Chardonnay-sipping, show-tune loving elites enthusastically join in.

All-American game of baseball at Dodger Stadium, last night -- no one sings.

Chardonnay-sipping elites actually more patriotic than sports fans? Probably!

PS-- This has got to be one of the worst Dodger teams in the history of Los Angeles.



I'm faster than the pope

I use flat-screen monitors as paper plates

I drink my stein of heavy cream before everyone else

I can convert numbers in my head to base eight

I can finish Talking Points while you're still reading Eschaton


Check it

Panel Sees Growing Melting Arctic Threat:

"The rate of ice melting in the Arctic is increasing and a panel of researchers says it sees no natural process that is likely to change that trend.

Within a century the melting could lead to summertime ice-free ocean conditions not seen in the area in a million years, the group said Tuesday.

Melting of land-based glaciers could take much longer but could raise the sea levels, potentially affecting coastal regions worldwide.

And changes to the permafrost could undermine buildings, drain water into bogs and release additional carbon into the atmosphere."

A million years! That'll be interesting!



Since one of our big problems in Iraq seems to be securing the road to the airport, would it help us if we re-named the airport Reagan International?


Flip over to the march of Folly.
The harebrained scheme processes by
To sing its song (while anchors rally) --
A soaring tune whose lyrics lie:

"That desert there will be a beach
Once Babylon hears Houston teach.
Assume an ocean in that sand."
If you pipe up, "It's locked in land,"

Watch what you say. You're not alive
To Folly's simple, hooky song.
Enemies say the words are wrong --
That's all you are. Now watch this drive.

Folly casts a comfy cloud
And wraps around us like a shroud.

Test 2

Test, yes?


Unfortunate or, maybe it's okay to smoke

For those who like a modicum of stability, this is bad news and this isn't good either and neither is this.

Sample quote:

The spectacular disintegration of Antarctica's "Larsen-B" Ice Shelf was unprecedented since the last ice age, according to a recent study to be published next week in Nature. And the disintegrating Antarctic ice could have huge implications for global warming and rising sea levels.

Using sediment core and oxygen isotope analysis, researchers have recently proved that Larsen B -- which disintegrated in 35 days in 2002 -- had been a stable ice shelf 200 metres thick with a surface area of 3,250 square kilometres for at least 10,000 years.

Fantastic. I think I'll go have a cigar.



You go away for a week, and the dudes at Yard Work blog their baseball-satire-loving asses off. Sample (the persona is Larry Bowa on Ryne Sandberg, but Ron Burgundy and Howard Dean are the latest posters):

"When did it become OK for someone to hit home runs and forget how to play the rest of the game?"When folks f*cking figured out that bunting's for sissy b*tches and pitchers! And "respect" blah blah "respect" blah blah "respect". Just say "White power" and get the f*ck off the stage, you boring sad c*ntrod. The only time I took you under my wing was when I was giving you a f*cking headlock and fist massage while Schmidtty filled your shoes w/ dogsh*t and Charlie Hustle took yr daily stipend to the dog track."

"The pure products of America go crazy"

...said William Carlos Williams. How did he know about kiddie birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese's so far ahead of his time?


The Fredrick Jackson Turner theory of obesity

, which is mine, is that, with the frontier closed, the only space Americans can conquer is the space right around their bodies. Hence, they must become larger. A typical line at Disney World, then, is only the wagon-train spirit writ large -- very large.



From my e-mail box:

Ticket prices for Los Angeles Kings season tickets holders have been reduced by five percent for the upcoming 2005-06 season and individual game ticket pricing will remain unchanged from the 2003-04 season, it was announced today by Kings President Tim Leiweke.

Boldface mine to point out the dumbassery.

We already know your costs went down 24 percent. We also know that this stupid sport is going to be moribund in the US unless you can grow it, and the price point of individual tickets is not exactly inviting.

Yeah, yeah, they increased the number of cheap tickets up in the upper deck, and they should have, but remember that the upper deck at Staples sits on top of a three story building of suites -- basically, the whole deck gives you a great view of how little you matter to management.

Besides, who cares that Anschutz lost a little money? The whole Staples thing is a real estate play anyway.

Even a nominal cut would have been a nice gesture. Dumbasses.


Still screwing around with the template

Why my blogroll looks like it does, I still can't understand. Perhaps I never will.

Why I am happy I am not a right-wing pundit.

Well, lots of reasons, but one is that I don't have write about how this is a symptom of people's lack of respect for authority and the decline of American civilization and Jesus in general:

"People sought relief wherever they could. To beat the heat, about 100 young adults joined in a water balloon fight at the Jordan Downs housing development in Watts. Police and fire officials were called to the scene, where at least one bystander was injured in the frenzy, said Sgt. R.L. Johnson of the Los Angeles Police Department's Southeast Division.

'Basically, whenever it gets hot, kids come out with water balloons,' Johnson said. 'The Fire Department was bombarded with water balloons also, and of course they didn't think that was funny.'"

There's just something so delicious and junior high about "They didn't think that was funny." Unless you're a right-wing pundit, that is.

Mrs. D weighs in on Stella

I have gotten my wife hooked on Stella, too, and she's watching it with me and says, "These guys are hysterical. Are they Canadian?"

Are they Canadian. What does that say about us as a country?



Moon Day

Via Boing Boing, some folks are celebrating this.

Hiltzik (2)

My man from the LA Times bidness section Michael Hiltzik looks like he's going to blog his ass off over at the Washington Monthly. Check it out.


Rachel Ray, Bruce Jay Friedman, and the Culinary Man on Third

While supposed to be writing I came across this piece on Rachael Ray in Slate. The graf I want to highlight is:

"Ray's marquee program, 30-Minute Meals, relies on countless foodie no-nos. She advocates store-bought shortcuts—'I take a little help where I can get it'—using boxed corn muffin mix for her Cracked Corn and Cheese Squares, and chunky peanut butter in her Thai Salad With Peanut Dressing... [H]er 'homemade' desserts are things like Black Cherry Ice Cream With Chocolate Sauce: Buy the ice cream and top with chocolate sauce and a dash of cherry liqueur (Reddi-Wip is optional). Her dishes rely solely on items available at the local Safeway.."

And it reminded me of Bruce Jay Friedman's Lonely Guy Cookbook, where he introduces the concept of the Culinary Man On Third -- "all you have to do is come in and hit a long fly ball." Spaghetti sauce in a jar, for example, is a Culinary Man on Third. If you add some sauteed garlic, and some fresh basil (e.g.), you've got something better than jarred spaghetti sauce. It's quite handy. And Bruce Jay Friedman is a good writer, somewhat unappreciated, I think. Sample food quote:

“Veal is the quintessential Lonely Guy meat. There's something pale and lonely about it, especially if it doesn't have any veins. It's so wan and Kierkegaardian.”

I don't care that you don't care.

Because I care. The NHL lockout is over!

Off Wing is rounding up hockey blog reaction.

I'll be there, and if they de-exorbitanterize the ticket prices, I'll be there more often.

I could eat a parish priest rubbed with garlic

From the LA Times , a list of French food slang. Samples:

Your rear end is surrounded by noodles (Tu as le cul bordé de nouilles): You're extremely lucky.

Go ahead, tall unhooker of sausages! (Va donc, grand dépendeur d'andouilles!): Go ahead, you big lug! (The guy who unhooks the andouilles from the ceiling must be very tall and not very smart.)

You're turning my blood into blood sausage (Tu me fais tourner le sang en boudin): You're worrying me.

To have two eggs on the plate (avoir deux oeufs sur le plat): To be flat-chested.

She has the banana (Elle a la banane): She's got a big smile.

That puts the butter in the spinach (Ça met du beurre dans les épinards): That's icing on the cake.

You want the butter and the money of the butter (Tu veux le beurre et l'argent du beurre): You can't have your cake and eat it too.

Read the whole thing, then work them into your daily life. That is an order.


The War on Apostrophies continues!

This Michael Ledeen thing (via TAPPED) is insane:

"I do not know if, as some commentators have suggested, the Iranians were involved in the London bombings, but it really does not matter, for Iran is the most potent force in the terror network, from which the killers in London undoubtedly drew succor...

... it is a mistake to microanalyze the London operation... Its real significance should be seen as a further wake-up call to us and our allies. Our enemies know they are at war, and they are attacking us everywhere they can, in every way they can. Do we really know we are at war, and that we cannot win it within the parameters we have set for ourselves?"

Attack Damascus, in other words. Observe the insane thought that it is a mistake to find out the truth, for it doesn't matter. Observe the insane Churchillian diction (I particularly like "succor," and I am also noticing that contractions have not been used, for they are too informal for such an occasion.

I also think it's kind of insane to ask for more traditional-style war for the situation we're in. Do we really think we can lock down the whole area from Morrocco to Pakistan? (Plus Indonesia.) Because if we can't, how can we be sure these guys aren't working away. And we'll have to lock down North America, as well. What do we do for money, in that case?

I dunno. Maybe I'm insane for thinking people take this stuff seriously. It's not like he has access to policymakers...oh, wait.

Baseball notes

1. It's nice that Bud Seilg wants to show off the new parks in the All-Star game. Why not Angels of Anaheim Stadium of Anaheim? It's a nice park, and after its '97 renovation, basically new. I like it. I even like the fake rock-fountain in center field -- fake landscaping being an important element of our Southern California heritage. It also sits in the middle of a parking lot, another important element of etc. etc.

2. I believe the sportscasters have now determined that Kenny Rogers has suffered enough. Look, I'm tolerant of the foibles of the famous, because I've been around some famous people and it's not everyone's cup of tea. (Semi-famous actors, however, are delighted to be recognized, in my limited experience.) But that wasn't a foible, that was a thuggish act.

As I think about it, though, I guess "Kenny-has-suffered-enough" is better than the other extreme, blowhard self-righteousness. Complaint withdrawn.

3. This site is pretty funny. It reminds me of the old National Lampoon, politically incorrect but funny. I particularly like the "Fever Of Baseball: Drink It!" posts, because I am knowing how much of the fun it is to write like the funny foreign persons.


New template

The old one was starting to look pretty bad, so I just used another one of the canned ones. It's marginally better!

TV notes

1. I see where the NY Times didn't like Stella. Check it:

Not to mention the jokes: where are they? Watching "Stella" is even a little alienating, like listening to stoners crack themselves up at the mere thought of bagels or bears.

I, for one, find three grown men in suits -- who are now homeless and wearing rope belts -- slicing up a single bean to be a joke. Perhaps V. Heffernan didn't see a zillion cartoons like I did.

I'm not fuming about the bad review because I can easily see how people won't like it. I love it. There needs to be more comedy like it -- just smart guys being silly with zero emotional depth (but in a good natured way). All comedy doesn't need to be Stella, but some of it does.

2. Doofus Dad. On Friday there was this long post about the Doofus Dad syndrome on TV. Apparently the right-wing thinks its a feminist conspriacy, while others thinks it's an anti-feminist conspiracy -- by making men incompetent babies it shoves all the dirty work to women.

I'd incline to the latter, but really it's just that everyone wants another Raymond. Just the fact that the ideological right thinks that Doofus Dad is a plot against men makes me think that Glenn Reynolds should be hoisting the Humorless Cup over his head.

Personally, I dislike Doofus Dad because it's been done to death and it makes the women hard to write -- they become so finger-wagging. Only a really good actress can pull it off, so you make life harder for yourself in casting. Also, Doofus Dad implies Wise (or Cute) Children. And Wise Children as portrayed by Soon To Be Fucked Up Child Actors are the real soul-sapping threat to the republic.


Post of pessimism

I know, it's the New York Review of Books, and I feel like the earnest WASP mom who's ruining the weekend at your friend's summer house, but I do believe that the following is true. I also tend to believe that it's really too late, this kind of thing does not reverse itself until it's forced to do so voluntarily. But not always.

Bacevich is a graduate of West Point, a Vietnam veteran, and a conservative Catholic who now directs the study of international relations at Boston University. He has thus earned the right to a hearing even in circles typically immune to criticism. What he writes should give them pause. His argument is complex, resting on a close account of changes in the US military since Vietnam, on the militarization of strategic political thinking, and on the role of the military in American culture. But his conclusion is clear. The United States, he writes, is becoming not just a militarized state but a military society: a country where armed power is the measure of national greatness, and war, or planning for war, is the exemplary (and only) common project.

[...] As a former soldier, Bacevich is much troubled by the consequent militarization of American foreign relations, and by the debauching of his country's traditional martial values in wars of conquest and occupation. And it is clear that he has little tolerance for Washington's ideologically driven overseas adventures: the uncertain benefits for the foreign recipients are far outweighed by the moral costs to the US itself. For Bacevich's deepest concern lies closer to home. In a militarized society the range of acceptable opinion inevitably shrinks. Opposition to the "commander in chief" is swiftly characterized as lese-majeste; criticism becomes betrayal. No nation, as Madison wrote in 1795 and Bacevich recalls approvingly, can "preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare." "Full-spectrum dominance" begins as a Pentagon cliche and ends as an executive project.

[...]In March 2005 the US National Defense Strategy openly stated that "our strength as a nation state will continue to be challenged by those who employ a strategy of the weak using international fora, judicial processes, and terrorism." At least that makes clear who and what we regard as our enemies. Yet Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice could declare in the very same month, on March 14, 2005, that "too few in the world...know of the value we place on international institutions and the rule of law." Indeed.

Historians and pundits who leap aboard the bandwagon of American Empire have forgotten a little too quickly that for an empire to be born, a republic has first to die. In the longer run no country can expect to behave imperiallyÂ?brutally, contemptuously, illegallyÂ?abroad while preserving republican values at home. For it is a mistake to suppose that institutions alone will save a republic from the abuses of power to which empire inevitably leads. It is not institutions that make or break republics, it is men. And in the United States today, the men (and women) of the country's political class have failed. Congress appears helpless to impede the concentration of power in the executive branch; indeed, with few exceptions it has contributed actively and even enthusiastically to the process.

The American people have a touching faith in the invulnerability of their republic. It would not occur to most of them even to contemplate the possibility that their country might fall into the hands of a meretricious oligarchy; that, as Andrew Bacevich puts it, their political "system is fundamentally corrupt and functions in ways inconsistent with the spirit of genuine democracy." But the twentieth century has taught most other peoples in the world to be less cocksure. And when foreigners look across the oceans at the US today, what they see is far from reassuring.

Why we need more socialism around here

Because you can't have capitalism without it. (Via Kos):

"Ontario workers are well-trained.

That simple explanation was cited as a main reason why Toyota turned its back on hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies offered from several American states in favour of building a second Ontario plant.[...]

'The level of the workforce in general is so high that the training program you need for people, even for people who have not worked in a Toyota plant before, is minimal compared to what you have to go through in the southeastern United States,' said Gerry Fedchun, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association, whose members will see increased business with the new plant.
Several U.S. states were reportedly prepared to offer more than double that amount of subsidy. But Fedchun said much of that extra money would have been eaten away by higher training costs than are necessary for the Woodstock project.

He said Nissan and Honda have encountered difficulties getting new plants up to full production in recent years in Mississippi and Alabama due to an untrained - and often illiterate - workforce. In Alabama, trainers had to use 'pictorials' to teach some illiterate workers how to use high-tech plant equipment.

'The educational level and the skill level of the people down there is so much lower than it is in Ontario,' Fedchun said.

In addition to lower training costs, Canadian workers are also $4 to $5 cheaper to employ partly thanks to the taxpayer-funded health-care system in Canada, said federal Industry Minister David Emmerson.



I see where the LA Times is re-doing its Opinion section as something called Current.

And yet, it includes Joel Stein who, I am reliably informed, was not even funny in college.

We may expect the current to be moving in a circular direction...

Worst Blog Ad Ever

On Defamer someone's advertising something with "As Seen [sic] On Jane Pauley".

London post

I don't feel like finger-pointing, though I suppose a hand-wringing what-is-to-be-done vibe is in order. For my part, I just want to reassert the undiminished truth that our civilization is excellent, will prevail, and, indeed, prevails now.

(Although it would help if this civilzation were more civilized.)

I do feel that if we were less anxious we would prevail faster. We are poor advertisements for our system when we run around like babies. What would those tough Italians think -- those guys who helped start, and then, fourteen hundred years later, helped revive this civilization?


The poisoned well

This WSJ column is subscription only, but all I can say is, megadittos. The gist is how the Clinton Adminstration's decision to deregulate television production has led to shitty comedy, as networks go in-house for production and independent studios like Carsey-Werner die out.

Money graf:

Since then, the six broadcast networks have increasingly made programming choices primarily based on who owns the show, with a strong preference for buying in-house content, rather than on the quality of the material. Most networks today produce or co-produce half of their own shows, up significantly from five years ago. At a time when the networks are struggling to keep audiences from fleeing to cable and other entertainment outlets, the dearth of independent creative forces isn't a trivial matter.

I like Clinton okay. But he will always be the man who ruined my business, too.


Delicious To Headline Guy: Drop -- Oh.

The guy who wrote "Ford To City: Drop Dead" died.

He is survived by Ford and City, both of which have seen better days, however.


Reed Hundt shows us how to connect with ordinary Americans

At TPMCafe :

"The world is not all a confabulation of skulduggery and huggermugger, fustian and froufrou."

On to victory!


Clover Club

This is a sweet drink, and a bit of an effete drink, but after work of a summer's day you might find it to be a neat drink.


Schwarzenegger bullshit watch (16)

From the SF Chronicle I'm skipping the to-be-sures and on-the-other-hands, as is my right as a smartass.

Draped in a colorful tribal blanket and speaking in an ornate Sacramento auditorium, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced deals with five California casino-owning Indian tribes last summer that he said would bring the state $150 million to $200 million annually.

It was a triumphant moment for the image-conscious governor, who portrayed the new pacts as a campaign promise kept and one more step toward plugging the state's budget deficit.

This month, however, administration officials acknowledged that the state's take has been far less than advertised -- about $18 million, or only 9 to 12 percent of what had been projected. The higher numbers the governor touted were based on assumptions that turned out to be way off target.

For Schwarzenegger, platforms and pledges are splashy and bold, but reality doesn't always match the rhetoric. Schwarzenegger has often announced lofty goals only to dramatically scale back or abandon agendas.


[C]ritics say the governor's overly optimistic rhetoric and desire to make a splash have led to the kind of broken promises and unreliable numbers that permanently damage a politician's credibility....Consider some of Schwarzenegger's bolder proposals, and the outcomes so far:

-- Candidate Schwarzenegger, touting his environmentally friendly agenda, wanted to equip half of all new homes built in California with solar power by this year. Instead the governor is sponsoring legislation that calls for 1 million homes and buildings to be powered by the sun -- by 2018.

-- Saying he wanted to take the influence of money out of governing, Schwarzenegger proposed that politicians, himself included, not be able to raise campaign contributions while the state budget is being crafted and voted on. But he has put little of his clout into pushing for legislation to impose fund-raising blackout periods, and he has been a torrid fund-raiser, collecting more than $42 million since winning election.

-- Schwarzenegger made public last summer the 2,500-page California Performance Review, which he said would reinvent government and save taxpayers billions. But most of the proposals to redo state agencies have not been enacted, and one money-saving idea that has -- the state hired a private company to help increase efficiencies in purchasing goods for state departments -- has only saved $4.9 million, not the $96 million it promised.

All this is the Ghost of Bullshit Past. The Ghost of Bullshit Yet To Come visits this fall.

Triste tropes

This can make one feel very small about one's choice of career. (Via Morning News.)


What Billmon said.

I have been saying this for a long time too. I always think of the person in suburban Atlanta who the Times is trying to get to walk down the end of the driveway every morning:

"Editorial independence (i.e. the freedom to tell the reader or viewer what you think they need to know, rather than what you think they want to hear) has always been a rather strange artifact in a competitive, capitalist industry like journalism. It existed at certain times in certain places, I guess, because certain publishers had the market power (or the idealism; take your pick) to indulge the professional aspirations of the ink-stained wretches in their employ.

But that time is over now, even for the Queen of Times Square. Consumer sovereignty has triumphed. The customer is always right -- not just any customer, but that marginal red-state reader who might think about subscribing to the Times if it wasn't so fucking liberal. And if the customer is always right, then the New York Times is going to make damned sure it's right, too."

When the liberals can put out a tabloid again then maybe things will even up.



One can't help thinking that the whole problem with this country is that it was founded by people who read Addison and Pope but now populated by people who read Mitch Albom.


Bleg, or Play America First

In the decadent coastal enclave where I live, specifically on the block of decadent coastal enclave where I live, we're having a Fourth of July party. I thought I'd contribute a little mix of songs about American city or state names, or ones that have them in the title. Like "Dirty Water," or, "Midnight Train to Georgia," or "Dancing In The Streets."

Any suggestions?

Don't bullshit a bullshitter

There's been a lot of Schwarzenskepticism (see here and here and here, for examples). I'm just going on record as not buying it, though I wouldn't mind if it were so. The really good bullshitters make you buy even though you know it's bullshit.

Annals of capitalism

Wall Street Journal, page one:

"The gap between poor and rich in the U.S. has widened over the past 30 years. But people born to modest circumstances are no more likely to rise above their parents' station. The divergent fates of Mr. Hall and his stepson -- and others in this blue-collar city -- illustrate why it can be hard to move up.

Industrial jobs that offered steady escalators of advancement for workers, even if they were only high-school graduates, are vanishing in America. In their place are service-economy jobs with fewer ways up. Unions are scarcer and temporary work more common. In newer service jobs that have come to dominate the U.S. economy, a college diploma is increasingly the prerequisite to a good wage. While increased access to college has been a powerful force for mobility, the share of workers with college degrees remains a minority. Moreover, getting a degree is closely correlated with having parents who themselves went to college."

Wall Street Journal, page one:

Senators are nearing a compromise that would permanently wipe out estate taxes for all but the very wealthiest Americans.


Something I believe

Orwell ("Road to Wigan Pier") via DeLong:

"Of course the post-war development of cheap luxuries has been a very fortunate thing for our rulers. It is quite likely that fish-and-chips, art-silk stockings, tinned salmon, cut-price chocolate (five two-ounce bars for sixpence), the movies, the radio, strong tea, and the Football Pools have between them averted revolution. Therefore we are some-times told that the whole thing is an astute manoeuvre by the governing class -- sort of 'bread and circuses' business -- to hold the unemployed down. What I have seen of our governing class does not convince me that they have that much intelligence. The thing has happened, but by an un-conscious process -- the quite natural interaction between the manufacturer's need for a market and the need of half-starved people for cheap palliatives..."

Really, for most people, politics is only worth talking about after you've talked about everything else. (I'm like that; I love reading about politics, but hate talking about it.) Now that there is more of everything else in the world, the chances that people will talk about politics and get riled up dwindles.

It's clear, therefore, that we in the entertainment industry have done our part to keep things nice and quiet for rightwing fatcats. And for this service, your money is thanks enough.


schwarzenegger bullshit watch (15)

Bear in mind, this is the LA Weekly covering his address at Santa Monica College:

" Could the governor stand before a gallery of students and faculty at a humble and underfunded community college and, with a straight face, argue that his initiatives delaying tenure for school teachers and blocking public employee unions from making political contributions -- while he sucks in millions from the Chamber of Commerce -- are going to save Kollyfornia? Maybe it was smarter to avoid the whole subject.

.. A good third of the audience were thumbs-down on Schwarzenegger and as soon as he took the podium, a number of protest signs and banners mushroomed among the raucous audience and the massive heckling ran the course of his address.
To be fair, it seemed that the overwhelming majority of the students would have preferred to doze through the govs speech and not help disrupt their own hard-won graduation. The protesters were primarily outsiders. Some sympathy, then, must go to the graduates who had their ceremony spoiled. They merely got caught in the crossfire of the bloody political war touched off by the governor ordering a special election designed mostly to save his own hide.

Instinct, however, tells me that that rough ride the governor got at SMC is but a small taste of the shellacking he'll get...If Schwarzenegger goes ahead and makes this a war between himself and Big Business on the one size, and the entire national labor movement on the other, it wont be his Iraq, as possible re-election challenger Phil Angelides has suggested -- but rather more like Vietnam.

Wouldn't it be pretty to think so. Instinct, along with the experience of my entire adult life, tells me that it's hard to reverse the greater-than sign that hovers next to "TV personality + big business". In other words, the people, united, have their work cut out for them.


Wolcott name-check

In his Joan Didion take-down, Wolcottname-checks Renata Adler:

"She's [Didion] maddeningly vague and her language has lost whatever precision it had; worse, her autopsies have none of the structure and momentum that say Renata Adler brings to the form. (Legally trained, Adler knows how to argue a case.)"

When was the last time you saw anything by Renata Adler? (Though I always liked her, my memories of her writing are those of a lad's). Still, I remember coming across a great quote of hers: "Sanity is the most profound moral option of our time."

Never more so than now, dears.


sudden thought

Could the rise of the evangelism somehow be tied to all the John 3:16 signs you used to see at ballgames?


Random scrap

For some reason I was reminded of this quote, from Walker Percy:

"Peace is only better than war if peace is not hell, too. War being hell makes sense"


New job

I was away, as you may have guessed, soaking it up East Coast-style. Summary:

1. "Putnam Country Spelling Bee": great.
2. "Spamalot": one of the few times when you can literally say, "That joke was funny the first hundred times I saw it." But the new material is pretty funny, there just should be more of it.
3. Iced coffee: Somehow better on the East Coast, I dunno.
4: Statue of Liberty: has a huge second gift shop on the island. Somehow this offends me even more than the beyond-airport-quality search you need to get on the boat; you can see the reason behind it, after all, and the cheap irony is a little anesthetizing. The extra hawking is hard to take, though.

Now I'm on a new show; it's an interesting part of this TV business, the starting of an enterprise completely from scratch. And in the room there's a feeling-out process -- each writer wondering what role he or she plays in the ecology of the room. Moreover we know that the real test won't come till the actors come in, weeks from now, and then there'll be the pressure and the late nights. I guess this is like basic training, now, only in basic training agents aren't sending you muffin baskets.

All this is a long way of apologizing for light posting. I'd like to post, really, but the ship needs to right itself.


Schwarzenegger bullshit watch (14)

My man Michael Hiltzik breaks it down for you:

Democrats Are Seeking Reshuffle in Tax Game :

"Today's crusaders against a hike in the top tax brackets show great solicitude for California's richest residents. The Schwarzenegger line, as it was once outlined for me by his finance director, Tom Campbell, is that these are the people who make decisions about where to build factories, and if they're provoked to leave the state, we're through.

Is this a plausible concern? The average state tax bill of Californians earning between $500,000 and $5 million annually was $85,000 in 2002; if the top rate for all of them were raised to 11%, their average additional tax would come to about $15,000. (I am leaving out the 2,500 taxpayers who reported even larger incomes, because they would push the average misleadingly high.)

It's fair to note that these taxpayers have reaped the lion's share of the Bush tax cuts, which are worth an average $68,000 a year to them, and that their additional state taxes would be deductible on their federal returns.

One oft-overlooked point in the tax debate is the salutary effect on the body politic of spreading sacrifice widely. Schwarzenegger's budgets haven't spread it at all, but piled it on the middle class and the poor. Parents of schoolchildren are dipping into their own pockets to pay for the programs their districts have been forced to eliminate; home healthcare workers are being cut back to minimum wage, which isn't good for them or their clientele; motorists are driving on crumbling highways. These sacrifices might be somewhat easier for them to bear if they didn't see an impregnable wall being erected around the 1% of state taxpayers who report incomes higher than a half-million dollars.

Will these wealthy taxpayers treat a modest tax increase as the last straw, and relocate en masse to the deserts of Nevada? That sounds like a bluff, and I think we should call it."

Word. Why are the business columnists further to the left (i.e. center-right) than the editorial columnists?


A fellow dreamer

Yglesias in TAPPED:

"I have some less wildly unrealistic (but still pretty damn unrealistic) political reforms I'd like to push (multiple-member constituencies for House elections, unicameral state legislatures, etc.) so perhaps it's best not to waste too much time on this topic."

Unicameral state legislatures are a dream of mine too, for the following reasons:

1. Bicameral legislatures have no reason to exist on the state level.

2. It would eliminate one level of elected offical you know you should know, but don't.

3. By putting more pressure on the one house of the state legislature, perhaps it would also focus attention thereon.

But, alas, this, like the mandatory teaching of Latin in the public schools, will never catch on.


The Jogger

Heat Vision and Jack is probably the king of the great pilots that never got picked up (a genre that has many fewer members in it than you might think, in my experience). Now those guys have started a site called Channel 101 so that they and their friends can do five-minute pilots. (This one's my favorite (you need Quicktime, I think).

Warning, or perhaps enticement: many of the others are extremely juvenile.


This is ridiculous: yes, Kaus again.

Kaus defines a "Get Up And Get A Beer" line as :

...a line packed with so much resonant meaning, or so many different possible meanings--all interesting and profound!--that you get up to get a beer and think about it and never return to the article you were reading (i.e., the article that contains it). The way to solve this problem is to cut the line."

Okay. This is like the Golden Rule ("If it's gold, cut it.") Murdering the darlings is one of the things you must learn as a writer. But then he goes on to say:

"True, some of the most famous lines in cinema are G.U.A.G.A.B. lines. 'You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and ... blow.' Exactly what is Lauren Bacall suggesting? Norma Desmond says, 'I am big. It's the pictures that got smaller.' OK. But if the pictures got smaller doesn't Desmond, you know, look even bigger on the smaller screen? She should be saying. 'I am big. But the pictures got bigger still!' I'm all confused! ... "

Oy, and, if I may say so, vey. Taking these lines in order:

1) Does Mickey Kaus not know a come-on when he hears it? (Don't answer that.) The meaning of any suggestive line involving lips ought to be self-evident...unless you went to Harvard, I guess! (Isn't this a little hard on Harvard? -- ed. BLAM! Why did you have to shoot me...everything going...black...-ed)

2) The differences in emotional tone -- or "bigness" -- between silent movies and talkies are so manifest that this misunderstanding of Norma Desmond's mind can only be deliberate.

Coming soon: Kaus takes on Lear. Why, the man is crazy!

I couldn't agree more.

WSJ.com - Traditional TV Sitcom Isn't Dead Yet
(Cue the Laugh Track)

"'It's not that people don't want to watch traditional sitcoms anymore,' says Laura Caraccioli-Davis, a senior vice president at Starcom Entertainment, a Chicago ad-buying firm owned by Publicis Groupe SA. 'It's that people are tired of poorly executed ones.'

One area that CBS handled atypically is casting. Co-creator Chuck Lorre hired most of the cast based on instinct instead of conducting endless rounds of screenings with test audiences as has become the norm, say agents and executives at Warner and CBS. For example, only one actor was auditioned for the 'half' role, a 10-year-old named Angus T. Jones. 'Angus was a little green so the knee-jerk was to see a bunch of kids,' says Mr. Moonves, who also serves as chairman of CBS. 'But Chuck was very convinced. I relented and they haven't heard a word from me about Angus since.'

Another important casting move: Mr. Lorre filled the remaining principal roles with veterans in their 40s, 50s and 60s, not the young flavor-of-the-week actors with little experience that networks sometimes cram into shows in a bid to attract younger viewers. 'That's one of the biggest mistakes networks make,' says Ms. Caraccioli-Davis. 'You want experienced actors because they deliver a consistent product week after week.'"

Nothing against experimentation. But wasn't it Schoenberg who said there were plenty of good pieces still to be written in C Major?

They can even be written by committee, with the right people on it, not some former-assistant-turned-executive who wishes (s)he had your job.


An important anniversary

Aren't we coming up on about the 50th anniversary of the "suburbs are spiritually dead" idea? What should we do to celebrate?

The persistence of genius

At Kos I find the a gloss on this NY Times article:

"Instead of saying, 'What's the logic here, we don't see it,' you could speculate, there is no logic here,' said Anthony James Joes, a professor of political science at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia and the author of several books on the history of guerrilla warfare. The attacks now look like 'wanton violence,' he continued. 'And there's a name for these guys: Losers.'

'The insurgents are doing everything wrong now,' he said. 'Or, anyway, I don't understand why they're doing what they're doing.'

Well that settles it. This 'genius' doesn't understand what's going on therefore the insurgents are 'Losers.' This kind of thinking leads to abrupt departures on helicopters from Embassy rooftops."

The name "Anthony James Joes" rang a bell. And then I remembered: I had recently been reading some Murray Kempton. And in his piece on Mussolini Kempton writes:

"I regret that I must decline any attempt to engage Professor Anthony James Joes's Mussolini. There is no way to deal with a scholar who persissts in bowing down before a legend nearly two generations after the events that exposed it as a myth...Professor Joes teaches at St. Joseph's University of Philadelphia, an institution whose basketball teams have given me so much pleasure that I would rather cherish what goes on in its gymnasium than thank about what seems to be going on in one of its classrooms."

Change the sport to football and I rather feel the same about the University of Tennessee.


Five Points

It's Mother's Day, of course, and this Billy Collins poem was read at church:

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly --
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that's what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift -- not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.


I don't get it.

I don't get why climate change doesn't receive more attention. I don't get why, here on the left, we haven't made it a special responsibility to get the facts out and take the lead in advocating innovation to try to mitigate climate change. I don't get why everyone (me included) just walks around like nothing is happening.

Read this. One money quote:

"As you point out, I spoke to many very sober-minded, coolly analytical scientists who, in essence, warned of the end of the world as we know it. "

This seems like a bigger deal than stuff within the world as we know it. But nothing happens. I don't get it.