Attention people who want to make millions!

I give you, for free, my idea for a comedy bumper sticker: "My other car is an honor student at Central High School."

You're welcome!


What's great about America

Via BoingBoing, Here's a link to aBlock I Apollo Guidance Computer Replica.

It took the dude four years to build a replica of the Apollo Guidance Computer, in his basement. That's fantastic. Useless, in some way, and therefore beautiful. In a totalitarian state you would not be able to replicate the old technology of the state (indeed, it would probably be the current technology). When we become of full-on Entertainmentocracy no one will know how. Savor this moment, then, when America was still wonderful enough to allow people to build replica old computers in their basements.

Our 30-year campaign to maleducate Americans begins to bear fruit.

From Fred Kaplan:

Not a day goes by without another story about how we're mortgaging our future to the central banks of China and Japan. The U.S. budget deficit, approaching a half-trillion dollars, is financed by their purchase of Treasury notes. The U.S. trade deficit—much of it amassed by the purchase of Chinese-made goods—now exceeds $3 trillion. Meanwhile, China is displacing the United States all across Asia—in trade, investment, education, culture, and tourism. It's also cutting into the trade markets of Latin America. (China is now Chile's No. 1 export market and Brazil's No. 2 trade partner.) Asian engineering students who might once have gone to MIT or Cal Tech are now going to universities in Beijing.

I mean, I work in the circus end of the bread and circuses, but even I can see that our fecklessness is leading us to be the opposite of fecked.

Not written by a Canadian, obviously

Hockey Rumors. In lieu of the real thing.


A stiff, a riff, and the miffed.

Apparently over at Teachout's blog the readers are all pissed because Teachout didn't love Carson enough. He's entitled, people! My own views are closer to his co-blogger Hockey Girl 1, who says:

...My parents watched him, but by the time I was staying up that late there was Letterman, whose first NBC show I'd watch after my parents had gone to bed. So I have a certain nostalgia-once-removed for Carson's Tonight Show. It was the show I mildly looked forward to being old enough to watch, but whose appeal had dwindled and been displaced by the time I was.

That seems right to me. If you're under 45 or so Carson existed mostly as someone who was on vacation (and somebody once told me his writers only worked when he did; sweet, if true). Watching the clips you really see a master at the odd skill of talk-show hosting, but, like today's fans of Ken Griffey Jr., we didn't see it a lot.

Couple of other points:

1) A million people are quoting Carson's great lines. Won't somebody admit that he had writers? It wouldn't detract from his quick wit or presence. This means you, Carnac quoters!

2) I saw the tribute last night on NBC and the thing that impressed me wasn't Carson, but Rickles. Both current Rickles and clip-Rickles displayed his ability to say what everyone was thinking. I never liked him growing up; but I guess one is exposed to so much more bullshit as an adult that his tell-it-like-it-is quality becomes more endearing.

3) I also reread Tynan's New Yorker profile, which I must have read in a book somewhere years ago. What struck me this time was how much Tynan puts himself in the piece unnecessarily. You know, like, "Swifty Lazar said such-and-such about Carson to me." He's like an Eric Idle character or something.


Short humor fragment

It was late and he was tired, tireder than the format of an oldies radio station. He'd had a chance to wash up, but the soap reminded him of prison and had combined with his sweat to form a nasty grime around his face. It crinkled when he frowned, which was often. But now it was showtime and he had to put on a good face for the rubes, so he smoothed his lapels, adjusted his tie, shot his cuffs, and, by sheer will, appeared relaxed, vivacious, and interested: the guy everyone thought of when they thought of Hugh Jass.

schwarzenegger bullshit watch (9)

Today's guest, weighing in on the Great California Budget Crisis (GCBD), is Kevin Drum:

"This is fine as far as it goes, but what strikes me as perverse is that all these stories about the GCBD (which are legion in California papers) overlook the biggest elephant in the room: the fact that Schwarzenegger actively created a huge part of the budget crisis himself. Just as George Bush seems to hope that tax cuts will create an artificial crisis atmosphere that allows him pursue pet projects like Social Security privatization, Schwarzenegger campaigned on a pledge to cut the auto license fee. This slashed $3-4 billion in revenue, an amount that would go a very long way toward eliminating California's problem. Like Bush, Schwarzenegger seems to actively like the idea of cutting taxes in order to create an ongoing crisis that provides him with a pretext to pursue his real agenda.

For non-Californians who aren't up on all this, the details make it even worse. The license fee in California was reduced by Democratic governor Gray Davis in 1998, but with the proviso that it would return to its original rate if the state faced a funding shortfall. In 2003 Davis raised the fee back to its original level and was demonized in the recall election with ads in which a young woman with a Valley Girl twang whined memorably that 'it's ridiculous, nobody can afford that.' Of course, the fact that everyone had paid 'that' a mere five years earlier meant nothing. Davis went down to a crushing defeat.

So what's Schwarzenegger up to? He campaigned on a promise never to cut education funding and went back on his word almost immediately. He campaigned on a promise to end 'crazy deficit spending,' but adopted Gray Davis's deficit spending plans almost verbatim within months. He's made some interesting proposals, and has demonstrated some genuine charisma and political talent, but in the end his only real tactic seems to be the same one George Bush loves so much: convincing the public that everything is a crisis and he's the only one who can deal with it.

We've now made the leap from the 'permanent campaign' to the 'permanent crisis.' I suspect we're not going to be very happy about that evolution a decade from now."

The part about "genuine charisma and political talent" is true. That's why he's such a good bullshitter; in this he reminds me of Clinton.

Those metrosexual Eagles fans

It's not on the Web edition, or I can't find it, but there's this great picture in today's NY Times that I recommend to you. It's a bunch of Eagles fans walking into Lincoln Field for the game -- wearing their jerseys, bundled up, big guys. And one of them is carrying a Kiehl's bag. Because when it's cold and windy like that, you and your buds need your high-end moisturizers up in the upper deck.

For more on what the hard-core Philly phan is smearing, click here.


More from "On Bullshit"

Now I'm getting into it:

"It is this selflessness that, in connection with bullshit, strikes us as inapposite. But in fact it is not out of the question at all. The realms of advertising and of public relations, and the nowadays closely related realm of politics, are replete with instances of bullshit so unmitigated that they can serve among the most indisputable and classic paradigms of the concept. And in these realms there are exquisitely sophisticated craftsmen who -- with the help of advanced and demanding techniques of market research, of public opinion polling, of psychological testing, and so forth -- dedicate themselves tirelessly to getting every word and image they produce exactly right."

Emphasis added, because it tickles me so. And for you bloggers out there:

Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. ...This discrepancy is common in public life, where people are frequently impelled — whether by their own propensities or by the demands of others — to speak extensively about matters of which they are to some degree ignorant. Closely related instances arise from the widespread conviction that it is the responsibility of a citizen in a democracy to have opinions about everything, or at least everything that pertains to the conduct of his country’s affairs.

I'm looking at you, mirror!

I want to be a producer...

This? New York Times article, even though it's about the movies, should answer the question, "Why are there so many producers at the start of The Simpsons?:

"Still, the call to glory can be powerful, as the academy learned in 1999, when a veritable crowd trooped onstage to claim statuettes for 'Shakespeare in Love,' which had five producers, prompting the current restrictions."

In other words, you can't get an Emmy to put on your shelf, or your Mom's shelf, unless you're a producer. It doesn't cost the studio anything to make someone a producer, so it's an easy demand to meet. (And I don't mean to single out The Simpsons. Every veteran sitcom is the same way; check out Raymond.)

FWIW, the hierarchy is:

Executive Producer
Co-Executive Producer
Supervising Producer


Executive Story Editor
Story Editor


Staff Writer.

What sucks about being a staff writer is that you can't get paid for the scripts you write -- anything title above that and, according to the Guild agreement, your duties don't chiefly involve writing, so when you write a script you must get paid for it separately. If you're a staff writer, though, you're supposed to be writing. This is part of the delightful rich-get-richer nature of Hollywood.

Harry Frankfurt's "On Bullshit"

via one of Yglesias's commentators, this essay, which does, as promised, have one of the best opening lines ever:

"One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit."

I haven't gotten through it yet -- it's a philosophical essay, after all. But I'm hooked!



My favorite,
Richard Reeves

"At home, our leader promised: 'By making every citizen an agent of his or her own destiny, we will give our fellow Americans greater freedom from want and fear and make our society more prosperous and just and equal.'

That was one of the few lines and thoughts that did not appear to come from Scripture. It came, I think, from Anatole France, discussing equality, law and justice at the turn of the last old century: 'The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under the bridges of Paris, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.'"


March (of Literature) Madness

The First Annual TMN Tournament of Books begins in a couple of weeks over to the Morning News. Caveat: it's being judged by their guys, you don't get to vote or anything.

I, myself, am sentimentally rooting for Muriel Spark to shake the label of the novelist who can't win the big one.


Useful musical link

Via my man Alex Ross (not really my man because you can't leave comments on his blog), here's an appreciation of 40 classical-style music works since 1960.

I have no musical training, yet I find myself enjoying a lot of Adams, Reich, Harrison, the random stuff I used to hear on WNYC back in the day. When my local station, KUSC, started to run a modern show (in the ghetto of Saturday night), I suggested that they call it "Music of the Undead." They still should. This music needs to be undeaded.

Don't tell me the WSJ isn't a fun place to write.

From Once-Hot Krispy Kreme Ousts
Its CEO Amid Accounting Woes

"But as Krispy Kreme doughnuts became more widely available, their popularity frittered away."

I get it. And I love it.

Fans of trashing the foundation of retirement security should also like this:

"Shares of the onetime stock-market darling...closed at an all-time low of $8.72 just last week. Just 18 months ago, shares of the doughnut maker, which went public at a price of $5.25 apiece in 2000, were nearing $50 at their all-time high."

Speaking of frittering away. Not the people shouldn't be allowed to do that, but it's better that they have a safety net below them when they do.


But it does move.

Via The Daou Report (but I clicked the link to make sure of context!) I see the following:

"BOORTZ 'The current issue of Time calls Social Security the best social program ever.  Sorry, they have it wrong.  The best social program ever is a system of economic liberty featuring capitalism and free enterprise operating under a system based on the rule of law.  No program, private or public, has ever done so much to raise so many from the depths of poverty and despair as has capitalism."

I'm biased, of course, but I detect a certain trial-of-Galileo tone to this. Capitalism does not revolve around the sun, the sun revolves around capitalism. It's like Time screwed up here because they didn't get a nihil obstat from the American Enterprise Institute before praising Social Security.

The thought crosses my mind that capitalism has also done a fair bit to cause poverty and despair as well -- see Orwell, for example, or Jacob Riis. Or Dickens. Or ask that old red diaper baby Bismarck, who invented Social Security.

The whole point of the safety net is to mitigate the side effects of capitalism and, thereby, make it more effective. But that doesn't square with the current doctrine of plutocentricity, I guess.

Why I hate Hollywood Democrats even though I suppose I am one

From the Hollywood Reporter. No link because I'm not a subscriber. I am an awesome typist, though, so here goes:

Robin Williams kept up his 100-mph shtick in the press room after receiving the Cecil B. DeMille Award. Asked what he tought of this week's presidential inauguration, he cracked, "Yeah, sorta funny that George Bush was in the same National Guard unit as Bigfoot."

Aaaargh. Someone should tell him that this type of thing is bad for the party (and for comedy), but God knows it's hard to tell stars anything sometimes.

It does remind me of this funny Onion article which is behind the subscriber wall, so I'll just quote the lead:

Robin Williams Leaves Entertainment Reporter In Stitches -- LOS ANGELES—Comic wildman Robin Williams left Entertainment Tonight reporter Maria Menounos in stitches Monday, cracking her up with a manic, off-the-cuff comedic riff covering everything from Survivor to Botox.

Subscribe to the whole thing.

Play Vince Guaraldi backward

From The Morning News, a little photo essay on the now-abandoned Christmas trees of New York.



This might be in the Seymour Hersh article for all I know, but I got it from the Guardian:

"...a former Farsi-speaking CIA officer said he had been asked by neo-conservatives in the Pentagon to travel to Iraq to oversee 'MEK cross-border operations'. He refused, and does not know if those operations have begun.

'They are bringing a lot of the old war-horses from the Reagan and Iran-contra days into a sort of kitchen cabinet outside the government to write up policy papers on Iran,' the former officer said.

He said the policy discussion was being overseen by Douglas Feith, the under secretary of defence for policy who was one of the principal advocates of the Iraq war. The Pentagon did not return calls for comment on the issue yesterday. In the run-up to the Iraq invasion, Mr Feith's Office of Special Plans also used like-minded experts on contract from outside the government, to serve as consultants helping the Pentagon counter the more cautious positions of the state department and the CIA.

'They think in Iran you can just go in and hit the facilities and destabilise the government. They believe they can get rid of a few crazy mullahs and bring in the young guys who like Gap jeans, all the world's problems are solved. I think it's delusional,' the former CIA officer said. "

What makes it Guardian-like is that the subhead for the last graf was "Crazy"; a nice taken out of context moment. Anyway, enjoy your war, everybody!

Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short -- for the other guy

I note this from Slate:

"National Review, in its response to Kinsley's (in their words) 'ingenious [i.e. mathematical -- DP] argument against reform,' suggested that personal accounts would 'increase incentives to work' and 'induce people to save more."

This is a great illustration of right-wing economics in action. Privatization won't work, and because it won't work, it must be adopted. Maybe the terror of a barren retirement will finally get people working and saving! Lord knows not funding their schools hasn't!

(Or, alternatively, a few people will pick winners, and this will help with the other great task of the right-wing, sorting society into its natural orders.)

I'm as gloomy about human nature as the next guy, I guess. But this view of the world, one that welcomes disasters as a way to scare people on the straight and narrow (especially narrow), isn't my cup of hemlock.


The beginning of wisdom is fear of sleeplessness

I got a brochure for UCLA Live, and I was all set to make fun of the Sarah Vowell and David Sedaris joint appearance, and then I thought what the hell. This is correct from a, I guess, ethical point of view -- who am I, a lazy anonymous blogger, to make fun of them just because they work hard and got on NPR? But in reality I'm too tired to make fun of them.

We confuse age for wisdom, but it's only because when you get older you become too slow to instantaneously do something stupid.


Happy family?

I could have gotten this from the wires, but instead I got it at LAist:

"USC quarterback Matt Leinart is staying in school.

'I will be coming back for my fifth year,' Leinart said.

'I realize I have the opportunity to support my family by going to the pros early,' but he added that 'being with friends is more satisfying than any amount of money could make someone happy.'"

I can see some families where they'd say, "Let us decide for ourselves whether you being with friends is better than you supporting us."


Starbucks and mirrors?

Josh Marshalll today:

"And I think smoke-filled rooms (or, given our Democratic sensibilities today, I guess, non-smoke-filled rooms) have more to recommend them than we sometimes imagine."

I actually like a little smoke, myself. And Kerry would have done more for his campaign if he'd been seen with a stogie than he ever could have with that hunting picture. We Democrats need more rum, romanism, and rebellion, if you ask me.


Schwarzenegger Bullshit Watch (8)

Gov.'s Budget Plan Skips Transportation Again :

"In his State of the State speech last week, the governor boasted that the Indian bond money would help fix the transportation mess and create 16,000 jobs in the process. On Monday, however, Finance Director Tom Campbell conceded that he didn't feel comfortable about counting on the bond money to backstop next year's budget."


My own suggestion

From the Wall Street Journal writeup of their interview (itals mine):

"He also said a big theme of his State of the Union address would be how to make sure the U.S. remains the world's best place to do business. Initiatives will include his efforts to accomplish litigation reform on a number of fronts, including asbestos liability, medical malpractice and class-action reform."

You know what else would help, is peons. Millions and millions of low-wage peons, preferably voiceless. And, their desperation to escape their peonage will make them better at sports!

Schwarzenegger bullshit watch (7)

Today's guest Watcher is Michael Hiltzik:

" For instance, if you deprive K-12 education of $2.2 billion it was otherwise due, resulting in the elimination of some basic programs, you've merely shifted some of the cost of effectively educating children from the general taxpayers %u2014 who are disproportionately affluent and include many who can buy their kids a private education %u2014 to those who have no other educational choice but the public schools.

This latter group, obviously, is disproportionately middle-class and poor. They may have to pay for enrichment programs because their schools can't drill their kids in math or teach them art or music, or they may pay the cost of having undereducated offspring. Either way, it's a tax.

So, what does it mean when the business leaders in the California Chamber of Commerce keep telling us how desperately they need a well-educated workforce -- and then praise the governor for his fiscal restraint? It means that their real priority isn't a better school system, it's no new taxes -- on them.

...The truth is that he has imposed plenty of 'tax increases.' Schoolteachers paid more taxes because Schwarzenegger canceled a teacher tax break. University students paid more for their education. And those who rely on local government services paid more through higher user fees, reduced police coverage and more potholes on their neighborhood streets.

This concept of budgeting exposes the fatuity of Schwarzenegger's rhetoric. The governor, who delivered to the Chamber of Commerce 100% of its legislative wish list last year, had the gall to advise the Legislature to 'ignore the lobbyists' as a way of demonstrating 'political courage.'

As yet, he still shows no signs of taking the truly courageous step of reconsidering the state's ridiculous structure of income, sales and property taxes, which has been in need of redesign for nearly two decades.

Schwarzenegger tried to preempt some of the howls of outrage that greeted his underwhelming platform last week by predicting, rather proudly, that it would generate hostility from 'special interests,' a category that he has apparently winnowed down to state employees, Indian tribes, schoolteachers and schoolchildren."

Megadittos, Alex Ross

Applaud away:

"I'm not recommending the inter-movement lecture as a regular feature, but it exemplifies the kind of (mildly) free-spirited behavior that classical concerts need more of. The historical record suggests that composers of the pre-1900 period would be horrified by modern concert etiquette. Accustomed to applause between and even during movements of a large-scale work, they'd assume that audiences hated their music or had no comprehension of it. Are we more serious, more cultured, than Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms? All those who consider themselves more serious than Brahms have every right to shush their neighbors after the first movement of the D-minor Concerto."

Sweetheart, forward my mail

Texas Company Wants to Sell Biosphere 2

SoCal weather: Come back, Sun God! We repent!

Or as Dinah Washington said from Storm Track BluesChopper 4 this morning:

When it rains five days
And the sky turns black as night
I said when it rains five days
And the sky turns black as night
You know there's trouble in the lowlands
And everything ain't right.


Schwarzenegger bullshit watch (6)

Not bullshit, strictly speaking, but a little stinky :

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to abolish the independent boards that regulate California professionals has outraged public watchdogs, who say it would eradicate years of reform that curtailed the influence of trade groups over those who oversee them.

The changes would save no taxpayer money but would give the governor complete power in setting the rules that govern doctors, nurses and most of the state's 230 professions.

Schwarzenegger's plan to overhaul state government, submitted late Thursday, would transfer the jobs of those boards to administration agencies such as the Department of Consumer Affairs. Many of the boards — including those that oversee physicians, dentists and nurses — had not been slated for elimination by Schwarzenegger's own expert panel, the California Performance Review.

[...]Administration officials said they did not know how much, if any, money the changes would save. But because most of the regulatory boards are supported by the fees of those they license, savings would not go back to taxpayers.

[...]The governor also declined to eliminate the New Motor Vehicle Board, which handles disputes between car dealers and manufacturers, even though the performance review had said "there is no need for a governmental body to take on this work." The board is supported by California's car dealers, who are among Schwarzenegger's largest financial supporters.


Zbig on Iraq

Just to second something I found in The Washington Note:

" On Iraq, the clearest headline from Scowcroft was his observation that the coming election, even if it takes place, 'won't be a promising transformation, and it has great potential for deepening the conflict; we may be seeing incipient civil war at this time.' And even if ultimate success is possible, it will be a 10 year process. Quite frankly, Scowcroft said, the current situation is so dire that the real question for today is the fundamental one of 'whether we get out now'...by implication, before too much damage is done world wide.

-- 'Zbig's' headline, arrived via a detailed discussion of the cascade, the reasons for it, and his forthright prediction that nothing less than 500,000 troops, $200-billion a year, a new Draft, and 'war taxation' would be required to 'prevail' in the long run. But, he noted, 'Not even [a dictatorship like] the Soviet Union was prepared to [go to such extremes] in Afghanistan. There comes a point in the life of a nation when such sacrifices are not justified...and only time will tell if [the United States] is facing a moment of wisdom, or cultural decay.'"

Of course there's no reason why it can't be a moment of wisdom and cultural decay at the same time.

White Globetrotter dies

Mrs. Delicious is in the habit of reading the obituaries first; she sees more life that way. I suspect she's right again. I didn't even know there were white Globetrottersr : b

Bob Karstens, the third white player for the Harlem Globetrotters and the only one under a contract, who created many of their signature routines such as the pregame 'Magic Circle,' has died. He was 89.

Karstens died Dec. 31 in Redlands of natural causes, the team announced.

Other routines credited to Karstens include the team's behind-the-back backhand shot; the 'yo-yo' basketball; and the 'goofball,' a basketball filled with weights that made it bounce erratically.



Bush 73, The Citadel 0

Apropos of this:

"The Dems need to realize that Bush's dishonest plan to destroy Social Security isn't something which should send them scurrying for cover, as they've been doing for years, but something which will allow them to win in '06. Just get smart, and most of all stick together. The instant this is 'bipartisan' it's over, and you're a big bunch of losers again. Clinton health/tax plans? 1994 elections? Ring any bells?"

it occurs to me that maybe the Bushies are maybe, just maybe, screwing up their Social Security rollout. They haven't offered a specific plan to debate, just the principle of privatization. And that has given the opposition time to get organized.

Okay, you say, but aren't the Bushies undefeated (politically)? Haven't they rolled up all opposition? Yes, but consider the opposition. The Democrats are like North Texas State or Vanderbilt -- creampuff opposition you schedule for homecoming. Or they have been. They might be a good recruiting year away from contention.

Schwarzenegger Bullshit Watch (5)

Education Budget on Hit List :

Schwarzenegger had vowed to protect schools from such cuts in return for their acceptance of billions of dollars in reductions last year to help balance the current budget. But Finance Director Tom Campbell told the school groups Wednesday afternoon that the governor would not be able to honor that deal."


Another New Year's thing

I almost forgot. Yet today, three days after a resolution, might be even better:

"Oh Pleasure! you are indeed a pleasant thing,
    Although one must be damn'd for you, no doubt:
  I make a resolution every spring
    Of reformation, ere the year run out,
  But somehow, this my vestal vow takes wing,
    Yet still, I trust it may be kept throughout:
  I 'm very sorry, very much ashamed,
  And mean, next winter, to be quite reclaim'd."


I made Teachout's/Our Girl's blogroll. Great oaks from little, lazy acorns grow.

As it happens, I had a Teachout-quiz like question pop into my mind last night: Perfection of the art, or the life?

Being so deficient in both aspects, I myself must plead "nolo contendere."


Alex Rosswrites in his comment-free blog:

"Doesn't hearing a fragment of recorded music suddenly give us a hunger for the "real thing"-- make it seem imperative on a given day to buy a ticket for Radu Lupu or Rokia Traor -- three months hence?"

The answer is no. Because who can get a sitter three months in advance?

Seriously, though, I use recorded music as wallpaper all the time even though I know I'm not supposed to. (Maybe the metaphor should be recorded music as cholesterol.) It's just one of the things that keeps me up in the cheap seats of aesthetes.


The room

Delicious sometimes grows tired and sulky about having to be in writers' rooms, arguing over whether the word should be "perhaps" or "maybe," but one thing I do like is bringing in jokes about my experiences. All co-workers do weekend recap on Monday morning, and a writers' room is no different -- except for the obligation to state the experiences in joke form. Today, for example, we took the kids to see Cavalia, the Cirque du Soleil horse show, and as I was thinking that its French Canadian-style artiness made me long for Aqueduct I immediately thought, damn, no room tomorrow.

Don't go see it, though, unless you're an 11-year-old girl. Then you have to go.


My annual New Year's joke

I'm still writing "5764" on my checks!