Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Lately: I've been meaning to write about many things recently, but time has been scarce. Roland Garros, for one: I haven't had a moment to watch, but I check the scores whenever I can. I was right when I predicted, a couple years ago, a coming renaissance of Russian ladies' tennis. None of them is a consistent closer yet, but any of 5 threaten at a given tourney. Henin-Hardenne still maintains her status as the best tennis player on the distaff side, but she's really no Steffi Graf, and I'm surprised her run has been this long. On the men's side, this Nadal kid has been a surprise, but the French is the home of the underdog. I bet he can give Federer a hard day, at least. Federer's experience may pull it out for him, but you're never wise to bet against a Spaniard here.

Deep Throat: I'd suspected, based on the better analyses, that it was either Fielding or Felt, but I don't think I'm alone in saying that I'd always hoped that one of the big names would end up being "the one": Diane Sawyer, Pat Buchanan, Al Haig, Dave Gergen, or, in a giant switcheroo, John Dean. I'd kind of even hoped for George Bush pere or (the big long shot) Gerald Ford, though neither one was really enough of a player in the Nixon White House. Any of those would have been a Story. An aged, ailing former FBI also-ran who had an axe to grind in the post-Hoover days at the Bureau, and who lived in shame for (in his mind) betraying the FBI? Poignant in a way, perhaps, but something of a letdown. Still, one less mystery to ponder in the darkest hours.

The new house is coming along. Lots of painting still to be done, and major electrical work after that. Plus, the movers arrive in a week, and I haven't packed squat.

Two months without a cigarette came to a close tonight. The urge hit halfway through my second Newcastle of the evening, so I gave in and went out for a pack of Pall Mall at the quickie mart. It reminded me of when I started the habit. The taste is so much different when you've been away for a while -- stronger, yes, but subtle in a way you forget when you're reaching for your umpteenth of the day. Goddamn do I love smoking.

Oh, yeah: Anyone else see the HBO adaptation of Richard Russo's Pulitzer work, Empire Falls? I've long been a Russo fan (think John Irving's quasi-Dickensian scope, but without the cartwheels), and I thought that Nobody's Fool was one of the best film adaptations of a novel I've come across. Falls attempted a similar coup (including casting Paul Newman, again, as the absent, ne'er do well rogue of a father), but fell a little short, allowing a ripped-from-the-headlines plot twist to take over the last hour in a pretty boring way. Still, the best TV I've seen in ages. Haven't read the book? Put it on your list, and move it up to the top.

Friday, May 27, 2005

AP doesn't like smoking: Yesterday a bill in the NC House to ban smoking in all restuarants got changed in the judiciary committee. The changes are going to be phased in, with a 50% minimum of seating being set aside for non-smoking. Here's the opening the AP story from Raleigh:
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Letting go of North Carolina's tobacco history remains a painful process, as evidenced Thursday when legislators effortlessly cut the area covered by a proposed restaurant smoking ban in half.

Gee, you we just can't seem to live up to the standards of decent society. Why, those corrupt legislators, taking kickbacks from R.J. Reynolds, no doubt, actually allowed resturant owners to control what happens in 50% of their establishment. They don't seem to understand the shame they're supposed to feel for foisting this toxic substance on innocent American babies and the mentally deficient (certainly they can be the only ones smoking today, at least in polite society). Then we get these two paragraphs:
It's not only a known carcinogen but also triggers heart attacks in people suffering from coronary disease, he said. Secondhand smoke also is linked with asthma, bronchitis and ear infections in children, Plescia said.

All reliable scientific studies show that going smoke-free doesn't cost restaurants money, said Dr. Anne Butzen, who works on secondhand smoke research at the University of North Carolina. In some cases, business improved for restaurants that prohibited smoking, she said.
All right, this is picky of me, and I'm sure it's just an editing error, but as these are statements made by individuals, and not simple reportage by the AP, could you please put quotation marks around the parts of the sentence that are, in fact, quotes. Casual readers glancing at the article might miss the fact that it is Dr. Anne Butzen, not the AP, or God , who has decreed what scientific studies are considered reliable and which are clearly biased in favor of the corrupt tobacco planters and their co-conspirators in the N.C. Restuarant Association.

The whole article reads like an editorial instead of honest reporting, without a single quote from, say a restaurant owner who might have an interest in the bill, or a smoker, or a diner. No, it's about North Carolina's inability to grasp that their sinister lifestyle, that has prospered from murderous agricultural activities. We've only just gotten over slavery, don't you know.

An American in Paris: Another tough year for American men at the French, eh Razor? Question from a non-afficianado: is there anyone other than Agassi and Roddick in the American ranks? Agassi will soon be exiting the game, I would assume, and Roddick has underachieved the greatness his blazing serve presages. Who else have we got? Anyone? Bueller?
A Couple of Unrelated Thoughts: Closing went through on the house, so now I'm spending every spare moment (except this one) painting shit (all interior walls were a clay-brown), fixing shit (the dishwasher was never secured to the cabinetry, so it tended to walk out of its cubby), and buying shit (the AMEX card is on fire these days). Moving starts immediately. I'll be a basket case until mid-June -- roughly the time I start doing nightly performances of Julius Caesar for three weeks.

The branch of my bank that I like best is closing. Luckily, I'm moving, so I'll use another branch now. But this one had been really convienient, almost walking distance. Anyway, in order to close the branch, the bank had to petition the Massachusetts State Commissioner of Banks. Imagine if every business had to ask a commissioner before it could move (this above and beyond the standard building permit begging and bribing that has to take place). If you can't imagine it, vote for Democrats; they'll offer a demonstration program, likely concerning the health care industry.

I realized today, following a slow, elderly couple (driving a Florida-plated land yacht with the bug screen on the front grille), that I will drive that way when I'm old. Why? Because I'm a careful driver. This is not to say that I'm a slow driver. I've seen the north side of one and four bits, and I know how to overtake a knucklehead to the inside on a curving on-ramp like it's the Abbey turn at Silverstone.* But I know how I drive when I smoke marijuana. It's just like the old people.

Oh, I almost forgot: Ursus americanus has returned to my backyard. Last year it was a mother and cub. This year the cub looks pretty big, though still not fully grown. Mom's nowhere to be found so far.

*Note: Originally wrote "Silberstone." Yeah, that famous Jewish race track in England. Like I said, basket case.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Hogwash: So the president of PBS is a liberal, and the chairman of CPB is a conservative. One (guess who!) thinks there's bias in public broadcasting. The other thinks not. Sounds like a sitcom. Maybe they have to share an office! And a black, gay, conservative administrative assistant! Ahem. Anyhoo, just had to pick out a couple of howlers in the article.
While defending PBS against what she regards as unfounded attacks that it is politically partial, Mitchell said she was not questioning Tomlinson's motives.
No, certainly not. When he looks at PBS and sees a liberal tilt, he's just a victim of his own unconscious bias.
Mitchell said PBS presents political views as diverse as those of Moyers and Paul Gigot . . .
One of those two (guess who!) is an actual journalist with actual experience in putting out a newspaper, on both sides of the "chinese wall." The other is and always has been a partisan hack masquerading as a journalist (although PBS is increasingly the only broadcast source that buys his act) who more and more has become a mindless bombthrower.
"The facts do not support the case he makes" for political bias, Mitchell said of Tomlinson. Surveys show that the overwhelming majority of the public does not perceive bias in public broadcasting, she said.
Jesus, did she really say that? Hold on . . . Yeah, she did. There's no bias in public broadcasting because "surveys show . . ." Talk about your rock-solid evidence. I bet NPR listeners think that's pretty balanced, too. And most people who read Paul Krugman's column think that he's got a pretty solid grip on the facts. Let's face it: Public broadcasting, for obvious reasons, isn't likely to get a lot of repeat business from conservatives, which tends to leave them underrepresented when it comes time to survey PBS's viewership.

As a final, though not dispositive, point, I cite O'Sullivan's first law: "All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing." In my experience, this is true, doubly so for any organization that feeds from the public teat.

Best read on Slate right now: Edward Jay Epstein, an author who writes about two of my favorite topics (economics and movies), also pens (digitally) a column at Slate about the financing and other behind-the-marketing essentials of blockbuster movie-making. He's really, really good.

This week: Why certain directors have to direct a film while safely ensconced in a room apart from the live action, and why a certain actress' balky knee almost had her blacklisted from ever working again. Then go read his archive (only a few articles so far, but all worth a read).
Yay! We're back where we started...: Put the duct tape and clear plastic sheets away, the Senatorial crisis over judical nominees is over. In exchange for up-or-down votes on a handful of appellate court judges, the Democrats get to reserve the right to use the filibuster only in "extreme" situations. You have to ponder the merits of that qualification. Since the Dems get to define what is "extreme", isn't that like giving an obese person on a diet the power to decide what is "fattening" ("Yes, but they're low carb!!!")?

I mean this thing got so bad, you had otherwise well-spoken people like Arlen Specter sounding like a pundit lost in a metaphor factory, noting that the nominees are being "held hostage as pawns in a convoluted chess game that is spinning out of control." For those counting, he was one metaphor away from the world record for a sentence with fewer than 25 words.

Our buddy Erik is gathering the conservative blog reaction (which ranges from full-on hissy tantrums, to skeptical optimism), and the consensus seems to be that three judges will get floor votes, while Saad and Myers will not.

I never thought that the filibuster was in real danger - not even Frist and DeLay are that short-sighted to throw out the only real weapon the minority has - but at the same time, I'm happy this is over so the Senate can focus on some serious business. I hear there's a lame horse about to be put down somewhere in Kentucky that may need immediate legislative intervention.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Non-Star Wars post!: Rick Santorum appears to have stuck his head further up his ass than usual and Volokh call him on it. Santorum calls Democrat grousing about possible rules changes
...the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942 "I'm in Paris. How dare you invade me. How dare you bomb my city? It's mine."

Jonah Goldberg has been a fairly consistent critic of anyone playing politics with the Hitler accusation, usually liberals comparing Bush to a Nazi, so I'll be interested to see if he slaps Santorum for it. First post I saw on The Corner though was about Santorum in a different way. I hope that changes as fast as NR's position of the rules change did.
Audience/Effects: Lucas may have made the first three for children, but there's no doubt the success of the series in its second phase is due to fans of the original trilogy growing up and becoming, sometimes psychotically, attached to the story. I think Lucas had a responsibility to make the movies enjoyable for both children and the adult fan. He failed miserably on the first two. It's not like it's impossible to do that, you know. Every parent I know raves about how great movies like Toy Story, Shrek, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo are, precisely because they have enough laughs for the parents and keep the kids enthralled. Those are freakin' cartoons! Is it too much to hope for from an auteur like Lucas? Maybe it is (or he's not), but I had the feeling that parents felt similiarly towards Star Wars for at least the first couple flicks. If/when that got lost can be debated.

As for effects, I think they're largely overrated. I still think the effects in Star Wars hold up better than the ones in Episodes I, II, or III. The use of CG animation only expands your choices, it doesn't mean you'll make good ones. The earlier movies didn't rely on entire worlds being created in the background, so they were forced to focus on the characters. There were very few wide shots that weren't of something the average 1977 human could recognize* - Tatooine=Sahara Desert; Hoth=Alaska. No big whoop, I've seen that in pictures before. Now show me what the people are doing, how they're feeling. Since the technology's gotten better, it's become less about characters and more about cool planets and improbable aliens. Wonder why the performances by respected actors are so bad? Treakly dialogue is part of it, but filming every scene in front of a green screen makes it difficult for even good lines to be delivered well. There's no set, no scene, just a wharehouse and a bunch of computers to add everything later. The actors are uninvolved and so, mirabile dictu, is the audience.

Lucas commits many of the same sins in ...Sith, but he manages to remember he's telling a story about people first, planets and politics second. It's far from perfect, but it's good enough to end with.

*Exception: wide shots of Death Stars. Very cool, but not exactly FX wonders.

The Empire Strikes Lame Poses: Piffle, sir. Piffle, I say. There were a few moments of joy in the first one, I'll admit. And that's why the original will always stand as the best. But Luke is: Such. A. Drag. Through the whole trilogy. Empire existed only to advance the plot with yak yak yakking about the force. Then Jedi came along and upped the ante on twee aliens, with Mark Hamill doing his brooding face in every scene. Oh dear god!

As for FX, look at Kubrick's 2001, released in 1968. Look at Star Wars, released nearly a decade later. It's a difference of degree, not kind.

Finally, to take up your genre point, I don't think Lucas so much created a new genre as transposed some old ones: westerns, samurai flicks, and Flash Gordon serials. Genres that had bad guys in black hats, a sword/gun slinging hero with a special code of ethics, a mercenary hired onto the side of righteousness who ridicules the morality of the hero but who ends up himself a partisan. Watch Kurasawa's "Hidden Fortress"; now imagine the fortress is . . . in space, and that the two bickering peasants are robotic. Hmmmm. Oh, and what was the Japanese word for the period samurai piece? Jidai, was it? That word sounds oddly familiar . . .

The Clones Keep Droning: You'll not get argument from me (or from most people) that Lucas is woefully inept at crafting dialogue, suspense and drama in his scripts. In fact, it's quite clear that were his scripts submitted today, by any other name, they would likely be sent back in a plain envelope, barely read.

But, what made the first three so great is that they were not only ground-breaking, they created a new genre of film - one in which the special effects not only didn't get in the way of the movie, they greatly enhanced it. Everything before this one was shlock (harken back to "The Incredible Shrinking Man" or even "War of the Worlds"). Those movies used special effects because the plot required them, not because they were particularly effective.

Lucas changed all that with his obsession with technology and his unique abilities to milk from that technology every last drop of awe.

Today, not to sound older than my 33 years, the kids's pulses barely quicken seeing all the pod racing, light-sabre dueling, and spaceship hurtling. Interestingly, most of the younger audience grew up on Star Wars as a videogame, not a movie. Sure, many if not all have seen the old movies, but dollars-to-donuts, those first three movies were not their first exposure to the saga.

Last, and where I will differ with you somewhat directly, is that the first three movies had some quality actors; there is no disputing that Harrison Ford's scenes were always the most entertaining, and that Carrie Fisher brought some believability to a female heroine who could occasionaly rescue herself, not to mention her cohorts. Sure, Mark Hamill was no great thespian, and the dialogue was often wooden, but it was all delivered with such joy and enthusiasm - the actors knew they were onto something new, and their own pleasure could not be hidden.

Today, while we get some good actors (Sam Jackson, Natalie, Ewan), they have no joy, no sense of being enthralled by the product. And of course, the dialogue, wooden pacing, and Jar Jar cannot help that predicament.

Still, while Star Wars is designed for kids, I'd argue the first three (or at least the first two) were plenty for adults to dig. Once merchandise tie-ins became de riguer, well, we got what we asked for.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Star Wars/Lucas/Crapola: I won't win many friends for this one, but I really ceased to give a shit about the bloated Star Wars franchise quite a few years ago. The first three were a part of my childhood/adolescence, so obviously I went to see Phantom Menace -- well after it came out, though. I also read through a lot of disappointed fan mewling, and I realized this: Lucas's work has always been juvenile, wooden, preachy, unsophisticated drivel. That's cool when you're a kid. As an adult, I really don't care for it any more. Was Jar-Jar Binks annoying? Sure. So were the Ewoks, Chewbacca, and various other Lucas creations.

No, I'm not trying to say that everyone who wants to see this movie needs to grow up. But they do need to face the diagnosis of acute nostalgia, and quit hoping that Lucas was just slumping for a while. The movies have always been crap aimed to wow kids and sell toys, poseur exegesis of Lucas's pseudo-profound space-Zen, recycled Kurasawa-isms, and derivative mythopoetics notwithstanding. Know why Phantom Menace sucked? Cause you're grown up now. Don't believe me? Take a ten year old to see it. Think Clones was boring? So was most of the talky dreck in Empire.

Point is, it's never going to mean as much/be as cool as it all seemed that summer in 1977. Remember? You heard it from another kid, maybe a couple years older than you: there's this movie about a guy with a kooky glowing sword; he has a spaceship, fights bad guys. But it's gone. And, honestly, who cares? That's life. It goes by, don't it? Now shut the f*ck up about it. It's not all about you, so quit bitching about how Lucas "sold out" or some such, because you're spoiling things for the intended audience, which, to be blunt, is not 40-year-old guys with a wife and a mortgage.

The Classics - for free: Ever wanted to read "Great Expectations" but just couldn't find it in the library? Well, fret no more. If you have a computer and a connection to the internet (which you must if you're reading these words), you can now download this and many other great works for free, as an "E-Book". Check it out.
Confession: I did it. Slogged along and went to see Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith last night. A stupid thing to do, go to a movie at midnight, no matter how good what's playing. But, the girlfirend had no interest in seeing it at all, so I may as well go with my geeky friends and be tired the next day.

I'm not a movie critic so I won't attempt a thorough analysis (Will Collier's done one at Vodkapundit that includes spoilers if you're interested, and there's some counterpoint to him in the comments section of his post that are worhtwhile) but I'll give a quick two cents.

This is far and away a better movie than the last two, and while that's not saying much, it's probably enough for those (like me) who lowered their expectations so much over the past six years that anything better than a three hour Jar Jar Binks soliloquy would have been acceptable. While the dialogue in Episode III has its moments of putresence ("Hold me like you did on Naboo"), they are fewer and mostly shorter. More importantly, those scenes have much more relevance to the story and are useful in explaining Anakin's seduction to the Dark Side. The acting performances are forgettable, which is a major step up from the wooden performances in Episodes I and II. Nobody who uses acting quality as reason to trash these past three installments can rightly be a fan of the first three (and if you were never a fan of the series, then why you even care is beyond me. You must get tired of flogging the same dead horse). Oh, and there's nary a peep out of the dreaded Binks.

Most of all, though, it is an action packed, sinister, at times disturbing movie that comes closer to evoking real emotion than, I think, any of the last three (I include Jedi as part of the Trilogy of Shite that Lucas made for the toy industry). Yes, much of that emotion is simply relief at having all this behind you. But Ian McDiarmid does a great job of making Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine believably evil and Obi Wan Kenobi, who was the most pathetic excuse for a Jedi in Attack of the Clones, finally shows he's got some guts at the end.

Lucas brought back some old gags, as well, mostly with the droids R2-D2 and C3PO. Early into the movie I found myself smiling and chuckling at R2 bouncing around a careening, out of control space ship and fiddling with computer systems to make elevators work for his human masters. Good stuff that reminded me comic relief, or lack thereof, was part of what made Star Wars work and was severely lacking in recent installments. For instance, in Jedi R2-D2 stopped being funny and turned into some kind of robot butt buddy for Ewoks. Awful. Still no character equal to Han Solo for wit, though.

Important scenes are allowed to play out in full this time, instead of being cut short by Lucas' heavy handed direction (though I'm really tired of the "screen wash" technique that is his staple - it stopped being dramatic or cool a long time ago). There are plenty of good lightsaber/force duels, a must to make a Star Wars movie, and even though you know ahead of time the win, lose, or draw of each, they are still fun. And finally, just about every geek trivia question you could possibly want answered gets addressed. So, hopefully, we can all move on from these very flawed movies that made for a very entertaining series.

I have little interest in discussing the politics of Lucas or how his movies are meant as metaphors for Vietnam/Iraq/Bush. Other than a few rather heavy handed attempts to scold Bush, there's little of what conservatives have been fetting about. I think Lucas is wrong and self-contradictory, but who cares. That's another dead horse not worth whipping.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

America - The Middle Finger: President and CFO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, recently made a speech at Columbia University in which she compared each continent to one of the five fingers - Africa's the pinky, Asia's the thumb, blah, blah, blah. She's catching some flack, though for her characterization of America (and not North America, but the U.S. in particular):
Finally, the US (not Canada mind you) - yes, you guessed it - the middle finger. She then launched into a diatribe about how the US is seen as the middle finger to the rest of the world. The rest of the world sees us as an overbearing, insensitive and disrespectful nation that gives the middle finger to the rest of the world. According to Ms. Nooyi, we cause the other finger nations to cower under our presence. But it is our responsibility, she continues, to change the current state of world opinion of the US. It is our responsibility to make the other fingers rise in unison with us as we move forward.
Now, there's a little disagreement about the context of her statements and New Criterion and Powerline are having some back and forth with Pepsi about releasing the entire speech. I could really care less what Ms. Nooyi thinks of America, I'm still gonna drink Coke (at least when faced with an either/or scenario and I'm really thirsty), but her analogy doesn't work. America is the thumb, no matter what Asia's "yearning" for. Without the thumb, you can do very, very little. Other than pick your nose. And she's right on that one. That's Europe.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The standard for "gentleman": Via Eugene Volokh

"He would never sue an uninsured woman who injured him during sex, and he would always pay back her deductible"?
Read the whole thing, though it makes for a wee bit of discomfort.
Not Getting It: Look, I'm as cheesed at Newsweak as the next guy, but this is really off the mark.
Pakistan dismissed on Tuesday as inadequate an apology and retraction by the Newsweek magazine of a report that U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had desecrated the Koran.

"The apology and retraction are not enough," Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told Reuters.

"They should understand the sentiments of Muslims and think 101 times before publishing news which hurt feelings of Muslims."

Sorry, Rashid, but this is about the truth. If it's good, solid reporting and it still hurts your feelings, live with it. The fact that you are "Information Minister" in a country where people kill other people over a report that somebody stuck the Koran in a loo in Cuba says to me all that I need to know. It's really great to help you guys out, maybe get a legitimate goverment up and running. But I sure hope this isn't the best you can do.
Good Press: In reaction to a pretty entertaining story about one man's exposure to an Enron song-and-dance number in 1999, including multiple trips on one of Enron's corporate jets, I started looking at the corporate press releases of the company, and found them to be pretty entertaining as well (in the sense that you can't look away) . Reading the tone of the releases, the double-talk, the scripting, even the standard SEC required langauge, is amazingly telling. Here's a short walk through 2001:

January, 2001
: Enron announces increased EPS (earnings per share) forecast of $1.70 to $1.75. Remember those numbers.

February, 2001: Enron named one of the country's most innovative companies, for the sixth year running. Who's doing the naming? Why, Fortune Magazine, a trusted name if there ever was one.

April, 2001
: Enron announces an increase in DEPS (Diluted EPS) for the first quarter 2001 over 2000 of $.07/share. Not only that, it is once again increasing forecasted EPS for 2001 in the $1.75 to $1.80 range. Things are looking up!

May, 2001: Vice-Chairman, Cliff Baxter resigns, but will continue to work as a consultant. Hmmm, well, people do move on. Plus, as the press release reassuringly notes, consistently:
Enron is one of the world?s leading electricity, natural gas and communications companies. The company, with revenues of $101 billion in 2000, markets electricity and natural gas, delivers physical commodities and financial and risk management services to customers around the world, and has developed an intelligent network platform to facilitate online business. Fortune magazine has named Enron "America's Most Innovative Company" for six consecutive years.

June, 2001: Enron reassures the world that it will meet earnings expectations. And who wouldn't believe? After all, this comes from Jeffrey Skilling:
"Our business continues to be extremely strong. Interest in our energy delivery and energy management capabilities has never been higher," said Jeffrey K. Skilling, Enron president and CEO. ?Having reviewed the recent FERC action on price controls in the western U.S., we remain very confident that we will meet the market?s consensus recurring earnings estimates of $0.42 and $1.79 per share, respectively, for both the second quarter and full year 2001."

August, 2001: Oops, Skilling resigned.

October, 2001: Hmmm, the SEC is casually interested in Enron's earnings, etc. But, this is purely voluntary, says Ken Lay. Note the slight change to the tag description of the company at the end:
Enron is one of the world?s leading energy, commodities and services companies. The company markets electricity and natural gas, delivers energy and other physical commodities, and provides financial and risk management services to customers around the world.
No more "$101 billion" in revenues - hmmm, wonder why such engraved-in-stone numbers would be removed from the company description? And what about Fortune Magazine? Oh well, as long as my stock holdings keep going up...

October 31, 2001: HEY, WE GOT THIS NEW DIRECTOR ON BOARD! HE'S A LAW PROFESSOR AND EVERYTHING! WOOOOHOOOO! and the sec has changed its inquiry to a formal investigation.

November, 2001:
Okay, not that it means anything, but here's some explanation of all the off balance sheet transactions we've (well, really Skilling) been doing these past years. But, I mean, Andersen okayed it all, so no worries, really.

November 9, 2001
: Big time merger announcement!! See, people want us; they love us. In your face, SEC!!!

November 28, 2001:
Whoops, the merger's off; and we're now a junk-rated credit risk. But umm, hey, have you seen our precious art collection?

December 2, 2001: Annnnd, we're in bankruptcy. Notice how pathetic the tag line is now:
Enron Corp. markets electricity and natural gas, delivers energy and other physical commodities, and provides financial and risk management services to customers around the world.
No leader of this, billion dollar that, Fortune magazine whatever.

December 14, 2001: Annnnd, your 401(k) is screwed. Merry Christmas from all of us at Enron!

2002 is just too depressing to recount...resignations, criminal proceedings, liquidations.
Stuff you always wanted to know: How does a lightsaber work.

Also, some very useful tips on alternative uses for your lightsaber.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Like Banning Levi's: Good piece in the Globe Ideas section about how intertwined smoking is with American culture, a partial explanation of why smoking bans run into so much trouble.
It seems more than a coincidence that the increasing blandness of the cultural landscape and the eradication of smoking have proceeded together. For while many of the producers of today's entertainments are still smokers themselves, that activity is disallowed in their creations. As sanitized versions of reality replace the investigations of a Godard or a Cassavetes, a cultural hole opens up to compete with the one in the ozone.
Incidentally, I have quit smoking, given that there are fewer and fewer places to enjoy it. Smoking is a habit of elegance, to be enjoyed seated, with a drink, not huddled against the wind, puffing between cupped hands. I refuse to be a smoker in that sort of situation. The inconvenience came on so slowly that at first I barely noticed it. In college, I simply had to put out my Camel (unfiltered, thanks) before entering the actual classroom. In my first job, I could only smoke in my own office. In grad school, a short-lived smokers' lounge gave way to the covered portico, which in turn gave way to the yard behind the quad. Now, 20 years after it began, my tobacco journey ends here, in this dismal town where the law forbids smoking in any public place.

More: Just got back in from smoking one outside. Wow! It's not so bad in the summer, you know. I can suffer through until late October, but then it's quits for good, and I mean it!

Friday, May 13, 2005

BRAC: I'm watching the coverage of the latest round of DoD's base realignment and closure. As usual, it's a wild pork toss. (Even Democrats love the military when it comes to bases in their districts; a base means guaranteed paychecks that don't suck on local taxes for infrastructure, and it means a boon to local businesses and services, since the DoD is big on outsourcing these days.) Every politician in the country is on TV this morning, claiming that the military station or base in his district is the lynchpin for national security.

I'm not a military analyst, so I can't say who has a valid point. My DoD experience tells me that this list was pretty carefully constructed. New England is bitching a lot about losing so many jobs, but there are so many DoD jobs in New England to begin with because of congressional "pull" in the past. A look at the closure list shows a certain amount of method: closing and consolidating reserve centers, depots, and finance and accounting units. Big closures like Ft. Monmouth and New London are firmly in the minority.

If nothing else, we're seeing an unusually transparent and public parade of parochial interests right now. Best guess: Some powerful senators may be able to grab some minor relief, but not much.

More: I don't mean to sound cavalier. The wrong BRAC policy could send my dumb ass back to editing publicity materials at a rinky-dink mid-Atlantic college. Gack! No, I feel for the folks who are getting hit by this. But the government owes nobody a job, least of all me.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

This is a Hoot: Behold, Huffington's Toast. Read every word. The "Glenn Reynolds" entries alone are worth the visit. More fun here from the guy who played accordion for Mr. Weiss and actually knows how to make injera.

Link via the all-powerful Mox.

Cacophonus Cancellation Censors Coolness, Baby: Stated otherwise, Dennis Miller is off the air.

Before I expound on the fallen greatness of Dennis Miller, let's pause for a second and ask the un-asked question: Why would anyone want a show on CNBC? Is there anything on that channel that could possibly be labeled as "appointment t.v."? Can you fall any lower than accepting a slot on that cable wasteland? Well, I guess getting canceled would be just a notch below that, but still. The old Dennis Miller not only would have laughed at the mere notion of hosting a show on that channel (had the channel existed back when), but he would have come up with a 10-minute riff on the idiocy of the concept; somehow relating the idea to a Kalahari bushman's mating dance.

So, what is up with the "new" Dennis Miller? I always thought Bill Mahrer was the unfunny version of DM, but now, sadly, it appears that Maher has the upper hand (he's on HBO for chrissakes!). Now, sure, there is a man for all seasons, and everything must turn, turn, turn, but how can someone stop being funny? I mean, it's not like you're a running back in the NFL, where you get, if you're incredibly lucky, 8-9 years of productivity (average is less than 3 yrs), because your leg injuries start to add up.

There isn't any funny muscle or ligament is there (no funnybone jokes, puh-leeze)? Maybe it started when he cut his hair...or grew the beard. Maybe it was when he tried to get acting gigs in Hollywood, and thus was co-opted by the System. I don't know, but even his stand-up gig is stale. I watched something he did for HBO recently, and it was just...sad. And it's not that he's become conservative, and therefore less funny. DM was always an equal-opportunity ball-buster, it's just when he rose to prominence he had Reagan, and then 41, to use as a foil. I don't think he would have been any less funny during the Clinton years, would those have constituted his prime.

Anyway, when the worst possible cable channel (and I mean this; I'd rather work on Spice [well, duh] or Animal Planet, than CNBC [not that anyone's calling]) decides you're not relevant enough, it's time to put on the blue blazer and hit the Blue Plate at the Friar's Club. I hear Youngman's got some killer one-liners.
Oh, Blah: Frank Deford sucks off Andy Roddick for giving away a point.
After [Fernando Verdasco] hit deep on the second serve, the line judge called the ball out and Roddick had the match.

Only, Roddick refused to accept the point. Verdasco's serve had nicked the line, he said. Stunned, the umpire let Roddick overrule him. Verdasco then fought back, held serve, won the set and then the match.

Whatta guy! I have written on this blog about witnessing Sebastien Grosjean and Pat Rafter do the same thing (Rafter on a number of occasions). Nobody from Sprouts Illustrated fawned over them, since it wasn't an American. In fact, nothing in the sports world really matters until a Yank does it.

We're talking, after all, about the so-called premier sports magazine that hasn't run a serious word on Grand Prix racing in thirty years. Plenty on NASCAR, though. Folks, that's like pushing aside coverage of professional hockey in favor of curling.

By the by, I will have more to say about Roland Garros after the draws are announced. The actual tournament overlaps with the closing on my new house, so Razor may have to pick up my regular beats: wooden racquets, Ashley Harkleroad, and which multi-vowelled name will go on the men's trophy this year.

A Conundrum: Where do you stand on prayer in schools? I personally have no problem with religious students praying voluntarily, even if it is within earshot of my son. I don't believe he will be contaminated. But kids being told they must pray with the class -- before lunch, for example, as I was forced to do in the South as a kid -- is over the line. Just one of the many areas where I hew pretty close to the liberal line, right?

Maybe not.

My son has recited for me the words that he and his fellow students are told to say before their lunch. Bear in mind that he goes to school in the most liberal town (ok, maybe the People's Republic of Cambridge beats us) in the great liberal Commonwealth of Massachusetts. And in this enlightened situation one finds compulsory prayer in school? Yep. But here's the escape hatch: It's a prayer of thanksgiving to the Earth.

Memo to the progressive left, in orbit somewhere out near S/2005 S1: Talking to the Earth is either religion or plain looniness. They are certainly not mutually exclusive, but there is no third option.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Clay Feet: Yes it's that time again: French Open, baby -- catch the esprit!

Early faves, according to some in the know, Justine and this new whiz kid, Nadal, are the ones to watch. Certainly they both have the big Mo, and the Roland Garros surface no doubt plays to their strengths (placement, footwork, half-volleys) and does the most to disguise their weaknesses (power serve, power groundstrokes). Okay, it's hardly surprising that two Europeans are favored to win the most European of all tournies, much less the Slams, but still, these two are really tearing it up.

Roddick, still the Great Yankee Hope, was playing well until he touched European clay. He won the U.S. clay tournament (which, admittedly is like winning the U.S. Cricket Invitational), and then succumbs in Round 1 in Hamburg, a French tune-up.

Me? I'm rooting for Federer. He lost to Safin in a great, great match Down Under, but Safin won't stand a chance in Paris (if he's even playing). Then throw in Coria and all the other Spaniards/South Americans - they all can win it (the French being the tourney that everyone wins once and is never heard from again, see Chang, Michael).

Serena has proven she can win there, but is her dedication there to put together another 2003? I think she's moving on to films and fashion. Kim Clijsters has been rounding back into form, and I wouldn't bet against her either. Davenport amazingly keeps sticking around, but I never can believe in her staying power or health.

The Russian women are sucking wind right now, and can't seem to keep out of their own way. But, given that Anastasia Myskina won it last year (beating another Russian in the process), they should be given due deference.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Oh, shoot me now: I guess Hollywood Democrats are so pissed off at losing presidential elections they just keep creating alternative realities to alleviate their pain.
Is America ready for Ms. President!?!

The new fall schedule will not be announced until later this month, but the DRUDGE REPORT has learned that ABC has picked up COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF, a drama following the challenges facing the first female President of the United States.

ABC suits are are prepared to give the project a timeslot and series commitment, sources said.

Actress Geena Davis, a Democrat political activist, will play the president.

ABC executives "adored" the two-hour pilot of CHIEF.
On a positive note, though, Geena Davis is looking positivlely buxom, which I never thought possible. She always gave me the chills, but whatever she's been eating or birthing or whatever, keep it up.

Hat tip Vilmar.

Who's Who? There's been quite a bit of smack talked on the blogs lately about who is or is not a libertarian (or Libertarian, your cherce). Here's a sample, bearing the now-infamous "neo" prefix. (Although they seem to be embracing it.) Seems to me that any political philosophy that gets to excommunicating folks based on policy disagreements is a little overly concerned with ideological discipline. It's always been the Achilles' heel of libertarianism to split hairs over dogma. Any wonder, then, that the movement goes nowhere at a national (or, hell, even local) level? I have nothing but respect for libertarians with a principled opposition to our overseas military adventures. Unfortunately, a lot of them seem to be the ones pointing fingers and saying, in essence, you can't be in the club anymore if you're pro-WOT. (A lot of liberals I know have done the same thing. Any disagreement makes you one of the Bushbot Drones.)

Principled folks whose libertarian bona fides are beyond question have sided with the Bush WOT view. And Stephen Green, mentioned in the linked post above, is one of those with nothing to prove. Add in folks like Randy Barnett, whose classical liberal street cred is . . . er, was impeccable. Ronald Bailey and Michael Young, both of Reason, have also been appreciably more pro-intervention than most of their colleagues (and have likewise been tagged a "libertarian imperialists").

The point is, you can excommunicate over just about any issue -- including, for example, abortion, a subject that classical liberal godfather Nat Hentoff dissents on. I don't mean to say that, next thing you know, you're airbrushing them out of the class photo, but you get the idea. We can all get together on the free markets stuff, but some of us think terrorism is a clear and present danger. Can we proceed from there?

Huffing and Puffing: Quick glance over at HuffingblogTM leads me to believe I'm missing little. First thing I noticed? This. When the terms of use of your blog have to look like this, you're a fox in the henhouse.
Congrats to Stephen: Little has been heard from the Vodkaman of late, and from the sound of things I'm not surprised. The man is down in the dumps. Let's hope the good news in his house brings him back to his formerly high spirits and verbose blogging style. All the best Stephen. Be sure to hide the Vodka, at least the expensive stuff, until the little ankle-biter's old enough to appreciate it.
Talk Pretty: Sorry, Razor. I plead not guilty by temporary insanity. Now that you are deriding me about being late to the party, I do seem to recall you mentioning this. Should have googled it. Anyhoo, on top of work, childcare, extensive blogging (riiiight), the play, and the whole family being sick with a crappy, lingering cough, we chose this lovely time to drop a bid on a house -- with an eye toward closing within two weeks if bid is accepted. Fun-o.

Wouldn't you be brain dead too?

Hey, W wins a second term!: This will be Eno's next post, as he's johnny-on-the-spot for timely news. Well, at least he's posting, Razor...shut up...no you shut up!
Re: Audioslave: Who is our Little Steven? Who will lead today's artists in taking the pledge? Sing it with me now.

I, I, I ain't gonna play [Havana] - I, I, I ain't gonna play [Havana]
I, I, I ain't gonna play [Havana] - I, I, I ain't gonna play[Havana]
If Tom Morello came out and said he was playing for the sheer fact that he's a professional musician who's playing a gig 'cause they offered him big bucks, I'd be thrilled. Make this a statement about capitalism and the free exchange of dollars and ideas breaking down the leftist dreck that should have been put up with mothballs 30 years ago, but o'l fuzzy whiskers clings to with his very soul.

But, of course, that ain't what this is about.

Personally, I think Cuba should pay us to keep the embargo in place, if only to spare them visits by the likes of Audioslave.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Gentlemen, We Excel: Er, I mean . . . dudes, we rock! Did you see this? This must've come up during my last frustrated hiatus from Blogger. Anyhoo, when it comes to using multisyllabic words that we don't actually know the meaning of, FauxPolitik ranks fourth (well, tied for third) in the ol' blogosphere.

Now back to my ice cream. Marge! Where's that . . . uh . . . metal dealie you . . .uh . . . dig with? (You mean a spoon, Homer?)

Hitchens on North Korea: This is a must read today. Sample:
Concealed in that pitch-black night is an imploding state where the only things that work are the police and the armed forces. The situation is actually slightly worse than indentured servitude. The slave owner historically promises, in effect, at least to keep his slaves fed. In North Korea, this compact has been broken. It is a famine state as well as a slave state . . . Even on a tightly controlled tour of the place—North Korea is almost as hard to visit as it is to leave—my robotic guides couldn't prevent me from seeing people drinking from sewers and picking up individual grains of food from barren fields.
His proposal -- a Western-backed and subsidized "underground railroad" to help people escape from NK -- is worth a thought. The idea of invasion, Iraq-style, bothers me. The Iraqi army basically dropped its guns and fled. I fear, though, that the North Koreans would fight bravely and bitterly for a regime that has given them nothing but pain. The country is so tightly closed that I think they would actually believe the regime's claims that the West is bent on their destruction. So many instances of thriving samizdat knowledge in other totalitarian states prove nothing. We're talking about a country that, aside from its weaponry, is technologically living a hundred years in the past.
Children of the Revolution, Rock On: Audioslave will give a concert in Havana. The band is making the standard noises:
"Music can transcend politics and this trip is proof of that," said the band's singer, Chris Cornell, at a news conference in Havana on Thursday. "It is all about music, period."
Whatever. Audioslave's singer Tom Morello is a red-diaper baby, son of the effectively pro-Castro activist Mary Morello, and what passes for a "critic of American capitalism" these days. In other words, Castro isn't getting all that open minded after all. I'm going back to sleep. Wake me up when Ted Nugent is playing "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang" in Havana -- preferably while standing on Castro's dead body. Then we'll know things have changed.

Monday, May 02, 2005

"Time is made of yellow.": Oh this is funny. Low budget, but funny. Yes, I am a geek.