Thursday, November 29, 2007

Going to Welles Once Too Often

Perhaps I'm not the nurturing type, but I AM nursing a head cold. It's making my throat sore and sapping my boundless energy. This leaves almost nothing for my righteous political rage at the end of the day, which is why yesterday instead of attempting to laugh through the Republican debate I popped a DVD of THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI into my iMac and grooved on the 60-year-old cinematic goodness.

Though actually, it wasn't all that good. 

There's a couple of background stories concerning the movie which probably explain away the bad chemistry of this movie. For one thing, it was kind of made on a whim. Welles was mounting a stage production and needed a quick $50k for sets and costumes, so he called the head of Columbia and offered to make a movie based on a Maxwell Anderson novel which some say he hadn't even read. They gave him the money provided he cast Rita Hayworth, Columbia's number one star and Welles' then wife. By the time they went into production, the marriage was almost on the rocks and they divorced before it was even released.

And of course, there was the usual studio butchery as Welles lit off to his next project, leaving the post production to a team of non-geniuses.

Orson Welles fans are a peculiar lot, more so than most fans. They love CITIZEN KANE, his one flawless film, but they others? They don't love them. They love the films they WISH they had been. To be an Orson Welles fan is to be forever tantalized by the noble failures he left behind. 

A couple of months back I watched MR. ARKADIN, a movie which now boasts 7 different versions and no definitive director's cut. Every version is a bad movie, but somehow you can believe that had Welles remained in the editing room, it would have been a classic. Welles would have found the exact right pacing. Welles would have flawlessly dubbed in all the bad dialogue in a host of sparkling radio voices. Welles would have commissioned a score that does the story justice.

I can't help but suspect that Welles, who was a great filmmaker but a brilliant self-promoter, realized that he was better off leaving his work to people who could take the blame for his cinematic misdeeds. He was the tallest man on the landscape and yet was always able to make someone else the lightning rod. And then, as his fans lamented how others had ruined a masterpiece, we went off to sell wine and frozen peas and pick up an occasional gig as the voice of God. 

The last film Welles shot, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, remains unreleased to this day as various rights holders bicker over how to cut it. I recall hearing an anecdote on the Tonight Show,  years after Welle's death, by a famous actor who did a cameo in it. I can't recall who it was.

"Welles said 'Action! Now look down.' I looked down at the floor. Later I asked Orson what I was supposed to be looking at and he said, 'Dwarves. Dwarves are running between your legs. I'm going to add them in post'"
It's been over 30 years and there still ain't no dwarves. And you know what? I don't think there ever will be.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

At Last, Democrats Get A Shot At The Big Pandering Money

I tip my figurative hat to WAMK for again pointing me in the direction of a fresh outrage. 

Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat, has introduced the inevitable bill designed to "help nearly 638,000 families – a quarter of the 2.2 million people at risk of foreclosure – keep their homes by allowing them to modify the terms of their loan in bankruptcy proceedings." It sounds like a blow struck for the little guy against the big mortgage companies, but I'm more cynical than I used to be. A press release can say anything. 

First of all, no matter who it benefits, this amounts to a kind of bailout. Bad financial decisions need to have predictable consequences, because that prevents bad financial decisions in the future. If an offer seems too good to be true it damn well better play out that way. 

And free-market capitalism being what it is, big mortgage companies are already motivated to restructure debts, because the last thing they need is to foreclose on hundreds of thousands of houses at once. The paperwork overhead of turning those things over, added to a glut of fire-sale-priced residences, has got to be a worse headache than simply renegotiating with the current owners. 

What worries me about this bill is that I suspect that Durbin isn't pushing it to help the little guy; he's giving the mortgage companies a face-saving way out. I mean come on, in a match between huge money and the common man, who do you think will get to a politician first? On the other hand, it pleases me to see a Democrat behind this. Sleazy? Yes. But two or three years ago it would have been a Republican with an identical bill, but they would have sold it as a means of sustaining jobs and keeping the economy afloat. The fact that the banks let a Democrat carry their water means it's going to be a mighty rough election year for Republicans.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


I'm increasingly amazed by the ability of people to deny that mankind can effect the environment, especially when politics is involved. Poor science is made to jump through all kinds of hoops by the right. If Stephen Hawking were explicitly liberal, Rush Limbaugh would be mocking him for suggesting there is such a thing as "time."

Therefore we have to suffer through a lot of crazy debate about Global Warming, because it's a pet cause of Al Gore. Instead of listening to the majority of legitimate scientists, conservatives are forced to believe a handful of oil-company researchers. I have been batting this issue around lately with Warner Todd Huston (who believes that the new Eagles album aids the terrorists, even though it's perfectly acceptable to hate it because the album is just lame) and he's been riding the bullet train to Crazytown trying to convince me that there is no such thing as Global Warming. Or there is, but we aren't causing it and there is nothing we can do to stop it, and we shouldn't even try because there isn't any.

Warner says:

This isn't about "saving the Earth." It's about so-called scientists getting money for more research to assure globaloney exists.

Yes, that's right - the majority of the world's scientists have gotten together in secret, maybe at one of those conferences in Helsinki, and agreed to gin up the results of their research to squeeze a little grant money out of the rest of us! All this time I thought it was energy companies trying to protect their profits; but it turns out they're the altruistic ones! Those scientists are the greedy, rapacious bastards!

Warner says:

...People imagine that plastic won't break down and disintegrate. But this isn't true at all. It's just that plastic is such a new substance that microbes haven't figured out how to break it down. Eventually, they will.

Same thing happened to trees millions of years ago. Now trees break down and disappear because microbes, etc. break down the wood. But millions of years ago, they hadn't quite figured that out yet. That is why we can find bark and nearly whole fallen tree trunks deep under the earth in coal mines (for instance).

These two paragraphs have created a whole new energy source, because they make my head spin so much I have hooked a belt to it to power my reading lamp. First of all, microbes will eventually figure out how to break down plastic? How is that possible, knowing that there is no such thing as evolution?

Second, as proof that microbes learned to break down wood, Warner offers the example of million year old undecomposed wood. These microbes had millions of years - wouldn't a few of them have gone back to the older stuff and learned to eat that? If anything, this example proves that when Charlton Heston digs his fist through the sand screaming "you maniacs! You blew it up! God damn you all to hell," he will get his wrist tangled in one of those six-pack holder things, 'cause they're going to be around forever.

Finally, Warner says:

But a local "mess" does not automatically translate to a mess that encompasses the whole world!!!

I suppose the multiple exclamation points means I'm winning. But you know what? These guys always cite examples from nature ("The earth warmed during the renaissance! We didn't cause that!") so I'll refute that argument with a natural example. My "local mess" - the eruption of Krakatoa. From Wikipedia :

In the year following the eruption, average global temperatures fell by as much as 1.2 degrees Celsius. Weather patterns continued to be chaotic for years, and temperatures did not return to normal until 1888. The eruption injected an unusually large amount of sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas high into the stratosphere which was subsequently transported by high-level winds all over the planet. This led to a global increase in sulfurous acid (H2SO3) concentration in high-level cirrus clouds. The resulting increase in cloud reflectivity (or albedo) would reflect more incoming light from the sun than usual, and cool the entire planet until the suspended sulfur fell to the ground as acid precipitation.

I'd have quoted Conservapedia instead, but they don't have an entry for Krakatoa. Those guys only have so much server space and bandwidth, and explaining how dinosaurs survived on Noah's Ark takes up most of it. But you could call the eruption a local event, and it effected the entire world. It is said that Munck's THE SCREAM depicted the post-Krakatoa sky. In Norway. Just sayin'.

And yes, eventually the sky healed and things got back to normal. But it was just one source of pollutants, and it stopped after a month and a half. We have been pouring junk into the air since the industrial revolution from points all over the globe. How brainwashed by Bill O'Reilly do you have to be before you think that might create a problem?

Well, never mind. If Al Gore believes it, it MUST be wrong. Next thing, you'll be telling me that there is a company called APPLE that makes computers and phones!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

However, I Am Not Gay

Sometimes you do stuff without realizing it. Only after a while do the patterns emerge. Let me explain.

When I moved out for my separation in August, I made a point of getting a set of dishes. A single matched set, and I thought the set might as well look good, so I went for a deep red theme.

So last week I was attempting to use my microwave/toaster combo (one unit! Kenmore! Pretty good idea for tight spaces) for a kitchen timer and I accidentally set it to cook instead of time. It cooked itself for 8 minutes, which was sufficient to destroy the electronics. The toaster still worked, but I thought I'd replace both. Instead of the cheerless white color I'd gone with originally, I opted for the striking red as depicted below. Note the enclosed cookbook under the left foot - my counter is a little skewed.

Well, this afternoon I stopped by Best Buy. I have this $50 dollar gift certificate, an award for good administrative assistance at my job, and I've been needing a new vacuum cleaner. Guess what I got?

I swear I wasn't planning on matching anything; I just liked the price and feature set. My point is, when will this stop? Is a cherry red comforter next? A sub-rosa leather couch? Will I move to the red-light district when my lease runs out?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Quin Hillyer Is A Stand-up Guy

My last post used a column by Quin Hillyer of the American Spectator as a jumping off point, and he was kind enough to respond. It's a long letter and I won't quote it completely but I will say that I found all of it to be intelligent and heartfelt. No, I don't agree with all of it, but I respect his point of view. Which is represented as follows:

I do happen to believe that the Left is more often guilty of this sort of behavior than the right is, but I have been way out front in blasting conservative scofflaws too, criticizing Tom DeLay in print as far back as 1998, and writing columns for places such as the New Republic -- in early 2005, WAY before everything blew up in their faces in 2006 -- warning that GOP congressional ethical lapses were a serious problem that could help cost the GOP its congressional majority. I happen to believe that Bill Clinton, however, is the most prominent example of the psychology described in the study, because time and again when I worked as a leadership press aide in Congress in 1995 and 1996 I was privy to people coming back from meetings with Clinton having been assured he would do one thing, only to turn on the TV and see him saying the exact opposite while fiercely attacking them for positions he had just told them he could work with. Neat trick.

Before getting to your main point, I really, really hope you understood, from both the headline and my closing paragraph, that the whole column was slightly tongue in cheek. I was using the study as a launch for me to criticize specific liberals for lies and hypocrisy, but I acknowledged in the end that I was stretching the study beyond its actual findings in order to make my points. 

In short, as I noted in the headlines (which I personally wrote, even though that is not always the case) that my column was a bit of a "psych job" intended to goad  my liberal friends (and my liberal adversaries), and that I was "having fun" with the study. In short, the column was intended to use mild humor and mild self-deprecation (noting that I myself wasn't being fully honest with the psychological study) to make serious points about how people in politics (of course I focused mostly on the left!) manage to talk themselves into doing incredibly unethical things while still telling themselves they are morally superior.

Now, as for your point about torture: Please know that I wasn't trying to divert attention from or "derail" ANYTHING, and that I wasn't even thinking about the torture debate when I wrote my column. Granted, I clearly come down more on the side of "enhanced interrogation  techniques" than you do ( But I also, at first glance (not an in-depth analysis), think that I agree with what Bill Clinton said about a narrow statute allowing a presidential finding, etc. I do NOT think we should broadly lower our standards to those of the inhuman monsters for whom torture is almost an end in itself, and I think it is good that we so clearly set so many hurdles in the way of any of our own folks who might fall into the self-justifying trap of deciding for themselves, without checks and balances, that their own ends are noble enough to make torture okay.

My only response, aside from thanks for the respectful reply, is that as my pal Skot suggests the phrase "just kidding" literally means "I'm not kidding." However, Quin, you're perfectly justified in not originally addressing torture in your column and you are graceful to not sidestep my attempt to drag you into my tangent.  Long may you wave.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Ignoring the Elephant

(H/T to WAMK) Quin Hillyer of The American Spectator has done something fascinating with a short item in the Washington Post about a psychological study. It's a a pretty nifty trick, and I'll have to go into some detail to explain what he's up to, so bear with me.

First of all, the short item. It's the third item in a column called "Science Notebook" in which researchers for the Journal of Applied Psychology interviewed people about, basically, their sense of right and wrong. Salient idea follows: "...their research highlights the idea that people with exceptionally strong convictions about their moral goodness are likely to follow extreme courses of action because they can convince themselves that whatever they do is good."

Hillyer uses this as a jumping off point to attack the Clintons. Then William Jefferson and then Elliot Spitzer. Then Patrick Leahy. He then denies that he's claiming only Democrats do it, then goes back to attacking more Democrats. The point of course, is that Democrats delude themselves into doing immoral things.

If I hadn't given it more thought, I'd have simply believed that he was looking for a hook to hang the usual Clinton character assassination on - new wrapping paper for an increasingly shopworn box. But something nagged at me. This study resonates much more strongly elsewhere, and I think Hillyer saw this story as a train that he had to derail before it reached it's logical destination.

"Enhanced interrogation techniques."

With the nomination hearings for Michael Mukasey centering on his claiming to not know if waterboarding is "torture," or if any of the torturing we do nowadays is "torture," the last thing the meme-watchers need a reminder that we've somehow talked ourselves into endorsing behavior that was once only the province of third-world communists, terrorists and B-movie villains. Because we are absolutely sure what we do is right, we're okay with torturing our captives. A lot of us are even okay with torturing innocent captives. Price you have to pay, right?

To me the question is: does Quin Hillyer KNOW he's diverting the debate from its main point or is he doing it unconsciously? Or does he even think it applies? I wrote Quin Hillyer and if he responds, I'll report.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Play's the Thing You Can't See

Just a quick note as I count down the minutes until work is over - tonight marks the beginning of the last two weeks of THE GAME OF LIFE, the play I am appearing in at the Stage Door Theatre in Agoura. Two more Saturday nights, two more Thursdays, two more Fridays, and one more Sunday.

You say you want to come on Saturday? Good luck pal! It's sold out! I hear the Sunday matinee is similarly spoken for. Other nights, well, call first.

Our good fortune is the result of positive reviews in the Ventura County STAR, and a small amount of seats at the Stage Door. Place only holds 49 people! Still, getting that many people to pay $15 to see something that hasn't already done 500 performances with Nathan Lane on Broadway is quite an achievement. I bow my head to Kimberly Demarry, the wry author of our good fortune, and the rest of the cast who wring big laughs out of the material. Personally I'm good for about 2 or three big laughs a night, which is a little low for me.

The play has taken up a good portion of my free time for the past few months, which I found pretty useful (it is either that or full-on brooding) but I'll be glad when it's over and I can go back to regular apartment cleanings.

Oh and possibly I'll join a band, but I'll blog about THAT if anything develops.