Wednesday, November 29, 2006

49 UP (2005) A Documentary Film Review

In 1964 British TV interviewed a group of seven year-old schoolchildren and each seven years since director Michael Apted has returned to follow up on their lives. I first heard Ebert praise the series when 28 Up was released in 1984, but I couldn’t locate a copy. I finally saw 35 Up on Cinemax in the early 1990s and I had a lot of trouble connecting with the people. I’ve since read reviews saying that it was a poor episode to begin on because the increasingly middle aged subjects were less optimistic about their futures.

Earlier in the year I saw 42 Up on TV and had an entirely different experience. The familiarity with the characters, my own aging, and the more positive outlook made for a much better ride. With 49 UP I’m now with Ebert in calling this one of the best executed documentaries in film history. The perseverance to chronicle these lives through the years is ultimately life affirming especially as it contrasts the present realities with the bleak expectations a few films earlier.

The characters lives are like ours. They struggle with disease, death of their loved ones, divorce, career changes, but as they near the half century mark, they are much more resigned with their accomplishments and failures and less interested in the status that they were so conscious of in the past. Many of the people say bluntly that they don’t like doing the series and that it trudges up bad memories that they have to re-live every 7 years. And yet, they continue to participate out of habit or maybe just the commitment that it’s bigger than their individual wants.

Who would have thought that Tony, the poor East End kid, would become a jockey, cabbie, bit actor, and business owner would someday own his own vacation house in Spain? He misses his old neighborhood, the pubs and the culture that is overrun by immigrants. Though Apted had thought him to be a likely candidate for a life of crime he instead became a Tory conservative.

It takes some getting acquainted with the principles to really dig it and I’m glad that with time I have come to enjoy their parade. The series has become as much about life in general although it focuses on these specific lives.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


He (Newt) also reaffirmed the Pledge of Allegiance, criticized attempts to ban its recitation and said the executive and legislative branches should watch over the courts.

"We are the only society to say power comes from God to you personally and you loan part to the state," Gingrich said. "It doesn't begin with the lawyers , with the bureaucrats... If there is no creator, where do your rights comes from?"

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Brought to you by Chris Larsen, the entrepreneur that created E.LOAN, brings a fantastic idea to the masses. I'm always looking for innovative ways to make a buck, whether in real estate, the art world, or financial investing. This is the best way I've seen in a long time. Basically, YOU can be the bank. It makes sense from a lot of angles. Say you have a fellow with $10,000 in credit card debt paying 18-25%, you bid on his loan and charge 14-15%, he pays off his debt and refinance it at a lower rate. Where else are you going to make 15% now days? You review 100's of requests for loans, you look at their credit rating, then use to mediate. It's billed by Money Magazine as a way to "...get in on the ground floor of some guy in Maine who needs $500 to fix his car..."

The site looks like they cover all there bases. The borrower pays them 1% of the value of loan (that is their profit margin) then you get the remaining interest. You set the interest and terms you are willing to pay someone. The higher the risk, the higher the interest. If they default on you, then goes after them with collection agencies just like credit card companies. With over a trillion dollars in consumer debt floating around, this is a great way for the average Joe to enjoy some of those famous credit card interest rates. I might try it with a small amount and see how it pans out.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

ROBERT ALTMAN (1925-2006)

He defies most of what we know about directors in that few are allowed to direct into their 80s, especially when their track records are inconsistent. He certainly wasn’t box office. I have seen a ton of his films hoping that they would live up to the few that I really like. Although they were all interesting to a point, I’ve been mostly disappointed.

+MASH (1970) – His breakout hit began an even larger TV hit that continued into the 1980s. The film is funny, entertaining and more subtle in its poignance. A combination he rarely achieve in his body of work.

MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER (1971) – Way too bleak for me and a snooze the one time I tried to watch it.

Elliot Gould stars as Philip Marlowe in a contemporary film with hippies and what not although the youthful Marlowe drives a vintage 1940s car. Interesting but not as good as a straight telling of the wonderful novel could have been.

– Gould and George Segal star as a couple of gamblers that find that the action is more important than winning. Somewhat entertaining but forgettable.

NASHVILLE (1975) – Overlong with too many uninteresting characters and begging for importance that the critics bought I just couldn’t.

3 WOMEN (1977) – Altman goes all weird European with this story starring Shelley Duval and Cissy Spacek that I still don’t know what it was trying to say.

POPEYE (1980) A famous Box Office disaster that I still find more charming than most of what he’s produced. The setting is certainly Altman bleak, but the songs are catchy enough and Robin Williams is fun.

SECRET HONOR (1984) – Philip Baker Hall is Richard Nixon in this one man show that works pretty well due to the lead actor and the fact that its script doesn’t lend itself to Altman’s quirky touches.

– Altman’s comeback after box office failure sent him to work in TV. It’s got a great cast and it’s pretty funny and yet I didn’t really like the resolution which I felt was too cheeky for the drama that led up to it.

+SHORT CUTS (1993)
– For some reason this blend of Raymond Carver stories works for me in a way his others films don’t. A great actor like Jack Lemmon and an unusual one like Lyle Lovett and even a bad one like Andie McDowell come together to really make the whole piece work. Probably because it’s full of interesting actors like Fred Ward, Julianne Moore, and Peter Gallagher.

– An attempt at continuing the ensemble thing in the prior two films that “wears” shorts on the attention span.

– Forgettable. Something to do with Belafonte as a KC mobster and Jennifer Jason Leigh struggling for her kidnapped child.

THE GINGERBREAD MAN (1998) – A snooze with Kenneth Branaugh as a southern lawyer. Written by John Grisham. Nuff said.

+GOSFORD PARK (2001) – Like Short Cuts a great movie in the middle of so many misfires. Clever and well cast.

Monday, November 20, 2006


The Nuremberg War Trials begin


24 of the biggest Nazis were put on trial for their lives among them Hitler Deputy Rudolf Hess, Commander of the Luftwaffe Hermann Göring, Nazi Party Secretary Martin Bormann and Nazi Architect Albert Speer.


It was one of the few times in European history in which a war ended in unconditional surrender and that event meant that the Allies had far greater room in which to hold the loser’s guilty.

The Allies had several ideas of what to do with the captured Nazis. Early in the war, Winston Churchill advocated summary execution of the leading figures without trial. Joseph Stalin’s plan went further saying that they should execute up to 100,000 German staff officers. It was eventually decided that the defendants would stand trial under an occupational powers and Nuremberg was chosen for its symbolic power as the former home of Nazi rallies.

The Soviets, British, French and Americans each named judges to the panel. The U.S. chose Attorney General Francis Biddle, the man responsible for interning Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. The Soviets sent Major-General Iona Nikitchenko, a man who presided over Stalin;s infamous show trials in the 1930s.

U.S. Supreme Court justice, Robert Jackson was the main prosecutor.


Half of the men were executed, two were acquitted. Speer and Hess and four others wound up as the only guests at the giant Spandau prison. Hess remained there until the late 1980s. Hundreds of other trials followed into the 1950s.

The case that they were war criminals was well made, but so were criticisms that the trials were simply “victor’s justice” since German’s were convicted of crimes against Poland while no Soviet faced trial for the same abuses.

The trial has lent some amount of credibility to the idea that Nazi atrocities were a singular act of history when they weren’t even unique in the 20th Century. Those trials brought out specific details that make the crimes more vivid so the same atrocities elsewhere seem more remote or speculative. Notice how few in the media are interested in cataloguing Iraq’s crimes over the last 20 years. To do so would be to justify the war under the terms in which they lionize FDR’s actions during World War II. You don’t need to compare Saddam to Hitler you only need to compare Saddam’s actions to the actions of the over 800 Nazis we executed during the war trials.

Since we have since adopted a different standard to accommodate our non action, we allow ourselves the moral space to permit the continued existence of Castro, Saddam or Kim Jong-il. Rather than a continuation of ancient policy or a direction of new responsibility, these trials seem an aberration of how the world works, a time when the bad guys really paid the price.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Veronica Lake is born (Lest you think I’m getting too serious about these posts)


Like many starlets before and since, Lake headed to Hollywood to be discovered. She was one of the lucky ones that made it to leading roles in SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS, THE GLASS KEY, I MARRIED A WITCH, and THIS GUN FOR HIRE.

She appeared in only a few major films and yet her one unique feature that peek-a-boo haircut made her the It-girl in the early 1940s. So popular and emulated was she that the U.S. government asked her to cut her hair during the war because they were afraid imitating Rose Riveters would get their mane caught in the machinery.

In James Ellroy’s L.A. confidential the main hooker look-alike is a fake Lake.

Her career didn’t much have legs past World War II and by the 1960s she was tending bar in obscurity.


Lake was a 1940s version of flavor of the month rising and falling within a short time. And though most filmgoers have not seen a Lake picture, she still holds just enough lore that she’ll be referenced in period novels and films. Unlike so many others of her time and ours she still has some sort of iconic significance that more beautiful and talented actresses never attained.

She’s also an example of the downfalls of fame. Just as her career was taking off she married a regular guy who worked on the sets. Years later she said that her biggest mistake was getting caught up in the euphoria and leaving her husband and breaking up her family. She died in early 70s from hepatitis probably aggravated by her heavy drinking.

Monday, November 13, 2006


The Government Shutdown


In 1990, Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell presented Bush with a budget that included a tax increase. Bush refused to sign it citing his no new taxes pledge at the 1988 convention. Mitchell said flatly that the President either sign or the government would shut down. With the media backing Mitchell and blaming any shutdown on Bush, the President relented.

In 1992 James Carville used “It’s the economy stupid” and Bush’s tax pledge, “The biggest broken promise in the history of politics” as the cornerstone rhetoric in the campaign for Clinton.

SO IN 1995

The Republicans pulled a Mitchell and sent a budget cutting many Democrat favorites and Clinton refused to sign it. This time the media blamed Congress for the shutdown and the public relations battle was so nasty that in one short year reform was finished. The Republicans wouldn’t dare try closing down the Departments of Education, Labor or Commerce with the media and President lined up against them.


The ensuing impeachment battle was supposed to bring Clinton’s corruption to light and give crusading Republicans the capital to renew reform, but it only made Clinton look sympathetic because who would relish being married to Hilary? They lost House seats in 1998 and decided it was much safer to concentrate on building a permanent majority through gerrymandering rather than take on another risky fight.

When Bush became President out the door went any fiscal restraint and Republicans decided to pork their way to re-election. In 12 short years they became everything they were against.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


This summary of lessons learned at The American Thinker is the best piece I've seen so far on the topic.

Voters didn’t like events in Iraq two years ago and they put President Bush on probation. They gave him a dangerously narrow reelection victory against an inept candidate with a long history of anti-American activism, a figure who should have been buried under a landslide that would make 1972 look like a squeaker. Two years later nothing had changed except that the voters were out of patience.

* * *

When we finally got around to an invasion we had to put a humanitarian gloss on an essential demonstration of our power. Instead of Operation Arab Smackdown we got Operation Iraqi Freedom. This was the true blunder that turned Iraq from a political asset into a liability. This blunder belongs to George W. Bush and George W. Bush alone, even though Don Rumsfeld has now paid for it with his job.

* * *

When President Bush cast the war in Iraq as a war for the benefit of Iraqis with vital collateral benefits for the U.S., sensible people recognized his argument for the nonsense it was and tuned him out. By choosing to cast it that way, President Bush guaranteed that the war would have shallow support at best. He also guaranteed that it would drag on long after that shallow support dried up entirely.

* * *

Playing the good guys also cost us the advantage of our overwhelming power. We deliberately refrained from destroying the Iraqi army during our invasion even though we certainly had the tools to do so. Many thousands of men escaped to fight another day and another way. It wasn’t a lack of manpower that kept us from crushing Moqtada al Sadr’s militia and caused us to back away from Fallujah and other Sunni hot spots. From the beginning we were much less lethal than we should have been because we have been trying to fight without causing too many bad feelings that might get in the way of the effort to engineer a political settlement.

* * *

Never play follow the leader over a cliff again.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


At my polling station (the local fire station) there was nowhere to park. Inside there were only 3 people voting, including me, and about 8 poll workers parked in all the parking spaces. I was handed a paper ballot and was asked "Paper ballot?" as if I was supposed to understand that I had a choice. I did not bother asking what the choice was. (Turns out there were also 2 touch-screen machines, gently used.) No wonder there are so many more early ballots and absentee ballots being cast.

I had a bit of a problem voting yesterday. I showed up when the polls opened. When I finally got to the check-in table the computer would not allow me to cast a vote. I later discovered that somehow my voter registration had been changed from my residence address to my work address. Something had changed since the 2004 election ... but I can't figure out what it was. At any rate, I went back after the show, cast a provisional ballot, and changed my registration. Problem solved .... unless someone sees fit to change my registration without my knowledge or consent again.

More amazing was my experience at the polling place. It was a lesson in basic government incompetence. Let me try to set the scene.

After you filled out the voter information sheet you were directed to one of two tables. One table was labeled "A - L" The other table "M - Z". There were two touch-screen computers at each table. Poll workers would use these computers to check in the voters and give them their access cards for the voting machines.

Though there were two computer touch-screens at the A table, only one was being used. Both screens at the M table were in use. To make matters worse, the two ladies running the screens on the M table were working very efficiently, while the woman at the A table looked like she had never seen a computer before in her life. In no time the line at the A table was snaking out of the door and down the hallway, while the line at the M table was .... well, there was no line. The two ladies there had nothing to do.

I just couldn't watch this idiocy without saying something, so I got out of line and went inside to find the poll manager. I said "Look, you have two women sitting at this table doing nothing. You have an empty computer screen at the A table. Why not let one of these ladies work that screen to see if you can shorten that line?" She just looked at me with a blank stare. Finally she said "Well, you would have to wait to vote anyway! See that line for the voting machines?" At this point one of the two ladies working the M table said "We can check those people in here!" Again ... blank stare from the poll manager. "Can you let some of the people in that line come over here to be checked in?" I asked? Blank stare. But finally the light bulb went on and she announced that people with the A - L names could go to the M - Z table to check in.

As the line was shifting I heard a woman say "This is what it's going to be like with government health care."

Exactly right.


If you're not familiar with Dr. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) he is such a small government proponent that he's hated by his own party. In fact, Congress continues to challenge his citizen-legislator ideal by brining him up on ethics charges because he refuses to give up delivering babies back in his home state. They surely fear that constituents might get the idea that it's possible to have a legit job too.

Here's what he said about last night's loss:
“Many factors contributed to these election results. The American people obviously are concerned about the conduct of the war in Iraq. Members of both parties have an obligation to work together to offer creative and constructive solutions that will help our troops accomplish their mission.

“The overriding theme of this election, however, is that voters are more interested in changing the culture in Washington than changing course in Washington, D.C. This election was not a rejection of conservative principles per se, but a rejection of corrupt, complacent and incompetent government.

“A recent CNN poll found that 54 percent of Americans believe government is doing too much while only 37 percent want government to do more. The results of this election reflect that attitude. Among the Republicans who lost their re-election bids a surprising number were political moderates who advocated a more activist government. Several Republican members of the appropriations committees, which have been on a spending binge, also were not re-elected. On the other hand, the two Republican senators who pulled off the most impressive victories were unapologetic conservatives, Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and John Ensign (R-NV). It is also notable that the Democrats who won or who ran competitive races sounded more like Ronald Reagan than Lyndon Johnson.

“This election does not show that voters have abandoned their belief in limited government; it shows that the Republican Party has abandoned them. In fact, these results represent the total failure of big government Republicanism.

Jim Talent summed it up in his concession speech when he said his defeat "was not for lack of effort. There was just a very, very strong headwind this year." To wit:

In Pennsylvania, about half of those who said in exit polls that they voted for Casey characterized their votes being primarily against Santorum rather than a vote for Casey. Casey also got a boost from one-third of voters who said they were angry with Bush. One-fourth of them said they were mad at GOP leaders in Congress.

Ohio voters expressed similar views. About six in 10 Brown voters said their vote was intended to register opposition to Bush. Two-thirds of Brown voters said they disapproved of the way Congress was handling its job.

All candidates had to do was oppose Bush, that's it, and that was enough. What a weird campaign season.

Things looked a lot better when I went to bed than when I woke up. Allen was up 29,000 votes in VA with 96% in, and Talent was up 61,000 votes in MO with 41% in. Those seemed like comfortable margins at the time, but it all depended on which precincts were still out.

And now the lawyers.

I was listening to The Michael Reagan Show on Monday and a caller asked Reagan a good question that Reagan did not answer well. The caller said We Americans are impatient and self-centered and have short attention spans. Just tell us what's in the Iraq War for us? What are we, America, getting out of it? Just tell us how we benefit. I agree that that has been much needed and sorely missing. The closest we have gotten is "We are taking it to the enemy there so they don't bring it to us here," and that's true, and good, but Joe Missouri doesn't see how that benefits him personally.

Which brings us back to the larger question of whether we as a nation have the will to wage war, and the returns seem to indicate that we do not, which will bring a whole new host of problems that may end up restoking our will after all. Fire safety is abstract, but putting out burning cities will require our immediate attention.
MEDIA REACTION. . . in 1994

"Some thoughts on those angry voters. Ask parents of any two-year-old and they can tell you about those temper tantrums: the stomping feet, the rolling eyes, the screaming. It's clear that the anger controls the child and not the other way around. It's the job of the parent to teach the child to control the anger and channel it in a positive way. Imagine a nation full of uncontrolled two-year-old rage. The voters had a temper tantrum last week....Parenting and governing don't have to be dirty words: the nation can't be run by an angry two-year-old."
-- ABC World News Tonight anchor Peter Jennings in his daily ABC Radio commentary, November 14.

Who will be the first media person to say angry voters were having a temper tantrum in 2006?
"They are not voting Republican tonight, Mary. They are voting against a lot of unhappiness in their own lives....I think that it's very easy for the Republicans to make the same mistake that the Democrats made in thinking that somehow we've been given this great mandate....They have got to be practical. They have got to compromise. They have got to meet the real needs of people. This is not an anti-government vote tonight."
-- U.S. News & World Report Senior Writer Steven Roberts on CNBC's Equal Time, election night.

Who in the media has suggested that Democrats will have to compromise?

So here are some early thought on the 2006 election results-

It will be very hard for any President to run an offensive war in the future. There is really no political upside but a tremendous downside. The enemy knows that the media will run with the casualty news and that well-placed guerrilla actions will be treated like major defeats. If terrorists can drag the fighting out long enough for the media to lament to extra effort and casualties, eventually the American people will tire of the conflict and punish the leader.

But was it really a verdict on offensive action or was it a verdict on nation-building. We won the war, but got mired in the re-building. Is the lesson to seek, destroy and then withdraw? Or is the lesson to head back to our pre-WWII isolation? What kind of isolation can we maintain in a globalized economy? Is the end result that we won’t be fighting too many wars until we’re far enough behind that the losses are greater.

The good news is that the Republican Presidential candidate can run against the nutty Nancy Pelosi, that hasn’t gotten nearly the scrutiny she deserves. If Hastert leaves he’s no real loss. This election has shown that Republicans need ideas to win and Democrats just need to be another option, so when Republicans run out of ideas, Democrats fill the gap. The biggest Democrat initiative in this campaign was to remind voters that we should only fight easy wars and they got a free pass for having voted for the one at hand. So Republicans can win again with ideas, but after failing to enact the Contract with America, Republicans won’t have an easy time convincing voters to trust them. They’ll need all new faces which would have happened if they had passed term limits. A number of the seats lost are natural Republican enclaves that will move back with a national Republican tide. Tom Delay and Mark Foley are two obvious ones and others will be available with the right candidate at the top of the ticket.

Divided government isn’t a bad thing. It’s what led to the stock market gains of the 1990s. Gridlock means that investors know exactly what playing field their on. The key is Bush deciding that he will finally veto some bills. The Republican Senate has sent too much nonsense his way in the last 6 years and you should expect it to continue during the next 2 years. If Bush can’t get the veto stamp out with this environment then he’ll disappoint the base more than he has already.

I’m not nearly as upset as I was in 1992. That night I couldn’t sleep. It’s hard to be too upset when there are very few heroes in Congressional Leadership. This may be Newt Gingrich’s rebirth moment. He can articulate how they lost their way and how they can regain it.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Thomas Sowell laments that Democrats succeed where Republicans fail because Democrats don't pretend to stand for anything, or is it they pretend to stand for things they don't really stand for. But if the Republicans had really stood up for the things they said they stood for, both this time around and going back to the takeover in 1994, we might not be having this conversation today.

As Socrates persuaded Glaucon (sort of), we philosophers should rule, because we philosophers are the wisest of all men, and being so wise, we surely know better than the dullards what is best for the dullards, but we can't let the dullards know we think that, because no one considers himself a dullard, and besides, dullards, being dullards, can't appreciate our genius, so cloak the message in compassion-speak, as if we really care about the little guys whom we tacitly hold in such contempt.

Given the greater political shrewdness of the Democrats and the overwhelming bias of the media in their favor, it is remarkable that Republicans have had any political success at all. That the Republicans are still a viable party is one measure of how far the Democrats’ policies and values differ from those of most Americans.

Nowhere is that difference greater than when it comes to defending the American people against crime at home and against military and terrorist threats from abroad. Liberal Democrats — which is to say, most Democratic politicians and all of their leaders — are ready to try almost any “alternatives to incarceration” of criminals and almost any alternative to maintaining military strength as a deterrent to enemy nations.

More is involved than an unwillingness to face unpleasant facts of life. There is a coherent ideology behind these positions. That ideology goes back more than two centuries — and has failed in country after country over those centuries. But it is an ideology that sounds good and flatters the vanity of those who consider themselves part of a wise and compassionate elite.

Getting people to vote for moderates, in order to put extremists in power, may be the newest and biggest voter fraud.


FDR reelected to a 4th term.


Though the real precedent breaker was FDR’s successful third term in 1940, the 1944 election continued FDR’s rule as near emperor. The press was a willing accomplice keeping from the public the state of his health which surely would have cost him the nomination or at least the election.


As a nation of laws and not of men, the FDR years forced the 22nd Amendment limiting the terms of Presidents. A shame Congress didn’t go ahead and limit their terms as well.


Today we have lifetime appointed judges to be our emperors so things haven’t changed all that much.

Side Note:

Funny, in the History Channels description of this event they took the liberty to tell us that “Roosevelt's progressive legislation improved America's economic climate, and in 1936 he easily won reelection.” Oh, Really? Did they ask Milton Friedman?

Worse is that they claim that FDR beat Wendell Wilkie in 1944 when his opponent was actually Tom Dewey. So the second error explains the first, I suppose.

Monday, November 06, 2006


Abraham Lincoln is elected 16th president of the United States

AND IN 1861

Jefferson Davis is elected president of the Confederacy


They were both born in Kentucky less than 100 miles apart and within 12 months of one another. Davis was one of the most successful political figures in the south having in his youth married the daughter of a future President (Zachary Taylor) and serving as Secretary of War (under Franklin Peirce). Before that, the West Point educated Davis had shown his prowess in war having rose to Colonel in the Mexican-American war. He was serving in the U.S. Senate representing Mississippi when the Civil War began. Although he opposed succession in principle, he followed the sentiment of his people.

Lincoln’s political career was never so bright. Other than serving one term in the House of Representative, Lincoln’s experience lied solely in the Illinois legislature. He was even beaten just two years earlier by Stephen Douglas in a bid for an Illinois Senate seat. He was unusually tall for a 19th Century man and he was not too dreamy either. Danny Sheridan would have considered this coaching matchup lopsided although he would have had to recognize the north’s superior offense.


Davis had maybe the best General in the war (Lee) to fight a brilliant defensive campaign while Lincoln was always holding tryouts. Davis and Lee hoped to prolong the war long enough to make the north grow weary and bargain for peace. Lincoln showed perseverance never yielding despite defeat after defeat on the battlefield. With a group of worthy adversaries both political and military, Lincoln with his self-taught education and national political inexperience bested them all. How did the American people know? Was greatness always in Lincoln or did he simply rise to the occasion? When they say that the American experiment must have been guided by the hand of providence, it certainly helps explain Lincoln.


The Union was saved from fracturing into who knows how many little bits had the South won. The U.S. could have resembled a map of Eastern Europe. On the downside, it was the beginning of Federal authority of localities that would cement itself during the New Deal. With 20% of GDP going to the federal government those are the wages all of us pay for the national conflict 130 years later.

Had the South ended slavery and the North reduced the harmful tarrifs before the 1860 election, things might very well look different.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


X-MEN 3: The Last Stand (2006) – It’s strange to take a psychological character study, make two competent financially successful films and then ignore what worked by making an impersonal action film, complete with foolish jokes right out of a Swartzenegger vehicle. You figure that Bryan Singer’s departure was a great deal of the problem. I don’t think he would have been happy with the script that was shot. I never read the comics books, but the first two movies were solid. A shame they ended like this.

THANK YOU FOR SMOKING (2006) I read the book in the 1990s and it was pretty funny, but maybe not a natural movie since the witty writing style was a biggest plus. Director, Jason Reitman makes up for it by punching up the dialogue. Another good decision was downplaying the central kidnapping plot element that was far less interesting than just the day to day happenings and charm of the lead character played note-on by Aaron Eckhart. Like many movies it gets going stronger than it finishes, but it’s witty, well-paced and only 90 minutes. The trailer suggested a movie that was close to an instant classic, but the film is simply above average being a rare smart comedy.

THE DEPARTED (2006) – Marty and the mob is always worth a look and this film stays entertaining a lot longer than Casino. The mole cop and the crooked cop is a great idea and it makes me want to see the Hong Kong original. Supporting performances by Marky Mark and Alex Bladwin offer some fun moments too. It’s just hard to think of Nicholson as a mobster for as fun as he is to watch. Still, I was on the road forgiving the movie anything until it ended the same way as PENN AND TELLER GET KILLED. It seemed more Hong Kong than Martyville.

– Movie Stars are supposed to play themselves, but they are also supposed to be dynamic and interesting. Jennifer Aniston is a mystery. I have seen enough of her films to safely say that she has no sense of fun. She’s the girl on a date that you want to like, but her conversation is so dull that you understand why she doesn’t have a boyfriend. To cast her alongside Francis McDormand, Catherine Kenner and Joan Cusack must be some sort evil joke to prove that she isn’t an actress. The movie itself is forgettable. I saw it a few weeks ago and the best I can remember, it was about four women with varying problems.

RUMOR HAS IT (2005) – Sticking with Aniston again because Trish feels that she got the shaft in the Jolie thing. I have to ask what happened to Rob Reiner. Didn’t he use to make good movies? I’d have to head to back to A FEW GOOD MEN to remind myself. RUMOR was a clever idea for a movie. The Graduate theme had a lot of places to go and this movie went to the wrong ones. Costner playing within his bounds of regular guy does fine. Shirley MacClaine gets away with being a little too much. Richard Jenkins as Aniston’s father is solid in a quirky performance. He’s one of those guys you’ve seen a dozen times and finally put a name with him. It’s unsatisfying, but short which is at least something.

+BURDEN OF DREAMS (1982) – The story of making the film Fitzcarraldo is racked with problems. A political situation gets them kicked out of their shooting location early on. You get the idea that they are somewhat lucky to escape with their lives. A second location is found and a good portion of the film is shot and then he loses his principle actors and has to re-think the whole enterprise. Slowly the film focuses on the natives that act as extras and bearers of the equipment and props. They are very lucky to get the work which pays a great deal more than they’re use to. Still, Herzog has that romantic noble savage psychology in him. He regrets that his contact and contact by the west in general will ruin their culture. But do they even want to keep their culture? Work is sporadic and rival tribes are killing each other so gathering and cultivating food isn’t easy. Herzog integrates some of their culture into the movie by showing the process of making this nasty hooch that’s fermented by their own saliva. Klaus Kinski of all people is too grossed out to drink it on camera. The title comes from a quote by Herzog in the middle of the film. “If I abandon this project I would be a man without dreams, and I never want to live like that.” In some ways BURDEN is similar to LOST IN LAMANCH, the Terry Gilliam failed attempt to make Don Quixote. But BURDEN is superior because it’s not just about the difficulty of making a film but the difficulty of life and how overcoming obstacles is a human victory separate from the ends themselves.

DANIEL (1992) – Based on the book by E. L. Doctorow that pretty much re-writes the Rosenbergs case with a more innocent seeming family instead so as to imply that their execution was nothing but McCarthyism. Timothy Hutton plays the grown son in the 60s that goes from wanderer growing into war protestor right where his parents would have liked.

INHERIT THE WIND (1960) This was near the beginning of Stanley Kramer’s classic “the world’s on trial” period that began with the Defiant Ones and ended with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. INHERIT is an actor’s showcase and was a must-see Broadway play in the 1950s. Kramer casts Spencer Tracy and Frederick March in the leads who are nothing but veiled representations of Clarence Darrow (Tracy) and William Jennings Bryan (March). Darrow takes the side of Enlightenment and Bryan the side of Puritanism. You could tell with the sound down that the emotional March is the heavy while the quiet and reasoned Tracy is our hero. Tracy frames the Darwin battle as a free expression question which probably seemed like a very liberal sustainable idea. Today you could make the same movie with some college administrator PC advocate thumping his code of conduct book versus some student who held an Affirmative Action bake sale.

DON’T LOOK NOW (1973) – I had just recently heard of this classic chiller based on a book by Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca) and we decided to watch it on Halloween. Donald Sutherland is a restorer of classic architecture and he and his wife (Julie Christie) travel to work on a church in Venice shortly after the death of their daughter. Soon the wife meets a psychic that warns them to leave the city. The husband doesn’t believe in such nonsense so what explains all the weird stuff he sees? The movie is noted for a racy sex scene between the leads and the Venice setting couldn’t be better for this material.

– My favorite Frat Pack movies are the ones with Vince Vaughn, the only real unapologetic actor in the series. Next I like the Wilson brothers, Luke before the more popular Owen. Two out of three ain’t bad here although the insufferable Will Ferrell shows up for a cameo at the end. There isn’t much about this movie that strikes as real. To crash weddings is one thing, but to give speeches and pose during the cake cutting is a Bugs Bunny short. So if you can deal with that and characters shouting the truth to each other one room from the people they are duping then you will get some laughs. You also get Christopher Walken as the father, Jane Seymour as a Mrs. Robinson spoof, and Rachel McAdams as the fetching object of desire. I can’t say that it was good and yet I laughed quite a few times at all the nonsense.

(+ denotes exceptional film)



The United Auto Workers union proved to be the most effective union in America winning concession after concession from the Detroit auto makers. The big 3 made the biggest stylish cars so although they didn’t love these concessions, they had so much market share that they gave in. Toyota and Datsun made fuel efficient cars, but they didn’t have Lexus or Infiniti or anything hip to complete with in those days.


U.S. automakers are still bound to contracts that make them pay full wages to employees they lay off. So althought they have some car plants now in non-union states, it's still impossible for them to compete against Asian cars without tariff help. They have to skimp somewhere so it’s usually quality standards. Cars either look cheap, drive cheap or break down sooner than the rivals. At least their trucks and SUVs were making money, but that took a hit when gas prices rose in the last few years. The only asset they have left is patriotism – buy American.

Saturday, November 04, 2006




A few weeks earlier on October 23, 1956 Hungarians more or less took over Budapest from their Soviet oppressors. They ended one party rule and began a withdraw from the Warsaw Pact. The Soviet’s finally got their tanks and superior military strength to put the whole thing away on November 4.


While the West had shown resolve in protecting West Berlin, the combination of that example and Radio Free Europe broadcasts gave Hungarians the false hope that the West would step in and help them defeat the Russians. Had the Hungarians prevailed it would have been the first real defeat for Soviet backed communism. Our inaction no doubt gave the Soviets confidence that we could be pushed around. A Cuban Missile Crisis, a war in Vietnam and the nonsense in Nicaragua may have been avoided had the Eisenhower Administration stood up for the Hungarians.

The Bolsheviks learned a key lesson. The Americans would not try and roll back communism they would only try to defensively stop its expansion meaning that there would be no gains in our fight just fewer losses. Once the Soviets could rest that the Eastern block was safe they could easily fund communist uprisings all around the world. That’s a recipe for how you get involved in Vietnam. Also, those geniuses who said that Reagan didn’t defeat the Soviets but that their system disintegrated on its own have never answered why it didn’t disintegrate against all of the other American Presidents that refused to take them on.

There’s another lesson here too. Bush’s offensive invasion of Iraq is said to have created more terrorists. There’s no way that can be measured, but it’s certain that fighting a defensive war against communism created more communists not less. It wasn’t until Reagan insisted on SDI, invaded Grenada and took the fight to the enemy that we had fewer of them.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Finally, something to explain the Democratic gains.

Johnson beat Goldwater


After the assassination of John Kennedy, the nation was loath to elect its 3rd president in 11 months. Johnson seemed like a centrist for the most part and he hailed from a section of the country that helped his chances. Goldwater’s straightforward conservatism that looks very libertarian by today’s standards was beaten so badly that the conventional wisdom said we'd never have a conservative President.


Johnson’s half measure fight in Vietnam only made matters worse and his domestic policy of spending his way out of poverty led the country on a road to massive vote-buying deficits. Johnson’s embrace of Civil Rights legislation versus Goldwater’s libertarian approach forever shifted the black vote in this country to the Democrats which led to things like busing that shifted the white suburban vote to Republicans. The polarization of Vietnam split the Democrats in the 1960s and the echo continues to this day.


Republicans can win nationally by calling themselves conservatives and Democrats cannot win by calling themselves liberals. Since the 1964 election, America has only given Democrats a chance to govern when domestic concerns were greater than foreign ones. When foreign situations do come up, Democrats always get credit for handshake deals between warring nations, but our enemies are still emboldened to go after us. The hostages in Iran and the myriad of terrorist attacks on the 1990s are a result of electing a party that's split down the middle on whether the U.S. should ever fight an offensive war. All of this seems to go back to our choice in 1964.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


Ralph Peters has been consistently incisive and insightful regarding the Middle East and our role in it since before 9/11 and especially after. My own views on Iraq have pretty much tracked his. I agreed with going into Afghanistan and Iraq, but also recognize that war is about winning decisively. We have had repeated opportunities to demonstrate the will to do that and have demurred each time. By now we have already made Osama's point -- that our will can be eroded through patient persistence and a steady drip of American casualties. It is also clear inside and outside the US that our military decisions are heavily impacted by our national politics, and that our national politics are affected by military consequences.

The bottom line currently is that Iraq doesn't want us there, Americans don't want us there, and none of us have any clear idea what we are trying to accomplish there, so in a sense we have already overstayed our welcome.

Yet that does not mean we have failed. We needed to exert some influence in the region, for reasons that history will explain, and the fact that the American populace has not rallied behind an ambiguous war does not mean it would not rise in support of an unambiguous one.

Yet, for all our errors, we did give the Iraqis a unique chance to build a rule-of-law democracy. They preferred to indulge in old hatreds, confessional violence, ethnic bigotry and a culture of corruption. It appears that the cynics were right: Arab societies can't support democracy as we know it. And people get the government they deserve.

For us, Iraq's impending failure is an embarrassment. For the Iraqis — and other Arabs — it's a disaster the dimensions of which they do not yet comprehend. They're gleeful at the prospect of America's humiliation. But it's their tragedy, not ours.

Iraq was the Arab world's last chance to board the train to modernity, to give the region a future, not just a bitter past. The violence staining Baghdad's streets with gore isn't only a symptom of the Iraqi government's incompetence, but of the comprehensive inability of the Arab world to progress in any sphere of organized
human endeavor. We are witnessing the collapse of a civilization. All those who rooted for Iraq to fail are going to be chastened by what follows.

Iraq still deserves one last chance — as long as we don't confuse deadly stubbornness and perseverance. If, at this late hour, Iraqis in decisive numbers prove willing to fight for their own freedom and a constitutional government, we should be willing to remain for a generation. If they continue to revel in fratricidal slaughter, we must leave.

And contrary to the prophets of doom, the United States wouldn't be weakened by our withdrawal, should it come to that. Iraq was never our Vietnam. It's al-Qaeda's Vietnam. They're the ones who can't leave and who can't win. Islamist terrorists have chosen Iraq as their battleground and, even after our departure, it will continue to consume them. We'll still be the greatest power on earth, indispensable to other regional states — such as the Persian Gulf states and Saudi Arabia — that are terrified of Iran's growing might. If the Arab world and Iran embark on an orgy of bloodshed, the harsh truth is that we may be the beneficiaries.

My disillusionment with our Iraq endeavor began last summer, when I was invited to a high-level discussion with administration officials. I went into the meeting with one firm goal, to convince my hosts that they'd better have Plan B in case Iraq continued to disintegrate. I left the session convinced that the administration still didn't have Plan A, only a blur of meandering policies and blind hopes.

Then, last month, as Iraq's prime minister seconded al-Sadr's demand that our troops free a death-squad mastermind they had captured, I knew a fateful page had turned. A week later, al-Maliki forbade additional U.S. military raids in Sadr City, the radical mullah's Baghdad stronghold. On Tuesday, al-Maliki insisted that our troops remove roadblocks set up to help find a kidnapped U.S. soldier. Iraq's prime minister has made his choice. We're not it. It's time to face reality. Only Iraqis can save Iraq now — and they appear intent on destroying it.

Iraq could have turned out differently. It didn't. And we must be honest about it. We owe that much to our troops. They don't face the mere forfeiture of a few congressional seats but the loss of their lives. Our military is now being employed for political purposes. It's unworthy of our nation.


Charles Van Doren admits cheating on the quiz show "21"


Though trickery had been a component of entertainment forever, no one guessed that 21 was trivia equivalent of pro wrestling. In Van Doren the public had a perfect cold war hero and a great model for knowledge and learning. Or so they thought.


Van Doren lost his teaching job at Columbia and spent his life in the background of academia working at places like Enclycopedia Britannica. The Game show left prime time for a generation. The real downside was that disheartened idealistic "21" watching pre-teens began growing their hair long, bathing less, protesting, carrying on generally, and smoking those funny smokes.

Seriously, "reality" television today has borrowed the same strategy by grooming and producing so many "spontaneous" moments to keep the public watching. You ever sit through an episode of the wretched BACHELOR? The public knows they're being duped deep down, but wants to continue the illusion of realism for whatever escapist quality it offers.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Here comes John Kerry again with a big "L" on his forehead.

Karen Tumulty of TIME sums it up:
In other words, Kerry has managed on the eve of what could be a watershed election to remind pretty much everyone what it was they didn't like about the Democrats, and especially what they didn't like about him. It might have made more sense just to say he was sorry — for once to get ahead of a mistake, instead of trying to compensate for it the next time.

I believe Kerry was just trying to take a cheap shot at Bush and bungled the joke -- never forget how dumb Bush is (aside: and how dumb you must have been to lose to him) -- and the joke, as he meant it, wasn't funny either -- but by not apologizing and by keeping himself in the news, he has allowed the Republicans to do what they have been trying and failing to do for weeks. (R) wants to frame the choice as "Which party do you most trust to keep America safe?" (D) wants to keep "Iraq is a quagmire" the only point worth mentioning. Until now, (D) had succeeded at nationalizing the state and district elections on the latter point. What they most feared was another national election on the former point, because they already lost that one, and Kerry was the face of it. This is close to a worst case scenario for a party that was coasting to victory in a policy-free anti-Bush hatefest. Now every Republican candidate has a sword rather than a shield in this final week of campaigning.

Britian’s Parliament introduces Stamp Act into the colonies


The law was enacted to force the colonials to pay duties on all legal documents. The Act was hard to enforce because of colonial opposition, but the idea of it made a great many colonials re-think their relationship with the mother country.


Although the Act barely lasted a year, England would later devise other more effective means of collecting taxes that would enrage the colonials to the point of revolution. The United States took the lesson and today raises many taxes indirectly through corporations and regulations. How can the average person even calculate the hidden tax they pay on lumber or sugar or steel?