Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Goodbye, Radar. Farewell, M*A*S*H.

I stopped watching M*A*S*H sometime early in its 7th season when I noticed that I was spending a lot of time every episode wanting to say to Alan Alda, "Take a shave, why don't ya?"

I couldn't help thinking that as soon as Alda looked in the mirror and saw that his whiskers had turned white, Hawkeye should have started making regular dates with his razor.

Hawkeye was looking Alda's age, which was over 40, and a middle-aged Hawkeye did not make any sense, not just historically---no doctor in his 40s would have been drafted into the Korean War because he'd have already served in World War II---the show's connection to the actual Korean War was tenuous anyway. Hawkeye's whole character was based on the premise that he was a very young man and a rather inexperienced doctor.

Everything about him---his constant wisecracking, his frequent bouts of solipsism, his arrogance, his complusive skirt-chasing, his fetishizing of his martinis, his many neuroses, his rebelliousness for rebelliousness' sake, his occasional callousness and his too frequent lapses into sentimentality and over-sensitivity, and his anger, and Hawkeye was an angry young man before and apart from the war---marked him as a young man just coming out of a prolonged adolescence, which is what he was.

Hawkeye was not long out of medical school, dragged away from the last year of his residency or his first year as a practicing surgeon by the draft, which made him no more than 27 or 28. In many important ways he was still a student. The subtext of his character was that the war was making Hawkeye Pierce grow up by giving him 10 years of experience in a matter of months.

The war was making him face things he'd never thought about, one of which was just how awful life could be, for himself, and for other people.

Here was a young man who had missed the most defining event of his generation. He'd sat out World War II on a student deferement.

Korea was making him learn things he hadn't even known he didn't know. Most important, that he wasn't a good enough doctor to do all that he wanted to do.

Henry Blake had already learned that about himself. Henry was often a buffoon. Hawkeye often made Henry come across as even more a buffoon than Henry managed to be on his own. But Henry was the grown-up, and every now and then, the show would remind us, and Hawkeye, of that fact.

Int. Entrance to the OR. Hawkeye's standing looking out the doorway, crying. His boyhood chum has just died on the operating table, Hawkeye having been unable to even begin to save him. Henry comes out to comfort him.

HENRY: Pierce? Is there anything I can do to help?

HAWKEYE: It's the first time I've cried since I came to this crummy place. I don't understand that.

HENRY: Well, Gillis was your friend. It's only natural that you' know.

HAWKEYE: I know why I'm crying now. Tommy was my friend and I watched him die and now I'm crying. I've watched guys die almost every day. Why didn't I cry for them?

HENRY: Because you're a doctor.

HAWKEYE: What the hell does that mean?

HENRY: I don't know. If I had the answer I'd be at the Mayo Clinic. This place look like the Mayo Clinic? Look. All I know is what they taught me at command school. There are certain rules about a war, and Rule Number One is Young men die. And Rule Number Two is...Doctor's can't change Rule Number One.

But Hawkeye strides back into the OR determined not to accept Rule Number Two. Much that happens in the course of the series is about Hawkeye being forced to face up to and learn Rule Number Two.

Which is to say that MASH was about a very smart, very talented, and very arrogant young man learning how to become a more humble, and more decent-hearted middle-aged man. When I was a kid, this was one of the things that was important to me about the show. How does a guy become a man? How do you do it and become a better, stronger person while you're at it?

If the series had been a novel---and forget Richard Hooker's novel the movie was based on. I mean a serious novel by a good writer---it would have ended at the moment Hawkeye realized he was now the grown-up in the room.

The series never reached this point, although the final episode dealt with Hawkeye's realizing that he wasn't invincible, which is a good first step towards becoming a grown-up.

But for me, the show was done when I couldn't look at Alan Alda and not see a man who was undeniably already a grown-up.

I didn't want to watch a man my father's age pretending to be as goofy and mixed up as I was.

Maybe it was just the case that I was entering the territory Hawkeye Pierce was on the brink of leaving. I didn't need to watch anymore what I was having to live through.

(I'm talking psychologically. I was never a draftee doctor performing meatball surgery in Korea or anyplace.)

I was reminded of all this recently when I watched the two-part episode from Season Eight, Goodbye, Radar, which was written by Emmy Award winner and blogger, Ken Levine, and his partner David Isaacs. After I read Ken's post about his experience working on that episode I wanted to see it again, and to see it I had to get the DVD from Netflix because Season Eight is not in my collection of MASH DVDs.

My collection so far ends with Season Four and that's probably where it's going to stay. I'm considering adding Season Five. But if I do, that will definitely be it. As I said, I stopped watching the series early in Season Seven and when I watched Goodbye, Radar I remembered not only why I stopped, but why my affection for the series became disengaged.

It wasn't just that Hawkeye looked old. Everybody looked old. The whole cast was by that point playing characters almost 20 years younger than themselves. And who let Mike Farrell grow that cheesy mustache anyway? It was that in this episode Radar goes through the catharsis that I'd been waiting for Hawkeye to go through.

In his post talking about the making of that episode, Ken Levine mentions that one of the things that bothered him at the time was the way Gary Burghoff played Radar as angry. I saw the episode when it it aired---I made a special point of it, having gotten out of the habit after a year of not watching---and I remembered Burghoff's strange affect. I'd have called it terminally irritable. But he was definitely playing Radar as more than a little grumpy.

Watching again, I decided that Burghoff had a good reason to play Radar that way. In fact, he was right to. Radar has been without sleep for over 24 hours, he's coming back from leave as the show starts and he has a long, rough trip back to the 4077th, he returns to find that Klinger, filling in for him while he's been gone, has made a disaster of the filing and let a thousand little but necessary jobs slide, and he's not back very long before he gets the news that back home in Iowa his beloved Uncle Ed has died.

Add to this that at the top of the show he meets, falls in love with, and is dragged away from the girl he's destined to marry.

No wonder he's pissed off.

And then it gets worse for him. With his Uncle Ed gone, Radar's mother is left all alone to tend the family farm. She needs help right away and Colonel Potter decides to give it to her. He puts Radar in for an immediate hardship discharge.

This should be great news. Radar's going home. But he doesn't take it that way. It makes him even madder. He's angry because he's now confronted with a very difficult choice that he is too tired, too sad, and too scared to think through rationally.

On the one hand, he knows he needs to go home and take over the farm.

On the other hand, he feels a responsibility to stay at the 4077th and keep the place running.

It should be relatively easy for him to decide. Why wouldn't he want to get out of Korea and the war as fast as he can?

Well, because at the 4077th he's the kid. Leaving there means leaving his big brother figure, Hawkeye, and his father figure, Colonel Potter.

When he goes home he will become the man of the house. Since he intends to find the girl he met at the beginning of the episode and knows in his heart that he'll marry her, going home means becoming a husband and, soon, a father.

In short, going home means growing up, almost overnight. No wonder he's in a lousy mood about it.

The problem isn't that Gary Burghoff decided to play this anger. The problem is that, while he was a very good actor, he didn't have the verbal chops to carry it off. His voice isn't up to it and he comes off sounding whiny and petulant, like a teenager who hasn't been able to con his dad out of the car keys and is facing a weekend at home doing the chores, instead of like a young man mad at the world for demanding too much of him all at once and mad at himself because he's not sure how to handle it.

But that changes once Radar makes up his mind to go home. From there on out, Burghoff hits the right notes. His voice is a man's voice, a man resigned to the consequences of a choice he'd rather not have had to make right now.

In his post Ken laments the fact that Burghoff didn't wear a hat for his final shot. He argued with Burgoff over it during filming. Ken thought that it revealed Burghoff's high hairline to lamentable effect.

"Our contention was that without the hat he no longer looked like a kid, he looked like a balding man rocketing into middle age."

But again I think Burghoff's instincts were correct. I think he wanted us to see in our last glimspe of Radar to be the man he was on his way home to become and not the kid we'd been used to watching.

It was the right choice because it stated visually that the Radar we knew and loved was gone and we should not look for him to be coming back.

The boy was now the man and the man didn't belong at the 4077th.

Of course, it's been too long for me to really remember, but I'm pretty sure that's what convinced me that I was right not to watch the show anymore.

Radar and I were close to the same age by then, and I guess I decided that I didn't belong at the 4077th anymore either.

Dennis Perrin of Red State Son lost interest in MASH after Season Five too. He's recently come to a new and richer appreciation for those first few seasons, though, thanks to his DVD collection which lets him watch the shows without the laughtracks.

And a while back, I wrote about how it was during the Fifth Season that MASH changed from a comedy with dramatic moments into a drama with comedic interludes, and the night I wrote that post I wasn't all that happy about that change.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Studio 60: Let's live blog the living daylights out of this show, by Jingo!

Buenos noches, mis amigos y mis amigas. Mannion aqui, showing off all the high school espanol he remembers. Before we get started and I bring out our guest host for the evening, I have to get serious for a minute.

Kids, there are lurkers among you. We know you are there, lurkers. The cleaning lady has found your peanut shells, candy wrappers, and crushed cigarette butts under the bleachers in the gym. Now this has got to stop. Not the eating of peanuts and candy and smoking cigarettes under the bleachers. That's where I go with my butts, nuts, and Three Musketeers myself. I mean the lurking.

No more lurking, you here me? Chime in, why don't you? Give us your insight. Let us know you're there! I realize some of you have outstanding warrants and may not want to call attention to yourselves. Use an alias! Wear a mask! Pull your hat down low and turn up your collar. The cops who come in here are off-duty and five months from retirement anyway. They won't bother with you. So comment, dammit! Let's get that comment number up over 150 tonight!

Now, without further ado, I want to introduce to you a man who should need no introduction, but who will get one anyway because certain illegal practices in his misspent youth have left him with a tendency to forget his own name. You may know who he is but he may need reminding. So, ladies and gentlemen, let's welcome like he's never been welcomed before, the one, the only, the insulted, the injured, the possessed, that raw youth, a man who is a brother to all the world, a crime in his own right, and his own punishment, Neddie Jingo!

Ned start here.

Why, yes, yes he do, don't he. Except on those occasions when he start over there-->

Mannion: Buenas noches. Una noche. Noche takes the female gender, as any fule kno.

All righty, then. Comfy room, a fine young vodka-and-soda at my elbow (a weak one, as it's a weak night) a cackling friar on the grate -- sorry, check that, make that a crackling fire -- and Rosie Fahrleit playing about my features. (I'll stop with the Perelman schtick in a minute, I'm just nervous.) The rest of the Mannion Checklist: Ah! I had the rose rolled up and the socks in my teeth! I thought that was a little uncomfortable... That's why we do these pregame warmups!

Hey! Anybody read any good books lately? Tipplin' Tommy Pynchon's got a new doorstop out, "Against the Day." This Work of Literature Is Sold By Weight, Not By Volume... I'm 100 pages into it, it's flippin' great, but I've had to start a running list of characters -- now Darby Suckling, that's the "mascotte" on the airship Inconvenient? Or is he the haunted Pinkerton with the heart of gold...?

Ah! Studio 60! Yes. Right.

Having seen only last week's episode of this deathless classic of the televisual arts, I feel in need of a bit of a primer. So I guess the thing to do at this point is to look up this Aaron Sorkin character Mannion's always on about. What's he, some sort of actor or something? Mmm-kay, Wikipedia... Ah! The West Wing! So Studio 60 is The West Wing, but, you know, funny. Right. I'm now officially Caught Up. I note with some sobriety that Sorkin is six months my junior. Depressing? Nah!

Hey: Here's something I betcha didn't know: Allison Janney was in my class at Kenyon. No, seriously! The 18-year-old Allison was pretty much indistinguishable from the 46-year-old edition, all gangly limbs and dusky voice and huge black eyes that invite comparison to limpid pools in the undereducated. She was also about 6'2" and a Dramanoid, which more or less put her out of my league -- but I did OK in the Kenyon Alumna department. (Hey! There's a Kenyon Pun in that last sentence! Go Lords!)

OK, OK, the show... "As one of the funniest actors of his generation, [Matthew] Perry has impressed critics and made audiences laugh in his Emmy-nominated role as Chandler Bing on 'Friends'...." Hmm. "As one of..."? Bit clumsy, that. I guess they don't hire the Thomas Pynchons to write the website copy down at NBC.... Bradley Whitford -- Jowly McSmirkface from The West Wing, OK... That Nathan Corddry, he looks like somebody, can't think who.... Timothy Busfield -- what's he got on Sorkin, I wonder? Must be something Deep and Dark and Dreadful, otherwise he's a script boy.

Ooh! Quickly, before the show starts! I hit a deer on my way home from work tonight! Yikes! I stopped at a stop sign at Ryan Road and Evergreen Mill, and there it was, just grazing by the side of the road, so I hopped out, cooing endearments, and as soon as I got close enough, blam! A right cross to the jaw! No, seriously, the thing leaped out of the woods right into my path. I was only going about 35, and I was able to slam on the brakes -- I might have been going 15 when it came into contact with my truck's front bumper. It stood back up, looking dazed, and after a very brief but anxious few seconds, it hippity-hopped back into the woods. I was never so happy to see Bambi leave. I'd be a guilty wreck, else.

OK! On with the show!

10:04: Refresh my mammaries, someone: flu shots?

10:05: Who's Blondie? Dang, I should've actually watched this show, shouldn't I?

Jeeze -oh-squeeze-oh, is this Typepad client buggy on the Mac!

The chick from the Ricky Gervais "The Office" sure does clean up nice, don't she?

10:15: I'm completely lost: A commenter said this is a clip-show. Is that right? Otherwise, this is sure confusing.

And now: The Live-Blogging of the Commercials!

I'd rather have an iPod on my ever-changing clothes than a ev-Pod on my chang-clo on my oh screw it.

And isn't it wonderful to have the fragrance of frack-a-snackin' scented candles fill the room immediately? I mean IMMEDIATELY!!!

10:21: I'd KILL that Norah Jones clone. KILL her, dig? A hard right cross to the jaw!

10:27: The Ominous Weather: Betrays a distinct ignorance of the Gern Theory of Disease... How fast does a virus travel?

Jesus Christ, this goes fast!!!!!!

10:34: Boy, I bet we are in for some Vomit Humor, damned soon...

10:36: Matthew Perry has ENORMOUS bags under his eyes. Richly deserved.

10:37: I AM DILBERT27!!!!!

It can now be revealed. I'm glad the vodka is having its intended effect.

10:39: Woo! Contemporary Politics! Sorkin! You are a GOD!

PLAVIX! Those little animated doohickeys just wash away from your aorta! Gimme some o' that!

Please forgive me if I'm a little skeptical of the idea of "Peace, Love and the Gap./"

10:46: "Solid double up the middle": THIS SHOW SUCKS. All I'm sayin'.

10:49: Boy, that bit with Harriet unable to tell a joke is COMEDY GOLD. Also, the Grosse Pointe thing is Seriously Cheesy.

10:53: There goes that Germ Theory of Disease problem again. And Norah Jones Clone needs to DIE...

We're supposed to melt to the music. Only problem is, what happens when the music makes you want to throw up? And Amanda Peet is preggers. Like I care?

COMMERCIAL LIVE BLOGGING: Boy, I'm sure impressed by that homosexual holding that Stratocaster. Yes, indeed. Whaddya got? I'll buy it!

Oh. It's over. Goodness gracious.

Folks, this show seriously sucks. Get a life. Oh, hey! I've just noticed, I've got two -- count 'em, two! -- episodes of "House" on the TiVo. Let's do them now, OK? Dag-flaggin', sacka-a-frackin' Aaron Sorkin polesmoker... "House".. now there''s a TV show...

Ned? Ned? Come back, Ned! Come back!


Just like the man. When the masked rider's work is done, he vanishes into the night, leaving behind nothing but a silver swizzle stick.

Thank you, Lone Jingo, wherever you are. I hope you get that deer that got your truck.

Ok. I'm going out on a limb here. I liked tonight's episode. It wasn't flashy, but it was about what it needed to be about and not about Aaron Sorkin showing off. And I'm going to be telling that joke Harriet couldn't tell every chance I get. I can tell jokes. I can't write them. But I can tell them. And I'm going to tell the kreplach out of that one.

Lurkers, I know you were there. You've got to stop this. Next week, I expect full class participation or everybody's staying after school. You hear me, everybody!

Time to close up shop here on the East Coast. I'm heading on over to the In-N-Out Burger to hit on Christine Lahti. You kids out West, the place is yours. Room service is good until 2 your time. Don't take anything from the minibar, unless your company's paying for it. I called the maids and they're bringing up clean towells. Try not to frighten the neighbors.


Saturday, November 18, 2006


Just some really cool news from the world of science and technology:

Researchers at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., built a four-legged robot that can sense damage to its body and figure out how to adjust and keep going.

Still a long way from Stargate's Replicators, even a longer way from R2-D2, but getting where we need them to be.

Most robots are used in industrial applications where their environment never changes, explained Hod Lipson, a co-author of the paper. If they are to become useful outdoors or at home they need to be able to cope with changes, he said.

The robot has tilt sensors and angle sensors in each of its joints and uses the readings from these devices to create a computer model of its own structure and movement. When the sensors indicate a change, it can then alter the model to compensate.

While most robots operate using a computer model they have been programmed with, this one develops its own model by analyzing how its parts respond to commands to move.

That allows it to change its own program if something occurs that it didn't expect.

I suppose this will show up in my life as a lawn mowing robot that keeps going after it hits a rock, but I prefer to think of what it means for interplanetary exploration. There are two robots up on Mars right now who could use this technology.

Here's a question. Are the Martian rovers true robots or are they remote controlled devices with some robotic features?

If they are robots, is each one just one robot or is it a committee of task-designated robots?

Meanwhile, back on earth. The self-healing robots don't have a name yet.

"We never officially named it, but we usually refer to it as the Starfish robot, even though a real starfish has five rather than four legs," said lead researcher Josh Bongard, now at the University of Vermont. "Also, a real starfish is much better than our robot at recovering from injury, because it can actually regrow its legs."

I like it that Bongard felt he had to explain things about real starfish to the reporter. Never pass up an opportunity to teach.

Here's the link to the abstract of the research team's paper in Science. Unless you're a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, you have to pay extra to read the whole report.

Friday, November 17, 2006

When H.G. Wells met Jack the Ripper

One of my favorite actors talking about one of my very favorite actors:

I also loved working with James Garner, who is so unsung. When we were shooting the scene where we have lunch together, I'm throwing grapes up in the air, catching them with my mouth, and he's just sitting there. "Doncha want a cuppa coffee?" I ask him, and he says, "No, you're doing it all." I'd love to work with him again. He's in the same league with Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Gielgud, in a different way. All of them are coming from the inside, and all their thoughts have to be right. James Garner makes acting look effortless – that's hard work.

That's Malcolm McDowelll talking about working with Garner in Sunset. Quote's from an interview McDowell did with N.P. Thompson of The House Next Door. Thompson was focused on McDowell, naturally, so he didn't chase that down---Garner in the same league as those three great British hams? What did McDowell mean?

I'm guessing that when he says that, like those three, James Garner is "coming from the inside" he means that when you watch Garner you have to look into his eyes. He makes you read his thoughts. His characters don't move about much (neither do Olivier's but he vibrates so intensely when he's just standing still you feel as if he's moving as much as Gene Kelly does when he's dancing) but they're always thinking. You can see their minds working, which is how Garner can dominate a scene in which he has few lines, he's playing opposite an actor as volatile as McDowell, and that other actor is doing something as flamboyant as tossing grapes up in the air and catching them in his mouth. McDowell appears to have been worried about upstaging Garner but Garner knew. He can afford to give away space to anyone who's onscreen with him.

Garner once said he learned everything he knows about acting from watching Henry Fonda in the stage version of The Caine Mutiny Court Martial. It was one of Garner's first acting jobs. He played a member of the panel of naval officers trying the case and he had no lines. He kept himself occupied by studying Fonda, another actor who I'd say worked "from inside."

That's my guess. I'll find out. I'm making Sunset family movie night next week. Tonight's family movie night is, coincidentally, Time After Time, which stars McDowell as H.G. Wells who, movies being movies, turns out to have actually invented and built the time machine that's at the center of his novel. And, movies being movies, it turns out that Jack the Ripper uses the time machine to escape from the police and Wells jumps in it after him and chases him into the 20th Century to bring him back to justice. Wells, who thinks of himself as a visionary, is shocked but then enthralled by all the things he never envisioned, particularly Mary Steenburgen.

Introducing the interview, Thompson describes one of his favorite scenes from Time After Time:

In a revolving restaurant atop the Hyatt Regency, the spires and blue mists of San Francisco swirl behind McDowell, as he and Steenburgen glow at each other like a couple of school kids. "We knew it had to be magical for the film to work," McDowell told me on a recent October morning, nearly a full three decades later. And magical it is: Anyone who has listened to Time After Time's DVD commentary track knows that McDowell told Steenburgen he loved her prior to shooting the scene. The fluster that she exudes isn’t acting; it's real. H.G. Wells tries to impress Amy by telling her he's just published a series of articles on "free love." When she bursts his bubble ("I haven't heard the term 'free love' since eighth-grade") his prowess turns momentarily to embarrassment. Hardly a few frames flicker past, however, and the McDowell/Wells goofy grin exultantly returns – he's smitten (as was I).

Thompson calls the scene "one of the most teasingly playful, emotionally satisfying comic romantic scenes that we have on film." He goes on to say, "It's also beautiful for this reason: There isn't anything else like it in the long line of McDowell's career."

We'll watch the movie, you go read the interview. It's a long one, but worth it to see what McDowell thinks about working for the gread directors Stanley Kubrick, Lindsay Anderson, Blake Edwards, and Martin Ritt, how he attempted to goad a shy actress into getting naked for a scene the script called for her and McDowell to get naked in---it involved a jock strap and some embroidery work that co-star Christopher Lee thought was in very poor taste---and how McDowell sees it as his job as entertainter to "keep the audience awake!"

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bond on Planet Earth

For the first 20 minutes or so, the final Pierce Brosnan Bond, Die Another Day, was on its way to being one of the best movies in the franchise.

The opening premise was great. Bond is in North Korea on a mission. The North Korea on this planet. Earth. At least a close enough approximation of Earth that most of the rules of real life apply. Things start going wrong for Bond but at first it looks as though he's going to get himself out of trouble in typical Bond fashion and then...

All his superpowers desert him. He gets caught. He's thrown into prison and tortured. The effects of both prison and the torture show on him. For a while he's not Bond anymore. He's a man in a horrible situtation. He doesn't even get himself out of it. He's freed in a prisoner exchange, and "freed" is a relative term here, because it appears that he's now something of a problem for MI6 and they plan to hold onto him until they figure out how to solve the problem. He's their prisoner. He escapes but not because he becomes Bond again, but because he gets lucky. He doesn't begin to turn back into Bond until he's safely away and striding across the lobby of a hotel still in his prisoner's torn pajamas and with a year's worth of beard and uncut hair to check in.

But that isn't the end of his troubles. M has made it clear to him that he's not Bond again yet. He may never be. He was compromised. His cover's blown. There's no telling what secrets he gave up when he was being totured---and this was the shocking part for Bond fans. M's believing that Bond broke.

But he's Bond! James Bond!

Bond doesn't break.

But M knows. Bond is just a man. Well trained, highly skilled, tougher than most, but still human. He has limits, and she doesn't know what the limits are and if he reached them. She assumes he did, because that's the safest and smartest assumption.

Which leaves us in doubt.

The plot that's now been set up is Bond proving to M and himself he can still be a good agent. We're coming very close to this universe. We're at least in the same universe as the two Timothy Dalton Bonds and On Her Majesty's Secret Service. We may even be approaching the border of John le Carre's territory.

Die Another Day is giving us a glimpse of what a movie about a real James Bond operating in the real world would be like.

Then Halle Berry appears and the guy with diamonds all over his face and things blow up and Bond gets an invisible car and we're so far back into the comic book Bonds that the last and worst of the Roger Moore Bonds are beginning to look good by comparison.

There can never be a le Carre version of Bond, since le Carre's whole premise is that spies are lesser mortals and have to operate ruthlessly to compensate. Le Carre's world isn't just a world without Bonds. It's a world where even a real life version of Bond is an impossibility. No one that smart and that skillful goes into government service, at least not into espionage. Smiley isn't even the exception that proves the rule. In civilian life he'd make a passable college professor or a competent attorney, a solictor, though, not a barrister. His best talent is recognizing weaknesses, everybody's, including his own.

But I would like to see a Bond who had to operate in a universe closer to Smiley's than to Blofeld's.

Anthony Lane makes it sound as though Daniel Craig's Bond comes as close as Bond will ever come in Casino Royale.

I haven't read any of Ian Fleming's novels since I was a kid. Can anybody tell me what universe they take place in?

Our first drag star President?

Josh Marshall on Rudy Giuliani's dreams of glory: we really have to pretend that Rudy Giuliani has more than a snowball's chance in hell of getting the Republican presidential nomination? Or can we all just stipulate that a multiple adulterer, who supports gay civil rights and choice, has deep and on-going ties to mobbed-up and now-disgraced Police boss Bernie Kerik, has a largely unscrutinized (outside of New York) resume, and had the bright idea of locating the NYC disaster center in the already-once-bombed World Trade Center probably will have some rough sledding in Republican primaries?

Josh forgot to mention that Giuliani doesn't even look pretty in the pictures of him in drag * that his opponents are certainly going to make sure are all over the place in every state with a Republican primary.

I don't believe that Rudy thinks he has a real chance---I can't believe it! It's just too mind boggling to think that anyone could be that deluded by vanity and ambition and not be walking around in a cocked hat with his hand inside his lapel talking about what a drubbing he was going to give Wellington at Waterloo.

Probably he's running for Vice President, although it seems doubtful that the Party that decided that the best way to bounce back from the shellacking they took in last week's election was to bring back Trent Lott will decide that it needs a Northeastern Italian on its national ticket for balance.

McCain-Brownback anyone?

What I'd like to believe is that this is Giuliani's secret plan to save the country from a President McCain. Rudy's thinking he might be able to peel away just enough of what's left of the non-Religious Right, non-Permanent War, non-Wishing they were in Dixie primary voters to deny McCain the nomination.

All six of them.

Maybe he thinks that enough of the Media Elite who fawn over McCain will rush to fawn over him that some serious journalists might get at McCain to show him up for the pandering, Right Wing hypocrite and tool that he is.

After all, Giuliani is the true social liberal McCain's Media groupies keep insisting he is despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Never going to happen, my friend.

The elite of the chattering classes go all gooey and goofy over McCain and Giuliani because loving them makes them feel tough and manly at the same time it allows them to pretend that the Republican Party they kowtow to is not the party of Trent Lott, Tom DeLay, Dick Cheney, and Karl Rove, not the Party of K Street and the Preachers, not the party of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, not the party of the misogynists, homophobes, religious nuts, xenophobes, know-nothings, and racists, and not the party of the apologists and champions of Permanent War, torture as erotic thrill and spectator sport, executive over-reach, and contempt for the Constitution.

But McCain was their first and true love. He was their first anti-Clinton. What shivers them down to their socks about McCain is their own projection onto him of all the virtues they convinced themselves Bill Clinton lacked. On top of that, McCain is a genuine war hero, but unlike John Kerry he's of the type that doesn't make baby boom journalists feel bad about themselves for having sat out the War in Vietnam.

They couldn't have been John McCain because they weren't career military, their fathers weren't admirals they had to impress by going into the family business so to speak.

They could have been like John Kerry and chose not to be and they can't forgive Kerry for that.

What has Rudy got on his resume to compare? He cleaned up the subways, made it a matter of civic pride to refuse to give panhandlers a dime, and didn't show any outward signs of panic on September 11, 2001. But that last one just makes him an anti-George, and until this generation retires the Media Elite will be determined to elect anti-Bills.

But that's really more evidence that what they are truly in love with, even more than with the image they've created for McCain, is their own sense of themselves as Solons and Major Players.

They decided years ago that John McCain would be a great President and they will be determined to prove themselves right.

Whatever good things the chattering class will say about Giuliani will be by way of assuring us that McCain is the Man.

Giuliani's deciding to run would have been the height of self-delusion if he'd made it last month. Coming after last week's election suggest that he suffers from something more than vanity and delusions of grandeur.

Illiteracy and innumeracy.

He didn't read or can't understand the returns.

Whether or not last week was a victory for Progressive Democrats or Moderate Democrats, there is no denying that it was a victory for Democrats.

Maybe Rudy just gets his news exclusively from the Sunday Morning talk shows and the op-ed page of the New York Times.

The chattering classes don't care about politics as the process of governing the nation. They care about it only as a game played inside the Beltway, which might explain why so few of them have bothered to notice just how widespread the Democratic victory was and how far down into the local levels of government it reached.**

More astute observers have noted how the Blue-ing of America has gone well beyond the fact that come January there will be only one Republican member of the House of Representatives from New England and that Karl Rove's legacy to the Republican Party will apparently to turn out to be to have turned it into a minor regional party. What Republican victories there were last week were largely confined to the South.

If Giuliani knows this, then he must be thinking that the party will want to recover from the disaster by moving left and reaching North and West.

Yesterday, the Republicans in the Senate, at least, by bringing back Trent Lott, told him and the rest of the country, Don't hold your breath. We're happy to be the New Dixiecrats. No Northeastern Liberals need apply.

To sum up by answering Josh Marshall's question, why pretend that Giuliani has a snowball's chance in hell, pretending is a way for the chattering classes to indulge their crush on John McCain and deny that they are shilling for the party of the likes of Trent Lott.

Maybe Rudy knows all this and doesn't care.

Maybe he just wants all the world to see what he looks like as a blonde.

*Hat tip to Shakes, writing at AlterNet, for the link to No More Mister Nice Blog.

**Digby links to this article by John Judis in the New Republic, but registration is required if you want to read the whole thing.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Marine versus the Class Treasurer

There are lots of good reasons to like Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House, but one of them is not her commanding television presence.

So, on the question of Murtha vs Hoyer for Majority Leader, I have this request to make of House Democrats.

"Can we please, please, please, just once, have a public face for the Party that isn't a that of Class Treasurer?"

To all Class Treasurers, nothing personal. I was treasurer of our high school drama club. At the time I was 5 foot 7, weighed 120 lbs, never knew where my arms and legs were going, and while I had a fairly clear complexion for a teenager, when I did get a zit, it was always a large, red, angry one right on the tip of my nose.

What I'm saying is that the Democrats do not need one more representative going before the TV cameras and reminding the whole country of a 17 year old smartypants who could handle the bookkeeping.

Joe Lieberman, Joe Biden, Harry Reid, Charles Schumer, even Hillary---you look at them and you can see exactly what they were like when they were in high school.

Steny Hoyer---and just his first name alone should disqualify him. That's all we need to do, give the Republicans and the Talk Radio blowhards the fun of sneering out his name "Ssss-TENNN-eeeeee!"---is another face that only a high school guidance counselor could love.

To be fair to Hoyer, he doesn't look so much like a 17 year old math geek as he looks like the teacher who was the advisor to the Science Club.

I am not being trivial here. I am not making the case that Democrats should value image over substance. There are substantive reasons for prefering John Murtha over Hoyer. Which I'll get to. There are good partisan ones too. And they are often one and the same.

But these days people generally do not learn about the substance of a politician's or a party's stands except by coming to it through the image.

Television is the medium for reaching and persuading voters. In fact, for most people in the United States, all they know is what they see on TV. And what they see of the Democrats on TV bores them, sets their teeth on edge, or convinces them that we are the Party of cringing and obsequious weasels who won't take a stand on the right time of day.

Then there's the whole Mommy Party vs. Daddy Party question, a stupid question, especially as it stands now, with the the Daddy Republicans turning out to be the kind of Daddy who takes his paycheck, runs off to the track with it, stops in at a bar on his way home, makes a date with one of the cocktail waitresses (or the male bartender), and as soon as he walks in the door starts screaming at his wife because she doesn't have his dinner waiting for him hot on the table.

The unfortunate truth is, though, that the Democrats are seen as the girls' party.

We like to boast about the gender gap. Women prefer the Democrats and its their votes that put many of our candidates over the top. But in reality the gender gap is our problem. Men vote for Republicans in a greater percentage than that of the women who vote for Democrats.

The object, of course, is not to become another boys' party or more of a Daddy Party. The object is for Democrats to be seen as what they are, the party of the grown-ups, the party of everyone.

Having a big, burly ex-Marine standing next to Speaker Pelosi makes this point in the most visually compelling way.

On the whole, Murtha is far more conservative than most Democrats. It's worth noting, though, that while on votes important to the survival and prosperity of the middle class, the Drum Major Insitute gives Hoyer a score of 75 per cent to Murtha's 63 percent, which would seem to favor Hoyer, both scores earn a grade of C.

My Congressman, Maurice Hinchey has a score of 100 percent. So does the new Senator from Ohio, Sherrod Brown, and Nancy Pelosi, Henry Waxman, and MyDD favorite John Lewis. The presently much-reviled in the blogosphere for his DLC politics Rahm Emanuel has a score of 88 percent, a solid B.

Both Hoyer and Murtha voted for the damned bankruptcy bill.

Hoyer is better on social issues, particularly reproductive rights. But no Right Wing dreams of women as compliant babymaking machines are going to be realized in a House of Representatives presided over by Speaker Pelosi. Meanwhile the real threat to women's right to choose is coming from the state legislatures and the Courts, and over in the Senate is where the battles over Bush's judicial choices will be fought.

Beyond that, the House Majority Leader doesn't set the Party's agenda; it's his job to see that the agenda gets the votes. (I'd like to ask Murtha and Hoyer who'd they'd like to have as their whips.) Over the years, Murtha has been cozier with the Republicans than good Democrats would like, but of the two men, Murtha is the one who is most loyal to Pelosi. Hoyer has been and probably will continue to be too personally ambitious and that has made him and will probably continue to make him something of a double-dealer.

In other words, I trust Murtha to work hard to get bills he personally disagrees with passed more than I trust Hoyer to work hard to get things he personally agrees with passed.

Then there's the War.

Over the next two years, it will be the Republicans' strategy to tie the Democrats to the prosecuting of the war as tightly as possible so that in 2008 they can claim that we are just as responsible for its failure as they are, more so, because, after all, the Democrats are now running the show. (The Republican Campaign Slogan for 2008: George Who?) That's what the Baker-Hamilton Study Group is designed to do.

We know where Murtha stands.

Hoyer has been more in the camp of the Well, it's not going well, and I wish we'd never gotten in, and I'm kind of mad at George Bush about it, but gee whiz, I wish I knew what to do about it Democrats.

Whether or not it's the case with him, his opposition to the war appears to be a matter of opposing the way it's being conducted rather than fact that it's a lost cause and an utter disaster.

He's a perfect patsy for the Republicans' two-pronged attatck, accusing the Democrats of wanting to cut and run and demanding to know if we're so smart where's our plan?

If and when the time comes that the Democrats step up and say, That's it, no more, this has got to end, I'd rather have Murtha on TV saying it.

I know that in a perfect world image wouldn't matter, ideas would count above all, but there's no heaven on earth, and there never has been. Way before there was television, image still carried the ideas across. Successful politicians were expected to be great orators. Great oratory wasn't a matter of writing a great speech. It was a matter of delivering a great speech. Great oratory was public entertainment.

Abraham Linclon did not win over the crowd at the Cooper's Union at the end of his speech when everybody sat quietly for a while debating in their heads the ideas he'd just put forth. He began winning them over from the moment he stepped up to the podium. Lincoln had a funny voice and he was ugly, but those two qualities were part of his appeal.

And George Washington was brilliant at manipulating his own image and using his image to manipulate others.

Let's not even start on FDR.

I've written this before. It's ridiculous for people who know that John Kennedy beat Nixon in the debates because he came across better on television, and who should then understand the importance of this, to dismiss the idea that image matters. I'm tired of the Democrats losing on the issues because they keep having their arguments made by people who can't master the fundamentals of coming across as normal human beings on television.

I would like the face of the Democrats to be that of an ex-Marine who stands up and stands tough, who believes in what he says and sounds like he believes it.

Especially considering the presumptive Republican nominee for President in 2008 and the Media's love affair with him and image for him they have helped create.

See Maha on the good and the bad about Murtha and Hoyer.

Update: Jason Chervokas prefers Murtha but says the Right Wing blowhards have more of a stake in the fight, just because it gives them an excuse to accuse Democrats of being unable to lead because they don't march in lockstep like the Republicans.

Tom Watson reminds us to keep our eyes on the prize.

Update to the update: Ezra read this by Joe Conoson and it's given him more doubts about Murtha, although he's still more doubtful about Hoyer. Meanwhile, he's thinking Nancy Pelosi's showing signs she's not as smart or as clean as we need her to be. Read his post and follow the links.

Hat tips: Ezra Klein, Ian Welsh of the Agonist, and Greg Saunders at This Modern World.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Studio 60: Live-blogging the show that put Pahrump, Nevada back on the map

Good evening, friends, Romans, and contrarians, we come to praise Aaron Sorkin not to bury him, even though he's been doing a heckuva job digging his own grave on Studio 60.

(Rimshot. Complete silence from the audience.)

But seriously, folks, Sorkin has spent a lot of time writing his own epitaph, eulogy, and obituary into Studio 60. I can't think of another show that's such a memorial to the creator's genius. Sorkin, we've been told in various thinly-veiled ways, is the man who is saving television. I'm telling you, Donald Trump should take lessons in self-esteem from the guy.

(An even completer silence.)

Hmm. Tough crowd.

Fortunately, last week's episode was mostly free of the usual self-monumentalizing. It was free of a lot else too. Like a plot.

(A silence like the dead hear inside their graves.)

Well. Guess we proved Aaron Sorkin's not the only one who can't write comedy. On to the business at hand.

Those of you who were here last week will remember that our guest blogger, Jennifer, kept trying to abandon her hosting duties by escaping down into the comments section with the rest of the riff-raff. We sent her right back upstairs every time, mostly because the bar's up there and she had our drink orders. Jennifer was happily relieved when the show was over and her live blogging chores were done, but both Aaron Sorkin and NBC pulled fast ones on her.

Sorkin made the show a two-parter to be continued this week, and NBC decided not to cancel Studio 60. Which means that because she's the kind of obsessive personality who has to finish every single job she starts no matter how trivial, Jennifer's stuck with the live blogging again tonight. So here she is, ladies and germs, back to wrap up, mop up, and sum up, the wonderful, the marvelous, the Jennifer, aided and abetted by her lovely husband, Grizzled!

Hello Mannionites, it’s Jennifer again from Saying Yes, ready to lead you through another gripping episode of Studio 60! Joining me this evening is my trusty sidekick, Grizzled! Grizzled would have been here last week, but felt being an election judge was more important than live blogging

But let’s get back to the endless fever dream that is Studio 60… last week’s episode was like Groundhog Day! Every 12 minutes they put the needle back to the start of the album and started playing the same thing over… Matt and Harriet are supposedly going to heat up tonight… Why do I find this hard to believe? I was just watching a special on penguins. I am guessing the penguins had more heat that Matt and Harriet. You know what it gets down to? I don’t even care or want to see any heat. There is no spark as far as I am concerned and no matter how much they fan the spark, I will still not feel the heat.

Somehow I feel 73% of Part II tonight will involve re-rehashing of Part I, but let me rehash a little bit here so that we might proceed with all of our ducks in a row!

Tom is in jail (still wearing his Jesus Garb TM costume from dress rehearsal) for various charges in Pahrump, Nevada, including speeding, assault, possession of evil weed and wearing Jesus Garb TM after Lent. Judge John Goodman is ticked off with smug Hollywood-types making fun of small town people and is not going to let Tom go without a fight, but Tom needs to get back so the show can go on!!! Simon, Danny, Jack, a Chinese investor and his Tom-loving, viola-playing daughter are there as well.

Apparently all of this started when our favorite religious comedian told a newspaper that she felt being gay was a sin. Of course they left out the part about her still thinking gay people are swell…Don’t ask… you’ll be reminded 20 times in the next 60 minutes. Let's just get on with it.

8:59 CST... the excitement is palpable!!! Oh wait... we're still watching Heroes... never mind.

I think NBC got it wrong... it was save the cheerleader, not save Studio 60!!!

Pahrump is NOT funny!

9:05 OH!!! I KNEW IT!!! The show must go on! Cue Ethel Merman... Cue Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland!!! Gack.

9:07 G: Ooooh, I can feel the tension... Am I watching The West Wing??? I stopped watching that after awhile because it was like work. This is feeling like work. Why am I doing this???

J: Grizzled seems more enchanted with the flat screen from Radio Shack and less enchanted with Homophobe Harriet.

9:08 I am sorry, but I just can't get behind anything Sarah Paulson says... We know how she feels about the Bible... we know how she feels about... the Bible. Do we know how she feels about anything else???

9:10 Cheeses of Nazareth???

G: Carol Channing does have a nicer voice and is funny... where the hell is she???

J: Amanda Peet wants us to see the real Harriet. She's NOT Anita Bryant! She's NOT. Heck, I think Anita Bryant had more heat... hey, let's see Matt and Anita!!!

They're calling the gov on Tom's behalf... Jack has pull with the gov having given lots of moola. That seems to be the way it works. Will the gov same Tom? Will the gov save the show?

J&G: Jack trashes viola girl's camera thus ruining any proof of Tom in the hoosegow.

G: The Gov is not taking Jack's side. They are off to the restaurant with John for a slice of pie... mmmmm piiiiiie!

J: Hey! I make good pie! Maybe I should make one now. It might be more interesting than this...

J: Did I hear Mayberry RFD blogging??? I LOVE Ken Berry!!! Why isn't he on this? Where is he? And what about his wife...ex-wife, Jackie something or other!??!?!

We're back in Nevada... we've got pie!

Oh fer cry... we're discussing Simon's hair. It is the 21st century, right?

"no, I was in Reno... I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die..." THIS SHOW IS DYING!

I swear, the show is going to go on the road... they'll do it "LIVE! From PAHRUMF!"

New Afro-American writer questioning who gets called "Sir". Oh wait, Harriet is practicing her weekend update. She's really bland... of course she looks stellar next to Tom's stand in.

Grizzled is so thrilled with the show that he just walked out to fill up his ice bag for his post-surgicalized hand... it's still more interesting than hearing Harriet and oops, Simon's stand in.

Oh, Harriet is having a crisis!! Can she be tolerant enough for showbiz yet not tolerant enough for her religion?!? WHO CARES?!?!?

I don't think this is Studio 60 anymore, it's Studio Harriet.

Commercial break... Grizzled has proclaimed this even more lame than the last time. I concur. I am trying to whip up some feeling, but... well, oh screw it. I'm going down to the comments!!! JUST TRY AND STOP ME LANCE!!!

The comments are discussing The Simpson's and Seinfeld... what the hell am I doing up here? Grizzled??? Where are you going? Get back here!!!

Hey, they just broke in with a small plane going down in my hometown... oh crap, we're back.

J: Sixty Dahra??

Dylan seems to be a bit stage-struck. Oh, sneaking Matt, sending cute girl over to prop him up.

Ed Asner is creeeepy. Was he this creeepy last week? I want Mr. Grant back, not this blood-sucking business man.

He just said, "Make it stop!" I agree... he was talking about the show, right???

BUT HE DID NOT INHALE!!! A half-smoked joint does not mean Tom (or Simon) inhaled!

Alright! Jack is held in contempt! Contempt for this script!

Oh how sweet! Tom is going to be saved by his brother who is FIGHTING IN THE WAR... not pursuing lame comedy! Tom's father was right! Tom is NOTHING! Tom's brother is everything!

Tom is free in the interest of patriotism! Patriotism shall set you freeeeeeeeeeee!

What do you know! The Judge has a soft spot... he has suddenly lost the evidence and Tom is free. I am free... there's a commercial! Grizzled??? Where are you?!?!?

Was there a point to this show??? If so, someone please remind me because I've lost the will to blog. It's not even over. Weren't Matt and Harriet supposed to heat up? Did I miss it??!?!

9:45 Oops, I haven't been tagging the time. It's hard to keep track when it feels like infinity.

If they had to watch this show for a day they'd cry!

9:48 Tom, looking strapping in his Jesus Garb TM is wooing the viola girl to keep all gossip on the QT.

Hey! We've got heat! We've got a bit of heat between Brit girl and Matt! Or... maybe not. Maybe it's just some female angst. Oh, look, Matt is being sweet. WHO CARES!

9:50 Tom makes it to LA and kisses the ground. Oh no! Viola girl has gossip on the dreaded Crackberry!

Jack is being a stand up guy and is telling Asian Man to take his moola elsewhere... go to Time-Warner! Jack's company has honor dammit!! DAMMIT!

Oh! The ultimate insult to the Asian man! He has insulted Jack! Oh! Silly them... it's the viola girl who has translated it wrong! What a nice, neat little package.

I just asked Grizzled for confirmation on something I heard, but Grizzled was too busy doing his finger exercises.

Oh wait... we've got the blubbering British girl writer...

Oh no... Harriet and Matt are in the same room and I feel nothing. Gads, she's preaching again. GACK!

The Bible says bad entertainment is a sin...

If they kiss, I'm leaving...


Grizzled just said, "Bleck, I'd rather blog Heroes." I think I agree... I can't even think of anything slightly snappy to say other than, back to you, Lance...

Ok, kids, Mannion here to say that wraps it up for tonight. I think we all learned one important lesson here, thanks to Tom Watson.

CPO Sharkey deserves to be released on DVD!

Thanks very much to Jennifer and Grizzled. Heckuva job, you two. I want you to do the live blogging for the remainder of my term in office.

Those of you out West who are just coming in, wipe your feet on the mat before you come in.

I'm shutting down the grill now. The soda fountain will stay open. I expect you all brought enough quarters for the juke box..

Please leave your thoughts on tonight's show in the comments and don't play G19 if grandma's still working the counter with Uncle Joe. Rhinestone Cowboy reminds her too much of her Vegas days with grandpa.


Studio 60: Warm-up act

Reminder: Live-blogging begins tonight at 9:50 PM Eastern, 8:50 Central.

While we're waiting for Jennifer and Grizzled to show up for live-blogging, a couple of postive things about last week's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

Last week's episode was about 15 minutes of plot and 35 minutes of characters telling each other what happened in that 15 minutes of plot. (I'm figuring about 10 minutes of commercials.) Included in the 15 minutes was a scene in which Steven Weber's character, network suit Jack Rudolph, tells Amanda Peet's too cute for a Network President Jordan that a sketch has to be cut from---what the hell is the name of the show within a show anyway? Jordan's thinking she needs to placate Jack because his ego's bruised from her outmaneuvering him on a previous episode. She goes to Brad Whitford's laid-back, recently drug-rehabbed producer Danny and tells him Jack is going to order him to cut the skit. She asks Danny to cave, but not without a fight. She wants him to put up a fuss first so that Jack will feel he's won a tough one. Danny's cool with this because he's already decided to cut the sketch. It isn't funny.

Few mintues later, Jack and Danny are alone and Jack tells Danny to cut the sketch, and Danny says...


Just like that. No fake outrage. No pretend argument. He just shrugs and says, fine. He completely goes back on his promise to Jordan to put up a fight. Not only that, but he tells Jack that the sketch was already on its way out.

Which infuriates Jack.

He's so angry at having the decision taken out of his hands, and at not being able to feel like he's Danny's boss, that he immediate one-eighties and orders Danny to put the skit back in the show.

Danny refuses and they fight about that.

I liked this because of what it says about the extent of Jack's and Danny's egos, particularly Danny's, since he comes across as a very modest, very laid back guy, almost a go along to get along type. But he has as big an ego as anyone, including Jack.

Ego's probably the wrong word for what he has. It's a professional's pride. He won't put up with any suits, not even Jordan, making the creative decisions for his show. What's more he wants it known that he's making those decisions himself and he makes them for the right reasons.

The sketch has to go. It's going to go. Danny's already made up his mind. So what does it matter if he lets Jack think the decision to can the sketch was his?

It matters to Danny because Jack's making the decision for craven business reasons. Jack thinks the sketch will rile the wrong people, sponsors and the office of standards and practices. Danny wants the sketch thrown out because it's not working. It's a case of opportunism and principle being on the same side for once but Danny insists on principle getting the credit.

What was good about this is that it was never explained. There was no expository speech later in which Danny or Jack tells us what happened in that scene. For once, Aaron Sorkin, who has too often felt the need to explain everything, lets the actors do the work and leaves it up to the audience to figure it out on their own.

Tonight's episode will probably start with Jack or Danny giving a speech detailing what Danny just did.

But maybe not. Maybe Sorkin will leave well enough alone.

There's another interesting side effect of Sorkin's restraint. We don't know that what I said was going on in Danny's head was what was going on in Danny's head. I'm guessing. I could be wrong. Danny's already shown that he is a master of reverse psychology. It's how he manipulates Matt Perry's character. We might find out tonight that Danny wants the sketch back in the show and he's tricked Jack into "ordering" him to do what he wants to do anyway.

A variation on the old Bugs Bunny-Daffy Duck argument.

Daffy: It's rabbit season!

Bugs: Duck season.

Daffy: Rabbit season!

Bugs: Duck season.

Daffy: Rabbit season!

Bugs: Rabbit season.

Daffy: Duck season!

Bugs: Suit yourself, doc. It's duck season.

Daffy: You said it. It's duck season!

And Elmer Fudd blasts Daffy away.

But I thought about the game, the game. Yes, I thought about the game...

A whole lot of people inside the Beltway who've been spectacularly wrong about everything for the last 15 or so years, and I mean everything---about Whitewater, Travelgate, Newt, the Impeachment, Gore's "lies," Bush's compassionate conservativism, Dick Cheney's and Don Rumsfeld's statesmanship, the War in Iraq, this last election, everything---have been busy, busy, busy since Wednesday trying to prove that despite all the evidence they still know what they're talking about and the conventional wisdom that drove all their thinking down blind alleys for the last decade and a half still prevails.

These pundits, journalists, TV talking heads, analysts, and consultants have been pushing the idea that the Democrats didn't actually win Tuesday nor did Bush exactly lose. Nothing changed but a few labels. The product, the center-right big business-friendly surrender to Karl Rove when push comes to shove politics the Media Insiders love, is just now more easily identifiable and socially palatable.

On Tuesday, they've been quick to assure us, the country moved squarely to the right of the middle where it's always been and where it belongs, and even though a lot of Right Wing hardliners lost their seats in Congress, the election proves that the Democrats don't have to pay any attention the the Progressives in their party. The Center-Right holds.

Which is probably news to the likes of Sherrod Brown and John Hall.

It's probably a bit of a surprise to Rick Santorum too.

And Harold Ford, the DLC poster boy who is now out looking for work, might be asking his patron Rahm Emanuel to explain it to him: "How is that my losing proves that you were right for choosing me to run?"

And how the election was a victory for conservativism and timidity and continuing the status quo needs to be explained to the people of Arizona who decided they don't want their state to officially hate gay people and the people of South Dakota who rejected the Religious Right's dream of changing the state motto to The Coathanger State and the people of Kansas who got rid of their creepy, misogynistic Attorney General and the people of Missouri who decided that they prefer to let scientists work on curing diseases than listen to the preachers tell them to value zygotes over living people and the people of the Western and Rocky Mountain States who in just three years have turned over their governorships, state houses, and Congressional delegations from red to blue.

The six new Democratic governors, including Eliot Spitzer and Deval Patrick, might be wondering how their victories are victories for the Washington Establishment's conventional wisdom too.

I can tell them.

Inside the Beltway, state governments don't matter.

For that matter, government doesn't matter.

The reason that the Club of the Spectacularly Wrong can be so insistent that they're right to be Right is that there was only one race that truly mattered to them this fall, Joe Lieberman's.

Lieberman's their pal and their mascot and their front. For years he's been their favorite politician because as a Democrat he's allowed them to tell themselves that their wrongness is rightness. Joe thinks it therefore it must be so. They can listen to Lieberman tell them that John Roberts isn't a Right Wing extremist and the War in Iraq is necessary, things they want to believe, and not have to notice that they are swallowing what the Republicans want them to swallow. Lieberman is a Democrat, after all.

They need Lieberman in the Senate, they need him to be a power player, so that they can be as conservative as they are without having to admit that it puts them on the same side as the yokels and yahoos on the Right Side of the aisle.

They needed Lieberman to win, also, so that they could continue to hold all other Democrats in contempt, especially the Progressives, the netroots, and, the most contemptible of all, bloggers.

Lieberman beat their enermies' favorite, Ned Lamont, and that proves that all's right, and Right, with the world.

Shakespeare's Sister calls these Beltway Insiders the Believers in Nothing. But that's not quite true. They believe in one thing at least---in maintaining their own positions as the Wise Men and Wise Women who get to the rest of us what to think.

Go slow, they're telling the Democrats. Play nice. Don't stir up trouble. Don't act as if you've actually won anything or that your winning matters or gives you permission to actually try to do anything. Don't listen to the voters who sent you here, listen to us. We know best.

You would think that all these so-called journalists would be salivating at the thought of Charlie Rangel and Henry Waxman lifting up rocks and watching all the bugs scurry.

No way. Investigations will reveal too much. Not about the Bush Administration or the extent of the Republicans' corruption and incompetence. About the Beltway Media Elite's spectacular stupidity.

Hold those hearings and they will show just how dumb the Media Elite was about Iraq, about Bush, about everything for at least the last 6 years.

Hold those hearings and we will all know for certain sure what we already know, that the Media Elite lay down on the job or, worse, cheered the crooks and the incompents on to their thefts and blunders.

Hold those hearings and it will be clear how none of them deserves to be trusted to know what they're saying ever again even if they're reading the time of day off their Swiss watches.

Yes, I am really accusing at least 500 highly-educated, supposedly sophisticated, self-congratulatingly "liberal" but "realistic" people in Washington of not caring about anything more than their own vanity and reputations.

More than that, I'm accusing them of being lazy, intellectually, professionally, and morally.

They don't like having the Democrats in charge because that means they will have to care, at least to the point of having to pay attention.

Democrats make them work. Democrats talk policy and throw numbers around and they think out loud and they work hard at getting things done.

Democrats have a bad habit of being smart, smarter than the Insiders themselves, and that means they have to work to keep up.

You just need to look back through the archives. Again and again you will find them complaining about Democrats being smart. What did they dislike most about Bill Clinton? The fact that he'd keep them up late into the night talking about politics, policies, and ideas like they mattered. What did they hate about Gore? He was a smartypants. What bugged them about Kerry? He was another one who talked as if it all meant something.

Why did they prefer to travel with George Bush? Because Bush never talked to them about that stuff. The fact that he didn't talk about it because he didn't understand it didn't bother them. They understood that he didn't understand it because he didn't care to, and they liked that attitude. It matched their own. And it saved them from having to do work. Much easier to report on what the candidate thinks about baseball and NASCAR than what he thinks about Hezbollah or NAFTA.

I think this explains their infatuation with St. John McCain. McCain may have a lot of flaws, but one thing he isn't is a deep thinker. Straight-shooter, straight-talker? Code words for shallow and simplistic. McCain talks in bromides, boilerplate, and bilgewater. He's no dummy, he may in fact be very smart, and he's definitely not disengaged like Bush, but he's not showoffy smart like those darn Democrats, you don't have to have done any homework to follow what he's saying.

There are plenty of smart, hardworking, committed Republicans in Washington, but they're easy to ignore. If they aren't boobs and yahoos themselves, they come from states where nobody but boobs and yahoos live and who cares about those states? Flyover country. You're a fool for living there so it's your own fault if you can't get good health care, a decent education, an abortion even if your health's at risk. Who cares if you can't get married? Who cares if your most important city drowns?

The smart, hardworking Republicans who aren't true-believers are cynics who'll be glad to assure you at dinners and cocktail parties that nothing they say really counts so it's ok for you not to care or be appalled.

The ones who aren't cynics are clowns, and it's a lot easier, and more fun, to chuckle knowingly at clowns like Rick Santorum and George Allen and Mike DeWine than it will be to ignore Sherrod Brown and Jim Webb and Bob Casey.

Fortunately, Joe Lieberman will hog the spotlight. He'll happily and energetically push those others, the ones who insist on caring, into the background.

Joe's already at it. He's already out there assuring the 500 that they're right, his victory is the only one that mattered. Joe's back and that proves it. Nothing has changed. Nothing matters. No need to think or re-think. No need to worry. No need to care.

The game goes on.

The Beltway Insiders, the believers in nothing, don't care what happens or doesn't happen as a result of what they say or as a result of what any politician they're talking about does or doesn't do. As Shakes says, they've convinced themselves that politics is nothing more than a game, and they cover it as a game, with no outcomes beyond declaring winners and losers.

The reason this election has upset them is that this time they are among the losers.

Partial reading list, to be updated:

Will Bunch's Why I'm mad: An open letter to David Broder from a fellow journalist.

Paul Waldman on what really happened Tuesday, a big step to the left.

Glenn Greenwald on why Russ Feingold makes the Insiders' heads ache.

Tom Watson on Moses Lamont and Other Heroes.

Rob Farley's shorter Mickey Kaus: If you voted for the war in Iraq you have not business asking what went wrong over there.

Major thanks to Susie Madrak.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Pixar gets its kicks on Route 66

Friday's Mannion Family Movie Night. Pixar's Cars.

Strange, strange movie.

Strange, strange concept.

The boys didn't have a problem identifying with the anthropomorphic cars, but I just couldn't get my head around the idea of a world "peopled," built, and run by automotive machines. I can become perversely literal-minded when movies demand that I suspend too much of my disbelief. I kept saying to myself, I guess the cars reproduce by assembling new cars, but who built the first car?

I had a similar problem with Robots, but I managed to convince myself that I was looking at a toy world that had taken on an independent reality of its own and somewhere far out of sight of the camera, out of the characters' thoughts, was the very clever 11 year old with an erector set who was this universe's indifferent God.

But the cars of Cars don't live in a mechanical world or a toy world. They live in a geographically realistic United States inhabited by automotive alter egos of real people---Arnold Schwarzenegger is still the governor of California. He's also a Hummer.

Creeped me out.

But besides that, despite the fact that the cars have moving mouths, the voices still did not seem to be coming from them, so I never forgot I was listening to Owen Wilson and Paul Newman and Cheech Marin. The actors' personalities didn't transfer. Consequently, it was as if I was watching one movie, a cartoon with cars acting like people, while listening to another movie, a live-action comedy that happened to have almost the same plot as the cartoon, and I wanted to see that comedy.

Instead of watching a talking Hudson Hornet with the voice of Paul Newman drive itself at top speed down a dirt road to prove to itself it was still a racing car at heart, I wanted to watch Paul Newman climb into an old Hudson Hornet and speed down a dirt road to prove to himself he could still handle a race car.

I felt the same way about all the characters. I wanted to watch Owen Wilson learn the lesson that winning races isn't the only important thing in life. I wanted to watch Cheech Marin tell the story of how he met and fell in love with his wife while Jenifer Lewis performs karaoke in the background. And I wanted to watch Michael Keaton as Wilson's cheating rival get his comeupance.

The only characters I accepted as talking vehicles were Larry the Cable Guy's towtruck and John Ratzenberger's semi. Maybe trucks are more like people than cars are.

But that's me. Like I said, the guys enjoyed it, the blonde thought it was cute, and I was glad that at least there weren't any morals. No cars were told to follow their hearts/engines. No cars had to be true to themselves. And unlike an awful lot of kids' movies these days, Cars very specifically rejects the idea that happiness is a matter of being a version of a celebrity.

In fact, as with most Pixar movies, the makers of Cars are most interested in telling their story for the story's own sake. Pixar is happy with the idea of movies as entertainment and their filmmakers don't go out of their way to teach lessons.

But there was one odd thing about Cars. It did seem to be pushing an idea. A rather peculiar idea, considering its audience.

It seemed to be trying to instill in the kids watching it a nostalgia for Route 66. The road and the song.

Now you go through Saint Louis
Joplin, Missouri,
and Oklahoma City looks mighty pretty.
You see Amarillo,
Gallup, New Mexico,
Flagstaff, Arizona.
Don't forget Winona,
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino.

Won't you get hip to this timely tip
and take that California trip
Get your kicks on Route sixty-six.

Won't you get hip to this timely tip:
when you make that California trip
Get your kicks on Route sixty-six.
Get your kicks on on Route sixty-six.
Get your kicks on Route sixty-six.

Zell Miller saves us from 9/11---A game of What if...?

Games of historical What if...? can be fun but their usefulness is limited since, of course, no matter how well you play, no matter how good your arguments and extrapolations are and how grounded in known facts and trends, you can't prove what an alternative future would have been like.

You can be certain that some events that did happen wouldn't have happened. But you can't be sure that events that didn't happen would have and you very likely aren't even imagining some events that would have happened instead.

We know what Lincoln was thinking he would do about the South after the War, but we can't know that if he'd said to Mary that night, "Dear, I'm just not in a mood for a comedy. Why don't we skip the theater tonight?" he'd have been able to control the direction and ultimate outcome of Reconstruction.

We know less about what Kennedy wanted to do in Vietnam, but still a good case can be made that if he had agreed to let the Secret Service put the bubbletop on the car or if Lee Harvey Oswald hadn't been the luckiest marksman in history, Kennedy would not have gotten us anywheres near as deep into Vietnam as LBJ did.

But could Kennedy have gotten the Civil Rights Act passed?

Another good game of What if...? there.

What if...? games are most useful for forcing attention on the past and the things we do know that happened and for illuminating facts about the historical characters involved.

A game of "What if Oswald had missed?" can tell us a lot of things about the differences between Kennedy and Johnson, about the state of our involvement in Southeast Asia as of Novemeber 22, 1963, and about the progress of the Civil Rights movment as of the same date.


What if Al Gore had been President on 9/11?

My knee-jerk answer, which I'm prepared to defend all day, is that September 11, 2001 would not be a red-letter date in history.

Should probably devote a whole post to that one, but: Given Gore's personal involvement and interest in the counterterrorism planning going on under Clinton, and given the fact that Al Gore is a far more detail-oriented, hands-on type of guy than George Bush (not to mention more conscientious and smarter), had he been given a memo like the one Bush was handed on August 6, 2001, Gore's reaction would not have been to yawn and continue with his vacation.

He'd have gotten such a memo well before Bush did too. There'd have been no Operation Ignore. Gore wouldn't have run Richard Clarke out of his administration. So he'd have had even more time to react.

Would President Gore's people, his FBI and CIA and counterterrorism units, been able to track down and capture the terrorists before they could hijack those planes?

Odds would have been in their favor, but we can't know that one.

We do know that it wouldn't have taken much to prevent the hijackings whether or not the terrorists were captured first.

Ordering cockpit doors locked, warning airports to step up their security and then making sure they followed up, putting air marshals aboard as many planes as possible and then making a general announcement that there were air marshalls at work---simple steps that almost certainly would have caused bin Laden to change his plans. It just required the President to take the threat seriously. *

Would President Gore have been able to prevent any terrorist attack on US soil? That's another game. What if bin Laden had felt he had to change his plans?

But there's another What if...? game set up here. Because the What if Gore had been President that day? game assumes that he could have been. There was no chance Barry Goldwater would have been President in 1965 to esclate the war in Vietnam. But Nixon could have been President in 1962 when Khruschev was thinking of putting those missles in Cuba, if Richard Daley hadn't come through for Kennedy in Chicago in 1960.

Al Gore could have been President in September 2001, because he was elected.

The What if...? game I'm thinking of is What if Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy had had more backbone or Sandra Day O'Connor had valued principle over partisanhsip? (No point in asking that question about Scalia, Thomas, and Rehnquist.) Now this one is another post: The Republicans would still have put up obstacles to Gore taking office and they might have kept him out of the White House because they wouldn't have accepted the outcome of any Florida recount that showed Gore the winner and they would have been able to cast doubt on the results because Gore's margin of victory would have been extremely slight and they had the votes in the Senate to possibly deny certification of the Electoral College vote.

The only way there would not have been a fight is if Gore had won two more states than he needed and if his popular vote victory had been larger, say by at least another half million votes.

That could have happened, I think, if Gore had decided to do two things differently at the beginning of his campaign.

One is that he hadn't distanced himself from the most popular Democratic President since FDR.

The best reason most Americans had for voting for Al Gore was that he would continue Bill Clinton's policies, and Gore himself made the case that he wouldn't by refusing to let Clinton campaign for him and by picking as his running mate the one Democratic Senator who had publically come out against Clinton during the Impeachment Crisis.

Lieberman didn't out and out call for Clinton to resign, but he might as well have, and his speech on the Senate floor chastizing Clinton emboldened the Republicans and gave them "bipartisan" cover for their attempted coup.

The second thing Gore could have done that would have helped him would have been to choose a Southerner as his VP. Lieberman was the wrong choice for two different although related reasons.

But that's another What if...? game.

What if Gore hadn't picked Lieberman?

Who would he have picked? Who should he have picked instead?

Scott Lemieux has a post at Lawyers, Guns and Money in which he rolls his eyes in dismay at James Carville's joining in with other Media Insider types to make the alternative universe argument that Tuesday's win for the Democrats was a victory for the Republican Lite-style faux-conservativism of the Democratic Leadership Council.

Scott can't believe anybody's still taking Carville seriously and he's dug up a quote from Carville from 2000 to prove that Carville is in a habit of giving Democrats really bad advice.

By choosing former Georgia governor Zell Miller as his running mate, Al Gore could add intellectual brainpower, rhetorical firepower, and lots of plain old populist piss-and-vinegar to this staid election.

Zell Miller, you ask? Red-faced, bulging veins, screaming like a lunatic in front of the Republican Convention in 2004, denouncing his fellow Democrats as cowards and traitors, and endorsing George Bush for President Zell Miller?


Scott asks, "Can someone remind me why I'm supposed to care about James Carville's views of Democratic strategy in 2006 again?"

An interesting discussion has developed in Scott's comments thread in which several people, including yours truly, make the case that Carville's championing Miller wasn't as crazy on the face of it in 2000 as it appears in hindsight now.

See particularly the comment from Gary Farber.

The question is whether you think that Carville could have known what Miller would become. Scott says yes, and Carville's misjudgment of Miller is evidence Carville hasn't known what he's talking about in a long time. (By the way, I agree with Scott on Carville's general uselessness, just not because of what he said about Miller.) But one of Scott's commenters, bemused, left a link to this review by Ed Kilgore of Miller's autobiography and Kilgore makes the case that Miller wasn't like Lieberman, a bad seed waiting for the right moment to turn on his party; Miller was a loyal Democrat, progressive by Georgia standards, and in many other ways exactly as good a choice for Gore as Carville suggested.

But, says Kilgore, Miller was driven off his rocker by the culture of the Senate to which he was appointed in 1999. Miller hated the clubby, elitist, cynical morals and mores of the insiders, but he made the mistake of thinking that because his fellow Democrats in the Senate acted that way, those morals and mores were Democratic. It apparently didn't occur to him that the Republican insiders were part of the same culture and they weren't about to tell him otherwise.

Because the Republicans were willing to join with Miller in his criticism of the Democrats, Miller assumed that meant they were on his side, which he believed to be the side of truth, justice, and the American way.

I don't know.

It always looked to me as though Miller's another formerly reasonable and decent person driven mad by 9/11. Kilgore's review suggests that Miller's big break with the Democrats came in 2002 and it was over issues of national security.

So... What if Al Gore had listened to James Carville in 2000?

I'm convinced that Al Gore would have become President.

Keep in mind that I don't think Miller would have been the best choice for Gore in 2000---that would have been Florida's Bob Graham---but in 2000 Miller was a former two-term governor of Georgia with a history of being a Clinton-style conservative-progressive. He was close to Clinton and had campaigned hard for him in 1992. He was and, at least in his own mind still is, the loyalist of Democrats. Of Dan Quayle he once remarked, "Not all of us can be born rich, handsome, and lucky, and that's why we have a Democratic Party."

Miller would have helped counter the (Media Insiders-created and promoted) impression that Gore was simply a pure product of the elitist Washington Establishment, a typical Northeastern Liberal who happened to have a Tennesse driver's license, an image that Lieberman's presence on the ticket reinforced.

And not only would having Miller on his tickent not have been an implicit criticism of Clinton, Miller would likely have counseled Gore to accept Bill's help on the campaign trail.

Lieberman was supposed to help Gore with the Jewish vote in Florida. But Miller would have helped him with the Southern vote in Florida.

And Miller would not have sat there like a lox in his debate with Dick Cheney.

And if the election still came down to Florida and the results were still that close and a recount fight took place, Miller would not have been the voice for timidity, over-caution, and a too early graceful acceptence of defeat that Lieberman was. Lieberman's future of appeasing Republicans---his strategy of premature surrender with a big smile, his apparent belief that it is more important to be liked by your political opponents than to defeat them---was predicted in his advice to Gore during the recount fights.

Gore wanted to appear to be the grown-up statesman, the champion of fair play, but the Media was covering the recounts as a sporting event and accepting the idea that the team that most wanted to win was the team that deserved to win.

The more combative Miller would have pushed Gore to be more combative himself.

So, with Miller on the ticket, Gore becomes President. Which means no 9/11 and no War in Iraq.

Incidental to that, Zell Miller doesn't go nuts.

There were signs that Miller was sliding rightward in the late 90s, but if Kilgore's right about why Miller flipped, then Miller would not have been a Senator long enough to have been driven nuts by the Senate's elitism, as the Senate's presiding officer he wouldn't have gotten as chummy with Republicans, in fact as Al Gore's Vice-President he wouldn't have had much time to spend there and he'd have mostly seen Republicans at a remove and as the opponents of all President Gore and he were trying to accomplish, which would have included Gore's anti-terrorist agenda---in Senator Miller's eyes, it was his fellow Democrats who were weak and dithering on issues of national security; in Vice President Miller's eyes it would have been the Republicans who weren't taking terrorism seriously.

My game has to stop sometime before 2004. I don't know if Gore would have been re-elected. I know he'd have been a better President than George W. Bush, but I don't know if he'd have been a better President than Jimmy Carter. I don't know what issues would have dominated the debate if September 11, 2001 had come and gone like any other day.

There are some things I'm certain would be the case had President Gore been in the middle of his second term right now and the Democrats controlled Congress, which they very likely would have retaken incrementally with gains in 2002 and 2004, though possibly losing some ground in 2006, as sitting Presidents have usually done in lame duck midterm elections.

One is, with no war in Iraq, no Right Wing appointments to the Supreme Court to "compromise" over, no chance in hell that the bankruptcy bill would have been signed into law, none of us would be worrying about what games the recently re-elected (in a landslide) Senator from Connecticut would be playing that might jeopardize the Democrats' slim majority in the Senate, which doesn't mean he wouldn't be playing those games. (What if Joe Lieberman had not had to serve the last five years with a Republican majority in the Senate and a Republican President to polish apples for?)

Another is, James Carville would still be on TV telling the Democrats that their best bet for accomplishing anything would be to do exactly as he and Bill Clinton did in 1992 and Scott Lemieux would still have good reason to shake his head in dismay.

* Link to Dan Froomkin thanks to Tom Bozzo at Marginal Utility.

For a reason why I like Bob Graham and wish Gore or Kerry had chosen him as his running mate, see this op-ed piece by Graham in the Washington Post.