Let me say publicly that DonBoy’s answer exudes a combination of intuitive genius and confidence that make me think DonBoy is going to do big things in his life. -- Steven D. Levitt (Freakonomics blog)
Saturday, May 29, 2004
Friendly Fire

It turns out that Pat Tillman was likely killed by friendly fire. Being wounded or killed by the weaponry of your own side is one of the hazards of wartime, and a certain number of these incidents are going to happen in any war. It takes nothing away from someone's bravery to point out that his death was a battlefield accident.

Now, can we get the right to admit the same thing about Max Cleland, whose injuries came from a live grenade that some other American soldier mistakenly dropped?
Friday, May 28, 2004
Search query facts

All that stuff from a couple of weeks ago is true: of all my referring search queries, the N*ick B*rg video is by far the thing that has brought the most traffic here, because of my brief remark here.
Not-really-subliminal advertising

Wait, what's the casino resort Foxwoods selling again?
MASHANTUCKET, Conn. (AP) Gambling is still king at the Foxwoods Resort Casino, but the Mashantucket Pequot tribe's business is pushing into new markets with a $300 million makeover featuring corporate golf, spa treatments and family entertainment.

"It is more than a loose slot machine and a fast cocktail server," Robert D. Sheldon, Foxwoods' chief operating officer, told The Hartford Courant. "We want to give people different opportunities to spend their money."

Thursday, May 27, 2004
Monsters in a Box

The Monster Legacy saga reaches its end, as the replacement set contained a working version of the one disc that was bad. In spot-checking the new one, I was reminded that, as Joe Bob Briggs would say, in many ways they were making the same movie again and again:

Frankenstein:Bride Of Frankenstein:
Son Of Frankenstein:Ghost Of Frankenstein:
House Of Frankenstein:Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man:
Young Frankenstein:

Oops. Sorry, that last one just crept in. But I also discovered that Mel Brooks was being more specific than I had realized:

Son Of Frankenstein:Young Frankenstein:

Sunday, May 23, 2004
Katherine Harris' Petard

This one's a couple of weeks old, but too good to pass up: Katherine Harris forgot to sign her absentee ballot. (Seen at Avedon Carol but re-pointed to a Real American source.)
Friday, May 21, 2004
Failure of Imagination on the Anti-Iraq-War side

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. intelligence officials on Friday said Ahmed Chalabi, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council with ties to senior Pentagon officials, gave intelligence secrets to Iran so closely held in the U.S. government that only "a handful" of senior officials know them.

They also said there is evidence Chalabi met with a senior Iranian intelligence official described as a "nefarious figure" who has played a direct role in activities against the United States. This information was first reported on CBS News.
And according to Josh Marshall,
Much of the charges we're seeing here have been out there for some time, though not with quite the specifics or with such gravity.
I'm not interested right now in the truth of this, but in the potential anti-war strategy that is, in retrospect of course, blindingly obvious: Since Iran, which we also hate, is Iraq's biggest neighborhood enemy, a possible -- but unprincipled -- propaganda strategy a year and a half ago would have been to ask the pro-war faction, "Why are you intent on doing Iran a favor by overthrowing Saddam Hussein?" I don't remember anyone trying this out. But it's exactly the kind of irrelevant smear* that the pro-wars have been flinging around for a couple of years now, and if the tables had been turned I now wonder if they wouldn't have come up with it. So should I be glad nobody on the anti-war side was scummy enough to go for it, or disappointed in the lack of savvy?

*Unless Chalabi really was spying for Iran, in which case it's a relevant smear.
Monsters on the Loose

Since the previous plug, the Legacy Horror set has come and has been examined. Much to my amazement -- since Amazon's page said nothing about this -- the 3-pack is packaged with this:

On the downside, one of 6 discs was damaged, and Amazon can only handle that by exchanging the whole set. Fortunately, they cross-ship, so with luck I should be able to assemble a complete working set and send back the rest. The Amazon page is filled with such quality complaints, by the way, which started rolling in after I had placed my order. I'm hoping that the next set I get might be from a different run -- and after all, I just need one of the 6 discs replaced.

Each of the 3 sets contains 2 DVDs, of which one is the main movie, double-layer, and the other a double-sided disc, each side being a double-layer disc itself. That means -- not that I would consider such a thing -- it would take 18 single-layer DVDRs to back it all up. Each of the 3 main movies has a full-length commentary track. I don't see the compression artifacts that some complained about on the Amazon page (but I'm no golden-eyes); as to print quality, it seems to vary from shot to shot. I notice a pattern of damaged outdoor (stock?) footage followed by clean studio shots.

Amazon's price has, I think, varied in the last couple of weeks, but I'm seeing it at $55.99 again right now.
Monday, May 17, 2004

Josh Marshall points us to this Rumsfeld-spokesman denial of the most recent Hersh story in The New Yorker:
Assertions apparently being made in the latest New Yorker article on Abu Ghraib and the abuse of Iraqi detainees are outlandish, conspiratorial, and filled with error and anonymous conjecture.
I especially like that "apparently". Considering how long it took him to get through the Taguba report, I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that Rumsfeld is now denying assertions without knowing what they are.
We and They

From the last episode of the The Practice, of all places, where David E. Kelley has been getting more and more gratuitously anti-Bush, comes this new take on things, put in the mouth of the prosecutor played by Kate Hudson [paraphrased]:
My husband is a diehard Republican. He was all in favor of the Iraq war: he said, "We have to defend freedom". When the WMD didn't turn up, he complained, "How could they have been so wrong about that?" In victory, we; in defeat, they.
That's the dynamic that we need: once the Bush administration becomes they, people will be willing to toss them over the side.
Sunday, May 16, 2004
Separated at Birth

(No points for originality of title.)

John McCainMike Myers

Tuesday, May 11, 2004
Military euphemism from the other side

Today the video of Nick Berg being beheaded was posted. Note this from an AP account earlier in the day:
Berg's body, with signs of trauma, was found Saturday, the military said.
That's what they said before the video. In military PR speak, "signs of trauma" includes having your head removed from your body.

Bear this in mind the next time you hear about collateral damage, surgical strikes, and the like.

(Yes, they are, among other things, being considerate of the guy's family; but that's not why they're experienced at the vocabulary.)

Sunday, May 09, 2004
If it's on the Internet, it must be true

I was going to write something about the Dick Van Dyke Show reunion special (Tuesday at 9 ET, CBS) but got sidetracked when my research turned up this article at PBS's web site (in connection with their production of The Gin Game featuring both DVD and MTM):
What also defined The Dick Van Dyke Show was the sparkling chemistry between its lead actors. As his alter ego, Reiner cast a musical comedy star who left a successful Broadway run of The Music Man to try his hand, again, as a prime-time leading man. (Van Dyke had headlined several TV shows that fizzled despite his talent and fame.) To match Van Dyke's cheerful, loose-limbed style, the show's producers searched for a compatible leading woman. Mary Tyler Moore, just 23 when she won the role of Laura Petrie, had little experience in TV comedy; her most noted small screen role was the unseen (but for her fabulous legs) secretary to David Janssen's Richard Diamond on The Fugitive.
Ahem. For "The Music Man" read "Bye Bye Birdie"; for "The Fugitive" read ""Richard Diamond, Private Detective". For "PBS" read "Network you shouldn't trust for research on pop culture".
Wednesday, May 05, 2004
Pakistani Fact of the Day

From the Washington Post's Op-Ed on Pakistan:
But one of the major reasons that democracy has been weak in Pakistan is that, in its 56 years of independence, not one elected government has been allowed to finish a full term.

Monday, May 03, 2004
Legal Strategy for ABC against Uri Geller

ABC's 20/20 is doing a reality-show bit where 5 couples compete to see who gets to adopt a particular baby. Fake Psychic Uri Geller claims the idea is his and that he's patented it:
Geller claims the ABC 20/20 show is an exact rip-off of his yet-to-be published novel "Nobody's Child" which follows a reality TV game show where five couples compete to win a baby.

"I'm outraged and angry. I can't believe that such a show will go on," he told Reuters.

The Israeli-born spoon bender, who now lives in Britain, began his book in 2001, publishing chapters weekly on a subscription Internet Web site. It has not yet been printed.
I'm imagining the cross-examination:

ABC: So, Mr. Geller, you're a psychic?
Geller: I knew you were going to ask me that.
ABC: Yes, very droll. So, with your psychic powers, how do we know you didn't just read our producers' mind and steal their ideas?
Geller: Uh...I got the idea in 2001. I can prove I wrote it down on that web site.
ABC: OK, so you stole the idea from the future.
Geller: That's ridiculous.
ABC: You've worked as a psychic geologist, right? How much harder can it be to read people's minds from the future?
Geller: You mean, "from the past". I would be in the past and their minds would be in the, I mean --
ABC: No more questions.

[Inspired by Kurt Busiek's Astro City, where a lawyer recently used a similar defense strategy.]

UPDATE: Jason Snell at seems to have a claim of prior art, as well.
Sunday, May 02, 2004
Teaching One's Grandmother to Suck Eggs

Roger Ebert is a movie-reviewing celebrity and a Pulitzer Prize winner. It would be stupid of me to tell him how to do his job.

And yet.

In his review of Mean Girls, we find, first, this paragraph:
"Mean Girls" dissects high school society with a lot of observant detail, which seems surprisingly well-informed. The screenplay by "Saturday Night Live's" Tina Fey is both a comic and a sociological achievement, and no wonder; it's inspired not on a novel but on a nonfiction book by Rosalind Wiseman. Its full title more or less summarizes the movie: Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence. The mothers in the movie are not much help, however, and Fey's screenplay wisely uses comedy as a learning tool.
This is more than we usually hear in any film review about the screenplay as such. And yet, even with that fresh in his mind, this follows almost immediately:
The movie was directed by Mark S. Waters, who also made "Freaky Friday" (2003), a superior remake, and emerged from Sundance 1997 with "The House of Yes," an uneven but intriguing dark comedy with Parker Posey convinced she was Jackie Onassis.

Here he [my emphasis] avoids amazing numbers of cliches that most teenage comedies cannot do without. When Cady throws a party while her parents are out of town, for example, a lot of uninvited guests do crash, yes, but amazingly they do not trash the house. Although Principal Duvall lectures the student body about a pushing-and-shoving spree, he does not cancel the prom ("We've already hired the deejay"). When Cady gets a crush on Aaron (Jonathan Bennett), who sits in front of her in math class, she deals with it in a reasonable way that does not involve heartbreak. When there are misunderstandings, they're understandable and not awkward contrivances manufactured for the convenience of the plot.
All three of these points are writer's points, not a director's contrivance. Too many people already think that film come solely from directors -- that's the literal meaning of auteur theory, after all. I know Roger Ebert knows better; I don't know why he wrote as if he doesn't.
Saturday, May 01, 2004
Value for your monster dollar

Universal has released one DVD set each of Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man. They're being billed as "the movies that inspired Van Helsing", but that's just silly marketing opportunism. No, the thing you really should know is that each of these sets actually has either 3 or 4 other Universal horror movies on it.

Dracula also contains Dracula's Daughter, Son Of Dracula, House of Dracula, and a Spanish-language version of Dracula made with a completely different cast, on the same sets as the Bela Lugosi version, shortly after that one wrapped.

Frankenstein also contains Bride of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, Ghost of Frankenstein, and House of Frankenstein.

The Wolf Man also contains Werewolf of London, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, and She-Wolf of London.

This is really an amazing value. Each set is listed at $27 and I've seen them in stores for as little as $20. The 3 sets together contain all of the core movies of the loosely defined "Universal Horror Cycle", with the exception of Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein -- which is supposedly "in continuity" as it features Lugosi, Wolf Man Lon Cheney Jr., and mainstay non-Boris-Karloff Frankenstein monster Glenn Strange. (Daughter of Dracula, Werewolf of London, and She-Wolf of London are outside of this continuity.)

And as a final incentive, you can get all 3 sets together for $56 at Amazon here. That's 13 (ooooooo....) movies for $4.31 each, not even counting the Spanish Dracula.

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