Category Archives: Popular culture

DeMarco: Anderson, I’d Like Conservative Backlash for $1600

The Op-Ed Page

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Editor’s note: What, Paul again already! Well, yeah. He actually sent me this one before I’d actually posted the one on the statues. I didn’t read this one until after I’d done that. I should have posted this one first, because it’s more perishable. The statue one was pretty evergreen. Oh, well. I’m making up for it by going ahead and posting this now.

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

And the answer is: the Daily Double! It was bound to happen; now even “Jeopardy!,” perhaps the least offensive television show on the market (in a tie with “Bubble Guppies”) is in the crosshairs of our ever-expanding culture wars.

At the beginning of the show that aired April 27, three-day champion Kelly Donohue did something heinous. He (get ready) held up three fingers and tapped his chest. Scandalous. In the usually awkward opening montage, most contestants stare directly into the camera with a stale smile as they are introduced. Donohue did a little business after each of his three wins, holding up one, then two, then three fingers on successive nights. (I know, can you believe this guy?)

The position of his hand (commonly known as the “OK” sign) has until recently had positive connotations. In 2017, some white supremacists began using the gesture as a white power symbol – the three extended fingers are the “W” and the middle finger plus the index finger/thumb circle are the “P.” It would be interesting to know how widely known the malevolent interpretation of the “OK” symbol is. I suspect it would be less than the majority. I first learned about it in December 2019, when several Naval Academy midshipmen and West Point cadets were falsely accused of flashing the sign during ESPN’s broadcast of the Army-Navy football game (turns out they were playing the circle game).

In response to Donohue’s gesture, a harshly critical letter was posted the next day (the next day!) on Medium that has now been signed by almost 600 former “Jeopardy!” contestants. I have reprinted parts of the letter with my comments in italics. It reads in part, “(His) gesture was not a clear-cut symbol for the number three (only if you wanted to see something different)… This, whether intentional or not (your intent, no matter how benign, matters less than my thin-skinned interpretation), resembled very closely a gesture that has been coopted by white power groups… People of color, religious minorities, and other marginalized groups already live in a United States and a Canada that have structural and institutional racism, sexism, antisemitism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia embedded into their history and function (you have mistaken his gesture for a white power symbol. But don’t miss a chance to connect him with multiple OTHER forms of discrimination)… These people deal with microaggressions nearly every day of their lives (So let’s fight a perceived microaggression with an 1,176-word macroaggression to make ourselves feel superior)… We cannot stand up for hate… Is the production team of Jeopardy! prepared for… the backlash and ramifications should one of those moments ever become tied to real-world violence? (I’m envisioning an army of white supremacists hitting the books so they too can qualify for “Jeopardy!” and influence the masses with coded symbols. And when you play the tape backwards, you can faintly hear the “14 Words.”)… We would like to know whether a sensitivity and diversity auditor is involved in the show’s writing (Sigh…).”

Listen my “Jeopardy!” friends, I’m on your team. America is engaging in a long-awaited racial reckoning. So much good is happening. Faces long ignored are being seen and celebrated; voices long silenced are being amplified and uplifted. Black women and men are finally coming to center stage, to full citizenship. It is, in my view, an unequivocally marvelous development. I am nothing but grateful for and supportive of honoring the achievements of people of color as well as an unflinching look at our history and the obligations that history engenders.

But many white Americans are not yet comfortable with this new consciousness. They want to marginalize the participants in this movement as a “woke leftist mob.” My sense as a white ally is that most people, black and white, who support the new Civil Rights movement are even-tempered and sensible. But the untethered assumptions, anger, and lack of charity conveyed in this letter do not reflect well on them and do not help our effort.

If you, “Jeopardy!” letter writers, were concerned about Donohue’s gesture, why not just reach out to him quietly and personally. His story is certainly believable. He was making the number “3” with his fingers after having made “1” and “2” on previous days. He has the zeitgeist on his side; the iPhone still includes an “OK” hand emoji. It takes a conspiratorial mind to assume that his motive for appearing on “Jeopardy!” was to win three games and flash a white power symbol.

We who want to advance racial justice should understand that it’s a hearts-and-minds effort. Think of how much more effective you would have been if you had reached out to Donohue and he had written a Facebook post beginning “It’s been pointed out to me that….” What if he didn’t say anything? Then you don’t say anything. You let this one go, because an objective observer would tell you he didn’t mean anything by it.

We would do well to exercise a little restraint. If you want to be a civil rights advocate, pattern yourself after the young John Lewis. He and other students underwent rigorous training in non-violence to prepare for lunch counter sit-ins. They knew they were right so they sat down and said nothing. That silence was more important than anything they could have spoken.

Remaining silent is, of course, not always the most effective option. We must speak when real injustice is being done. But you are playing a self-righteous game of “Gotcha,” and hurting our cause.

Your letter has convinced no one to come over to the movement. You have only given fodder to the conservative media outlets such as Fox and the Wall Street Journal to rightly lampoon you. The WSJ’s May 2 editorial defending Donohue and castigating your “manic search for racial guilt” is entitled “Jeopardy: Mass Hysteria for $2,000.” Hey, you say, you plagiarized your headline from them. Nope, as Brad is my witness, I titled my piece the day before the WSJ piece. The response to this kind of foolishness is deservedly predictable.

More dishearteningly, you have alienated some of those who were leaning our way. You have humiliated Donohue, who based on his Facebook post was an ally. Cudgeling Donohue has no effect on true racists. They are usually unreachable. Ignore them. Focus on the fair-minded who are feeling threatened but could be convinced that America still has much work to do before we reach the Promised Land.

Our fair-minded opponents must be respected and not treated as enemies. When they see you treating an ally in this manner, they have no reason to come over to our side.

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It’s the EM-50 — the Urban Assault Vehicle!

And remember what Sgt. Hulka said: "this ain't no glamour detail we're on."

And remember what Sgt. Hulka said: “this ain’t no glamour detail we’re on.”

In a recent comment, Bob Amundson promised to send me a picture of his new Urban Assault Vehicle, a la “Stripes.”

True to his word, he did, and here’s what he had to say about it:

I’ve been meaning to email you since you posted with a mention of the movie Stripes. Attached is a photo of a REAL EM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle, which I own. The FMC Motorhome has an interesting lineage; FMC is the acronym for Food Machinery Corporation. FMC started in 1883, kept adding mechanized products, and eventually started producing amphibious vehicles for the military. During a lull in its military vehicle contracts as the Vietnam War ended, FMC turned its sights towards recreational vehicles; FMC coaches were manufactured from 1973-1976. The well-made and pricey coaches that sold for between $27,000 and $54,500 (about the same price as an average home of that era) were popular among upscale Motorhome buyers, including race car drivers Mario Andretti and Parnelli Jones; and entertainers Clint Eastwood, Carol Burnett, Pat Boone and James Brolin. But the most famous FMC owner was CBS reporter Charles Kuralt, host of the popular news feature On the Road With Charles Kuralt. By 1975, FMC had a contract to produce the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, and in September 1976 converted all tooling in its factory to the manufacture of tanks. The final tally for the FMC was slightly more than 1,000 units; there is believed to be 7-800 units still out there.

Ours is a 1975 – it is built like a military vehicle, especially the 4 wheel independent suspension and 440 turbocharged MOPAR engine. This vehicle actually has a bullet hole in it – the story is that the vehicle was confiscated at the US-Canadian Border after a gun battle between Border Police and Drug Runners. It has a fiberglass body, so for it’s size, it is relatively light. I am going to make it into an Urban Assault Vehicle; “wrapping” the fiberglass body to mimic the Stripes UAV. Throw in a few machine guns, probably a rocket launcher. We will completely renovate the interior – state of the art, top of the line, small, efficient. Once that is done, wife Joan and I will take a trip. Maybe TV? Marketing will lead to renting the UAV – I just need to figure out how much I can charge!

The ”REAL” EM-50 UAV was a GMC Motorhome, and about 36,000 of those we made. I think my find is cooler, and I found it less than a mile from our RV Park. Another time I’ll tell you about the classic 1965 Airstream Travel Trailer I bought from the Park’s neighbor. It has a “GRIMM” story.

Heal soon!

So it’s almost ready to roll, and as I look around at you people, I’m thinking, “These are exactly the kind of go-getters I want working on my EM-50 project in Italy!”

Is anyone actually watching the Oscars tonight? If so, why?

Why don't I watch the Oscars? Because this.

Why don’t I watch the Oscars? Because this.

I know that the awards show is on, because I’ve seen signs of it on social media. Also I’ve been reading about the Oscars in various newspapers for the past week, and that’s always a warning sign.

I used to love the Oscars, but I haven’t followed them in more than 20 years. I think it was 1998 when they gave the best picture statuette to “Shakespeare in Love.” That was an amusing, fun little light entertainment. But to choose that over such a masterpiece as “Saving Private Ryan,” or such a jewel as “Life is Beautiful,” was obscene. (The other nominees were junk, so I don’t care about them.)

Everything that is wrong about the Academy Awards was brought out on that night, particularly Hollywood’s absorption with itself. Hey, a fun movie about actors! Bound to win, right? That Harvey Weinstein had something to do with this travesty, of course, makes it much worse.

I wrote a column about it at the time which I’ve not finding a link to. But here’s a blog post where I summarized my indignation. (I think I’ve moaned about it several times here, but that was the first such instance I found.)

Perhaps you feel differently. Perhaps you actually care who won what in this year that no one went to the movies. Perhaps you’d like to share your views. And maybe you can help restore some of the enthusiasm I once had for these events.

Probably not, but please give it a shot. I’d like to be able to enjoy this stuff again…

‘Any a you sumbitches calls me grandpa…’

grandpa

My wife cut my hair last night, and we decided on something new — instead of using a No. 7 guard on the top and a 4 on the sides, we went with 4 all over. A lot of white hair fell, I can tell you. This is probably the shortest my hair has ever been, at least since the Beatles came to America in 1964.

Afterwards, regarding myself in the mirror before showering, I thought I looked familiar.sam as sgt maj

Oh, yeah… Sam Elliott in “We Were Soldiers.” Except his hair was a bit longer than mine — the damn’ hippy…

By the way, unlike the sergeant major, I have no problem with being referred to as a grandfather. And I won’t kill anybody over it. I actually think being a grandfather is pretty great. That was just the first quote that came to mind. It’s at 1:20 on the clip below.

Just don’t try to tell me what a nice day we’re having.

Anybody notice that that bit of dialogue seems ripped off from “Stripes?” Never mind. If the sergeant major ever actually said it, he did it long before “Stripes.” And he had every right to. I wouldn’t have argued with him…

Top Five Fictional Detectives

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– “Who is your favourite person from history?”
– “Sherlock Holmes.”
– “Well, he’s fictional.”
– “Whoa! I think you’d better check your facts there. Fictional? Who took care of the business with the giant dog that was eating everybody? It wasn’t Watson. Don’t tell me, I suppose he was fictional too? Maybe there was no giant dog….”

— The IT Crowd

I was kind of excited, initially, about the interactive feature I found Sunday on my Washington Post app.

The headline was “Pick the best fictional detective,” and it was presented in an interactive graphic meant to evoke the NCAA tournament “brackets” that everyone (even I, despite my lack of enthusiasm for sports) filled out mere days ago.

So, you know, if you enjoy both mysteries and sports, it was extra fun. A cool idea.

But this is no proper way to figure out even who you, yourself, think are the best detectives, much less who the best actually are. (For instance, say two of your five best detectives face each other in the first round — that means one of your top five gumshoes won’t even make the top 32, assuming you’re starting with 64. That’s not right. No way it’s right. It’s a false system of selection. With basketball, it works. Not with detectives.) Another problem is that too few of my fave detectives were even on the bracket in the first round.

The only professional, scientific way to determine the top dicks is to draft an actual Top Five list, and then argue about it with everybody. Stands to reason. The immemorial custom of the blog, and so forth…

Coming up, I was never a big fan of mysteries. I wasn’t an Agatha Christie enthusiast. Nor was I into Conan Doyle, even though I always enjoyed the Basil Rathbone movies. I just wasn’t that much of an admirer of formulaic fiction. Just as I’m not big into blues, or reggae. To me, the songs just sound too much alike. One is fine, but not a whole album. I mean, you know, a blues progression is a blues progression.

Even with Edgar Allen Poe — I preferred the horror stories to “The Purloined Letter.” I got into Poe when I was about 10, and we 5th-graders shared the stories to chill each other’s blood. And “she was buried alive!” does that way better than “the letter was in plain sight!”

But then, things happened. I started reading books that broke the mold, such as Martin Cruz Smith’s wonderfully original thriller Gorky Park and Len Deighton’s alternative history novel SS-GB. And you know what a le Carre fan I am. Well, his first books about George Smiley cast him as a Christiesque amateur solver of mysteries.

And then, along came streaming, and my wife and I got hooked on a range of British murder mysteries and police procedurals. And entirely new forms, such as Nordic noir, and, believe it or not, Welsh noir.

Anyway, here’s the list. I’m sure I’m leaving out somebody awesome, but let’s get the party started:

  1. Arkady Renko — The only Russian in the bunch — almost the only non-Brit, come to think of it — he just blew the doors off the genre when he arrived in Gorky Park, and kept it up over the next few novels. I love a book that puts you in an unfamiliar place and makes it real, and that novel made you feel you were actually in the middle of the Soviet criminal-justice system in the middle of the Cold War — even though Martin Cruz Smith had never been there (just as Patrick O’Brien had never been aboard a Royal Navy frigate during the Napoleonic Wars, but he could absolutely put a reader there). I also think highly of Renko’s American counterpart in the novel, William Kirwill, but it would be cheating to put him on the list, too. Just please don’t picture William Hurt from the movie when you think of Renko. That was a horrendous instance of miscasting. For Renko, you need a Daniel Day-Lewis, to invoke my last Top Five list. He would have been perfect, when he was about 35. Kirwill, however, was perfectly cast — when I was reading the book long before the movie, I was sort of picturing Brian Dennehy.
  2. Sergeant Gerry Boyle — OK, I don’t understand the Irish Garda system all that well, so I’m not sure that Boyle technically is a “detective.” But he’s a good copper, anyway. And again, I’ve got my last Top Five list on my mind, because this was the wonderful, deeply flawed character brought to life by  Brendan Gleeson in “The Guard.” The other night, I watched a few minutes of “48 Hours” — which frankly is about as much of the film as I ever could stand. Anyway, you know the rumpled, interesting character Nick Nolte is trying to play? Gleeson does it right in “The Guard.”
  3. Detective Chief Inspector Gill Murray — The cop show we’re currently obsessed with is “Scott & Bailey,” but I couldn’t choose between Rachel and Janet. Of the two, of course, Janet is the grownup (usually), but I still didn’t want to choose. Anyway, even though she sort of gets third-place billing and isn’t even in the 5th season, Gill is far and away the best cop on the show. Possibly because the actress, Amelia Bullmore, actually wrote some of the episodes, but her character just gets smarter and smarter.
  4. Christopher Foyle — This is the star of “Foyle’s War,” a cool series in so many ways. It’s historical. It’s about WWII. It’s about how life on the home front was affected, and not in the usual way, like folks saving tin cans or whatever. Also, it’s got Honeysuckle Weeks in it, and the fact that Foyle has her as his driver should qualify him alone, if only on the basis of her awesome name.
  5. George Gently — OK, I really debated whether to put this one in the Top Five, but I’m doing it out of frustration as much as anything. It really ticked me off that Prime let us watch the first season “free,” and then cut us off. I hate that. And I’m anxious to see the rest. But he also makes the list because he’s probably the best of a type that you see so much in these productions: the world-weary old hand, filled with almost as much irony and cynicism as investigative skill — of which he has plenty. I just think he does this better than Morse, or Lewis in his modern-day iteration, or Tom Barnaby, or Foyle, or any of those guys. I also think Lee Ingleby — whom Aubrey fans will remember as Hollom in “Master and Commander” — does a great job as his troublesome young assistant.

HONORABLE MENTION (or, to be honest, the next five, because I couldn’t stop)

  • Gene Hunt — There are lot of reasons to say Gene is not a good detective, even the opposite of a good detective, and Sam Tyler mentions most of them at great length, and repetitively, on “Life on Mars.” That’s sort of Sam’s thing, other than being confused about whether he’s a time traveler or just a guy in a coma. But Gene has certain rudimentary, atavistic skills, such as fairly decent gut instinct. And awful as he is, fans of the show eventually get to enjoy Gene as a guilty pleasure. A very guilty pleasure, because he is awful. In fact, he’s so awful that I think it’s kind of a libel on the world of 1973 to say senior cops were like this and got away with it back then. But if you get picky, you won’t enjoy the show anyway. I should also add that this is kind of a Jayne Cobb thing. I call Jayne my favorite character on Firefly because as a grandfather I don’t want to admit it’s really Kaylee. In this case, for Kaylee, substitute Annie Cartwright. She does get to be a detective late in the series, but most of the time, she’s a WPC. I think this picture is of the moment when Sam asks her first name, and she says “Annie!” Which is when the viewer starts to love her.
  • John River — This is my first entrant from the world of Nordic noir. And the ways in which it qualifies as Nordic noir are confusing. It’s set in London. River is a London cop. But he’s played by a Swedish actor. Of course, what makes it noir is the tone. River, you see, talks with dead people, and they talk back. All the time. Which can be an advantage when you’re a cop, if not a fun one. Also playing a key role is Nicola Walker. She’s not a household name — I had to look it up right now — but when she pops up in any role she’s impressive. Here she is as a guest star — playing a pivotal role — on “Scott & Bailey.”
  • Jimmy Perez — This is the protagonist of “Shetland.” I went back and forth on whether to choose him or the semi-hero of the Welsh noir (it was actually originally in the Welsh language, but then released in English) “Hinterland,” Tom Mathias. Both are cops out in the boonies, trying to do a tough job under trying circumstances. Ultimately, I go with Jimmy because he’s more stable.
  • Jimmy McNulty or Bunk Moreland, you decide — I just had to get someone in from what may be the best American cop show of all time, “The Wire.” I thought I’d go with McNulty since he was kind of the star, and because his bend-the-rules detective work got the ball rolling in the first episode. But “McNutty,” as Bubbles, unquestionably the best fictional snitch ever, called him, was a screwup. So I’m offering his partner Bunk as an alternative. Of course, he could be a screwup, too. But they were great together.
  • Douglas Archer — Just to pull someone in from the weird world of alternative history. I initially read this as a Len Deighton (The Ipcress File) fan, but this kind of stands out from his other books. Archer of the Yard is a classic British detective, who in 1941 finds himself working for the SS because the Germans went ahead with their invasion of Britain, and it was successful. And because you still need to catch bad guys, right, even when you’re working for worse guys. This was a great tale — way better than weirdly similar stories like Fatherland (Detective Xavier March, a 1960s cop working in a Germany that did not lose the war, is a sort of combination of Archer and Arkady Renko). I’ve never seen the TV series, because it’s on the premium level of Hulu, and I’m just not going to pay for that. I’ll just say that the actor playing Archer doesn’t look right at all, based on photos I’ve seen.

Yeah, I know — all white guys, except for one lady-type person, and Bunk, who I know you’re already suspecting I snuck in for diversity’s sake. (But I didn’t. Bunk’s awesome.) Yeah, well…. I just couldn’t get into “Luther,” as great as Idris Elba is. Speaking of Bunk and Elba — the thing about “The Wire” is that the best characters were not the cops. In fact, by far the best character in the show was an armed robber. And Omar was not only black, but gay, if you’re keeping score. Unfortunately, this is a detectives list.

And I considered a bunch of women, and almost put Marcella on the list. She’s fascinating. But man, that series really took Nordic noir (although it was set in England) to some weird places, and we got to where we couldn’t watch anymore. And while I’m somewhat intrigued by Chloé Saint-Laurent on the French cop series “Profilage,” she’s technically not a detective, and I’ve only seen her in two episodes so far, so I don’t yet know how good she is.

And no, Jackie Brown, about whom I thought for a second, wasn’t a detective. If I were doing a Top Five Flight Attendants List, she’d be a great candidate. Along with Elaine Dickinson

Oh, but wait! Back to “The Wire”… “Beadie” Russell was awesome! And she sorta became a detective during the course of the series, right? There are just too many fictional detectives out there for me to know where to stop. If I did this again next week, my Top Five might be five completely different people…

This streaming thing is great, but not as great as it should be

There's Gene Hunt! I don't know who the woman is, though...

There’s Gene Hunt! I don’t know who the woman is, though…

What a fascinating modern age we live in.

Now, you can get almost music, movie or TV you want and experience it in seconds.

Except when you can’t.

And the times when you can’t sort of drive you nuts. Or they do me.

I mentioned one of the services I subscribe to, BritBox, in a comment on a previous post. One of the main reasons I signed up for for BritBox — which is only five or six bucks a month — was so I could watch the whole two seasons of “Life on Mars” again. Which, in the months since I signed up, I’ve already done twice. It’s also handy to have because my wife and I both enjoy British cop shows, like “Scott & Bailey” (which we’ve actually been watching on Prime, but never mind) and comedies like “Upstart Crow.”

Anyway, at some point in recent years I heard about the sequel series to “Life on Mars,” which was called “Ashes to Ashes.” Nothing I ever read about it made me want to see it very much — the plot sounds contrived in a particularly convoluted way. But then, if I’d read a description of “Life on Mars” before seeing it, I might not have known I’d enjoy it, either.

Anyway, “Ashes” has some key characters from “Mars,” such as Philip Glenister as Gene Hunt, Dean Andrews as Ray Carling, and Marshall Lancaster as Chris Skelton. It didn’t have the star from “Mars,” John Simm, but that’s fine. I’m more concerned that it doesn’t seem to have Liz White as Annie Cartwright. Her I miss.

But I’ve wanted to see it anyway, so periodically I go Googling for it. And the other day, I thought I’d hit the jackpot! Check it out: There it is, on BritBox! Sure, I’d searched for it there before without success, but there it was…

So I immediately went to the tube here in my home office, called up BritBox on the Roku, and… there it wasn’t. Every way I tried searching for it after logging into my account, on the Roku or my phone or my laptop — no, it does not come up.

Of course, I didn’t want to click on the “Try for free” button on that page, because they’d want me to create an account and I already had one. And for some reason, when I tried to “sign in” on that page, I couldn’t get in. I had to come in some other way (I forget how, but it probably involved opening a different tab).

I don’t understand it. If it used to be on BritBox, but isn’t any more, why does this page still come up?

OK, I see in the URL that this is https://www.britbox.co.uk/, whereas the login that works is on https://www.britbox.com/us/. But what difference should that make? Isn’t this the WORLDWIDE Web? Do ones and zeroes have to show a passport at national boundaries?

You wouldn’t think so. But I had a huge surprise when I was in Thailand. We were in Kanchanaburi, the home of the real-life bridge on the River Kwai, and I wanted to show my daughter the movie on Netflix, and… you couldn’t watch Netflix in Thailand. Yeah, I understand they have such oppressive barriers in Red China, but Thailand? Turns out Netflix wasn’t available just everywhere you have internet. (Although I think Thailand has it now.)

I dunno. I just want to watch the TV show. And no, I’m not going to shell out $259.99 for the DVDs to watch something in which I have a mild interest. I mean, who does that today anyway? This is 2021….

They got me sorted good and proper, but I still can't see the show...

They got me sorted good and proper, but I still can’t see the show…

Top Five Irish Actors

Lincoln

Best on the list — and I didn’t even have him pegged as Irish

I was thinking about doing a rant against Identity Politics, which I still might do if I find time today or tonight, because now that Trump’s gone, it seems to be all we can talk about (the argument over motivations in the Atlanta shooting, this business over who gets to play on girls’ teams in school, the unrelated battle over whether enough resources are committed to female sport on the college level, etc.) when there are far, far more important things we could be talking about (the deteriorating relations with China and Russia, the Biden administration’s upcoming $3 trillion spending plan — yes, that number is correct — and a host of other things that I won’t mention because this parenthetical, and the sentence of which it is a part, are both far too long now).

But that would take a long time, and I have less than zero time available for it. So I’ll go completely in the opposite direction. Earlier, I randomly ran across a picture of Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane in a Tarzan movie, and idly thought, “Whose Ma was she again?” (Mia Farrow’s, for the curious.) And I found on Wikipedia that she was listed No. 8 on a list in The Irish Times of “The 50 greatest Irish film actors of all time – in order.”

So of course I had to look at it, so I could disagree with it. And not just with the fact that it’s undisciplined to list 50 when the proper number is five.

Anyway, just choosing from this list of 50 (there could be others, but I’m not going to spend time thinking about it), here’s my five. I’ll start with my apologies for not putting Maureen O’Hara at No. 1 the way they did, or even on the list. I mean no disrespect to the lady. Here’s my list:

  1. Daniel Day-Lewis — First, I had no idea he was Irish. I thought he was a Brit. But he’s definitely the best. Interestingly, some of my favorite performances by him were as iconic American figures: Abraham Lincoln, the ultimate frontiersman Natty Bumpo, and violent nativist Bill the Butcher. They had him at No. 2, behind Ms. O’Hara, but he’s the best.
  2. Kenneth Branagh — Also would have pegged him as a Brit. He certainly impersonates one well. He can be overbearing, but the man can act. I agree with them that he was most impressive as Henry V. But they were wrong to put him way down at No. 20 on the list.
  3. Brendan Gleeson — He’s just magic in everything. If you haven’t seen it, try to find The Guard and stream it. He’s great. They had him at 18.
  4. Maria Doyle Kennedy — You may remember her as the hottest of the Commitmentettes. (Yes, I know Angeline Ball — in the center in that picture — was the prettiest, but I found Maria, whom you see to Angeline’s right as well as below, more appealing.) They had her at 46, and she deserves much better. She’d probably have been higher, except that — and this bugs me — you so seldom see her. But occasionally she’ll crop up where you don’t expect her — as Catherine of Aragon in “The Tudors” or Siobhán Sadler in “Orphan Black.”
  5. Chris O’Dowd — OK, he’s no Daniel Day-Lewis, or even particularly great at all, but I’m a huge fan of “The IT Crowd,” and I don’t think it gets enough attention, so I’m promoting him from where they put him, at 39. Mind you, if Richard Ayoade were in any way Irish, I’d have included him on my list — there’s a guy you don’t see enough, even less than Maria.

Honorable mention, with their ranks on the Times’ list:

8. Maureen O’Sullivan

9. Michael Fassbender

11. Barry Fitzgerald

24. Colm Meaney

That’s it. Back to work…

My favorite Commitmentette.

My favorite Commitmentette.

Summing up the culture of 2021, in a headline

I assure you I didn’t read this story this morning, but the headline did grab me:

emotional

That headline should go into a time capsule — if people still do time capsules (actually, why would they, when Future People should be able to check out our times, digitally, in excruciating detail, the poor creatures?).

Talk about quickly summing up the ills and obsessions of our culture in 2021: “In an emotional finale, Bachelor Matt James breaks up with the winner over racially insensitive social media posts.” Admittedly, it doesn’t get everything in, but hey, give it a break! It’s just a headline. And for a humble headline, give it credit. It works in:

  • Reality TV. I doubt Future People will understand the current American affinity for this genre — at least I hope not, because I hope they’ll be smarter than we are — but it pretty much pegs our time. Putting it in the capsule as a way of saying, “No, we can’t explain it to you, but take our word for it — people actually liked this stuff.” You know, it’ll be like pole sitting seems today — stupid and pointless, but we knew people used to do it.
  • Emotion. It’s not just a finale — so don’t miss it! — but an “emotional” finale. Which, at least on paper, makes an attempt to explain Reality TV. It says, “People like this because it appeals to their emotions.” And I suppose that’s as good as any explanation. I mean, it certainly isn’t appealing to their minds. (By the way, the one word that seems out of place here is “finale.” That seems more like something people got excited about in a previous time, before streaming. I mean, I’m supposing there was excitement when the last episode of “The West Wing” aired. But I didn’t start watching it — and watching it and watching it — until years later. Oh, and remind me in a separate post to share my indignation over the series leaving Netflix…)
  • Intrusion into things that are none of our business. I really don’t get dating as a spectator sport, but boy is it popular. I really appreciate the coverage of actual news that Jeff Bezos has invested in at this newspaper, but there’s other stuff on my app that just occupies screen space — such as a weekly feature called “Date Lab.” Really? Why do I want to know how things went on a date some strangers had? How is that any of my business? Why is a staff writer spending time on this? And what’s the appeal to readers? Hey, I’ve been there. I actually did some dating, back in the ’60s and early ’70s, and it wasn’t anything I want to relive, even vicariously. But obviously, plenty of people do. Maybe that’s the appeal: Schadenfreude. It’s other people undergoing the awkward ordeal…
  • Race. Hey, if “racially insensitive” doesn’t pull them in in 2021, nothing will. Once again, I’m being optimistic — way optimistic — but it would be nice if that makes the Future People scratch their heads, wondering what all that race stuff was about. (Yeah, I know how unrealistic that is. I foolishly thought we had that sorted out back in the ’60s, then along came Trump, etc.)
  • Cancel culture. Whatever it was that was said, it caused this guy to “break up” with the person who said it. People who attend events like CPAC love talking about that, so it’s a definite audience draw.
  • Social media. Here I go being outrageously optimistic again, but maybe in the future they’ll look back on social media the way we look upon, I don’t know, telegrams. Or carving messages on stone tablets. Or pole-sitting. Maybe they’ll be over it. I’m hoping people will not only still know how to read, but will be into Long-Form Journalism or Dostoevsky novels or whatever.

Anyway, that’s what I thought when I saw that headline. So congratulations, headline writer. You encapsulated our times as neatly as a Nashville songwriter sums up country music in a song titled, “My Woman Done Left me and Took My Dog, and I’m Drinking My Sorrows Away.” No, wait, I forgot to work my pickup truck into that…

Eleanor Roosevelt as a game show contestant

Eleanor

No, I am not making this up.

I was looking up something entirely unrelated on YouTube when it suggested this to me. Which kind of startled me.

You know, I was ragging on current TV the other day, when I encountered a new twist on the unfortunately familiar realm of Reality TV:

In case you don’t know what that is, count yourself blessed. But I was referring to this. It’s the collision of two national obsessions: Reality TV and sports. In other words, it’s a fake sport, being treated as “reality.”

But this thing I encountered today reminds me that once upon a time, game shows were occasionally interesting. And when I say “once upon a time,” I see that this installment originally aired exactly 15 days after I was born — and before most of y’all came along. So I remember “What’s My Line?,” but not this episode.

Of course, even though the host answered the panel’s first few questions — since panelist would easily have recognized the contestant’s voice — Dorothy Kilgallen figured out who it was fairly quickly.

Wow. I wonder how this appearance came about. Eleanor Roosevelt as a game show contestant? This is weirder than Bill Clinton playing the sax on Arsenio’s show

Dorothy Kilgallen

Dorothy Kilgallen

Best and Worst Comics (in The State, currently)

Not great, but not bad, either, considering this is 2021.

Not great, but not bad, either, considering this is 2021.

I hated having to add those qualifiers — (in The State, currently) — because it’s sort of lame limiting oneself to the comics in one paper at a given moment.

You find yourself leaving out legendarily good and bad comics from over the years — from “Calvin and Hobbes,” which is unquestionably the best strip in history, down to lame ones such as … I don’t know… “Snuffy Smith,” or “Kathy.” Or “the Yellow Kid,” for that matter.

Also, y’all know I believe strongly in the Nick Hornby Top Five principle, and if I limit myself to what’s in The State now, it’s hard to come up with that many, for best or worst.

But here’s the thing: These are the only comics I’ve regularly seen, for decades. I subscribe to several newspapers, but since I read them through the apps, I never see the comics — if they have comics.

So for those reasons, while I’ve wanted to compile such a list, or pair of lists, for years, I’ve repeatedly put it off. But now, I see The State is about to revamp the comics, so it’s now or never. (“The State is refreshing our comics and puzzles offerings beginning Monday,” an email ominously announced Friday.) If I’m going to pass judgment on the ones we know, it must be done now.

So, let’s start with the “best,” which is a short list, and a sad one. This is a dying art form (a subset of a dying industry), and has been for some time. At the end of 2020, there was a good piece in The Washington Post about “1995, the year that comics changed forever.” It was accompanied by another headlined, “‘Calvin and Hobbes’ said goodbye 25 years ago. Here’s why Bill Watterson’s masterwork enchants us still.” I recommend them both.

There has been nothing nearly as good on comics pages since that fateful year a quarter-century ago. The first story I mention above reminds us that Watterson ended “Calvin & Hobbes,” Gary Larson stopped doing “The Far Side,” and Berkeley Breathed, the creator of “Bloom County,” abandoned his Sunday-only “Bloom County” spinoff, “Outland” — all in that same year, 1995.

It’s one of the tragedies of the genre that they quit the way they did — although maybe that’s why we remember their work so fondly. They deliberately quit before sliding into the habitual monotony of cranking out repetitive garbage decade after decade — which regularly happened, because once a strip was established, it didn’t have to maintain any standards. Newspaper readers, back when such existed, were creatures of habit who would howl if their familiar strips disappeared.

We all would have been right to howl, though, in 1995. We’ve had an occasional chuckle since then, but not the everyday brilliance to which we were once accustomed.

Here are the best that are left, in this one paper. While they are nothing like the great stuff we once knew, these two rise far above the best:

  1. “Overboard.” It was launched in 1990, and we started running it in The State almost right away. I remember Jim Foster, then the features editor, bringing proofs of it for me to see. I was delighted — while they weren’t “Calvin and Hobbes,” they were really good. I have tried many times to Google my favorite from that era, without luck. It went like this: Two of the pirates are standing by their ship’s rail. I think one is drinking coffee. Otherwise, they’re doing nothing, which is fairly standard with these guys. Another pirate comes and stands on the rail, preparing to swim. He asks the first two whether those are shark fins or dolphin fins down there. One of them says, “Dolphin,” and the swimmer dives in. The pirate who said “dolphin” turns to the other and says, “Like we’re ichthyologists or something….” Now I’m not saying this strip is still as good as it was. (OK, so maybe you needed to see it.) But it still stands out, even though it has resorted to one of the oldest shifts in the book: moving largely from the pirates to concentrating on personified dogs, cats, mice and sharks. But it’s still mildly amusing, and that’s remarkable these days.
  2. “Dilbert.” A lot of people adored this when it came out. I thought that reaction was a bit much. I saw it as good, but even within the limited class of workplace satire, I didn’t like it as much as, say, Mike Judge’s “Office Space.” (Which was brilliant.) But as I say, it was good, and it has stayed almost as good as it started out being. Which is always remarkable, and rare, which is why Watterson quit at the peak of his game — he wanted Calvin and his tiger to be remembered at that level. Scott Adams soldiered on, and hasn’t fallen completely on his face yet, except in the area of political commentary. So he deserves credit for that. By the way, I thought I saw some significant changes in the title character’s arc this past year: Did you notice that during the COVID crisis, the formerly deadpan Dilbert started occasionally getting really frazzled and upset? Like, freaking out? Maybe it’s just my imagination. But I need to say this for Adams: He and Chip Dunham of Overboard did more with the pandemic than any other strip that I paid attention to.

There are miles between those and any others. I still look at “Peanuts” every day, out of respect. Even though they’re all reruns, I’m a traditionalist, and Charles M. Schulz was doing fine work back when no one else was. Looking around further on that page, I can remember when “Zits” was occasionally amusing, but that was a long time ago.

It’s been a quite some time since “Doonesbury” has appeared in the daily comics. (Based on the Sunday version, we’re not missing much. It lost the raw freshness that made it something special in the early days, decades and decades ago.)

Now, for the worst. This is tough, and the competition is fierce. Two lie far below the others, and I’m likely to pick either as worst depending on my mood. But at the moment, I say:

  1. “Funky Winkerbean.” This was always, always awful, even in its original iteration. Remember when it was a high school “comedy,” a sort of lame forerunner of an actual good strip, “Kudzu?” (Remember that? We lost it in 2007, upon the untimely death of Doug Marlette.) “Funky” was never funny, but it seemed to be making an honest, though inept, attempt to be. It was bad, but in a perfectly ordinary way — not so it would stand out. It could have continued in that vein indefinitely, and I’d be ignoring it now, because it would blend into the herd. But Tom Batiuk wasn’t satisfied. He jumped not only a shark, but an ocean of them. The strip has gone through two inexplicable major changes, with the characters aging. And call me mad for saying it, but I think this was a failed attempt at seriousness. When I read it now, there is often a smirking, smug stab at something that I think is intended to be seen as… meaningful or something. Only it isn’t. Wikipedia respectfully describes the current state this way: “Since the 1992 reboot and especially since the 2007 time jump, the strip has been recast as a serialized drama, though most strips still feature some humor, often based on wordplay.” Yes. I’ve seen some of those puns. The fact that Batiuk has gone to so much effort to take the strip from bad to much worse, and done it in such an odd way, is what earns him the bottom ranking. The other “worst” strip just didn’t try that hard, ever, in my lifetime.
  2. “Mary Worth.” For decades, I have mocked this one as the worst, but frankly, it doesn’t deserve the distinction, because it has never made the kind of effort that Batiuk has invested. How to describe “Mary?” It’s like someone took the worst soap opera on TV, and determined to strip it of anything — sex, or whatever — that might seem even slightly interesting to anyone on the planet. (You know how in soap operas — at least, on the ones my grandmother used to watch — two characters would sit and talk about nothing over sherry, and the conversation would go on for weeks? This is like that, only without the sherry.) This all took shape well before I was born (the strip began in 1938), and it has just lain there and stagnated ever since. Anyway, it feels like I’ve been making sarcastic remarks about this strip for my whole life. About 10 or 15 years ago, I think someone at Free Times heard one of those remarks and misinterpreted it, think that I was saying I liked Mary Worth. I gathered this from a couple of remarks I heard from different people at that paper, who seemed very amused that That old guy Brad actually likes “Mary Worth.” At least, I think that was what was happening. Each time it did, I would challenge the person speaking, and that person would just smile and change the subject. Anyway, it occurs to me that this is by far the funniest, and possibly most interesting, thing that has ever happened in connection with this “comic” strip.

OK, I’m tired now, and frankly, the comics pages are so sad that it’s not really worth it to pick on any others, as lame as “Garfield” and “Dennis the Menace” and “Hi and Lois” and “Sally Forth” (not to be confused with the softcore pornographic classic by the same title, which at least on its own terms was interesting) are. I just don’t have the heart.

The comics were once a wonderful thing, back when newspapers were thriving. We live in a different time now…

comics 2comics 3

 

 

 

 

 

Nice job there, Ah-nold

Just thought I’d share this video Arnold Schwarzenegger put out yesterday.

It’s gotten a lot of positive reactions. Conan O’Brien said, ““This is the most powerful and uniquely personal statement I’ve heard from ANYONE on where we are right now as a country.”

I thought it fitting to quote O’Brien, since in the video, Arnold wields his “Conan” sword…

Conan sword

Alexandra got it right — or the most important part, anyway

But I liked "The Little Drummer GIRL." I get points for that, right?

But I liked “The Little Drummer GIRL.” I get points for that, right?

I wrote about this before, didn’t I? But I can’t find it, so…

I happened to run across Alexandra Petri’s piece from two years ago, “A ranking of 100 — yes, 100 — Christmas songs,” and I nodded approvingly once again, and so I thought I’d share it. Even if it means I’m doing so, you know, once again…

The main thing is, the Christmas song she hates the worst is the same one I do: “The Little Drummer Boy.” As you may recall, I dislike it even more than I dislike Paul McCartney’s insipid, monotonous “Wonderful Christmas Time,” as I explained in my Top Five list several years ago.

One nice thing about this year is that I haven’t been to the mall even once, and I don’t think I’ve been in a single store where such drivel was being pumped at me, so that’s a point in favor of 2020. There’s that, and Joe Biden getting elected. Yay, 2020.

But the distaste lingers from previous years.

Anyway, nice job, Alexandra. Here’s her explanation of why “Drummer Boy” is the worst:

100. “Little Drummer Boy.” My hatred for this song is well-documented. I think it is because the song takes approximately 18 years to sing and does not rhyme. The concept of the song is bad. The execution of the song is bad. There is not even an actual drum in the dang song, there is just someone saying PA-RUM-PA-PUM-PUM, which, frankly, is not a good onomatopoeia and probably is an insult to those fluent in Drum. I cannot stand it. Nothing will fix it, even the application of David Bowie to it. Every year I say, “I hate this song,” and every year people say, “Have you heard David Bowie’s version?” Yes. Yes, I have. It is still an abomination.

Quite right. Although as I said the other day in my piece on the passing of John le Carré (another bad point about 2020 was losing him and a bunch of other cool people), I really like “The Little Drummer Girl,” so maybe my feminist friends will give me some points for that. Which would be a rare treat…

Here we are now, in a world without Chuck Yeager

2560px-Chuck_Yeager

There’s a blog post I’ve been meaning to write in recent days expressing my great disappointment with the Disney+ TV series, “The Right Stuff.” It is a strange, flat, uninviting and even depressing retelling of the tale of the seven Mercury astronauts. That’s it, just the astronauts. Nothing about the context in which they came into being. Nothing about the culture of test pilots that produced them, and set the standard they wanted to live up to.

No Chuck Yeager. How can you name a series after that concept Tom Wolfe introduced into our popular lexicon, and leave Chuck Yeager out of it?

Chuck was the embodiment of the Right Stuff, and the whole world — the world of pilots, at least, knew it. Early in Wolfe’s book, he wrote about the way airline pilots act and talk — their matter-of-factness, their lollygaggin’ lack of concern about potential problems in flight (“I believe it’s that little ol’ red light that iddn’ workin’ right…”), their folksy accents — and traced it all to back to the influence that one man had upon the world of aviation, that man being Yeager. They all wanted to fly like him, they all wanted to be him, and failing that, they would at least sound like him.

Because he not only had the right stuff, he was the right stuff.

What, exactly, was this “ineffable quality” of which Wolfe wrote?

… well, it obviously involved bravery. But it was not bravery in the simple sense of being willing to risk your life. . .any fool could do that. . . . No, the idea. . .seemed to be that a man should have the ability to go up in a hurtling piece of machinery and put his hide on the line and then have the moxie, the reflexes, the experience, the coolness, to pull it back in the last yawning moment–and then to go up again the next day, and the next day, and every next day. . . . There was a seemingly infinite series of tests. . .a dizzy progression of steps and ledges. . .a pyramid extraordinarily high and steep; and the idea was to prove at every foot of the way up that pyramid that you were one of the elected and anointed ones who had the right stuff and could move higher and higher and even–ultimately, God willing, one day–that you might be able to join that special few at the very top, that elite who had the capacity to bring tears to men’s eyes, the very Brotherhood of the Right Stuff itself….

And at the top of the top of that ol’ pyramid was Yeager.

It’s not just about breaking the sound barrier. Yeager was just the ultimate pilot’s pilot. Yes, he was a natural stick-and-rudder man, and the wonderful movie version of Wolfe’s book back in the ’80s captured that and played it for all it was worth, but he also thoroughly understood the machine he flew on a fundamental level. He wasn’t an engineer — he had his friend Jack Ridley, and others, for that — but he was a guy whose reports the engineers liked to read, because he knew what they needed to be told.

And yes, he was a hero, long before breaking that demon that lived in the thin air. A fighter pilot was considered an ace when he’d shot down five enemy planes. Yeager did that in one day. He shot down Me-109s and Focke-Wulf 190s, and even one of those jets the Nazis built. He had sort of a superpower: With his unaided eyes, he could see the enemy coming 50 miles away. But mainly, he outflew and outfought them. Not that he was invulnerable. He got shot down behind German lines, but escaped back to England. That meant he had to go home — he knew things that could endanger the underground if he were shot down again and captured. But he bucked it all the way up to Ike, and Ike let him stay and keep fighting.

He hadn’t been to college, and wasn’t an officer when he started flying in the war. But he broke that barrier, too — he was a captain when he flew the X-1 into history, and his repeatedly demonstrated skill, courage and dedication took him all the way to the rank of brigadier general.

And now he’s gone, and we won’t see his like. As bad as it is to have a TV show called “The Right Stuff” without Yeager in it, now we all have to live in a world that doesn’t have him. Man is mortal, and bound to end up this way. But Yeager packed an awful lot of awesome stuff into the 97 years before that….

When did rock ‘n’ roll die? I nominate 1993

creep

You can get a lot of nominations for this. Don McLean seemed to think it died with Buddy Holly — but you know, there was still a lot of great stuff after that.

Of course, we can argue all day what “rock ‘n’ roll” means. It gets confusing. For instance, back in the ’60s and I suppose into the ’70s, we sort of relegated the term to that “old stuff” from the ’50s. Elvis, Little Richard and the like. Buddy Holly, of course. Wonderful stuff from history, to be sure, but terribly dated. What we listened to in those days was “rock,” preferably “album-oriented” stuff, via FM — by the ’70s, anyway. “Rock” was cooler, more refined, more sophisticated than those 3 minute-and-shorter bursts of exuberance from the ’50s.

But then, it crept back into our language. We were listening to something that had always been (in our foolish young minds) and always would be (in our innocence). Little did we know that we would live to see it die, and be replaced by the kind of frothy, commercial, packaged pop that used to dominate radio and TV variety shows before The Beatles.

We resisted it, in waves of rock ‘n’ roll fundamentalism. There was punk. Then later, grunge. But grunge came at the very, very end. After that, there were good pop songs to be sure, but rock ‘n’ roll? I don’t think so.

By the term, I sorta think what I mean is guitar bands, although not exclusively. There’s a certain loudness and wildness to it, although not always. It’s definitely male-dominated, being a sort of semi-constructive (by comparison to other, less-savory, behavior) outgrowth of what happens to boys in their teens — although we also thoroughly enjoyed “Blondie” and Joan Jett and Tina Turner and Janis Joplin.

Anyway, I know what I mean. In my last post I made a passing reference to “The State” being on MTV when “rock ‘n’ roll was still alive,” and then noticed that the series came along in 1993, and thought harder about it, and realized that may have been the year it all ended.

If so, it went out with a bang. Here are some of the top songs from that year:

Yeah, I know UB40 was reggae, but I wanted to include it because it was good, and because it harked back to the beginnings of rock ‘n’ roll, to the King himself, which seemed fitting.

Anyway, Google the top songs of 1994, and you’ll see a big drop-off. Sure, there’s stuff like Beck’s “Loser,” and indeed there was some decent stuff leaking out here and there over the next few years. But the age of rock ‘n’ roll was over. And in late-1960s terms, the age of just plain “rock” was done.

Note that I didn’t pick anything from when I was a kid. I’m not claiming that 1971, the year I graduated from high school, was the last cool year or anything (although it was pretty great — think “Sticky Fingers” or “Who’s Next,” or Leon Russell). Rock stayed alive through the 1970s, producing some wonderful stuff like Elvis Costello. And then music got a shot of adrenaline stronger than anything they gave Trump at Walter Reed when music video exploded in the ’80s. I was busy being a Dad and a newspaper editor then, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

But I think 1993 — coincidentally the year I turned 40 (on that birthday, the Battle of Mogadishu happened) — was the end. Since then, we’ve been crossing a long, dry desert.

At least, that’s what I’m thinking at the moment. What do you think?

‘The State’ emerges from extinction to endorse Jaime


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Oh, you thought I meant The State? No, no, no, I meant the comedy troupe, “The State.”

I appreciate them going to the trouble to get together and do this, even though only one of them even momentarily wears a mask. Of course, they did it on Instagram, making it harder to just grab the video and embed it, and they also called The other State South Carolina’s oldest newspaper, which it isn’t, but why would you expect them to know better? They’re actors.

However, after an instant’s reflection, they did have the sense to back Jaime, which not all actual newspapers had the sense to do, so let’s give them some credit.

And it’s good to see them together again. I’ve often wanted to use a clip from that series on the blog — such as the practical advice of “Pants,” or “Prison Break,” which if you recall was made impossible by the fact that the open road was “off-limits” — but have had trouble finding them online.

It’s been so long. The series goes all the way back to the days when MTV was still watchable, and rock ‘n’ roll was still alive.

So enjoy….

the state

Tempted for once by the grocery checkout rack

Now THAT is tempting...

Now THAT is tempting…

I don’t think I’ve ever bought anything from the magazine racks at the grocery checkout.

But a publication devoted to “The West Wing?” Now that’s tempting…

But I still passed.

And you know, part of it is — why do I need a print product full of “West Wing” stuff? Don’t I have Google? Can’t I already access whatever I want about the show, or any of the characters, or analysis or full transcripts of any episode? Content that is available to me wherever I go, via phone or iPad, without carrying around something as awkward as a magazine?

Yep, it’s printed on nice, glossy paper. But here’s the thing… At some point in the latter part of the ’80s, I first saw a color picture on the screen of a Mac. And I was blown away — even though the resolution and color saturation on that screen was probably pretty pathetic, compared to, say, my phone today.

It was just so — bright and alive. Since then, I’ve never seen a hard copy photo that could compare.

Not to mention the fact that if you want to share something in the mag, the person you’re sharing it with has to be standing right next to you. There’s no sharing by text, email or social media.

So… what’s the appeal of the magazine version?

Everything I used to read on paper — the newspapers I subscribe to, magazines, what have you — I now read on my iPad. Which is always with me.

Compelling content. But the wrong medium…

Thoughts on the new ‘Dune’ trailer?

One of my kids asked me if I’d seen it, and until moments ago, I hadn’t realized it was out.

Anyway, I just saw it.

I’m not going to say what I think until I hear what y’all think, except to say this: So far, it looks much better than the abomination David Lynch unleashed upon the world in 1984. That, of course, was the worst large-budget motion picture in history.

Worse, it was the most significant betrayal ever of a ready, eager, trusting fan base. All those millions of people who (like me) ran to the theaters and bought tickets — finally, we were going to see Arrakis ourselves! And then to watch that nightmare unfold before our eyes. Frame after frame, Lynch must have stayed up nights screaming to himself, How can I screw THIS part up? And it’s got to be more extreme than the frame before it!!!! (Imagine him doing this in a voice like Bobcat Goldthwait.)

Don’t agree with me? I have two words for you — “weirding modules.” Enough said.

Oh, as for the made-for-TV series that came out in 2000… that wasn’t bad. I liked that they called it “Frank Herbert’s Dune,” to distinguish themselves from David Lynch’s horror. Probably the biggest letdown in that was the casting of William Hurt as Duke Leto, but then Hurt has been miscast in everything except “Altered States” (he was totally believable as that guy) and maybe “Broadcast News.” But it wasn’t bad. Still, in those days, TV wasn’t yet the medium it is now. So we’ve waited another 20 years for something to be attempted on the grand scale.

Which means at this point, my expectations are unreasonably high. I know this.

Anyway, tell me what you think of the trailer, and we’ll discuss…

Dune still

Netflix is trying to guilt me into bingeing. Really…

Netflix IT

In the course of my life, I’ve had many people try to make me feel guilty about many things — usually successfully. Often, this has involved tasks I started but had not, at the time of being nagged, completed. I have at times become a bit sensitive on this point, I’ll confess.

Now, Netflix has weighed in, via email. But this time, the charge of not having followed through is utterly unjust, and I stand before you an innocent — even laudable, in terms of having applied myself assiduously to the task — man.

I’ll have you know that when it comes to watching “The IT Crowd,” I am an over-achiever. I have “finished” it multiple times. I have watched certain episodes, such as the one Netflix attacks me for stopping on in this instance (“Are We Not Men?”), many more times than that. That is one of the very best in the series, if not the best. It shows what can happen to guys like us — I mean, guys like Roy and Moss — when they make deceitful use of a website that empowers them to talk about football (soccer, to American friends) and therefore seem to be “proper men.” The site teaches them to say things like, “Did you see that ludicrous display last night?” I’ve used that one myself on several occasions (but not always, I’ll admit, with impressive success).

I only stopped on that one this time because I wanted to save it to savor on another occasion. I didn’t want it to get stale on me. It was like not allowing myself to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” more than once a year, on Christmas Eve. That sort of thing.

I have never been a slacker when it comes to watching. I have not been a Roy. Whenever anyone has asked me to help him or her by watching “The IT Crowd,” I have not hesitated. I have not tried to put anyone off by saying “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” I have immediately stopped whatever I am doing — reading my iPad, playing a video game — and watched it from start to finish.

And I just wanted all of you to know that….

are we not men

The magical reason why Phil Collins is a hit again

This is just pure fun.

Heard this on NPR One while walking this evening, and had to share.

Phil Collins’ 1981 hit “In the Air Tonight” is currently the No. 2 best-selling song on iTunes.

Why, because of the above video, which has had 5.5 million views so far.

It’s 22-year-old Tim and Fred Williams of Gary, Indiana, just shooting video of themselves reacting to songs they’ve never heard before. Which is something they do:

The Gary, Ind., twins have also recorded their first time listening to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart,” and Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” which she responded to on Twitter. “No point in begging…Jolene already stole these two,” Ms. Parton said….

If you don’t watch the whole video, you at least have to watch until… well, you know what part I mean. Then, you’ll listen to the whole thing.

This is an illustration of a phenomenon that may be unexpected to you. Kids today actually have to go out and hunt for great old songs to listen to. I’ve written about this in the past — you know my shtick about how, back in the day of variety shows on TV, if it was popular you heard it, whatever the genre — rock, pop, soul, adult contemporary, Broadway showtunes. It was all out there for everybody on our relatively few broadcast outlets, and we heard it wherever we went.

Now, music has become so narrowly focused, and made available through such personalized algorithms, that to do what these kids are doing is rare — and kind of thrilling. To find something that hasn’t been preselected for you, you have to go out and dig:

“The algorithm is built around user behavior,” Ebro Darden, the global head of hip-hop and R&B at Apple Music, said. “As more consumption options became available for music lovers, platforms got narrower and more targeted.”

Discovering classic jams on the airwaves seems hard to do now, too, as radio stations have also become more personalized, Mr. Darden said.

“You are beholden to a platform, whether it is a radio station or a streaming service, whether it is a human curation or an algorithmic curation, but you can go into these services and start looking around,” said Mr. Darden, who also hosts Ebro in the Morning at the New York radio station, Hot 97.

On streaming services like Apple Music or Spotify, users can decide if they want to go down a rabbit hole and listen to music based on the era, genre, producer, or artist, but they have to take the first step, which seems to be a hurdle….

Anyway, never mind the why. Just watch the video, and enjoy. Enjoy the twins enjoying…

In the air tonight