Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Milton Friedman Treasure-Trove

I just wanted to share a project that I put together yesterday, scanning all of the speeches of Milton Friedman from his many visits to The Commonwealth Club of California between 1977 and 1998. They are posted in jpeg format over on The Commonwealth Club's blog in two parts:

Part I

Part II

Good resources for the economics fan, whether or not one subscribes to Friedman's theories.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Irvin Kershner Dead at 87

SFX magazine reports that director Irvin Kershner has passed away at the age of 87. As the man who directed what was in my opinion the best of the Star Wars films, The Empire Strikes Back, Kershner definitely left his mark.

Wikileaks Does Its Damage

I sit here writing this in San Francisco, which is pretty much ground-zero for people who believe that technology has revolutionized life so much that old rules, old ethics, old ways of thinking don't apply – and in so doing, they prove that old ways of thinking never die.

We're in Day Two of the latest Wikileaks caper. As everyone – and I mean everyone – knows by now, numerous news organizations around the world have sifted through about a quarter-billion private (and many secret – some even extremely secret) communications from the U.S. State Department.

I think of this caper as Project Open Drawers. Many people seem to be approaching it as if it's a delightful opportunity to root through the private filing drawers (yes, those were the drawers I meant, what did you think I was referring to?) of the government to learn juicy secrets.

Some of what we're learning from these illegally obtained communications is mundane, such as the world-shocker that German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle is considered a foreign-policy lightweight. Well, Inspector, it took a secret diplomatic cable to tell you that?

Other tidbits are likely to be world-shakers. For example, the information that Eqypt, Saudi Arabia, and nearly every other Middle Eastern country's leaders are scared witless about Iran having nuclear weapons and many of them have been urging the United States to attack Iran to destroy the nuclear program.

Now, anyone who has followed Middle East reporting for years knows that the governments there are privately much more supportive of American aims in the region than they let on to their people. Their people, on the other hand, tend to be much less supportive of American policies than are their governments, yet the people tend to be much more positively disposed to Americans themselves (perhaps because the Middle Easterners know all too well that a government's policies don't necessarily reflect the will of the governed). Naturally, if the leaders let on to their people how much they want stable oil prices, U.S. military protection, and Western bombs falling on Tehran's military facilities, their streets could explode with popular outrage. The world might not weep too much for some of the region's authoritarian regimes being swept aside by popular outrage, but as we learned in Iran, these thugs could easily be replaced by something even worse.

The short-, mid-, and long-term fallout from the release of these is likely to be significant, and all bad.

Over at German public news service Deutsche Welle, the negative impact was put mildly:
Ruprecht Polenz, the chairman of Germany's Foreign Committee, was of the opinion that "considerable damage" had been done. "The partners of the United States are under the assumption that what is discussed with them remains confidential. Now, certainly, doubts have been raised. Our American partners will have to work to dispel these doubts," Polenz said on German public television on Monday.
Former U.S. ambassador to NATO Rober Hunter put it, well, the most diplomatically: "[H]ere I think is the most serious problem: Many foreign leaders will be more reluctant to say things to U.S. diplomats if they worry that these things will show up in public. And as a result, the methodology of communication may have to adopt different ways and means in order to minimize the risks. That's the real problem that people will perhaps be less candid in the future and the way of communicating that back to Washington will have to change."

Foreign leaders will not trust that their most candid statements to American diplomats will remain confidential. If you were a foreign leader who had important opinions or suggestions you wanted to pass along but knew that it could lead to your overthrow or death if they were known, would you talk candidly to an American diplomat anytime soon? I sure as hell wouldn't.

And if you were an American diplomat at any of the thousands of places around the world where you are supposed to be asserting American interests and passing information back to Washington, are you going to think twice, maybe thrice before writing something controversial?

As a result, American leaders will get less candid information about the rest of the world in an era when the international situation is moving rapidly – and not necessarily in our interests. Even the parts of diplomacy that involve petty spying are crucial to learning the true motives of other countries. In the Cold War, having spies in Soviet countries did much to decrease tensions, because they mostly helped us understand the real motives of Soviet bloc leaders and undercut the wild fantasies of paranoiacs in Washington think tanks and in government.

As I've said before, America has never suffered from too much information and knowledge. Now we'll have even less – plus we have a lot of angry and distrustful allies around the world. Way to go, Wikileakers.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Siberian Tiger Cubs Raised by Goats

Here, courtesy of Xinhua News (the government news service in China), is a short report on two Siberian Tiger cubs who have been raised ... by a goat.

Figured that would be a feel-good way to head off toward a happy Thanksgiving. (After all, it's the holiday that everyone except a turkey could love.)

Buy Your Used X-Wing Fighters Today!

(And no, I'm not the John in the video. I found this randomly on YouTube.)

He’s Chevy Chase: The Starlog Project: Starlog #177, April 1992

Ever since fellow Saturday Night Live alum Dan Aykroyd got his mug on the cover of Starlog (#164), the jealousy must have been eating away at Chevy Chase. His hopes and dreams are finally sated with this issue, which features Chase on the cover with his Memoirs of an Invisible Man costar Daryl Hannah. Best of all, Chase didn’t have to wear a fat monster costume like Aykroyd did.

Seriously, though, Chase’s Memoirs film deserved a better reception from critics and at the box office than it received. According to the Internet Movie Database, the movie was budgeted around $40 million but grossed less than $14.4 million domestically. Director John Carpenter’s a creator who seldom gets the credit where it’s deserved, and often I think his box office failures are lumped together. But Memoirs was head and shoulders above something like Ghosts of Mars or Big Trouble in Little China, which were both (again, just IMHO) over-produced formulaic films.

I think (and I’ve written such elsewhere) that Carpenter is over-rated in many fan circles, but I do think he deserves credit for his good films, and Memoirs is one of them. The Thing is another, and of course that, too, was not exactly a blockbuster. The box office is a fickle friend.

Starlog #177
80 pages (including covers)
Cover price: $4.95

This issue contains some tantalizing tidbits about Treks that might have been. Read on ...

The rundown: Chevy Chase and Daryl Hannah hold down the cover, while none other than Mick Jagger guards the contents page. Four looooong letters fill up the three-page Communications section, in which they dissect Bruce Gordon’s latest Back to the Future theorizing from issue #170, plus Mike Fisher’s Creature Profile features (appropriately) the Invisible Man; David McDonnell’s Medialog gives us first word of a second live-action Star Trek spinoff series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – and McDonnell writes that the producers considered several possibilities before settling on the space station concept: “A Next Generation prequel (presumably set after the Trek classic films), a show set contemporaneously with the events seen in The Next Generation (allowing for guest star cross-overs) and the most fascinating of all, The Klingon Empire. A fourth possibility – [an] SF sitcom starring Majel Barrett as Lwaxana Troi – had been mulled by Barrett, Gene Roddenberry and The Sci-Fi Channel as a project for that cable network. But Roddenberry’s death and SFC’s start-up delays have sidelined that idea for now.” A Klingon series and a Troi sitcom. How life might have been soooo different!

Booklog expands to two pages and reviews Russian Spring, Heads, Shadow, Savior of Fire, Riverrun, Halo, Soothsayer, The Blood of a Dragon, Stranger Suns, The Elvenbane, The Other Sinbad, Slow Freight, and There Won’t Be War; the Fan Network pages include Lia Pelosi’s ongoing directory of fan clubs and publications, plus the convention calendar; David Hutchison’s Videolog warns us of the release of a Tobor the Great laserdisc, noting that prospective purchasers should “be warned that this film’s silly story and terrible acting can only be handled by the hardcore collector of genre ultra-campiness.”

Stan Nicholls interviews Gardner Dozois, an author and the editor of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, who explains the publication’s successful collaboration with its namesake: Asimov “really doesn’t have anything to do with picking the contents. If there’s some controversial topic, we may seek his opinion, but I would say for the most part he doesn’t dabble. … Asimov has always been very supportive of our choices, even when there have been stories he wouldn’t have chosen himself. He has been supportive of things like the use of explicit sex, violence and obscene language, even though these don’t figure much in his own fiction. He certainly could have imposed a more sanitary aesthetic style on the magazine if he wanted to. But Isaac has been smart enough to leave his editors alone, trust them and give them room to operate.”

In his From the Bridge column, Kerry O’Quinn time travels … several weeks; Kim Howard Johnson looks at new Tarzan comics; Steve Swires talks to Memoirs of an Invisible Man director John Carpenter, who admits that he was initially wary of working with a big-name actor like Chevy Chase, but a bigger challenge turned out to be the studio, which had to be convinced that Carpenter was right for the job: “The executive who was designated to say the things that nobody wanted to hear, told me, ‘We want to clarify that this is not a violent horror film.’ I stood up and said at the top of my lungs, ‘Aw, fooey, guys. I wanted to take the bad guy and rip his stomach apart, drain his blood on screen and wrap his entrails around the Invisible Man.’ They didn’t know what to make of me, because I was showing them how insulted I was. Then, I made my speech: ‘I got into this business because I wanted to direct Westerns. I can do any type of movie, so don’t give me your shit.’” – and Swires also pens a sidebar about a proposed Carpenter-led remake of Creature from the Black Lagoon; and Will Murray chats with Freejack screenwriter Ron Shusett, plus a sidebar by Howard M. Riell peeking at possible future films by Shusett.

Dan Yakir interviews German filmmaker Wim Wenders about his film Until the End of the World; Bill Florence talks to Don Mankiewicz, writer of the 1966 Star Trek episode “Court Martial”; Edward Gross gets director Nicholas Meyer to discuss his second Star Trek film, The Undiscovered Country, and how he basically decided to ignore some of the strictures of Gene Roddenberry’s Trek universe (plus there’s a sidebar looking at the original beginning of The Undiscovered Country, which included a newly retired Captain Kirk in his San Francisco apartment making out with Carol Marcus); Marc Shapiro talks to Star Trek VI producer Ralph Winter; keeping with the theme of the cover story, Michael Wolff (and illustrator George Kochell) examine stories featuring invisible characters; Bill Warren chats with Dick and Marge Save the World director Greg Beeman; and editor David McDonnell wraps it all up in his Liner Notes column, in which he discusses invisible movie coverage and offers a mea culpa for the previous issue’s cover, which I gently criticized in my last installment of this article series – McDonnell writes: “Yes, yes, issue #176’s cover did indeed turn out dreadful. Didn’t see it? That was the one with half of Emilio Estevez matted to half of Anthony Hopkins as one face ‘became’ the other in Freejack. … Great idea, but artistic decisions, color separation errors and time constraints rendered it an editorial disappointment. Boy, were we sorry, but it does demonstrate the truth of that old line ‘You can’t tell a book by its cover’ – because behind that cover was (I think) a really good Starlog.”
“The term ‘science fiction’ is a paradox in itself, because you can’t make a movie in the future; you can only make a movie today. If you’re projecting into the future, then it’ll certainly talk about your fears and desires and hopes today in the guise of a future world. So, the future would just be some sort of liberty you take, and I liked the idea of taking some liberties and talking about things that concern us today. … This film doesn’t intend to depict life in 1999 – that would be preposterous anyway – but setting it in the future lets you use technology that relates to visual culture. I thought it would be corny to tell a story today where somebody could show images to a blind person and extract images from a sleeping brain.”
– Wim Wenders, filmmaker, interviewed by Dan Yakir: “To the Ends of the Dream World”
For more, click on Starlog Internet Archive Project below or visit the Starlog Project's permanent site.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Racy Magazine Covers, Redux

In case you thought I was making too much of the spate of nudity on non-adult magazine covers of late, take a look at this: The Daily Beast (the new Newsweek online service) has a roundup of the "15 best naked covers."

I should point out that the New York Review of Books is nowhere

Friday, November 19, 2010

Germany Criticized for Doing It Right?

The Local, an English-language web site with news about Germany, posts an article today that is a welcome response to the ridiculous demands the United States is making of export-driven nations. I've long been thinking it was silly of Americans to try to get successful export nations like Germany and China to reduce artificially their trade surpluses. So I'm glad to see someone else say it.

American politicians, economists, and commentators love to make snide remarks about Germany as some socialist experiment gone awry. But Germany is a market success. Its products are world-beaters. Its unemployment level is lower than ours and is falling. It's got a huge trade surplus. It's tightening its government spending.

We would do well in America to start talking less and listening more.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Talking to Your Children about Star Wars

The most important step you will take as a parent to prepare your children for the real world:

Trends: Does Every Magazine Really Need Nude Models on Its Cover?

What can you say about an era in publishing when you find more clothing on the cover of Playboy's model than on the cover of Rolling Stone or ESPN Magazine?

We can maybe trace this back to Demi Moore and Vanity Fair and blame it on them. Moore has appeared – as our Brit friends would say – starkers on Vanity Fair's cover more than once, though her most famous appearance showed her extremely pregnant and extremely unclothed. That cover has been copied and parodied countless times since then (just do a Google Images search on "vanity fair" and "demi moore" and you'll see). But it also seemed to have settled the matter in the minds of mainstream publishers' heads that putting a totally naked person on the cover of a magazine that doesn't normally feature totally naked people will boost sales.

And I'm sure it does.

I'm not a spring chicken. I know that sex sells. I'm not even slapping their wrists for it. I'm just amused, albeit a bit bemused.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Penguins Dressed as Santa

Yet another critical development where America should be leading, but Korea takes the lead instead:

Heart Attack Grill: All Questions Answered

The web site for the Heart Attack Grill – an actual restaurant – more than explains why Americans are unashamed to have eaten themselves into overweight diabetes.

Yes, I know it's done tongue-in-cheek, but it's not completely off-base.

Monday, November 15, 2010

More Esquire China

Continuing my meme from this morning, here's another Chinese edition of Esquire, this time featuring Taiwan's singing/acting star Jay Chou:

The Complete Interview with P.J. O'Rourke

On a day late in September, political satirist P.J. O'Rourke came to The Commonwealth Club of California to talk about his new book, Don't Vote: It Only Encourages the Bastards. Following his Club speech and audience Q&A, I sat down with him in our conference room for the following interview.

Much-shortened portions of this interview have appeared in the December/January issue of The Commonwealth and in the November edition of Northside San Francisco. Here, for the first time, is the complete interview, plus the short video of the final question.

JOHN ZIPPERER: About 18 years ago, I heard you speak in Indianapolis. An audience member asked you why you still called yourself a conservative when you have so many libertarian ideas. Your reply was, basically, that you did indeed agree with a lot of things libertarians said, but libertarians keep going further and further down their ideological path and soon they’re talking about privatizing the sewers. So, two decades later, are you more conservative or libertarian, and why?

P.J. O'ROURKE: It’s essentially the same thing. I have a feeling that that particular ... oh, I don’t know, the question is sometimes framed as, Why don’t you support the Libertarian Party? The reason I don’t support the Libertarian Party is that I don’t really believe in political parties and, in point of fact, in the United States we don’t really have political parties. We have two broad political tendencies. The Venn diagram has considerable amount of overlap, depending upon – back in the 50s, there was a great deal of overlap, so much so that [novelist] Allen Drury was able to write Advise and Consent. He’s got a president and opposing majority in Congress, and he never tells which party they belong to. You really don’t end up knowing for sure.

And then sometimes there isn’t much overlap. But basically, [the parties] describe two general tendencies. This would be 15 or 18 different political parties in Europe, with all the annoyance that that entails.

The other thing is that the Libertarian Party platform just isn’t electable, because essentially you’re standing up and saying, I can give you less; I can give you less of everything. You may get a few voters, but I don’t think you’re going to get them all.

I don’t have a problem with libertarianism; I really do agree with them about almost everything. But I think there’s a tendency in libertarianism to apply an excess of rationalism to politics. More than it can stand. Politics is not simply a rational activity. And the tendency of libertarians is to regard it as though it were simply a rational activity, as if it were a calculus, or a spreadsheet or something. There’s much, much more too it than that. I think they leave out that side of things.

JZ: I loved what you said in there [to the Commonwealth Club audience] when you said that law has to define certain things that in reality are not define–

PJO: Definable. Right.

JZ: It is sometimes funny to watch people who find themselves – they let their positions be defined by what the law is –

PJO: [laughs] Yes.

JZ: – take definable positions on these issues that I think are so much more interesting when you do find the [gray areas].

I’ve been reading and watching you for years, and [your Commonwealth Club program] is the first time I've heard you talk about religion.

PJO: Oh, yeah.

JZ: Maybe I just missed it, but that is often the missing element. A little less than 18 years ago, I remember working somewhere where there were lots of Christians – it being a Christian magazine, that kind of –

PJO: That happens!

JZ: But someone ... wrote something to the effect that here we are in this incredibly religious country – among Western countries – and yet we find almost impossible to talk about religion; we act as if it’s going to offend someone. What they were saying was that we now have lots of folks coming here from other countries – lots of religions, lots of cultures – but they’re not offended. They think it’s amazing that a Methodist is afraid to talk about their faith, but where they come from, everyone’s talking about ... it’s what their life is. Have you gone into talking about your religion, and do you mind talking about it?

PJO: No, I don’t mind talking about it at all. i don’t bring it up much, because it’s certainly not the area of life that I cover, you know. it’s not the sort of thing that I would write about – just because it isn’t a good source of humor [laughs]. I suppose I could -- what the Catholic church has been through over the past few years , you could make fun of it, but it wouldn’t be a very tasteful joke. What can you do?

JZ: You’re conservative/libertarian – whatever. But obviously a lot of liberals love you. I’m surprised I’ve yet to come across one who does not. When you write a book, when you are speaking, are you trying to reach non-conservatives?

PJO: Yes I am. Because what is the point – especially, I would say, in this book – of having a political view or a set of political beliefs that one believes to be worthwhile, why would you deliberately alienate people? Why wouldn’t you be inviting in your discussion of these beliefs with them? Why would you deliberately be off-putting?

Because, in the first place, I don’t have an elaborate, detailed political ideology, by any means. And a lot of what I think and a lot of what I believe is simply common sensical. I think if you put it right, a lot of people are going to, if not exactly agree with me, at least see my point. Of course, that’s part of using humor as a tool. There are a lot of ways to use humor as a tool, and you can definitely use it as a weapon, you can definitely use it as a form of displaced violence. There’s no doubt about it. But it can also be used to humanize things and put people at their ease.

If you were to use the word "humorous" in its traditional, 18th-century definition, it’s not really about being funny, it’s really about an understanding of the humors – the core drives that we all have, that move us. Some of us of course are moved more by anger, some more by sloth, some by whatever.
But we all have these internal things that drive us, and that’s what makes us human. Recognition of that is really the definition of a humorist, as opposed to making jokes.

JZ: You mentioned the Tea Party movement [in your speech to The Club]. I think a lot of people who are maybe not schooled in politics, or political history or political theory, say that THAT’s conservative. When you’re speaking to audiences about conservatism, do you think they understand what conservatism is, or do you think [they define it] as what’s being fed to them?

PJO: It’s tough, because Americans are really foggy on these terms. After all, ‘liberal” in Europe means what we would mean by “conservative” here. “Conservative” in Europe on the other hand means sort of an interest in preserving what’s left at least of their class system, and it often has religious implications that it doesn’t necessarily have here.

Yes, the fogginess of these terms is annoying and difficult. It makes it hard for you to mean what you say. And then this use of “progressive,” now that ‘liberal” has become a bad word. And with “progressive,” really what these people are saying is that they are leftists, they are socialists in the classic, small-”s” sense of the word, they are collectivists, they are socialists.

Then something like “Tea Party” is first and foremost populist, which is different. Populism can have a leftish cast, it can have a rightish cast. But populism is a thing unto itself. It has its own dynamics. The Tea Party fits into a long history of American populist movements that range from Jacksonian Democats to the civil rights movement. Politically all over the map.

The other thing about conservative – though I think this is less true in the wake of Reagan – is that it still carries a little bit of this taint of this sort of racist, southern white bigotry. Less and less so, but it’s still there.

JZ: Is that changing as generations switch over, or are minds actually changing on that subject?

PJO: I think it’s just time has gone by. I’m always quick to remind people, whenever somebody makes that connection, that all those bigots were Democrats. [laughs]

JZ: In the beginning of the book, you mention a number of political theorists. One of the ones you mention is Oakeshott.

PJO: Oakeshott!

JZ: I’d never heard of him except for reading someone mentioning that he was one of Andrew Sullivan’s political heroes.

PJO: I didn’t know this at the time I was writing the book, I found out about it later: Andrew Sullivan did his, I don’t know, his thesis or it was his area of specialization [about] Oakeshott. For which I admire him, because Oakeshott is exceedingly hard to read. But he has an essay [that] is “Reason in Politics,” which is a brilliant essay. It was his inaugural essay when he became the chairman of the political science department at the London School of Economics in 1953. Maybe it was clearer when he spoke it, but it’s a bitch to read.

But nonetheless, he makes a great deal of sense. And he talks about something that I had felt for some time but hadn’t really put into words. He talks about how politics has no beginning and no end. We tend to treat politics as though it is some sort of creation, it started at such-and-such a point – particularly Americans, because we actually do have a starting point, which Oakeschott was skeptical about; he remained skeptical into the '50s about the American revolution. But politics has existed as long as people have existed, and it will exist as long as people exist. Oakeschott, himself a conservative, makes the point that politics does not have a point to it. It’s not teleological. There is no object to politics. Politics is an arrangement among persons. Therefore it must be understood primarily as a mechanism, not as something that first and foremost must be good or bad; it can be both at the same time. First and foremost it’s there; it’s like weather.

JZ: You were asked by an audience member whether you meant the title of your book, Don’t Vote. You said something about how there are certain things we don’t need to make [into] voting issues. Of course, I live in San Francisco, which is referenda-gone-wild. We’ve voted on how often the mayor should have to appear before the Board of Supervisors, our city council. All kinds of ridiculous things.

PJO: Which is crazy, isn’t it?

JZ: It is.

PJO: A direct outgrowth of progressive political reforms in California at the beginning of the 20th century.

JZ: Which started in my home state of Wisconsin.

PJO: Bingo! Exactly.

JZ: But they didn’t go as crazy with it.

PJO: Yeah, yeah. It got out here, and like many things when they got out here, it exaggerated. But the sole referendum idea was part of the Progressive political agenda, which was of course initially Republican.

Very odd. I’ve studied that a little bit, because off and on over the past decade, I’ve been playing with a history of my home town, Toledo, Ohio. Not because Toledo is in and of itself particularly interesting, but because it is itself an example of a very typical American situation, where this town came out of nothing, on the hope of a boom due to canal systems. And that boom never came, as many booms in Toledo never came. And of course [Toledo] is suffering through the post-industrial [era], and so on. At one time it was extremely fast-growing – at one time.

It was also a hotbed of the Progressive political movement. There was a guy named [Sam] “Golden Rule” Jones, who was the mayor of Toledo back around the end of the 19th, beginning of the 20th century. He and a couple associates – one of his associates whose names elude me – went on to Congress eventually and eventually became quite close to President Wilson.

But yeah, that whole Progressive movement was quite interesting.

JZ: In Wisconsin, we got progressivism going back to “Fighting Bob” LaFallette, and I had heard when I was growing up that we had almost always had a member of the LaFollette family serving in Wisconsin government – as governor, attorney general, senator, whatever – since Bob LaFollette’s time.

PJO: I’ve heard that,too. I’ve heard the same thing; I’ve no idea ... [if there’s data to] back it up.

JZ: William F. Buckley Jr. died two and a half years ago. Shortly before his death, I read an article about his participation in a National Review cruise, where he found himself the butt of criticism and derision from the magazine’s readers and supporters because he had come out against the Iraq war. I found myself thinking, What a shame; here’s a guy who built up modern conservatism, booted out the anti-Semites, and made the movement respectable in polite society again. Has conservatism changed that much in your time commenting on it and following it?

PJO: Well, it’s broadened. It’s become mainstream to the point where you can have that kind of divergence of opinion among conservatives. Indeed, I think the Iraq War was a very difficult call. I personally was in favor of it, but I also was personally very disappointed in the follow-up to the Iraq War.

[Saddam Hussein] was a bad guy. His Baath Party was a bad, fascist organization. They were incredibly brutal. In the situation after 9/11, they weren’t exactly on the other side, but they showed every likelihood of making use of this. And then of course we only had the information we had at the time. We know now that there were no weapons of mass destruction. But everybody all the way up to Muhamad ElBaradie was convinced that they existed. Or at least the facilities for producing them existed. An awful lot of American troops had to spend a lot of hot, sweaty time in those stupid chemical suits, because there really was no good reason why he shouldn't have had them. And he wanted everybody to think that he had them.

Should our intelligence have been better? Well, maybe; perhaps. But that’s easy to say in retrospect.

I still think it was the right call, but the wrong execution.

JZ: When Christopher Hitchens was last here [at the Commonwealth Club], he told the story about this horrifyingly bizarre scene, where Saddam had the leadership of the Baath Party in a room with him. One of them was [brought into] the room, [having been physically and mentally destroyed by torture. He confesses to a plot to overthrow the regime, and then he implicates other members of the ruling committee]. One by one, others were taken from the room. Once people got the point of what was going on, they started falling over themselves to profess their loyalty to Saddam. Hitchens said even Hitler and Stalin hadn’t thought of doing something like that.

PJO: No, no. He was just a thug. Just really a thug. I think in the great geopolitical chessboard, we wanted that piece off. Was it black? Was it white? Who gives a fuck? Just get that piece off the board.

JZ: You’ve talked about baby boomers’ “blame shifting,” etc. As someone who’s Generation X, I kind of enjoy watching baby boomers take it on the chin.

PJO: Self-flagellating, yeah.

JZ: But that generation really did kind of sweep through, affecting everything. I don’t know if you remember two decades ago, Playboy had [an issue] where Harlan Ellison wrote a piece about how the '60s and that generation were wonderful, and I think it was David Horowitz wrote the opposing view, that it was a terrible time.

PJO: Yes, right: “Nooooo!”

JZ: What’s your verdict on what baby boomers wrought?

PJO: I really think it’s a combination of economics and demography. It’s simply a fact that we were an immensely large generation, with immense material resources, unheard-of material resources, and that the whole generation ended up acting like Shelley, Keats, and Byron. Because we could.

We had a lot of money, we had a lot of education, and there were a lot of us. We acted silly in the tradition of young irresponsible people time out of mind. But the scale of it was such that it affected the whole society in the way that the young Regency bucks and romantic poet twits and whatever sort of fashionable jerks in the oddly cut togas in times gone past. There’s nothing we got up to that [15th-century bad-boy poet] Villon didn’t. There’s one of him, and there were millions of us. Imagine a Woodstock full of Francois Villons ... ugh. [laughs] The mind reels.

JZ: Do you think the end result was positive? Negative?

PJO: Indifferent. The end result is simply expensive, because there again are so many of us. Funnily enough, we didn’t do that. Our generation did not design all of these entitlement programs that my generation will be entitled to; it was actually the previous generation that did that. Nonetheless, with those entitlement programs in place, and us coming on for all those entitlements, it’s going to be damn expensive. So the real damage that the baby boomers did may have nothing to do with sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll; it may have everything to do with Medicaire and Social Security, and we ain’t seen nothing yet. I’m sort of at the point, the thin edge of the wedge. I was born in 1947, and the baby boom continues until – depending on who’s doing the defining – until '60 or '62, something like that.

JZ: Back to the title of your book, Don’t Vote. It’s somewhat satirical, but are you looking at this election, which is expected to be a Republican year of Republican years, and are you expecting good things?

PJO: Yeah, I’m expecting good things. I do think that whatever happens on November 2, the Democrats are not going to emerge from this with as free a hand as they had during the past two years. The bloom’s off the rose with Obama as a president. Even if the Democrats manage to hold on to both the House and the Senate, their majorities will be diminished, and the more conservative members in the Democratic Party will be strengthened. The era of central-planning brainstorms will have come to a close. A little bit will of course depend upon events, but I have a feeling that the tendency that we see over this fall is going to strengthen at least over the next few years.

JZ: A tendency to ...

PJO: – to try to diminish the size and scope of government and try to get it back on a sounder financial footing.

JZ: It was interesting that it was Europe that first started saying we need austerity. It was Angela Merkel and –

PJO: I was talking to a semi-conductor executive last night, who was saying what we should do is vote for all the wrong people, because we have to make this thing so bad that there’s no choice but to deal with it. We have to turn the country into Ireland or Greece.

JZ: Isn’t that the claim, that that was what Reagan and [budget director David] Stockman were trying to do, run up deficits so high that you would have to cut government?

PJO: I don’t in fact think that’s what they were trying to do. I think Reagan was under the misapprehension that government would be forced to contract if he cut off its funding. I think Reagan was naive about [that]. The modern government has so many sources of funding that Reagan couldn’t put a finger in every dike. So that technique has been discredited. So a more direct attack on the spending itself has to be made.

JZ: I’ve been reading you for decades, and I think a lot of people have. But probably more people have seen you on Bill Maher’s program and heard you on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. Have you ever been asked to have your own program on radio or TV, and if so, what would you do?

PJO: There have been a couple little tentative forays into TV, and I just don’t work on television very well. I think I’m okay as a guest, but I can’t handle that teleprompter and I have a tendency to move my fingers. My wife says it always looks like there’s some puppet show going on when I’m on television – little flesh-colored puppets at the bottom of the screen.

A couple of thoughts about a radio show, but to do a radio show really well is an all-consuming proposition. As a matter of fact, Chris Buckley and I talked about a television project some years back, must be a good 15 years back. We had a long, long talk about it. We actually outlined the whole thing. We had a proposal, and we were going to take this proposal to Fox, and I think we might have had some success with getting the proposal [accepted]. And then, having considered the question sober, we decided that we would go out and have a drink and consider the question drunk. When we got to drinking and talking to each other, we realized that if this thing worked, it would eat our lives. We would never be able to do any more writing, really. I mean, of a kind, maybe, but not of the kind that we wanted to do. And writing is frankly terribly time-consuming. If I were involved in some other medium, I couldn’t do it.

JZ: You mentioned you were going to be on The Daily Show sometime in the next couple weeks.

PJO: Yes, I think so.

JZ: Are you returning to [Bill] Maher’s show?

PJO: Yes. I know I’m going to be on the Bill Maher show, next week, as a matter of fact. The Daily Show I’m not positive about, I may have misspoke myself there. I hope Jon [Stewart] invites me on. He and I get along well.

Esquire Chinese Fashion

Just sharing a good magazine cover:

Friday, November 12, 2010

Congrats to Newsweek and The Daily Beast and Tina Brown

So Newsweek's new owner, Sidney Harman, and Tina Brown's Daily Beast team have finally found a way to agree on a joint venture that will merge the print Newsweek and the online Daily Beast.

Good for them. I had written off Newsweek for dead after its radical repositioning and eventual sale by the Washington Post Co. I don't know for certain that the new company will be a success, but if anyone can make it a success, I think Tina Brown can. She's smart, brave, and a powerhouse. That combo has earned her a legion of critics (including some past colleagues), but she knows media and clearly still believes in print, so I'm optimistic. Her track record is considerable and impressive.
My only worry is that I've now read more than one person involved in this joint venture promising to return Newsweek to its glory days. No, Newsweek will never be – and should never be – what it was. That era of the newsweekly is dead and gone. Whatever comes out from this new company will be something new. I predict it will be high-quality and provocative, and filled with the heavy-hitter writers that Tina Brown seems to be uniquely able to corral for a magazine. But whatever glory days come about will be new ones, not returned old ones.

The Daily Beast is owned by mogul Barry Diller, who will own 50 percent of the new company, The Newsweek Daily Beast Company. Harman will own the other 50 percent.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mario Gomez and the Unleashing of German Football

German football (i.e., soccer) star Mario Gomez says that gay football players should just come on out and things will be much better – including their playing, because they'll be relieved from their stress of hiding.

If only.

Nonetheless, his comments are meant well, and I think we're getting very close to the time when being a gay football star will be nothing to shout about. At least in Germany.

(That's Gomez, BTW, on the cover of the German edition of Men's Health, in case you're wondering.)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Good Reading Tips from Comix 211

Tom Mason has some great genre-related weekend reading tips over at Comix 411.

I know, the weekend's over, but check out his links (I have a dog in this race, BTW) and plan your next weekend.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Fan Film Tells Jar-Jar's Star Wars Story

Courtesy the Lego folks, here's a cute Star Wars fan film that retells episodes IV-VI with Jar Jar Binks represented.

Note to Politicians: Ignore the Young

Is it finally time to end our fascination with the youth vote?

During the 2008 Democratic primary campaign, I had an ongoing friendly debate with an Obama-supporting friend. I, a Clinton supporter, argued in favor of Hillary's experience, pragmatism, and general outlook. My friend was smitten by Obama's newness and optimism.

A recurring theme in any such discussion of Obama's 2008 campaign is its strong appeal to young voters. I acknowledged that at the time, but I warned my friend that young people are fickle in their political involvement. The real test for them would not be if they could stay sober enough and put down the Wii controls long enough to head to the voting booths in November 2008, but it would come two and four years later, when their naive assumptions about how Obama would govern would be tested by the necessary compromises and inevitable defeats along the way.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I was correct. Sadly so, because I think Obama's a very fine president and I fully expect vote for him again in 2012. But young voters were one of the heavily underrepresented populations in the recent midterm elections.

So is it finally time to stop worshipping at the alter of youth? I know that's a terribly un-American thing to say, but if your campaign (and eventual re-election) is based on getting support from people who ultimately don't believe in the responsibilities of voting and representative government, then doesn't that suggest a flaw in your strategic governing approach?

During the 2008 Democratic primary season, The New Republic's Leon Wieseltier wrote a rather good short essay entitled "Forever Young." Responding to the Obama supporters' desire for newness, freshness, someone untainted by actual experience, he argued that there can be something as too young:
"False hopes?" Obama told a crowd in New Hampshire. "There's no such thing." How dare he? There is almost no more commonplace trait of human existence (and of African American existence) than false hopes. … After Bush, who is not for a fresh start? But there is something unfresh about Obama's movement for freshness. … [C]an we agree on a ground between cynicism and myth? Or must we have Camelot once more? After all, being young again is also a way of living in the past. There was something mildly farcical about the Kennedys' endorsement of Obama – of this candidacy that is alleged to signify an alternative to the dynasties, and a break with ideological antiquity; but worst of all was its brazen delight in mythologization. (Thanks to the Obama campaign, millions of Americans now hold that John Kennedy was a great president and that Lyndon Johnson was not responsible for making civil rights and voting rights into law.) I understand that no one, except perhaps Lincoln, ever ran for the presidency on a tragic sense of life; but if it is possible to be too old in spirit, it is possible also to be too young.
It's not that young people don't vote. It's that you can't talk about young people (let's just roughly define them as people from 18 to 30 years of age) without piling on the qualifiers. They don't vote much. They don't vote consistently. They aren't informed enough when they vote. They lack long-term perspective about the effects of their votes. Even if you try to qualify the qualifiers by pointing out the dreadful ignorance of most voters, it doesn't help to correct it even further and say that young people are even worse.

I don't mean to hold up Wieseltier as any great sage; I think he's gone over to the demagogic side of life in recent years, which puts the nail in the coffin of my former reverence for The New Republic (my political bible during the 1980s). But I think he puts it nicely about the deficiencies in this endless (and groundless) belief in the virtues of newness and youth. I would take that line of argument further and say there's a related problem: the American faith in the virtue of fast decisions, in fast results.

People who don't vote often and are only induced to vote when they're unnaturally angry or unnaturally inspired are also people who will not stick with the political process for their problems to be sorted out the way problems have been sorted out for centuries in civil societies: slowly, patiently, frankly conservatively, and usually the fairer for it.

Corina Casanova, the federal chancellor of Switzerland, recently compared California's love of citizen initiatives with her own country's famed use of such direct democracy. There were many similarities between the two political systems, she noted, but Switzerland is willing to invest more time in considering each initiative and trying to come up with alternatives, counter-proposals, and compromises that suit everyone. As a result, many of the initiatives are ultimately withdrawn, many more have compromises and counter-proposals debated and voted on by the government, and fewer than 10 percent win voter approval. Compare that to California's more do-it-now, don't-consider-the-alternatives system, in which one-third of initiatives are voter-approved but there is no system to work out compromise and deal with the underlying difficulties that created the citizen demand for the initiative in the first place. "The essential consequence of this cultural difference is that considerably longer periods of time are allotted in Switzerland for the handling of popular initiatives," Casanova said.

Time is a buzz-kill. You can't keep people with short attention spans interested when problems move beyond the emotional chest-beating stage and turn into committee hearings and legislative wrangling. Sooner or later, you need adults to do the hard work, and if you've only voted in people who are "forever young," then you're in trouble.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Freejack Flub: The Starlog Project: Starlog #176, March 1992

The Emilio Estevez vehicle Freejack is on the cover, but Starlog flubs up the cover in an embarrassing way. No, it’s not the grainy, badly outlined photo of Anthony Hopkins on the cover, though that hurts. No, it’s not the weird yellow-black-yellow bands of background color on the cover, though that mystifies. The mixup is evident when one looks at the small text on the lower left-hand portion of the cover, where the cover image is described: “Emilio Estevez as Furlong (left) & Anthony Hopkins as McCandless (right).” The problem? There’s no Estevez on the cover. It’s just Hopkin’s giant, somewhat blurry head.

Someone apparently switched the cover photo at the last minute but didn't switch the cover copy. Um, waitaminnit ...

Oh, dear lord ... I just realized what the cover is. It's two faces melded together. Estevez, y'see, is on the left (or at least half of his face is), and the right side of the head is Anthony Hopkins. And you know what? It still sucks.

All around, then, a crappy cover. Therefore, it’s fitting that it features Freejack, the movie that gives us a Mick-Jagger/Emilio-Estevez/Anthony-Hopkins trio of underperforming performers. And to think this weak film was based on a story by the great Robert Sheckley. Sad.

Just keep repeating to yourself: It’s only a movie, it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie ...

Also this issue, Starlog publishes its annual postal statement of ownership and circulation. The total paid circulation for the issue closest to the statement's filing deadline is listed as 164,074 (down from the previous year's 171,137), including the number of paid subscriptions of 9,521 (barely changed from 9,567 last year).

Starlog #176
80 pages (including covers)
Cover price: $4.95

Freejack pretty much tanked at the box office. But perhaps you liked The Addams Family reboot more. Well, Starlog’s hoping you will, because it’s publishing The Addams Family Official Movie Magazine. Includes “FREE! FOUR GIANT POSTERS.” As the ad on page 22 says, “Prepared by the Editors of FANGORIA! (SO YOU KNOW IT’S CREEPY!)”

The rundown: As I mentioned above, Freejack is featured – if that’s the word – on the cover; but on the contents page, a “Rebellious Kathy Ireland” promotes Dick & Marge Save the World (apparently an alternate title for the Teri Garr opus Mom & Dad Save the World). Meanwhile, Communications letters range from Terminator 2 speculation to never-ending Star Trek debates to follow-up to David Hirsch’s #172 article on composer Leonard Rosenman, plus Mike Fisher’s Creature Profile features the Bride of Frankenstein.

David McDonnell’s Medialog column gives us first word on Harve Bennett’s newest upcoming syndicated TV series, Time Trax; Booklog reviews The Garden of Rama, Martian Rainbow, The Revenge of the Rose, Jack the Bodiless, Prince of Chaos, and Jinx High; David Hutchison’s Videolog column announces the release of The Rocketeer and other genre titles; the Fan Network pages include Lia Pelosi’s directory of fan clubs and publications, plus the convention calendar; Bill Wilson reports on one of the most exciting developments in the genre in the early 1990s: the birth of The Sci Fi Channel, and he goes behind the scenes to look at plans for the new cable channel; and Kerry O’Quinn’s From the Bridge chats with George Lucas about his upcoming TV series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, and it includes this quote equivalent of a money shot, in which Lucas discusses who will and will not be interested in the program: “The exception is Starlog’s readership, especially the Star Trek group, who are more interested in ideas, generally, than in action. They like action, but I think that one of the things which makes Star Trek work is that it explores many very profound ideas in a dramatic context. That’s what I’m trying to do with this TV series.”

Adam Pirani interviews Freejack’s Anthony Hopkins, who says of the role, “It’s just a chance to work. I’ve never been offered a science fiction thing before, so I just did it. No great reasons.” Ian Spelling talks to Hopkins’ costar Emilio Estevez, who was more enthusiastic when he was offered the role: “I jumped at it”; Adam Pirani also spoke with actress Kim Cattrall, who stars as the newest Vulcan character Valeris, and Marc Shapiro and Ian Spelling provide a sidebar in which Cattrall discusses the sexual connection between Valeris and Spock (and their controversial mind meld); Tom Weaver explores the comics version of Forbidden Planet; in “Miracle Worker,” Lynne Stephens talks to actor James Doohan about Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country; and Bill Warren profiles Jon Lovitz, who plays the comic ruler Tod Spengo in Dick & Marge Save the World or Mom & Dad Save the World – take your pick.

Ian Spelling interviews actor Wil Wheaton about his returns to Star Trek: The Next Generation and his post-Trek career; Marc Shapiro chats up model/actress Kathy Ireland; Mike Clark notes the recent death of producer Irwin Allen with a career retrospective; in another post-mortem article, Eric Niderost profiles the late actor Ralph Bellamy; and David McDonnell’s Liner Notes column discusses comics and movies.
“Great business concept or not, [Sci Fi Channell president and founder Mitchell] Rubenstein is quick to dispel any notion that such an idea sprang forth from the mind of a diehard SF aficionado. ‘I’m not a Trekkie in the sense that you or your readers would think of a Trekkie, though I do watch. I just don’t watch it over and over and over. When you come into my office, the first thing you notice is that there’s virtually no science-fiction memorabilia anywhere. I’m definitely not a fan in the traditional sense; I don’t go to conventions. I would put myself in the mainstream of those who watch science fiction, but aren’t fanatics about it. I would put myself more in the category of the “traditional” viewer we would hope to attract with the Sci-Fi Channel, though we do want the hardcore fans to watch, too. We recognize their importance to us.”
– Bill Wilson, writer: “I Want My SF-TV!”
For more, click on Starlog Internet Archive Project below or visit the Starlog Project's permanent site.

Early Arrivals for San Francisco Giants Victory Parade

It was only 7:50 a.m. this morning, and the victory parade for the San Francisco Giants doesn't begin until 11:00 a.m., but people were already lining up on Market Street. Some folks had practically camped out, squatting on prime real estate with chairs and blankets, so they were certain to have good positions from which to view the parade. In three hours.