Publishing Notes

While we wait for further news on Katie Kieffer’s first book – of which more to come soon – I’m happy to notice that XKCD is publishing a book this fall.

Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions will be published September 2nd by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Starting today you can pre-order it from your favorite bookseller (Barnes & NobleAmazonIndie Bound).  There are also foreign editions, including a UK and Commonwealth edition and a German edition

Sounds like my next couple of airplane trips are covered!

White Trash Chic

I’ve never been much of a TV watcher.   I’ve gone through some major parts of my life with no TV at all, and many more not really watching any.

But over the last eight months or so, via the miracle of Netflix, I’ve caught up on some of the shows everyone says “you just gotta see” - House of Cards, Mad Men, The Killing, Walking Dead, Lilyhammer, Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, Battlestar Galactica (at least the first three seasons; it crashed to a halt in Season 4) and a few others.

It’s commonly said that we’re in a third “Golden Age of Television”.  And if you are a picker and chooser, the amount of quality TV out there is pretty amazing (although given how much TV there is out there compared with 40 years ago, I’m not sure the quality-to-dreck ratio is that much better).

But something’s always nagged at me about this boom in quality – from the Sopranos’ New Jersey full of strip clubs and body dumping grounds to Breaking Bad’s Albuquerque full of  tweakers, TV is focusing on flyoverland like it never, ever did in its earlier eras (Mary Tyler Moore’s Minneapolis and Happy Days’ Milwaukee were thematic window-dressing)…

…and it’s pretty alarming.

John Podhoretz identifies it:

[Brett Martin, author of the book "Difficult Men", about the producers behind the current era in TV] notes that there was something explicitly political at work in the early days of what he calls television’s “Third Golden Age.” Americans “on the losing side” of the 2000 election, Martin writes, “were left groping to come to terms with the Beast lurking in their own body politic.” As it happened, “that side happened to track very closely with the viewerships of networks like AMC, FX, and HBO: coastal, liberal, educated, ‘blue state.’ And what the Third Golden Age brought them was a humanized red state. .  .  . This was the ascendant Right being presented to the disempowered Left—as if to reassure it that those in charge were still recognizably human.”

Of course, the “recognizably human” people who dared vote for George W. Bush were all sociopathic or psychopathic crooks: Tony Soprano, Walter White (note the name) of Breaking Bad, the polygamous Mormon Bill Henrickson on Big Love, and others. They were the characters at the center, and they were indeed fully human.

Less human, but no less emblematic?  ”Peter Griffin”.

No, seriously.

Anyway, J-Po finds the part that’d been nagging at me:

It’s the depiction of the worlds in which they live that is so striking, even more so in the series that have come along since the body politic’s shift to the left, beginning in 2006. The canvas on which these characters are brought to three-dimensional life isn’t a “humanized red state” at all, but rather the red state of liberal horror fantasy.

The whole thing is worth a read.


Everyone’s A Minstrel

You know what I can’t stand?  Chinese violin and piano players.  [1]

The violin (as we understand the instrument today) and especially the piano are utterly western inventions.  They are utterly inseparable with the development of western music, and thus art, and thus culture. 

Ditto Japanese blues guitarists, and Arabic hip-hop artists and African opera singers, and the like.   [2]

When, say, Asian or African or Arabic people put on tuxedoes and sit in philharmonic orchestras, and do art assocated with western civilization, while not being actual westerners who grew up thoroughly marinated in the culture, they are essentially playing in “whiteface”, pretending to be western.  They have no concept of these artifacts of western culture - they don’t gather for jam session in garages, they don’t sit on street corners in the Bronx, they don’t know the feeling of Renaissance-era Italy. 

“Wait”, you say – “adopting parts of other languages and cultures into one’s own is an essential part of humanity!”


OK.  I guess you could say so. 

But tell it to this joyless slagathor at the apparently-racist, nativist rag Salon.  Who has, by the way, adopted a form of communication – the “opinion piece” – that is not native to her ethnic culture.  Why is she turning my culture into a white-face minstrel show?  [3]

[1] Not really . This is satire.

[2] See 1, above.

[3] It’s her logic, not mine.

There Once Was A President From Nantucket

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

The President was in Saint Paul last week. Did Saint Paul Poet Laureate Carol Connolly memorialize the occasion with an epic poem? Why didn’t I hear about it?

Joe Doakes

Ms. Connolly was unable to write the poem; she is apparently non-union.

I’m going to cross the artistic picket line:

“The President rode on the train,
Debarked, and made for his plane.
As he left on his trip,
the train it did flip,
As if it were financed by Bain.

I live to serve.

Cutting The Cookies

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

I found “Robin Hood” on Netflix, the updated version released by the BBC in 2006. The casting was more interesting than the show.

The BBC modernized the story but only up to the 2006 Code of Stereotypes: the Bad Guy Sheriff of Nottingham must be a White male, Maid Marian must be a butt-kicking, wise-cracking feminist, the hero’s side-kick must be a dumb White guy to serve as the butt of all jokes, all war veterans must have PTSD and be ticking time-bombs for violence, at least one racial minority must play a supporting role as Member Of The Merry Band (Hispanic preferred) and most important of all, no Black may be cast in an unsympathetic light.

In 2014, that Code has been updated to require at least one gay character and, if at all possible, a disabled person, e.g. “Glee.”

In this “Robin Hood,” there is no Friar Tuck in the Merry Band (religious characters are forbidden under the new Code), but there is a Saracen woman named D’jaq and of course, she’s smarter than all of the White males put together. But get this – D’jaq is supposed to be slave captured by King Richard’s armies fighting Saladin in the Middle East. She ought to be an Arab Muslim. But she’s played by an English actress of Indian descent using a Pakistani accent to sound foreign. Why? Probably because there is a giant immigrant population in England from former Crown colonies like India and Pakistan and the BBC Code must acknowledge them by substituting a Paki for a Hispanic in the Member Of The Band slot.

The most amazing thing of all? The Master-at-Arms, who kills innocent women and children so the Sheriff can blame Robin Hood for it, is a Black man. The fake Abbess who’s really a con artist, is a Black women. Black people are criminals! That would never happen in an American series.

Rearranging the priority of victims to cater to local sympathies makes business sense for the film maker. But it also reflects a certain callousness. Casting a show to fit the Stereotype Code means you don’t actually care about the people being stereotyped, only that the correct boxes are checked to meet your quotas.

Joe Doakes

I think I wrote about that a few years back, when my kids were still watching the Disney Channel (back when I’d still let kids watch the Disney Channel); all of the cookie cutter “Disney Movies” had the same basic characters:

  1. The spunky, low-income white kid.
  2. The Latina tomboy who kicked everyone’s butts athletically (except, perhaps, #4 below
  3. The black, Chloe-O’Brien-level tech nerd.  Always, always, always the black kid was the nerd. 
  4. The lead character – almost always a blonde white boy…

…and a painstakingly-mixed bunch of supporting characters.

RIP Harold Ramis

Via Sheila O’Malley, to whom I often outsource my show-biz obits:

Of all of the films that have come out during my lifetime, all the huge important Oscar-winning serious films, all the weighty masterpieces, all the films about important topics, all of the “instant classics”, the beloved movies, the camp classics, the game-changers, the films draped in awards … of all of them, if I had to choose one film to be the #1 contender for “Film That Will Be Watched Regularly 150 Years From Now”, it would be Groundhog Day.

Not sure I could disagree.

Review: “House Of Cards”, Season 2

I’ve watched both seasons of Netflix’s drama “House of Cards”.

PROS:  Well-written, generally-tautly-paced, intricately-plotted, it rewards the viewer with an attention span.  It’s superbly-acted by a stellar cast of excellent actors and Robin Wright.

CONS:  It asks the viewer for one absolutely implausible suspension of dispbelief; the idea that a DC newspaper would energetically investigate a Democrat for corruption.  (Bonus suspension – that the Chinese would sneak money to Republicans, and that the Dems would buck the teachers’ union and demand entitlement reform).

RATING:  Four “Shots In The Dark”.


It’s “Super Bowl” Sunday.

Just a reminder, as you watch a couple of teams of overpaid thugs gambol and prance about a stadium owned by a couple of modern-day robber barons who’ve built their stadiums at the expense of the cities and states where they do their dirty business, playing a mobbed-up game; this is the ad that the NFL thought didn’t serve their image properly:

Sorry, NFL. I’ve watched my last Super Bowl…

Continue reading

Lone Reviewer

I caught “Lone Survivor” – the film adaptation of former SEAL Marcus Luttrell’s memoir chronicling his surviving a badly-awry mission in Afghanistan in 2005 – a few weeks back, as part of a review audience.

It was, by the way, an amazing movie.  Not a perfect retelling of the book – I won’t spoil anything, but one of the battles does get Hollywooded in comparison to the book, just a little.

All of that aside, it’s a great move, and I highly recommend it. 

Of course, it bleeds red white and blue – which means Hollywood’s liberal film critic elite have broken out the long knives. 

Which brings us to Roger Simon’s review of the reviews (and the movie’s snubbing from this year’s Oscars).  Read the whole thing.  But the conclusion is the vital part:

As for those of you who are lining up to diss Hollywood again in the comments, remember the late Andrew Breitbart said that politics is downstream of culture. He was a 1000% correct. Diss Hollywood all you want. It deserves it. But save some of your energy for taking it back. That’s a lot harder. And a lot more important.

Winning – no,contesting- the culture war is going to be as hard as Afghanistan.  And maybe more vital for this nation’s future.


Our media allowed the most un-vetted, and unqualified, presidential candidate in American history to walz into the White House with scarcely a question. 

They shunted any suggestion that the federal or state Obamacare websites were catastrophies waiting to happen straight into the memory hole. 

They parrotted the Obama campaign and Administration’s (ptr) rhetoric – “The War on Women”, the “99%”, etc etc – without so much as a peep.

And they’ve tried – oh, lord, they’ve tried – to eradicate all mention of the IRS and Benghazi scandals from the public conversation.  They never happened, Winston. 

They’re participating like tail-swishing little lapdogs in the White House’s spin over SecState Kerry’s “Peace In Our Time” settlement with Iran. 

But don’t you dare tell me the American media doesn’t know what matters.

Because they totally do. 

For reals.

Shades Of Things

Bill Glahn – who you need to be reading, by the way – on the Minnesota Orchestra debacle as a bellwether for how Big Art gets funded:

I suspect we will see more of the Minnesota Orchestra-type of dispute in the next few years. Since the financial crisis of 2008, the business models of a whole range of industries are no longer viable. Until we collectively figure out what’s next, the irresistible forces of “we can’t go on spending like this” will be crashing up against the immovable objects of “we don’t want to give up what’s been ours for decades.” A new model will eventually emerge to bring the fine arts to patrons. In the meantime, the adjustment period will be painful for everyone involved.

If there is any good news, it’s that the institutions and industries that go through the adjustment first will be best positioned later on. Those that cling to the failing system loner will end up in liquidation, rather than reorganization.

If you support art (if not necessarily Big Art), it’s an interesting time, in the full Taoist sense of the term. 

For starters, the biggest institution supporting Big Art – Big Academia – is also on the bring of an epochal shakeout.  The era of Big Institutions Who Do Things For Your Own Good as a whole seems to be fizzling, slowly – up to and including that biggest Institution That Does Things For Our Own Good, Big Government. 

I can’t imagine it means good things for Big Public Media – one of the other key patrons of Big Art – either.

So what will the epic restructuring of Big Art mean for art?

Things I’m Supposed To Like Less But Like More Anyway: “The Office” (US)

OK, TV hipsters.  Here’s your red meat.

The Office (US) is better.

And by “Better”, I mean “Oh, shut up. Who needs to choose? The Offices are two very very different shows built around the same basic premise, and why compare?”

The US Office lasted nine seasons – two of them short ones, but most of them with twice as many episodes as the entire run of the British series.  That’s a lot of hours of TV – which doesn’, in and of itself, make the US version better.  Hell, Laverne and Shirley and The Brady Bunch were on the air forever, too. 

Both shows started with the same premise – strangers stuck in an artificial environment.  Ricky Gervais’ British version ran for 14 episodes of over the top absurdism.  The American version had to fill in a few other things to fill all that time; characters that developed over time, stories that had legs, nuances and subreferences and a depth to the writing that may not have been as explosively outrageous as the Brit original, but keeps a lot better over time; I have watched most of the US episodes several times – because there’s a reason to keep going back; I’ve seen each Brit one twice, and after two years I can probably think about doing it again, maybe. 

So put a sock in it, hipsters.

Things I’m Supposed To Love But Am Less Crazy About: “The Office” (UK)

Ask any hipster; the stuff that nobody but they have seen is infinitely cooler than the stuff everyone else knows about.

And if you talk television, one of the things hipsters and the too-cool-for-thou all agree on is that the British version of The Office is sooooo much better than the American version (which just signed off the air after nine seasons).

They’re wrong.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve seen all fourteen episodes of The Office (UK).  It’s funny.

In fact, it’s almost too funny. 

And that’s part of the rub.

The Brit original, starring Ricky Gervais – who’s credited as creater for the series on both sides of the pond – aired for two six-episode seasons on the Beeb, along with a two-episode “retrospective” that tied up all the loose ends that’d been left. 

The series – there as here – was about what happens when you pack a bunch of very disparate people into the artificial environment of the modern office.  Also, about Ricky Gervais’ flair for the outrageous. 

The show reminds me of “Fawlty Towers” – John Cleese’s classic seventies-era BBC series about a bumbling, henpecked hotelier.  In “Fawlty”, Cleese’s protagonist, Basil Fawlty, would spend each episode spiraling down a vortex of self-induced and ever-more-absurd social pratfalls, aggravated by Fawlty’s arrogance and provincialism, ending inevitably in a classic volcanic meltdown.  It was ingenious stuff; the comic tension building as Fawlty’s ineptitude and duplicity built on each other to almost superhuman levels of absurdity.  There’s no way to explain it.  If you haven’t watched it, find it and do. 

And you might just find as I do – that you can only watch Fawlty every couple of years. Fawlty Towersis to comedy what Fourth of July is to fireworks; if you do it every day, it loses its impact. 

Gervais’ British Office is the same.  The David Brent character is like Fawlty – it’s all so gloriously over the top that the comic tension is almost unbearable. 

And it is the show.  Oh, there are other layers, nuances in the show – but they can only get developed so far in a show that only lasted fourteen episodes.  The “Tim and Dawn” romance is rushed and perfunctory, basically to give a breather from Brent’s antics. 

It’s hilarious – and, likeFawlty Towers, it wears me out. 

Which is fine.  But sometimes I want more…

…which we’ll come back to in a bit here.

Barnum Was Right

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

There was a thunderstorm [Thursday] night. The 6:00 a.m. news [Friday] morning was comical. The Anchor ponderously intoned there was a storm last night and sent us to the Weatherman, who pointed to radar weather map as he told us the storm had left our area, then we cut to a pretty young woman standing in the rain on the side of a road as cars drove around a puddle, who breathlessly explained that the storm left standing water on some roadways.

20 years ago, the Anchor would have said “Well, that was some rain last night, a real gully washer. In sports, our Minnesota Twins will host the . . .” and that would have been the end of it.

This may explain the media penchant for going along with the global warming hype. 20 years ago the weather was just a section of the newscast. Now it’s become huge business, with it’s own teams, trucks, radar installations, even it’s own networks and network feeds that the locals contract from. So the weather forecasting industry has a vested interest in making everything spectacular, dangerous, dazzling, tittilating. Follow The Money – global warming is a natural fit for the whole expansion of the weather forecast industry.

Joe Doakes

Following the career of former Channel-11, current (I think) Channel 4 weatherman Paul Douglas is illustrative, as it’s pretty well tracked the growth of “Weatherman As Celebrity”. 

In the eighties and nineties, Douglas’ side-line business – building weather-presentation software for broadast – was part and parcel of the growth of the Weather as Entertainment part of today’s newscasts; it brought action, zooming clouds, interaction between radar, maps and the presenter that made the weathercast seem like a little movie production of its own.  It made Douglas pretty wealthy, I’m told – nothing wrong with that – and helped him become the Twin Cities’ first weather “celebrity”. 

And he was one of the first to board the Global Warming train.