Drooling on the Pillow

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Office Reprise 

I'm a big fan of The Office the BBC comedy that committed itself to term limits and, unfortunately, stuck to it's guns, running only two seasons. I approached the NBC version with trepidation. Had to watch, very low expectations.

I do think Steve Carell is funny, in an kind of horrifying way, and I do think, of all the Brit comedies that have been butchered by US networks, this one had the best fit of any since All in the Family. But still.

It could have been a lot worse. What they did was recreate the original to the point that you really couldn't tell very easily if they were using the same set. They have the same set of characters in the same relationships right down to the rumpled hair of the sympathetic young salesman. I've read the grudgingly positive reviews that say that it takes about three episodes for the show to start finding it's own identity so it seems like they wanted to show that they could do The Office first.

Steve Carell will never be as good as Ricky Gervais, but he's probably good enough and I'll have to keep watching.

Good Government 

In the Sunday Times New Jersey Section, Laura Mansnerus quotes Acting Governor Codey's job description for the newly created post of Liutenant Governor:

"To stay alive in case the governor doesn't."

She speculates that there will be value in the post for the LiutGov in terms of establishing name recognition for subsequent state-wide campaigns. She doesn't bother with the question of value for the voters.

The post is not voted on by the public; the gubernatorial candidate names his running mate. Ms. Mansnerus notes that "these days it is not easy to get a township council seat for free, let alone a statewide office."

I don't know what the LiutGov is going to be paid, but at any price it's too much. Why not let the governor name his successor upon his indictment? Or, if he keels over in his manicotti, have the AG run an auction. That way the loot goes into the state coffers instead somebody's coffee can.

As far as the voters are concerned, it would make little difference.

Mr. Cassoto, Meet Miss Zuck 

From the Times Sunday New Jersey section:

Sandra Dee was born in Bayonne with the name Alexandra Cymboliak Zuck.

Thought you'd like to know.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Getting SLAPPed Around by Stevens 

I was reading Shabe's story about the sentencing of Robert Janiszewski and followed his link to The Hudson Forum. Feelings are apparently running high over there and Shabe questions whether the heavy sentence Janiszewski received despite a lot of cooperation in bagging other bad guys will be a disincentive to the next elected crook (who knows, there might be another one) to cooperate at all.

At The Hudson Forum I ran across this story by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff concerning the dismissal of a defamation suit brought by Stevens Institute against a pair of local community activists, Ron Hine and Aaron Lewit, and Fund for a Better Waterfront (FBW) the group Hine and Lewit represent.
SLAPP stands for strategic litigation against public
participation. SLAPP suits are most typically aimed at
groups and individuals who raise objections to
development projects based on issues such as land use
and environmental concerns. In response, corporations
or developers file lawsuits claiming public statements
made by the protestors are defamatory and caused them
economic hardship. Courts tend to see such suits as an
attack on free speech and often strike them down. But
the aim of a SLAPP is not just legal victory: it's a
retaliatory move with the intent of tying up foes in long
costly legal battles. Since the most typical SLAPP
launchers are corporations and developers, the action
by Stevens Institute of Technology, a university,
against Hine, Lewit and FBW was unusual. However,
what touched off the suit was a dispute over a Stevens
development project. One which raised issues of land
use and environmental concerns.
The dispute concerned the development of the abandoned Hoboken waterfront. Stevens wanted a portion of Castle Rock for the Lawrence T. Babbio Center for Technology Management and a parking garage. FBW contended that blasting for the project was releasing dangerous amounts of asbestos and at any rate proper clearances for the blasting hadn't been obtained. Stevens contended that the publicity cost it more than $1 million. SLAPP suit.

Not much has been said about the troubles of Stevens president Harold J. Raveché since the flurry of blogs referring to the Chronicle of Higher Education article about funny business at Stevens concerning dicey loans and falling bond ratings a few weeks ago. To my knowledge the story hasn't moved into the mainstream media. I have no more first hand knowledge of the SLAPP suit story than I did of the earlier one. I'd be glad to hear Stevens' side of the story, but meanwhile it appears at the very least they have some work to do in repairing their reputation as a neighbor and corporate citizen.

Barney Martin Posted by Hello

Barney Martin, R.I.P 

Via A Small Victory

He was the third actor to play Jerry Seinfeld's father, but he is the one you remember.

What a life this guy had. He was a navigator in the Air Force in WWII, then put in a full twenty years as a New York City detective. He started writing for TV shows in his spare time and got his break as a performer when Mel Brooks cast him in The Producers. He originated the role of Amos Hart in Chicago on Broadway. I saw that performance. It was a terrific show and with all the high powered talent packing the stage I remember his song Mr. Cellophane most clearly. And then Morty Seinfeld.

Gone to the condo in the sky.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Punks Punking 

Patrick at Jerseystyle! has the roundup and the links on the New Brunswick hostage hoax story. It's one of those stories where you start reading it and shaking your head and then your jaw drops and then drops some more and then falls right off.

These are people with a serious need for a time out. Say three to five.

We Must Hang Together Or We're Screwed 

I always liked Goethe's last words, which I understood to be "More light!" I found that poignant especially in the context of his observation that one always searches where there is light.

Now I read that the words actually were "Open the second shutter so that more light may come in."

That's like finding out that Wellington's post-action summary at Waterloo was really "Man, we almost got our asses handed to us."

Plague Spring 

Well, Roberto is back on his pins, but Jim is still 10-7. There are swathes of co-workers not just down, not just out, but stomped flat by this flu or whatever it is going around. I'm getting it, so I'll probably just take Good Friday off and blog from home.

Ironically, (I guess it's irony, I'll have to ask Mr. Snitch!) I've been reading The Great Influenza, by John M. Barry, concerning the deadly epidemic in 1918-19. While you're hacking, sneezing and blowing snot bubbles, here's some fun facts: it was called the Spanish Flu because Spain was one of the few neutral nations in 1918 and thus one of the few developed nations with an uncontrolled press. They were the only ones reporting the deaths. Actually, it almost certainly got its start in Kansas, USA.

The devastation it brought to the German army, even in it's early, relatively non-lethal version, put an end to their last chance to win the war.

It killed more people in twenty-four weeks than AIDS has killed in twenty-four years. It killed more people in a year than the Black Death killed in a century. Probably more than 100 million.

The death toll in New York City was 33,000 in a city of around 4,000,000. More than twenty 9/11s in a matter of weeks.

One thing, aside from scale, that distinguished this epidemic from others was the fact that if you were young and healthy, you were more likely to die. This strain turned the immune system against the victims. The stronger your immune system, the quicker it would kill you. There were many cases of death within hours of the first symptom.

The 'silver lining', as Kos might put it, was that it coincided with a remarkable period of development of American science and medical research and spurred a great leap forward in those fields.

What I've found most interesting, though, is the portrait of the governance of the Progressives in 1918. Anyone who ever let the word Bushitler escape their lips or keyboard ought to take a look at wartime America under Wilson. Lincoln famously suspended habeas corpus, but that, in fact, involved only a handful of cases.

The government compelled conformity, controlled speech
in ways, frightening ways, not known in America before
or since. Soon after the declaration of war, Wilson pushed
the Espionage Act through a cooperative Congress, which
balked only at legalizing outright press censorship -- despite
Wilson's calling it "an imperative necessity".
In a move loaded with contemporary echoes, Attorney General Gregory demanded that the Librarian of Congress report the names of those who had asked for certain books. He got what he wanted with none of that Patriot Act nonsense about warrants or subpoenas. The new Sedition Act made it punishable by twenty years in jail to "utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the government of the United States." And they used this law. Thousands would be jailed under it. As Perry notes, "One could go to jail for cursing the government, or criticizing it, even if what one said was true." And to help enforce this law the government formed the volunteer American Protective League and authorized them to carry a badge saying "Secret Service." They ultimately numbered 200,000 and reported their neighbors' transgressions to the authorities.

This is all just a reminder that when the Progressives are on the march, it's best to keep your head down.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Menagerie of Desire 

The reviews of the Broadway revivial of The Glass Menagerie with Jessica Lange and Christian Slater are entertainingly exterpative. Here's the Times, but I wish I could link to Jeremy McCarter in the New York Sun.

After reading the reviews I wrote a post on how I must be the only person to have been an actor for more than twenty years never to have been in a Tennesee Williams play. It was a good post, I thought.

Unfortunately, it was a lie. Not wanting to get Al Franken on my case, I had to 86 it.

The truth is, I just forgot.

After my freshman year in theatre school I got my first professional engagement. It was a summer of one-week stock in a barn of a theatre in a corn field in northwest Illinois, about twenty miles outside of Moline. Basically boot camp.

There were very few days that summer we didn't work fifteen hours. I think we did about six plays and two musicals. There was a director, a designer and about fifteen actor/slaves. We built the sets and the costumes, hung the lights, did the changes, ran the publicity, cleaned the house, ran the props, all the while rehearsing during the day, performing in the evening and doing what 18-year olds like to do best in the time remaining. For this we made $15 a week plus board. Meals were at a lunch counter in town. I do remember that the food was good and I became addicted to rhubarb pie that summer. There was a boys barracks and a girls barracks, but that quickly became a distinction that lacked a difference.

I remember a night after a tech rehearsal when everyone was so utterly exhausted that no one could sleep. As the last person dragged themselves through the door someone, in the dark, said "Shut the god damn door." It was a line reading that could have been a pre-homage to Nicolas Cage in Con Air saying "Put the bunny in the box." Everyone started laughing and didn't stop for half an hour. We were tired.

Anyway. One of the plays was A Streetcare Named Desire. An excellent choice for a bunch of inexperienced teenagers. I would so love to see a tape of that production. The girl who played Blanche, actually, was as good as she could have been and went on to have a career.

I was cast as the doctor who comes on in the last scene to haul Blanche off to the looney bin. The only direction I received from the director was the old chestnut about the actor who played the doctor on broadway. When he was asked what the play was about he said "It's about a doctor who is awakened in the night to attend to an interesting case." I took the direction to heart and had to be told several times "Mike, you're going to have to pull that scene back."

It just occurred to me that a girl I knew from college and was there that summer contacted me last year when I blogged about my college. If you're still out there Annette, send me an email. I have serious memory gaps from that year.

Perhaps I recalled all this because years later I was part of a showcase theatre on 101st Street. We used to put on a production of A Christmas Carol every year as a fundraiser. Playing the part of Tiny Tim a couple years was Christian Slater. I wonder how much he remembers.

All Blogotics is Local 

The Glittering Eye has a link to a site call the Personal Democracy Forum. At this post it lists blogs that focus on state and local politics. Imagine my shock and embarrassment to see that New jersey had exactly no blogs listed.

I can think of a dozen blogs, left and right, that should be on that list. Some of the ones listed are not primarily political, but often deal with local issues. So get over there and let them know about us.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Hynobius retardatus Posted by Hello

It's Clobberin' Time! 

From the Times' Science section. No link.
Nobody likes overcrowding, but the Japanese salamander
Hynobius retardatus has an unusual way of dealing with it.
During is larval stage, if its corner of the pond is chockablock
with fellow salamander larvae or tadpoles, H. retardatus can
develop a broader head, the better to eat them.
The change is prompted not by chemical signals, but by the flapping tails of tadpoles.


I'd like to think this is the last piece I'll put together on the Terri Schiavo case.

Like most people, I have a feeling about it, a non-deliberative desire, and I look around for sensible remarks that support it. I put aside all the legal and constitutional posturing on both sides. I take it as a given that both sides are using the case to further an agenda, but as I believe we need, occasionally, to reformulate or reaffirm our ethical consensus on hot issues, I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing. Let one side make their case for making the end of life a more rational, personal event. Let the other side point out the difficulties this can pose down the road. And by all means, let the legislative and judicial branches, the federal and the state authorities fight it out. Everybody: speak up.

Here are my witnesses.

Ross Douthat at The American Scene:
In response to the commentors' complaints that I'm letting
bloggers' glosses (or Peggy Noonan's glosses) trump the facts
in the case, I would say this: please, read the court's original
. It bases the decision to cease feeding Schiavo on
comments that she reportedly made in passing at a funeral,
and to her husband after watching a TV movie. Under Florida
law, this may well be the correct decision . . . but if so, then I
think Florida law ought to be changed. I would be very, very
upset if I went into a vegetative state, and decisions about the
disposition of my life were made based on some random,
undocumented comments I'd made to my spouse after
watching a movie about comas. In the absence of a living will
or similar document -- and particularly when there are people,
like your parents, who are willing to care for you in perpetuity --
I think the presumption should always be to leave people who
are alive, well, alive, no matter what state their brain tissue is
in. Not because I think Terri Schiavo is coming back to
consciousness. I'm sure she's not. But because I think the state
shouldn't be in the business of ordering the killing -- and that's
what withholding a feeding tube is; it's not the same as taking
someone off life support -- of an innocent human being, even if
that person is lost to us, and even if that person's husband says
that it's what she would have wanted.

And I don't mean to suggest that Michael Schiavo is an evil man
who wants to kill his wife so he can marry some floozy; as the
commentors point out, he could get a divorce easily enough. No,
I'm sure that he honestly believes that he's doing the right thing.
But I'm equally sure that people's motives in something like this
are a mixed and messy bag, and I wouldn't be surprised if Mr.
Schiavo's eagerness to put his wife to sleep once and for all has
at least something to do, on a subconscious level, with his
obvious desire to make a fresh romantic and marital start. Which
is why he shouldn't be able to make the choice for her.

Zetjintsu, a commenter at 2 Blowhards, responding to this post by Fenster Hoop

I think this issue is confused by misconceptions on both the left
and right. On the right, that Terri is alive. That which was Terri
ceased to exist in this world a long time ago. On the left, I think
there's a fear of how awful it'd be to "imprisoned" in a vegetable
body. This is a fallacy caused by looking at it from the perspective
of our current self. However, if we go brain dead our current self
will be gone, and we won't have the faculties to consider our
vegetative state tortuous. Being a vegetable is not horrendous
for the vegetable, though I do wonder if being cruelly starved to
death does cause them distress...

To give the husband credit, I think he does believe in what he's
doing, that this is what "Terri wants." The error of course is that
Terri doesn't want anything, she's long dead. And the vegetable
that Terri's become certainly doesn't "want" to die, if it wants
anything it's to take in nutrients/air, sleep, and eliminate.

Which makes this a somewhat low stake issue as there's nothing
in reality that's being fought over; there is no Terri for the right
to save the "life" of, and there is no Terri for the left to liberate
from her "imprisonment". The husband would lose nothing if
Terri was spared.

However, and this is what I think is key, her parents will suffer
greatly if she's killed. Yes, this is because of their misconception
that Terri is still alive, but the fact is that that's how they are
perceiving reality, and there's nothing that can be done to change
that. If Terri's killed, they'll experience the horror of believing
their precious daughter was cruelly murdered by an adulterous
monster posing as her husband. Only and utterly insensitive jerk
would inflict such suffering upon parents. A bitterness like that
will stay with them like poison the rest of there lives. If the
parents can pay for her treatment costs, then let them keep
their comforting little delusion alive. The husband may currently
have the legal right to end her life, but it's not the right choice.

And for some contrarian views on the medical realities, Dr. CBB at CodeBlueBlog.

As I've pointed out elsewhere, I'm not a Life zealot. I don't believe the government has any useful role to play in legislating one way or another concerning abortion, certainly in the first trimester. And I believe in the death penalty. I'm aware that the Florida courts found that Ms. Schiavo had expressed her DNR desires and, had she written them down this would have all been over long ago. I don't think Michael Schiavo is wrong to have moved on with his life, but shouldn't a common law wife and two children effect his standing in this case? I believe the judge has followed the law and is doing his best with a hellishly difficult case. The law has spoken, clearly and consistently, but that doesn't mean it's right. Or that people who believe it's wrong shouldn't use every means available to stop it. The appropriate correlative is opposition to the death penalty. Once the law has spoken, no matter how clearly or forcefully, the game has just begun. This one's gone on long enough. I hope, one way or the other, it is over soon.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Hit The Dimmer, Ms. Erickson, I Just Filled My Tank 

From the Times:
To the Editor:

Gale A. Norton's attempt to soften the effects of oil
exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is
disingenuous at best.

I have never visited Alaska, much less the refuge. But
just knowing that it's there, wild and intact, serves a
deep spiritual need for me for open space. I will gladly
commute by bicycle and turn down the thermostat to
help preserve it.

Alice Erickson
Minneapolis, March 14, 2005

If I'm following the argument correctly here, Secretary Norton is a liar because Ms. Erickson has a deep spiritual need. Her reasoning is wild, but not what you'd call intact.


I go through periods when my personal I/O just shuts down and I go wandering through the bowers of the universe within for -- an indeterminate period of time.

I read over at PropertyTaxNJ about something that happened last fall while, apparently, I was in my Happy Place. You all probably knew this, but I was surprised to learn that in September New Jersey began to apply a sales tax to plastic surgery, bringing in around $25 million a year. The tax applies only to 'elective' surgery, such as botox injections. This article is full of plastic surgeons whining about the unfairness of it all, but they make the valid point that there is nowhere in New Jersey that is not within easy driving distance of New York or Philadelphia and the net effect of driving their business out of the state may be a loss of tax revenue. Figures, please.

If I decide I want a Travolta chin, I should be taxed. In fact, I should be covered with Saran Wrap and locked in a room with Lizzie Grubman.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Mary Fills Her Life List 

My favorite photoblogger, Mary, at Exit Zero was part of the counter-protest in New York yesterday and had an outstanding vantage point for moonbatting.
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