Saturday, November 24, 2007


It's been a long time since I discussed something truly important -- television. One of the few shows that I watch regularly these days is "Heroes", and one of the joys of this season -- which has been uneven at times -- is Stephen Tobolowsky's portrayal of the enigmatic and silver-tongued Bob, one of the men who runs The Company.

If you don't watch "Heroes", you'd probably recognize Tobolowsky as Ned Ryerson, the obnoxious insurance salesman in "Groundhog Day" who accosts Phil Connors (Bill Murray) on Connors' way to Gobbler's Knob. ("I dated your sister Mary Pat a couple of times until you told me not to anymore.") I've seen Tobolowsky dozens of times in movies and on TV, but rarely has he been given a chance to shine as he has this year on "Heroes."

It seems that one thing great television shows have in common these days is their ability to craft good roles for character actors like Tobolowsky, or for actors whose best days seemed long behind them. Tobolowsky himself had a nice turn on "Deadwood" as the weasely politician Hugo Jarry. "Deadwood" also featured Brad Dourif in arguably his most affecting role since "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", as well as Jeffrey Jones and Powers Boothe among others. "The Sopranos" had Robert Loggia and John Heard, who turned in an exquisitely fine-tuned performance as the corrupt and self-loathing Det. Vin Makazian during the show's first season.

Perhaps one of the best examples is Terry O'Quinn's role as John Locke on "Lost". Locke is the show's most engaging character, and O'Quinn is consistently its best actor. And yet, what did O'Quinn do before "Lost"? He had dozens of minor roles in which he more or less disappeared into the scenery, and a lead role here and there in B-movies. (He had several recurring television roles with which I'm not familar.) But on "Lost", he's all but indispensible.

What is responsible for this trend? It could be mere necessity: In addition to five broadcast networks, several basic cable channels -- plus HBO and Showtime -- now have original series, so producers need to rely on a deeper pool of talent than ever before. A lot of these shows are character-driven, with ensemble casts, so they need actors to fill a range of character types.

I also suspect we are seeing the influence of independent film directors like Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson, not to mention the Coen brothers and Wes Anderson. Tarantino is famous for reviving the career of John Travolta and bringing out of hibernation actors such as Pam Grier and Robert Forster. Paul Thomas Anderson has given great roles to Philip Baker Hall, Burt Reynolds, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Luis Guzman. Wes Anderson and the Coens have their own stable of quirky performers who make their films consistently entertaining.

Of course, much of the movie industry remains focused on churning out blockbuster films, which require blockbuster names. Just as some of the best screenwriting these days can be found television, so to some of the best and most inventive acting.

UPDATE: Thanks to the folks over at The House Next Door for linking to me.

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That's Australian for a thumpin', mate

Australian voters put a smackdown on Prime Minister John Howard, one of President Bush's most stalwart international supporters. The opposition Labor Party didn't just run against the war in Iraq:

Rudd has named global warming as his top priority, and his signing of the Kyoto Protocol will leave the U.S. as the only industrialized country not to have joined it. (link)

Just how much more isolated can the United States become?

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Friday, November 23, 2007

The song remains the same

The Sports Economist points yet again to the failure of taxpayer-financed stadiums to spur economic development, despite the promises of local officials and team owners:

The crazy thing about the AT&T Center is that the Spurs are claiming it is obsolete just five years after a significant renovation, and are demanding a new, publicly financed arena to replace it. (link)

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Too smart for its own good

I think I found this on 2 Political Junkies:

cash advance

My other blog is even smarter.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

They can have my camera when they pry it from my cold, dead hands

This blog is documenting government abuses against the right to take photographs in public spaces. (h/t to The House Next Door.)

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The truthiness ticket

The Westminster College Mock Convention -- which I discussed here -- nominated John Edwards for president and Stephen Colbert for VP.

Speaking of Edwards, the New York Times dissects the rocky relationship he had with John Kerry in 2004. It is truly depressing reading.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Third World America

Nah, America doesn't need national health insurance:

It was 3 a.m. at the Wise County Fairgrounds in Virginia — Friday, July 20, 2007 — the start of a rainy Appalachian morning. Outside the gates, people lay in their trucks or in tents pitched along the grassy parking lot, waiting for their chance to have their medical needs treated at no charge — part of an annual three-day “expedition” led by a volunteer medical relief corps called Remote Area Medical.

The group, most often referred to as RAM, has sent health expeditions to countries like Guyana, India, Tanzania and Haiti, but increasingly its work is in the United States, where 47 million people — more than 15 percent of the population — live without health insurance. (link)


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Good, but...

I learn via The Parkway Left that the URA has decided to foreclose on the Beechview properties owned by Bernardo Katz, whose follies in Beechview I discussed in this post. The Parkway Left believes there may be some political shenanigans afoot, which leaves me with little faith that things will get done right in Beechview.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Running from his record

I wrote a while back that the Massachusetts health care reform plan would boost Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. And it turns out that it's succeeded in covering most Massachusetts residents who previously were uninsured. So why, asks Andrew Sullivan, is Romney not campaigning on this?

Because Romney is not yet running for president; he's merely running for the GOP nomination. I failed to realize that Romney would repudiate just about everything he ever believed in to curry favor with social conservatives -- and when it comes to health care, economic conservatives as well. A moderate Democrat could easily -- a relative term -- capture his or her party's nomination. Not so a moderate Republican.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

The poster child

The Trib turns a critical eye on the Allegheny Conference in an article on the front of today's paper. Perhaps the most significant passage:

If the conference ever starts to accomplish the business-oriented agenda it claims to support, it could help the region to recover, several urban-policy experts contend.

Cutting business taxes and regulations remain the best ways to expand an economy and jobs, according to John Charles, head of the free-market Cascade Policy Institute in Portland, Ore.

Portland is a darling of urban planners for its strict zoning, regional government and subsidized mass transit. But Charles thinks the Portland region is wasting money by expanding its streetcar network and unveiling a $57 million Swiss-style aerial tram.

"You don't try to pick winners and losers," said the University of Pittsburgh graduate. "You don't try to have this grand vision. The nice thing about cutting the corporate income tax is, everybody benefits. You're not cutting a deal for a handful of people."

Pittsburgh has done a good job of promoting itself, said Joel Kotkin, economic and social forecaster with the Milken Institute, an economic research group in Santa Monica, Calif. Yet now it needs to work on substance.

"Pittsburgh's sort of the poster child of out-of-scale ideas," said Kotkin. "Huge airports, fancy convention center, the stupid light-rail to the stadium -- that kind of stuff. Stuff that I think is pretty secondary but apparently has support from the top of the business community.

"The city gets extremely good press in many ways nationally, but when you look at the performance, you say, 'I don't get it.' The city has made some progress, but a lot other cities have made a lot more." (link)

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

In sickness and health (but mostly sickness)

Paul Krugman explodes some health care myths. As the presidential campaign gets serious, it's important not to let opponents of universal health insurance define the debate.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

A glutton for punishment

Chris Briem invites DeSantis supporters to face some unpleasant truths. They don't take it very well.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

"What was God before he was a Christian?"

A letter to the editor in the Trib today invites disgruntled Presbyterians to join the Roman Catholic Church, "the one Jesus started 2007 years ago."

Well, forgive this Protestant for being a bit sensitive on this point, but that ain't how it happened. The Roman Catholic Church essentially was started 300 years after Christ's death, when one interpretation of Jesus' life -- and one set of scriptures -- was sanctioned and the others branded heresy.

Jesus was Jewish, a faith that many of his disciples continued to practice after his death, until their allegiance to his teachings and their desire to spread his word to Gentiles drove them away from Judaism. Even in the four "orthodox" gospels -- none written by Jesus' contemporaries -- there is scant evidence that Jesus intended to start a new religion.

As for the letter writer's contention that Catholic doctrine never changes, well, how then to explain celibacy, a rule that has been in effect for priests for only about 1,000 years or so? What about the Immaculate Conception, which has been official doctrine for only about 150 years? Can't the pope change doctrine anytime he pleases?

It's hard for me to believe that Jesus would be terribly pleased with any of the churches that have been formed in his name. This is a man, the gospels tells us, who flagrantly violated the laws of his own religion, because he believed those laws were perversions of God's will and had become instruments of oppression.

And so how do we choose to worship him? By creating byzantine institutions governed by arbitrary rules that alienate us from one another, and from the love of God.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

We have seen the president, and he is us

The Post-Gazette's Early Returns column brings this quote to my attention:

H. L. Mencken: As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their hearts desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

The grand and glorious day has arrived, Mr. Mencken.


This just in

Election results are up online. Ravenstahl is ahead.

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Poll watching

WPXI is quoting the Ravenstahl campaign as saying that the mayor is certified as a poll watcher. Allegheny County Democratic Chairman Jim Burns acknowledged that it may have been questionable for the mayor's wife to be wearing an "I Like Luke" sticker. Bill Green and David Johnson read the portions of the election code cited by Ravenstahl and believe that the mayor's intepretation may be correct.

"Possibly much ado about nothing," Johnson said.

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Hey, is there an election today?

The mayor was photographed today inside a polling place not his own, in apparent violation of election law. See Agent Ska's pictures. (Via The Burgher.)

Meanwhile, Judy O'Connor recorded an endorsement message for Luke Ravenstahl. I suppose it will depend on Ravenstahl's margin of victory whether he continues to stand on O'Connor's coffin for the next two years. (Maybe he will borrow a page from the Carbolic Smoke Ball.)

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

The best laid plans

Mike Madison discusses a Cato Institute critique of Portland's growth restrictions. Some time ago at my other blog, I reviewed Robert Bruegmann's book "Sprawl: A Compact History", in which the author discusses Portland at length.

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

Digging in the dirt

So the Ravenstahl administration has allowed four months to elapse without removing lead-contaminated soil at a Highland Park playground? Well, at least they posted a warning, so that parents know not to let their children play there.

Oh, wait:

But four months after the city found out about the lead, it has yet to remove contaminated soil, or post a warning to families who use the tot lot and playground 20 feet from the dirt.

Never mind.

(h/t to The Burgher.)

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