Monday, July 31, 2006

Proof Medicare Drug Coverage was too Complicated

The new Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage plan was supposed to help seniors or or the Republicans pander to drug companies depending on who you listen to. It was widely criticized as having too many plans and being too complicated. Now we have proof that's true. See some of the plans had a gap in coverage called a donut.

Your first x amount spent on prescription drugs was (partly) covered by the plan. Your next y amount was not covered, you had to pay all of it. And then your next z amount was (partly) covered again. So if you had small drug bills you were fine and if you had medium drug bills you had to pay more and if you had huge drug bills you had most of it covered but payed a portion of it yourself.

Now of course this might be difficult to explain to your grandmother. It was all spelled out in the plans but it seems people are starting to hit the donut and are complaining. "They have just learned that their Medicare drug plans are maxing out on early coverage and that they must now spend $2,850 from their own pockets before coverage will resume."

So here's the part that's the proof the plan was too complicated. "According to a report by the Campaign for America's Future, a Washington-based advocacy organization, seniors enrolled in the program at the start of the year will, on average, reach the doughnut hole Sept. 22." There's no way a politician would would structure a new entitlement to piss off millions of seniors a month before elections. This must mean the politicians voting for these plans didn't understand them.

FSM Hate Mail

I happen to like the Flying Spaghetti Monster though I didn't realize there's now a book on it. I am amazed at this collection of hate mail it apparently generated. How can people be so stupid?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Kennedy on Roberts and Alito

Ted Kennedy (R-MA) wrote what I think is an op-ed in the Washington Post today called Roberts and Alito Misled Us. And he wrote about it again in the Huffington Post. His point is that these two really are strong conservative ideologues, now with lifetime appointments, and more so that we need to reform the confirmation process.

Kennedy points out that Roberts and Alito voted together 91% of the time but leaves out that Roberts voted only 82% of the time with Thomas and 86% of the time with Scalia while Stevens and Souter voted together 83% and Ginsberg and Souter have voted together 86% of the time over the last 10 years.

The point that nominees should have to answer judicial philosophy questions is a good one. I just think it would be better made by someone who wasn't a political ideologue who's been in the Senate for a lifetime. There are ideologues on both sides. Political issues are decided by which side has 51% of elected officials and not by compromise. Roberts does seems to be trying to have narrower decisions that bring more consensus. Kennedy left out that 38% of the cases were decided unanimously which while just a little above the average of last 10 years (36%) it's considerably more than the 30% from last year or the 28% from the year before.

Steely Dan Wilson

Steely Dan has written an Open letter to Luke Wilson wherein they accuse Owen Wilson's latest movie You, Me and Dupree of being a ripoff of their 2000 song Cousin Dupree, which I would have thought no one had heard of but apparently it won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Book Review: Beautiful Evidence

I was greatly looking forward to Edward Tufte's fourth book Beautiful Evidence but after reading it I was a bit disappointed. I found it very repetitive of his previous books including the examples.

The first chapter was 30 pages long and covered Mapped Images, "representational images with scales, diagrams, overlays, numbers, words, images." It was lots of examples, so much so I was worried that it was just examples and would leave us to parse out the lessons, but he pulled through in the end and even summarize four lessons at the end of the chapter.

The second chapter was on Sparklines. These are small, graphs that fit into sentences as if they are words. They are good at showing showing trends in a small space and highlighting a few points. Examples are sports records, stock performance, and medical info. He ended the chapter with info on how to scale, color and format them in much more detail than he usually does which was nice. It's a cool concept and it's easy to see it's evolution from Galileo's description of seeing Saturn the first time and Tufte's previous medical charts. These have been discussed on Tufte's website for several years and there are some fonts to help you create these in current software apps. As a result it felt a little stale to me and they probably aren't something I'll use in the near future. If they're new for you, you should enjoy this chapter.

Chapter three was on diagrams with arrows. There were two diagrams showing the relationships between various artists and art movements. They were very good as was their description. However, other examples weren't so good. I didn't get the point of the horse drawing at all. Galileo's drawing while quite involved had no information about what it was and no translation, even the title. For someone who's usually so involved in explaining the actual data presented in the example, I had none of that here, all I could do was appreciate the pretty picture. While Feynman diagrams are incredibly useful to physicists, there's no way reading this book you could understand them. Then again there's no way to include enough description to explain them, so maybe they weren't a good example.

Tufte worships Galileo, in Chapter four he reproduces the same two pages from a Galileo book, not once or twice, but three times. In just four continuous pages! Fine, but on page 100 he goes too far when he starts commenting on how Galileo's printed stars show through to the opposite side of page. He says "The raking light and consequent shadows are similar to, say, the paly of sunlight on lunar mountains." Oh please. But I was happy to see his idolatry didn't stop him from offering improvements on Galileo's designs. He then went on to Issac Newton. I didn't think this added much and the 1.5 pages detailing "the dreary history of text/image segregation for the 23 editions in 5 languages of Newton's Opticks published since 1704" was exhaustive and unnecessary to make the point that images and descriptions should be closely located. He quickly moved to recent times and a 1 page graphic on "Spotting a hidden handgun" was gorgeous almost made me forget the rest.

Chapter five covers the six Fundamental principals of analytic design. The information presented is very good. As an example he uses the classic chart of Napolean's march on russia by Charles Joseph Minard. Anyone who knows Tufte knows this chart which in his first book he described as "It may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn." It's reprinted five times in this chapter in it's entirety and various parts of it are also reprinted several more times over 13 pages. I agree with part of this, it means the reader doesn't have to turn back to previous pages to follow the narrative, but I've seen this so many times before I knew it by heart. It would have been better with a different example. I also thought that if the fold out version had another page and was printed on the back, I could refer to it while reading the following pages.

In spite of the name Beautiful Evidence, Tufte spends 45 pages showing ugly evidence. That's almost a quarter of the book's 200 pages. Chapter six is 16 pages of good examples of the ways people lie in presenting evidence. He coins a new word for this: economisting. Chapter seven is a 30 page compelling rant against PowerPoint. It's an expanded form of a pamphlet he previous released (which I own). The mock PowerPoint presentation of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is hysterical. All of the examples were far worse than presentations I've seen and I believe I've seen many presentations that were helped by PowerPoint. Tufte says these are maybe 10% of all presentations, which struck me as an example of economisting. Trying to convincing the world to stop using PowerPoint is bold, perhaps impossibly so, but I've previously read this in his pamphlet and heard it at a lecture of his 10 years ago.

Chapter Eight I found rather inexplicable. It's 24 pages of sculptures and how they are displayed, particularly how large abstract landscape sculptures are mounted. Ok, most of them are sculptures by Tufte, but I found it rather self-indulgent.

The book certainly has some very good parts, but as it's his fourth book and drew on materials published on his site, I was disappointed by it.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Rational Voices

Cenk Uygur has a really good article at The Huffington Post called We Were Right. In spite of the sound of the title it's actually not an I told you so. "We shouldn't be proud because things went poorly, as we feared and suspected. We should be proud that we tried to get people to change direction even when it was most unpopular."

He includes an apology from conservative talk radio host Doug McIntyre which is very much worth a read.

Uygur ends by saying that our policy of pre-emptive strike is now being seen in Israel and possibly by Turkey. Our go it alone attitude is translated as "When in doubt, invade" which isn't really much of a translation from Cheney's 1% solution. He points out that Israel shouldn't invade because "It will only push Lebanon further towards the extremists." and instead of attacking Iran we should "Fight against the culture of fundamentalism through persuasion, free markets and education." Oh, and we should still be going after bin Laden.

Arms Sales

The New York Times reports U.S. Speeds Up Bomb Delivery for the Israelis. No surprise, we supply arms to the Israelis and Iran supplies Hezbollah. Maybe this is the just the preview of what's to come. Oh and we also sold $6 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia so that the Arabs don't think we're just on Israel's side.

I know this is naive, but would the region be less crazy if we didn't supply both sides with the means the kill each other? Go see Why We Fight. What if built them schools and gave them good history textbooks. I know, where would we get those from?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Bush and Budgeting, Violates Law

Thing Progress reports on how rep Chris Shays (R-CT) is unhappy that Bush Refuses To Estimate Future Costs of Iraq War It's a little more important than having one (Republican) House member upset. It seems there's a 2005 law requiring the President to provide Congress a report detailing estimated costs of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The director of the OMB says the pentagon can't provide an estimate because there are too many variables. It would be difficult to do so if you don't have a plan.

I've long been annoyed that Bush's submitted federal budgets don't include the cost of the war. But this is getting ridiculous.

You're Doing a Heckuva Job, Maggie

So apparently the Secretary of Education is also useless. This Daily Kos article seems to get it pretty right and has good pointers. In short the Secretary of Education went to Congress asking for $100 million for a school voucher program. The problem is, 4 days prior her Department published a study showing there wasn't an appreciable difference in test scores of public v private school students.

Comic blog from Beruit

Mazen Kerbaj is a musician and comic author in Beruit. He started blogging his daily experiences and thoughts in comic form. Many of the images come from his flickr photostream but it's not exactly the same as whats in the blog. Interesting stuff.

Rest in Peace

A friend of mine lost a 3.5 year battle to colon cancer last night. Bjarne was an amazing person. Everyone who knew him called him an inspiration. This is proof the world isn't fair.

Bjarne Rasmussen

Bush Blocks Investigation into NSA

On Tuesday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Bush himself decided not to grant clearance to the Justice Department officials investigating the NSA Domestic Spying program. The Office of Professional Responsibility was conducting the investigation and in 31 years has never been denied clearance.

The Washington Post has good coverage including video. Dan Froomkin has very complete coverage in Cover-Up Exposed?.

At least the related AT&T lawsuit is going forward.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Top 10 Coolest LEGO Gadgets

I never made one of the Top 10 Coolest LEGO Gadgets but I wish I had.

Human Space Invaders

In all the time I've spent at a movie theater (and playing Space Invaders) I've never thought to do this. 67 people are the pixes in this 3 min film which took 4 hours to make.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Bush's Open Mic

So there's this whole Bush open mic thing that happened. At the G8 summit while talking with Tony Blair, they didn't realize their mics were on. It wasn't really as big a deal as it might have been. Here is a transcript of what they said. To me the bigger thing was why our press coverage sucked so much. Here's what The Independent had to say about it. At least we have blogs, here's a good one on it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Missing Architects of War

Arianna Huffington asks Where Have All the Architects of War Gone? She follows up on Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and Doug Feith.

Taking Stevens Seriously

Here's Ed Felten's attempt at Taking Stevens Seriously in his blog Freedom to Tinker. Even if you substitute the right words in there, the argument he tried to make is still pretty weak (but not as horrible as most make it out to be). I still think it would be nice if the people making the laws really understood what they were legislating about.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Shipping News

The June 17th issue of the Economist had a special report on Logistics. Special Reports are most always interesting but make it even harder to finish an issue in a week. I'm about a month behind which is about par.

Logistics is the modern word for shipping and supply chain management fits in there too. This paragraph really surprised me:
The range of logistics businesses the express operators are moving into is huge. One service offered by UPS's local branches is a drop-off facility for broken Toshiba laptops. Most owners think that when they have told Toshiba about their problem and put their laptop into a UPS box, it is sent to the Japanese company to be repaired and then returned by UPS. But what really happens is that when the laptop arrives at UPS's Louisville hub, it is taken to a vast estate of warehouses near the airport and mended in a repair shop owned and run not by Toshiba but by UPS. The UPS technicians are trained by Toshiba and the warehouse holds Toshiba spare parts. Even the people in the Toshiba call-centre that deal with inquires work for UPS. The delivery company has been contracted to provide a complete repair and customer-service-operation. And having done this for one company, UPS could capitalise on its investment by proding a similar service for others.

Here's another crazy fact. The world's biggest distributor of fresh lobsters is in Lousiville, KY. And it's not just a headquarters, it's actually a hub that the lobsters are shipped to and then shipped out.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Bush Kinda Inflating Deficit Progress

Brad DeLong is an Economist at U.C. Berkeley and I like his blog and videocasts. called Morning Coffee. In today's episode he points out that "For the fourth year in a row, the administration's January deficit forecasts are at the highest end of the range of forecasts--and sure enough, the actual deficit comes in lower. Which allows for press conferences by Bushies touting 'progress' on reducing the deficit." Yes it was lower than expected but only by $60 billion not the $120 billion Bush is saying. And he cites the press corps as falling for it. "Why does the White House mislead us all the time about everything it can? Well it does so because the press corps lets them get away with it."

FYI, while I appreciate trying to advance the media, I think videocasts have a way to go. First off it's distracting to see his eyes go back and forth between the camera and the text he's reading. Also I'm tired of waiting for large download when this would have been trivial if it was a text (or even HTML) article.

9/11 Profiteering

Here's a blog post pointing to a WSJ article that says that when the markets reopened after 9/11 some companies gave their executives option grants. Now in and of itself that's not a problem, but this is. See after 9/11 the market fell a lot, 14% over 5 days. The value of options for a public company is based on the current price. If the current price is low, the option costs less. Since the option can last for years, if the price climbs big profits result.

The WSJ found that many companies that don't normally issue options in September did so in 2001 and that the "grants were concentrated around Sept. 21, when the market reached its post-attack low". 511 top executives at 186 companies (including Home Depot, Merrill Lynch, and T. Rowe Price) got option grants in the second half of September 2001. The disgusting part is that these folks could have bought stock on the open market at depressed prices which would have helped bolster the market and the economy. "In 1929, when the stock market crashed, JP Morgan (and others) stepped in. They bought stock with their own dollars, they saved Wall Street." Instead these guys were just greedy.

Understanding Israel/Lebanon

Here's an interesting interview with Mark Perry, co-director of the Conflicts Forum which I've never heard of but seems to be an NGO trying actual diplomacy in the middle east.

"There are five major political movements in the Middle East: Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, Iran, and the Muslim Brotherhood. And we [the U.S. government] don’t talk to any of them. How can we possibly have any leverage diplomatically to end the current conflict when the only party we talk to is Israel?"

Friday, July 14, 2006

Men Obsolete

According to research published in the journal Developmental Cell women can make sperm. "Scientists in England have turned stem cells from am embryo into sperm which are capable of producing offspring." Maybe this is why the right is afraid of stem cell research.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

10 Senate Races To Watch

I don't know who John Hawkins is. He wrote this stupid article a week ago saying Democrats are racists. Nevertheless, today he wrote a list of the Top 10 Senate Races To Watch In 2006 which is interesting. Just keep your browser window narrow so you don't have to look at the ads for Coulter and Novak.

Hamdan and the NSA

The Washington Monthly points out that the Hamdan decision basically destroyed the administration's claims that the NSA spying program is legal (it's blatantly violates FISA). So now what will happen?

Billboard Escalation

I literally haven't been to a fast food place since seeing Super Size Me and I have no intention of changing that. Still McDonald’s new sundial billboard in Chicago is pretty cool.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Castro Dead?

Apparently rumors are going around that Fidel Castro has died, but no one can substantiate them.

Detainees get Geneva Rights

Pentagon to apply Geneva Conventions to all detainees in military custody

White House spokesman Tony Snow lived up to his name and attempted a snow job saying "It's not really a reversal of policy,".

The new policy described in a Friday memo by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England applies to "all detainees held in military custody". Those allegedly in secret CIA prisons aren't covered by it. But it's a start.

In case you're curious, this is Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions which now applies. Read it, it's short, and is just very basic human rights. Non-hostile detainees "shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria." It's amazing the government fought against this.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Worlds Fastest Shoelace Knot

There must be something wrong with me. I did try Ian's Fast Shoelace Knot and I found it pretty amazing. Don't just read it, try it.

I also really liked this wmv clip of what can only be described as T-shirt Origami. I did this when I first saw the clip and it really does work, but I don't bother with it now.

Kids and an Open Can of Paint

Velcro Being Pulled Apart

Times on Roberts

The New York Times had two interesting articles on Chief Justice John Roberts yesterday.

His Hipness, John G. Roberts by Linda Greenhouse in the Week in Review.

What Chief Justice Roberts Forgot in His First Term: Judicial Modesty by Adam Cohen in the Opinion section.

Reason 600 to Hate Lindsey Graham

I still need to read the Hamdan decision. Here's more reason to. This is from John Dean, yes that one. It's yet another reason I hate Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

"To assist the Administration, Republican Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jon Kyl of Arizona engaged in a blatant scam that was revealed during the briefing of Hamdan. Senators Graham and Kyl not only misled their Senate colleagues, but also shamed their high offices by trying to deliberately mislead the U.S. Supreme Court. Their effort failed. I have not seen so blatant a ploy, or abuse of power, since Nixon's reign."

I bet the ethics committee doesn't even know about it.

Another Secret US Intelligence Program?

Just read this from the Christian Science Monitor Another secret US intelligence program? "The Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said the White House briefed his committee on another "significant" intelligence program only after it was brought to his attention by a government whistleblower." I don't have anything else to say.

State of Politics Today

This Calvin & Hobbes might be a decade old, but it's sadly accurate. Karl Rove didn't invent this, not by a long shot, but he is it's current Sith Lord.

Reporting on Iraq

Interesting interview with Rod Nordland, who served as Newsweek's Baghdad bureau chief for two years, on Covering Iraq.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Digg for OS X Apps

iusethis is a new site that just started a public beta. The idea is to list Mac OS X apps and use some digg-like stuff to find out the popular ones. Tagging is of course in there and they'll be adding recommendations based on your rankings soon enough. It should also be able to tell you when new versions of your apps are available. You should be able to see what's on my mac, here.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Movie Review: Superman Returns

I had low expectations for Superman Returns and they should have been lower. I blame the script and the pacing. This is a long film, 2.5 hours long, and there's no reason for that. Much of this film is homage to Richard Donner's first two Superman films. Those films ushered in the modern superhero movie but they weren't that good. Bryan Singer seems to have copied the length but didn't bring enough of the intelligence he brought to the first two X-Men films.

It takes place after Superman II and Superman has been gone 5 years visiting the remains of Krypton. He found nothing and is back now, but the world has moved on. Including Lois Lane who now has a fiance and a young son. Lex Luther is back too, with another insane real estate plan. He got out of jail because Superman didn't show at his trial to testify, which is cute. Lex funds his plan by swindling a fortune from Noel Neill who played Lois Lane in the 50s TV show. Jimmy from that series has a cameo as a bartender.

Supes' first act is to save a falling plane. You'd think by now he'd know you grab a plane by the fuselage not the wing. Still it's a good sequence and I liked the ending of it. The one complaint I had, Perry White mentions a couple of minutes later, so I was happy. Well there were other problems with the scene but I was willing to suspend disbelief.

In other cases things are just dumb. You'd think a newspaper editor, or anyone over 12, could recognize latitude and longitude coordinates. A bank robber, instead of escaping, sets up an enormous machine gun on a roof and does his best impersonation of Arnold from T2 shooting the cops below. It's all just to give one cool shot of bullets bouncing off Superman, who cares if it makes sense? I realized towards the end of the film, that nothing in this movie that takes off, without first falling. That includes Superman, planes, helecopters and space shuttles. The pacing of every action scene was the same, first dangerous bad stuff, then climaxing in certain doom, which goes on for twice as long as it should, followed by unexplained recovery. In a 2.5 hour film the same thing repeated gets old.

The script touches on a lot of good ideas but then doesn't develop any of them. How does Superman deal with Lois when he returns from a 5 year absense and she's moved on? Turns out he doesn't really have a conversation, he just flies her around. Lex accomplishes the first part of his plan and then his henchmen sit around playing cards while Lex, well...just sits around. Why does the world need a Superman? That page is literally left blank and all we get is "I'll always be around". Sure there's more than enough Christ metaphors in the film but that didn't help me either.

I thought the actors were fine, they just weren't given enough to say. For all the length of the film, there isn't that much dialog. This particularly hurts in the scenes between Lois and Superman. There's a scene where Superman spies on Lois and her fiance which is kinda creepy. She say she doesn't love Superman and she's obviously lying to her fiance and herself, but somehow Superman is dumb enough to believe it. In fact, Superman is all brawn and no brain. I also wanted much more of Kevin Spacey as Luther, he's gotta a lot scenes but only a couple of speeches.

I found the pacing slow and with a few exceptions I was pretty bored at times. Batman Begins is still the standard for comic book movies. If you're going to go see it, don't read the following until after you do.


Ok, I needed to say this but it is a big spoiler. This is your last warning.

There's a reason Lois is so upset that Superman left. It's not just that she loved him and he didn't say goodbye. It turns out Superman is a deadbeat dad! Apparently during that scene in Superman II she got pregnant and while Superman was gone had a son. Since Superman erased her memory at the end of Superman II, maybe she was surprised she was pregnant. We see little Jason throw a piano across the room so he's got superpowers. Lois didn't seem surprised by this so maybe he's demonstrated his powers before? Raising superbaby must have been difficult. So when Superman returns does Lois tell him he has a son? Nope. When he finds out he's a father does he do anything other than whisper to the kid while he's asleep? Nope. Jor-El had an excuse for being a crappy father, he was dead! In 70 years of the character this is a genuine new development, but they do anything with it.

So why didn't Jason try to open the locked door in the ship? And I was sure he'd be solution to the new continent. It would have made much more sense for the kryptonite-proof kid to help rather than have Superman lift a continent of Kryptonite while still having a good sized piece inside of him. I guess it really doesn't affect him much. It's stuff like this that really bothered me about the film. Do dumb things until disaster happens, then resolve it with no explanation. Add slow pacing and lots of character non-interaction and it doesn't add up to much.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Holland Tunnel

CNN is showing live feeds from the Holland Tunnel in NYC. Police are stopping and inspecting every car. All this because we arrested someone in Lebanon who was talking about blowing up the tunnel but hadn't done anything to start the plot. Which wouldn't have worked anyway since the tunnel is underground and not in water. This really sounds ridiculous to me. If the plot was so early why not follow it and see who he talks to and try to get more people. Oh yeah, it seems al Qaeda wasn't involved.

Update: Listening to the press conference sounds like things aren't so easy. This investigation lasted 1 year and involved other intelligence agencies. The plot wasn't a specific tunnel but was PATH tunnels, hadn't moved out of the planning stages but was about to start surveillance activities. It's not clear if a train was to be involved but explosives and martyrdom were. There are 8 suspects but only 3 are in custody on 3 different continents, not in the US. From what I heard, sounds like it was a job well done.

US Copyright Code in Verse

I'm not one for poetry but this is quite impressive. Yehuda Berlinger has written U.S. Copyright code, in verse which is just what it says, one verse for each section of the code. He's even got a disclaimer:

But I'm not a lawyer
Don't rely just on me
Go find one to ask,
Better yet, two or three

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Mac Address Book Annoyances

I've been using a Mac for a year and half and I love it. I'm one of the few people I know who use Address Book. It's not great but everything supports it, so the integration is good, and I've enjoyed having pictures in it and seeing people's faces in other apps. I've looked briefly at Entourage but seperate tabs for all the info drove me nuts. And really, how much do you need from an Address Book?

Well two things drove me nuts. First labels on different values of fields (like home and work for email or phone numbers) seemed to change on their own and certainly if I changed them, they didn't always seem to stick. Also if someone had several email addresses it wasn't always the first one that got used when I sent email. And again, I couldn't see a pattern.

Today I think I found easy solutions to both of these. First if you change labels be sure to change from edit to view mode before leaving the card. That seems to be a save. It's dumb if this is needed, but it seems to work. Second, if you select a group you can choose Edit Distribution List from the Edit menu. This brings up a window showing everyone on the list and all their addresses with the used one in bold and lets you change it. This way you can have the same person on different lists using different addresses. This is good but it seemed very hidden to me. Wouldn't you think this would be on the context menu if you control-clicked on a group?

On This Day

On This Day the following people are turning 60: George W. Bush, Sylvester Stallone, Fred Dryer, and Burt Ward. Must have been a particularly vapid day.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Wither Comedies

Over July 4th we were trying to figure out if there have been any 5 star comedies in the last few years. By that I mean really great pure comedy stories, not stand-up. Here are some examples from the 70s:

MASH (1970)
Sleeper (1973)
The Front Page (1974)
Blazing Saddles (1974)
Young Frankenstein (1974)
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
The Front (1976)
Annie Hall (1977)
Animal House (1978)
The In-Laws (1979)
The Jerk (1979)
Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)

Maybe not every one is to your taste, but these are all clearly classic comedies deserving to be on any list (ok, maybe The In-Laws is only 4.5 stars but I loved it, and the Front Page is a remake but was great). Examples from the 80s:

Airplane! (1980)
The Blues Brothers (1980)
The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980)
Stripes (1981)
A Christmas Story (1983)
Trading Places (1983)
Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983)
Ghost Busters (1984)
This is Spinal Tap (1984)
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
The Princess Bride (1987)
Raising Arizona (1987)
A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

Again this list is pure gold. Maybe The Princess Bride isn't a pure comedy but it still counts. And I think Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a bit under-appreciated. The 90s gets a lot harder, here's the best I came up with

L.A. Story (1991)
Groundhog Day (1993)
Dumb and Dumber (1994)
Mars Attacks! (1996)
The Birdcage (1996)
There's Something About Mary (1998)
Being John Malkovich (1999)
Galaxy Quest (1999)
Office Space (1999)
American Pie (1999)

I'm not sure that any of these, except for Office Space and the Birdcage, are really 5 stars. We're almost 2/3 of the way through the 2000s and this is the best I've got:

Best in Show (2000)
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Meet the Parents (2000)
Old School (2003)
The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
Wedding Crashers (2005)

I don't think these are 5 stars, maybe the 40 Year Old Virgin. There are others like the Scary Movie series and Not Another Teen Movie and that kind of stuff, but go back and look at that list from the 70s and 80s, they don't compare at all. And it's not because the more recent ones are low brow, Stripes and Airplane are not sophisticated.

I did leave out one class of movies from all of this, animated. It's not because I don't like them, I love them. The Pixar and Dreamworks films have been very funny, and 5 star worthy, the Wallace and Gromit films too. But that's perhaps my question, has comedy been relinquished to animation? Even on TV the best comedies are South Park, Family Guy, and The Simpsons with just a few sitcoms even on the air. Why can't Hollywood create great live action comedies anymore?

Please add to this list. What films am I missing? Help me out with foreign comedies, I'm not sure I've seen any to make the list (ok, maybe Amelie).

Powers of Ten

This from, Some sweet soul has put Powers of Ten online. If you've never seen it, I can't recommend it enough.

How in the hell did I miss this Powers of Ten Simpsons couch gag?

Ted Stevens Shouldn't Be a Senator

Remember all that stuff about the 2 bridges to no where in Alaska that were going to cost tax payers $320 million dollars? It was Senator Ted Stevens (R-AL) who threatened to resign from the Senate if his pork didn't get through. Well the latest flak is about his speech against network neutrality which shows he's an idiot and doesn't understand what he's voting about (shouldn't that be impeachable?). His vote left the bill deadlocked in committee at 11-11. At least someone could make something funny out of this.

C.I.A. Closes Unit Focused on Capture of bin Laden

This could just be a re-org to be more efficient or effective, but it sounds bad, C.I.A. Closes Unit Focused on Capture of bin Laden. After 10 years of failing, maybe a re-org is needed, then again, maybe they were reassigned to find the WMD's in Iraq.

Then again, we're not doing too well in the war on terror.

Music For One Apartment and Six Drummers

Music for one apartment and six drummers is a fun 9 1/2 minute video. The first piece, Kitchen, was my favorite, though I also liked the last, Living Room, particularly the vacuum.