Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Weekly Wisdom

"If I had a large amount of money I should certainly found a hospital for those whose grip upon the world is so tenuous that they can be severely offended by words and phrases and yet remain all unoffended by the injustice, violence and oppression that howls daily about our ears."

--Stephen Fry

Monday, January 25, 2010

This month in democracy

All things being equal, I should probably be feeling a lot more deflated and cynical vis à vis democracy and its discontents these days than I am. Three big blows to the democratic process have been landed, two in the U.S. and one here: (1) Stephen Harper’s prorogation of parliament, (2) the U.S. Senate’s stagnation and obstructionism, and finally (3) the recent decision by SCOTUS to reverse a century of legislation restricting corporate political contributions, effectively opening the floodgates for corporate money to influence and/or buy elections and elected officials.

I have watched the special Massachusetts election of Scott Brown, which took away the Democrats’ supermajority, and the ensuing commentary with bemusement. The Village Voice captured the absurdity most succinctly with their headline, “Scott Brown Wins Mass. Race, Giving GOP 41-59 Majority in the Senate.” If ever there was a moment in which the American electoral system was showing its flaws, surely this is it—the pros and cons of the current health care reform bills notwithstanding, surely an eighteen vote advantage should be enough to pass legislation? Apparently not with the threat of the filibuster hanging over it.

The U.S. Senate, it should be pointed out, is a pretty undemocratic body to begin with. It was originally designed to be the “sober second thought” in the crafting of legislation, with senators having six year terms as opposed to congressmen’s two ostensibly leading to a more stable, mature consideration of proposed bills. The senators were also fewer in number, and—most importantly—not determined by the populations they represented. Rather, each state gets two senators, regardless of size. This was less of a problem back in the late eighteenth century when there were only thirteen states, which did not have vast discrepancies in population; however, when the people of California (population thirty-six million) have the same representation in the Senate as Vermont (population six hundred thousand), the influence small states wield is wildly asymmetrical.

But that’s neither here or there—the filibuster has become an increasingly common tool for blocking legislation, to the point where, in practice, an obstructionist minority only interested in preventing votes (such as we now see in action) can grind the wheels of the legislative branch to a halt. Employment of the filibuster has increased more than fivefold—between 1951 and 1960, it was used an average of 3.2 times a year, whereas between 1981 and 2004 the yearly average was 16.5. (For a good breakdown of the procedural issues, read here and here).

The filibuster has a quasi-romantic quality in the popular imagination—from its very name, which means “freebooter” or “pirate,” to Jimmy Stewart’s Mr. Smith, to the West Wing episode “The Stackhouse Filibuster”—connoting a lone heroic individual standing up against the system. And indeed, certain instances of individuals filibustering do conform to that idea (though not always on the side of the angels, as with Strom Thurmond’s attempt to block the Civil Rights Act). More and more however it has become standard operating procedure for the minority party to thwart the majority agenda. While its use has traditionally been that of last resort, it has become business as usual.

I can’t help but see a parallel to Stephen Harper’s use of prorogation, insofar as it too is an arcane parliamentary procedure of last resort. The argument could be made that last year’s invocation of it was just that, a desperate manoeuvre to circumvent an undemocratic power grab by the opposition (not an argument I agree with, but it could be made nevertheless); no such claim could me made however about the decision to prorogue parliament this past December 30. This time, it was so blatantly and baldly a move to avoid having to address the Afghani detainee scandal until after the Winter Olympics, by which time (Harper would hope) the public’s attention would be elsewhere.

The use of prorogation twice in the space of a year is worrisome, not least because it would seem to set a new precedent for the PM’s autocratic powers, and redefine the relationship between the PM and parliament. For me, Stephen Harper’s most troubling quality has always been his obvious desire to arrogate presidential power to the PMO and overturn the Westminster standard of “first among equals.” The high-handed use of prorogation—both times—bespeaks both arrogance and a disdain for the checks on prime ministerial power that are a cornerstone of parliamentary democracy (to say nothing of the disrespect to the Governor General, and of all the bills before the House of Commons that now die).

What keeps me buoyed in the face of these events however is that it puts these governmental flaws on people’s radar. Prorogation Part Two would certainly seem, at this point, to have backfired for Harper. If he banked on Canadians’ apathy to see him through, the early signs aren’t good for him: his poll numbers have dropped, and people across the country are speaking up angrily. Nor have I heard anything in the way of support for Harper’s actions—the right seems more or less mum on the subject, which is a tacit admission that the PM was way out of line on this one. I have reason to hope that this may have been one bridge too far for Harper.

Similarly, there is also some real discourse in the U.S. happening about the filibuster, and the Senate’s arcane procedures more generally. I have less hope that anything will happen on that front than I am about prorogation being Harper’s Waterloo, but it is heartening. One way or another, Obama seems to be fired up: he’s taking a more oppositional and populist tone than he has since the election, and he has re-hired his campaign director David Plouffe to chart a new course. Hopefully, after a year of being conciliatory, he’s pissed off. The State of the Union should be a barn-burner.

Finally, the Supreme Court’s ruling last week taking the restrictions of corporate political donations doesn’t have me as outraged as I might have imagined. A large part of my calm was summed up nicely by Glenn Greenwald, who observes that any lament about the certain corporate interference in American government necessarily suggests that this is not already the case:

The reality is that our political institutions are already completely beholden to and controlled by large corporate interests (Dick Durbin: "banks own" the Congress). Corporations find endless ways to circumvent current restrictions—their armies of PACs, lobbyists, media control, and revolving-door rewards flood Washington and currently ensure their stranglehold—and while this decision will make things marginally worse, I can't imagine how it could worsen fundamentally. (

Sadly, I can’t disagree with Greenwald’s argument. Furthermore, in looking closely at the case and the decision, one finds that there are in fact some significant First Amendment issues that would have made the reverse ruling problematic from a free speech perspective. That the court decided to overturn a century of precedent on the funding of elections strikes me as something of a baby/bathwater situation, but it is fairly clear that there was no easy extrication from this case one way or another.

On the other hand, the ruling has evoked a storm of condemnation on both sides of the political coin, and may ironically do more to draw attention to the need to reform the way election campaigns are funded than any previous endeavours.

So, to recap: the U.S. Senate is broken, but so visibly so it has excited serious discussion about how to fix it. Stephen Harper has prorogued parliament in autocratic and arrogant fashion, and in the process ignited a grassroots protest and sent his numbers into a tailspin. And America’s Supreme Court has formalized corporate ownership of elected officials, which may well lead to a bipartisan effort to scale back the excesses of soft money. Of course, none of these eventualities may pan out—I sit here with fingers crossed. But if one or more of them do, it would be a vindication of the principle that sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Speaking of fantasy ...

OK, so the story of Robin Hood isn’t fantasy per se, insofar as it lacks magic and magical beasts, and besides which is ostensibly historical ... but it certainly satisfies in the same way that fantasy writing does—i.e. it is medieval in its setting and sensibility, it employs such fantasy staples as castles and knights and swordfights, and it above all provides imaginative escape from such onerous modern trappings as indoor plumbing, antibiotics, and regular bathing.

I mention this because when I found the Clash of the Titans trailer on YouTube for my previous post, number one in the “related videos” listing was the trailer for the new re-booting of the Robin Hood legend—starring Russell Crowe as the man himself, Cate Blanchett (sigh) as Maid Marion, and directed by Ridley Scott. One of the good things about having Scott as the director is that even if the film totally sucks (what was he thinking with G.I. Jane?), it is going to look amazing.

But from a local perspective, the new Robin Hood is going to be an EVENT, because the guy playing the musician Allan A’Dayle (the giant chicken in the Disney version) is none other than Alan Doyle, aka the lead singer of Great Big Sea. Whose name, seriously, is already so close to the character he’s playing that I’m already thinking of him as Alan A’Doyle. As it falls out, Doyle is, like, totally BFFs with Russell Crowe. Who knew (well, besides everyone in St. John’s)?

As with Clash of the Titans, the Scott/Crowe Robin Hood has the advantage of a low bar. Because, seriously: just how many snafus and fuck-ups during the writing, casting, and producing of a film about Robin Hood would you have to have to make it worse than Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves?

And another advantage of having Alan Doyle involved? It radically lowers the chances of having Bryan Adams on the soundtrack.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Return to Olympus

In the Interesting Trends In Upcoming Films category is an apparent resurgence in interest in Greek mythology. Well ... I say “resurgence,” but really it’s just two films, which is nevertheless two films more than we’ve seen in some time (since the god-awful Troy in 2004, at any rate).

Behind door number one we have a remake of Clash of the Titans, with a pretty impressive cast of players—and impressive not so much for its “bankable” stars as for the fact that they’re all really good actors. Liam Neeson plays Zeus, Ralph Fiennes is Hades, Danny Huston is Poseidon, Polly Walker (Atia from Rome) is Cassiopeia, and Alexa Davalos (yes, please!) plays Andromeda. Sam Worthington plays Perseus, and the only thing I know about him is that he’s the main guy in Avatar (a film that seems less and less likely I will go see the more I read about it). Also in the film, based on my exhaustive thirty-second internet research, are Peter Postlewaite, Gemma Atterton and Jayson Fleming. So they’ve managed to assemble a pretty promising team.

They’ve also definitively updated the special effects. Remember the kitschy stop-motion animation of the first one?

I have to say it, because it is a timeless truth: giant scorpions are cool. Especially when they sting the ground in time to the soundtrack’s rhythm.

I suspect this film will be a great mindless pleasure—I get to see some of my favourite actors chewing the scenery, in a story where I don’t have to worry about subtlety or nuance. That was what ruined Troy for me—if you’re going to adapt the Iliad to film—and leave out the gods, no less!—have an eye to the story’s details. But no. Fortunately for Clash of the Titans, the original was so cheesy and bad, they can only go up from there.

The second film is adapted from a series of young adult novels in which a teenager named Percy Jackson discovers that he is the son of Poseidon and gets embroiled in the affairs of the gods (along with a cadre of other offspring of the Greek Pantheon). My question is: where were these novels when I was twelve?

Again, the film boasts a pretty impressive cast, with Uma Thurman (Medusa), Rosario Dawson (Persephone), Pierce Brosnan (Chiron), Catherine Keener (Percy’s mom), Sean Bean (Zeus), and the awesome awesome Kevin McKidd as Poseidon.

(Can I just observe as an aside that I think Sean Bean has a weakness for wearing breastplates and/or chain mail? Seriously: Odysseus in Troy, Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring, Zeus, and Ned Stark in the upcoming adaptation of A Game of Thrones on HBO. Does his agent put these scripts in the “automatic yes” pile?)

So, Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a little glitzier in its casting, but still pretty solid. And it looks pretty good too, and doesn’t seem like it’s taking itself too seriously:

I’ve been idly thinking lately about a trend in which science fiction is waning and fantasy is waxing—at least, that seems to be the consensus on a handful of literary blogs I follow, confirmed by book sale numbers. I did a public lecture last term about the conservative and regressive tendencies of fantasy as a genre (one of the many things I neglected to blog about), and will be rehashing that it in a guest lecture for our Masters in Humanities program in February. That fantasy is trending up and SF down is an interesting phenomenon at the present moment, and these Olympian films would seem (on the surface) to correspond to this tendency.

My thoughts on this are still somewhat inchoate, and I’ll return to this topic in the future. One suggestion I will make however is that part of what we’re seeing is a disenchantment with technology—not so much in nihilistic terms, such as marked the post-WWI generation, but in terms almost of boredom. I think there’s a certain sense that technology has caught up to, and indeed in some ways surpassed, the imagination of the future. The golden age of SF up through the 60s and 70s was largely enamoured of technology and science’s potential, something epitomized by Star Trek’s utopian vision; what we’re seeing now, however, is increasingly dystopian or militarized SF (think the new Battlestar Galactica), as well as an interesting trend in “literary” fiction to appropriate the trappings of dystopian SF while stubbornly resisting the label (such as Margaret Atwood’s latest offerings, and The Road by Cormac McCarthy).

Again, these are just early thoughts. Does anyone else have any ideas about this trend?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The best television series of the aughts

The end of the decade kind of surprised me—in the sudden welter of top ten lists for movies and music and what have you, I suddenly realized that ten years had elapsed since we celebrated the end of the millennium. And in spite of my love of lists, I find myself ill-equipped to compose many of the usual suspects: I have seen not nearly enough film in the last ten years to do a best films list; I suppose I could do a best fiction list, but it would be woefully incomplete, absent the dozens of novels that were published that I did not read (ironically, because I was reading too much); and my musical tastes sort of calcified in the mid-late 90s.

On the other hand, I do watch a lot of teevee, and have in the last two years made it something of an academic sidebar. The other day my television guru friend Jen apologized on her blog for not yet having gotten to her own best of the decade, and I thought, “AHA! A list I can do!” This is indeed something I have been thinking a lot about, though not in these exact terms. So here follows my top ten list for the decade for which we have yet to devise a handy moniker (I’m holding out for the “aughts,” if for no other reason than one day being an old-timer who can reminisce about the “back in aught-seven, when I was working in the salt mines ...”).

Of course, the question of what makes a television series “good” is a vexed one at best. I have little doubt my list will furrow a lot of foreheads, so here are my criteria: I am concerned in this particular list with television that broke the mould, that challenged viewers and resisted the typical formulaic pitfalls of an episodic structure, and above all else was intelligent. More importantly, unapologetically intelligent: series that did not feel compelled to explicate their more complex elements or confuse knowledge with subtlety (such as Chris Carter was so often guilty of on The X-Files).

In this respect, the aughts offered an embarrassment of riches: we saw in the past decade the rise and indeed renaissance of exceptionally well-written, well-acted, and well-produced television. HBO was the epicentre of this phenomenon, but not its exclusive purveyor: other specialty cable networks like AMC, Showtime and FX followed the Home Box Office’s lead, as did a few adventurous network forays. Further, I think critics will see the aughts as a time when serious actors decamped from Hollywood films and took on roles they could sink their teeth into over several seasons of well-written scripts: actors like Ian McShane, Glenn Close, Edward James Olmos, Mary-Louise Parker, Martin Sheen, Steve Buscemi all appeared in deeply nuanced and complex roles; we saw late-career renaissances in Ted Danson, Alec Baldwin and Henry Winkler, and breakout performances from the likes of Jon Hamm.

So, without further ado ...

10. 30 Rock

I think I can safely say there has never been a television show more certain make me laugh hysterically and often. Tina Fey shows us she’s got way more game than a bit player on SNL and Sarah Palin impersonator: each episode is unpredictable, madcap, and usually absurd, while nevertheless making us care pretty deeply about the characters involved. What I think I love most about Tina Fey is that she is smart enough to subordinate her own ego to the show: Liz Lemon is the geeky and pathetic calm at the center of the absurdist storm, and Fey is happy to let every scene her alter ego is in get stolen by each and every one of the crazy characters she has created. Each episode is a gem, but I think my favourite was the Amadeus parody that came at the end of season 2, in which Tracy Jordan plays the pornographer Mozart to Frank Rossitano’s Salieri. Also, no comment about 30 Rock would be complete without a shout out to the comic brilliance that is Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy.

9. The West Wing

As much as I love this show, I was hesitant about including it, as it has—on reflection—more of a 90s feel to me, and the balance of its seasons that appeared in the aughts, from 2003-2006 were the post-Aaron Sorkin version of the show. Starting season five, The West Wing lost something crucial with Sorkin’s departure. It maintained the high seriousness, the machine-gun dialogue, the unapologetically wonkish preoccupation with the inner workings of the executive branch ... but it lost the energy of Sorkin’s brand of dialogue, and with that, the humour that animated so much of the first four seasons. However much the series depicted the life-and-death drama that happens on a daily basis in the White House, it always did so with extraordinary humour, so that Charlie could give Mrs. Landingham a hard time over her new car or CJ could get emotionally attached to a turkey, even as the President deals with the drama of a besieged embassy. And that is why it makes the list, the final three seasons notwithstanding.

8. The Sopranos

Oz was the first dramatic series that defined the new approach HBO was taking; The Sopranos demonstrated that it had legs. The series was unapologetic in its profanity, its violence, its corrupt and unlikable characters, and above all, the inescapable parallels between the mafia hierarchy and “legitimate” capitalism. None of this was new, of course—mob films had been doing it since Public Enemy. What was different was that this was television—and the finite story arc of the gangster’s meteoric rise and inevitable fall that defined the genre was thrown out the window as the Soprano clan struggled with the ups and downs of affluent suburban family life over seven seasons. The bizarre series finale that pissed so many people off I thought was genius; the sudden cut to black with no resolution whatsoever was the last nail the series drove into the mob genre’s coffin, suggesting that there was no tidy and poetic resolution—no Tony Montana gunned down, no Henry Hill relegated to symbolic death in suburban wasteland, no Michael Corleone dying pathetic and alone. Nope. Tony and his family muddle along, and there is no poetic justice for anyone.

7. Lost

Few shows divide opinion like Lost: those who love it, love it with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns (and may well issue a fatwa on me for relegating it to number seven), or hate it with equal intensity.

My own sense of the series is that J.J. Abrams &co. totally did not expect it to make it past season one, even if it got that far. They offered this amazing and bizarre setup, and then were taken a bit aback when it became a hit (or at least, this is how I imagine it happened), and then suddenly had to devise storylines that, every episode, raised more questions and offered no answers. This, predictably, became a little lame by season three, and this is when I lost interest. On the urging of certain Losties however, I started tuning in again for season four, and am now irrevocably snared in the narrative web again. The writers have found their stride and totally upped the ante for the series. Whatever its inconsistencies at times, the show is always very, very smart, well written, well-acted, and always willing to throw curveballs at the audience (which is synonymous, on the Fox Network, with cancellation -- a lesson I wish Joss Whedon would learn).

6. Arrested Development

This, of course, is the show that launched Michael Cera’s career, but I am willing to overlook that offense because of just how good it was (Arrested Development, I mean, not Michael Cera's career). I am still amazed that Arrested Development survived as long as it did on network television, given its quirkiness, weird characters, quasi-absurdist humour and palimpsest of in-jokes that required multiple viewings to catch them all. What’s more, the series effectively picked up the challenge thrown down when Seinfeld ended, namely, where does the sitcom as a genre go from here? Seinfeld epitomized the irony and disaffection of much of the 90s by pointing to the inescapable fact that sitcoms, structurally, are necessarily about nothing. Arrested Development picked up this thread and carried on with comically one-dimensional characters all caught up in their own narcissistic dramas. The Bluth clan broke the mould: all sitcoms are about family in one capacity or another, and the underlying unity that informs that are what make them endearing. Arrested Development had the audacity to depict the most merrily—and obliviously—dysfunctional family ever.

5. Battlestar Galactica

If someone had told me five years ago that they were going to (a) remake Battlestar Galactica and (b) that it would be one of the best television shows ever made, I’d have responded, respectively, “Good luck with that” and “Uh ... sure.” But not only did they update the 1970s kitsch-fest that was the original series with kick-ass production values and visuals—which would have been cool enough in and of itself—they also turned it into one of the most complex, nuanced sagas of loss and redemption this side of East of Eden. Unapologetically smart, beautifully written, and indeed daring in the Big Questions it poses (without offering trite or moralistic answers, ever), it raised the bar not just for SF television but for television generally.

4. Deadwood

What The Sopranos did for the mob genre and BSG did for space opera, Deadwood does for the western. The series is really about the brutal and violent origins of democracy: we follow the lawless mining camp of Deadwood as it slowly moves toward civic and municipal identity and ultimate annexation to the U.S.A., and watch the body count rise en route. Beautiful in its dirt and grit, the language of the show raises profanity to a Shakespearean level. The final season was a bit of a disappointment because it was rushed to a close—finished at three seasons rather than four because of budgetary reasons—but even at its worst moments, it was superior to pretty much everything else on the tube.

3. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart / The Colbert Report

If the aughts were the Bush/Cheney decade, we can be relieved that it was also the decade of Stewart/Colbert. It is a sad statement that the most incisive speakers of truth to power were a couple of clowns on Comedy Central, but that statement in and of itself does nothing to detract from the keen intelligence and often brutal satire of a pair of shows that thrived in a decade when satire and irony were otherwise defanged by a mendacious administration and inept media. Stewart and Colbert gave us a breath of intelligence and hope, and threw in juvenile dick jokes as well, just to remind us that they’re both really goofs at heart.

2. Mad Men

At once the antidote to simplistic nostalgia about the 50s and 60s and a suave and stylish fetishization of period, Mad Men critiques Madison Avenue culture by seducing us with the very kind of polished surfaces Sterling & Cooper strive to market. “What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons,” says Don Draper dismissively, even as he realizes that his mistress and her young lover are, in fact, in love. Such is the subtlety of Jon Hamm’s acting that in that instant, in the brief tightness in his voice, we see his own futile desire for something he can’t comprehend. What do you get when a superlative salesman invents himself based on what he tells America it wants? You get Don Draper—possibly the single greatest character to appear on a television screen in this or any decade.

1. The Wire

More than any other television series ever, The Wire found itself compared in style and structure to the novel. “Dickensian” was the word often used, though to my mind this is entirely a misnomer based in the show’s depiction of urban decay and poverty; where Dickens took his readers by the hand and essentially explained everything as it unfolded, the web of individual stories making up The Wire unfolded with little or no attempt at explanation. It takes until about the third or fourth episode to have a handle on things, and at that point there’s no looking back. David Simon’s saga of the fallen city Baltimore and its struggles with drugs, violence, poverty and de facto racial segregation is not so much an allegory of America as a microcosm. Each season focused on a specific part of the city: season one was the police force versus the drug dealers; season two, union politics and the fall of the American working class; three, city hall; four, the school system; and finally in season five, the media in the form of a dying newspaper. The structures of power in “legitimate” Baltimore parallel and intersect the drug world’s hierarchies, and the money cleaves them all together like an insidious glue.

Honourable Mentions: Rome, Damages, Dexter, Weeds, Angel, Oz, The Tudors, Firefly, Gilmore Girls, Six Feet Under, True Blood, Veronica Mars, Friday Night Lights, Pushing Daisies

Top Ten Characters (and the actors who portray them), in no particular order:

Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), Dexter
Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters), The Wire
Patty Hewes (Glenn Close), Damages
Benjamin Linus (Michael Emerson), Lost
Don Draper (Jon Hamm), Mad Men
Omar Little (Michael K. Willams), The Wire
Al Swearengen (Ian McShane), Deadwood
Spike (James Marsters), Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), 30 Rock
Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer), The Tudors

Top ten bad guys (or are they?):
Stringer Bell (Idris Elba), The Wire
the lawyers of Wolfram & Hart, Angel
Benjamin Linus (Michael Emerson), Lost
Number Six (Tricia Helfer), Battlestar Galactica
George Hearst (Gerald McRaney), Deadwood
Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson), Damages
Vern Schillinger (J.K. Simmons), Oz
Devon Banks (Will Arnett), 30 Rock
Felicia “Snoop” Pearson (Felicia Pearson), The Wire
Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris), Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

Best potty-mouths:
Al Swearengen (Ian McShane), Deadwood
Debra Morgan (Jennifer Carpenter), Dexter
Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), The Sopranos
Silvio Dante (Steve van Zandt), The Sopranos
Felicia “Snoop” Pearson (Felicia Pearson), The Wire

Too quirky (or weird) for words:
Kenneth the NBC Page (Jack McBrayer), 30 Rock
Kirk Gleason (Sean Gunn), Gilmore Girls
Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson), The Office
Winifred "Fred" Burkle (Amy Acker), Angel
The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), Doctor Who
River Tam (Summer Glau), Firefly
Olive Snook (Kristin Chenoweth), Pushing Daisies

Shows that were probably in the running, but I have never watched: Breaking Bad, In Treatment, Big Love, Flight of the Conchords, Curb Your Enthusiasm

Those amazing Brits: The Office, Extras, Dead Set (best zombie TV series ever), Torchwood: Children of Earth, Doctor Who

The Auteurs: Joss Whedon (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse), J.J. Abrams (Felicity, Alias, Lost, Fringe), David Simon (The Wire, The Corner, Generation Kill, Treme), Alan Ball (Six Feet Under, True Blood), David Milch (Deadwood), David Chase (The Sopranos), Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), Amy Palladino (Gilmore Girls), Matthew Weiner (The Sopranos, Mad Men)

So ... what’s on everyone else’s list?

Friday, January 08, 2010

Just a thought

According to the radio this morning, one of the intelligence failures that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board the plane he nearly blew up was the U.S. State Department’s inability to determine whether or not he had a visa. He did; the State Department thought he didn’t. Why? His name was misspelled.

This is disturbing in and of itself, and is a glaring demonstration of why relying on technology rather than human intelligence and common sense gets us into trouble. But what strikes me as particularly worrisome is that if a misspelled name can lead to a terrorist slipping through the cracks, we’re doubly in trouble when the principal antagonists originate from countries that don’t share our alphabet.

Seriously. We can’t settle on how to spell al-Qaeda (al-Qaida?). If Momar Qaddafi (Moammer Khadafi? Muammar al-Gaddafi?) didn't travel everywhere with a huge tent and sexy bodyguards, he could probably board a plane for Des Moines tomorrow without being identified.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The government endorses my laziness

I'd been feeling guilty lately about being slack in posting, but it just occurred to me today -- I have not, in fact, been delinquent in my blogging ... I just prorogued "An Ontarian in Newfoundland" back at the end of November. So not only is my absence here explainable, it's also constitutional.

Thank you, Stephen Harper, on behalf of all Canadians, for this catch-all excuse for abject laziness. Once again, your moral example is like a beacon of light unto the country. Or a beacon of something, anyway.

Now, if I can just convince Michaelle Jean to dissolve the winter semester ...