Thursday, September 21, 2006

"Jericho" is still standing the day after, but I don't think we're in Kansas anymore

I think we're in the Twilight Zone.

That seems to be where the new CBS Thursday night series "Jericho" is set -- a dark and doomy dreamscape where a nuclear mushroom blooms silently like a magic flower on the distant horizon and made-for-TV mysteries abound and questions multiply.

Why does it suddenly get so dark? Why are dead birds falling from the sky in large numbers? Are just Denver and Atlanta gone, or are the residents of Jericho the only people left? Why does the mysterious black stranger know so much? Why does Skeet Ulrich have a James Dean East of Eden thing going with family patriarch and town mayor Gerald McRaney?

According to Robert P. Laurence, the San Diego Union-Tribune TV columnist who seems to have seen additional episodes, the questions will just keep piling up.
When half the town takes shelter in the nearby salt mine, is it really a good idea to blow up the entrance to protect them from fallout? Won't they want to leave someday? After all, there's no bathroom in there.

Why does the mayor order the local ranchers to get all their livestock indoors? That doesn't sound like a practical idea in a region that counts cattle in the thousands.

And the biggest mystery of all: Why has CBS scheduled “Jericho” at 8 p.m., generally considered the hour for comedies and game shows?

A more appropriate time slot might be about, say, 2 a.m., perfect for that all-important, suicidal-insomniac demographic.
"Jericho" clearly seems to be a CBS attempt to capture some of ABC's "Lost" magic, but with bad lighting, a slower pace and less excitement.

Although the town of Jericho survived, it's hard to imagine the show hanging in there very long. As of this writing, it's in 6th place on the Brilliant but Cancelled Deathwatch. "Brilliant" seems a stretch, but "canceled" doesn't.

"Jericho" does seem to take a remarkably nonchalant approach to the apparent incineration of millions of people. Apparently it's just something to get over and move on from. And in focusing on the struggle for survival of this one small town, it seems rather cavalier about the complex web of interdependence that ties together people in a modern industrial nation. Katrina wasn't that long ago, and offered a dramatic lesson in what happens when people are cut off from the outside world for even a few days. What will happen to Jericho when their fuel, food and other necessities run out?

We'll probably never find out, because the show seems unlikely to last that long.

Autumn is almost here -- get out the eggs

So when does fall start this year -- Friday or Saturday? Both. With this year's autumnal equinox taking place at 12:03 Eastern Daylight Time on Sept. 23, the first day of fall is spread out across two days in the U.S. It starts early Saturday morning on the east coast, Friday evening elsewhere.

Looking to do that Equinox Egg Balancing Thing? Here's how to do it on the first day of fall -- or any other day, for that matter.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Santayana must have been talking about Madison's Halloween plans to turn State Street into a gated community

When George Santayana said "those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it," he must have been talking about Mayor Dave's Halloween Plan that the City Council passed last night.
Students managed to push back the schedule slightly, but plans for the city's annual Halloween party still include gating State Street and charging a $5 admission.

With only two dissenting votes, the City Council on Tuesday finalized Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's strategy to minimize mayhem at the event, which for the last four years has ended with police using pepper spray to clear the streets.

The admission charge will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 28, the night of the party, and no one will be admitted onto State Street later than 1:30 a.m. Originally, those times had been set an hour earlier, and residents of State Street will now have free tickets distributed to them, rather than having to pick them up.
Don't get me wrong -- I don't mean we're repeating the admission charge. That's new. What's not new -- and where we are repeating the mistakes of the past -- is the ham-handed, potentially confrontational approach to crowd control.

It blows my mind how local politicos seem determined to forget all of Madison's hard-earned knowledge about crowd control acquired during the era of student protests and Chief Cooper's sensible reforms. Not to mention what we thought we knew about not trading off civil liberties for public order.

I'm with Brenda Konkel on this. She was one of two alders voting against the scheme and explained her reasons in greater detail on her blog.
Given that we haven't had serious injuries or property damage in recent years and we are moving in a positive way away from the troubles we had been having, I don't think we need to take such drastic measures. And by drastic measures, I mean confining people's civil liberties. i.e. blocking off access to a public street. I don't believe someone should have to pay $5 to get on to State St. to go get a gyro. I was even more appalled when city staff suggested that if you had a ticket to go to the an event at the Overture the security people could use their discretion and ask you not to pay. Yet, if you were on your way home from the hockey game you would need to walk several blocks out of your way to cross State St. (That's a whole other topic about why people who go to the Overture Center could get privileges that people who live downtown wouldn't have.) This is still America, these are still our public streets and we shouldn't be required to pay $5 to use them. I believe our jobs on the council are to balance the competing interests and here, we have an improving situation that doesn't need to impose on the civil liberties of the citzens of Madison. In this case, I don't believe the case has been made that imposing on people's civil liberties is necessary and I don't find it appropriate.
And if that's not enough, she also quotes this old dude:
They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. -- Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759
Right on. Besides, it doesn't work. Pray for rain, and lots of it.

Two quotes

They lied to you. The Devil is not the Prince of Matter; the Devil is the arrogance of the spirit, faith without smile, truth that is never seized by doubt. The Devil is grim because he knows where he is going, and, in moving, he always returns whence he came. -- Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

All I can say is that laughter is my music; I would deeply suspect an argument which hadn't laughter. The very effort to be fully serious, really dealing with love and awe in the great things, is itself lovable and funny, in the true sense. Leave out the fun and you become a spectacle like the King's clothes; a little figure sternly parading in the light of the giggling stars. -- Alli Sheldon
I found the first quote among the "Commonplaces" sidebar at Making Light. The second is from Julie Phillips' magnificent biography of James Tiptree, Jr. and her/his many lives and personas. One of the most intriguing, multi-dimensional books about a writer I have ever read.

"Sternly parading in the light of the giggling stars" -- I love that.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Making nuclear war thinkable

What's wrong with this picture? To begin with, if it weren't a Hollywood special effects shot, the guy would probably be blind from looking right at the exploding nuke -- he clearly didn't duck and cover. Also, the whole detached observer quality of the photo subliminally says nuclear catastrophe is no big deal, something that can safely be survived at a distance. The biblical name and hint of a halo even hint at something transcendent.

In other words, CBS is helping make the use of nukes a little more thinkable.

I wonder how this thing ever got off the ground. Maybe it went something like this:
You guys have been in the doghouse for a couple years now, ever since the Janet Jackson costume malfunction and the Dan Rather mess. Getting Katie for the news was a start, but you need to do more. Here's a thought. How about a "high-concept" TV soap featuring a plucky red state small town with a biblical name surviving nuclear catastrophe while those sinners in the big cities apparently burn in hellfire and disappear? How cool is that?
CBS seemed to buy it. They signed for at least 13 episodes, and the new series "Jericho" will air weekly, starting this Wednesday.
A drama about what happens when a nuclear mushroom cloud suddenly appears on the horizon, plunging the residents of a small, peaceful Kansas town into chaos, leaving them completely isolated and wondering if they're the only Americans left alive. Fear of the unknown propels Jericho into social, psychological and physical mayhem when all communication and power is shut down. The town starts to come apart at the seams as terror, anger and confusion bring out the very worst in some residents. But in this time of crisis, as sensible people become paranoid, personal agendas take over and well-kept secrets threaten to be revealed, some people will find an inner strength they never knew they had and the most unlikely heroes will emerge.
Again, what's wrong with this picture?

More than 20 years ago, in the early years of the Reagan administration, loose talk about "survivable nuclear war" created a huge outcry, here and abroad. ABC produced a TV movie called "The Day After." While operating within the constraints of network TV, the show tried to communicate some of the true horror of a nuclear war. The Reaganites learned their lesson and shut up.

Now, little more than two decades later, CBS is about to show nuclear war as something that happens elsewhere, off-camera except for a mushroom cloud or two on the horizon, nothing that can't be survived by good people learning to work together in a small town far from Ground Zero. Yeah, right.

Call me a cynic, but I don't think it's any accident that this show is airing at the very time that the Bush administration is trying, through a disingenuous combination of leaks, diplomatic initiatives and gradually escalating threats, to build support for a preemptive strike -- possibly with nuclear "bunker busters" -- against Iran. And while they insist they haven't made up their minds to go to war yet, chances are -- based on past performance -- they've already made their decision. It's not a matter of "if," but "when" -- and how to sell it.

The neocon strategists know they don't have a snowball's chance in hell of selling another preemptive war to the public through rational argument. What they can do, without ever discussing the real issues, is make emotional appeals to their base, get them worked up, and then use them to bludgeon political opponents of preemptive war.

Who knows? "Jericho" might do the job. On the one hand, it stirs anxiety about nuclear war, and thus builds support for a "preventive war" against Iran. On the other hand, showing nuclear war safely going on in the background while people are fine and going about their lives in the foreground helps desensitize the audience to the horror of nuclear weapons and makes nuclear war less unthinkable. It helps erode taboos about a U.S. nuclear first strike -- should that become necessary to get rid of those underground labs in Iran.

It just might work.

Holy Shit! (Update): Here's executive producer Jon Turteltaub on Sci Fi Wire:
Jon Turteltaub, the executive producer of CBS' upcoming post-apocalyptic drama series Jericho, told SCI FI Wire that he did research about what might happen after a nuclear attack and was surprised by the answers he found. "This is going to sound odd, but a nuclear bomb is not as bad as everybody thinks," Turteltaub in an interview. "Without question on the scale of things in the world, it's on the bad scale of things that can happen. Puppies are on the really good side of things [laughs]. But sometimes we have this image that one nuclear bomb would take out all of New York City and Brooklyn and Queens and parts of New Jersey."

That wouldn't be the case with the initial blast, Turteltaub (National Treasure) added. "Part of the question is how much of the area is uninhabitable versus how much in our perception and our fears is uninhabitable," he said. "Coping with our own panic may be a greater enemy than the reality of these things."
Just in case there was any doubt about where these guys are coming from.

9/21/06 Update: "Jericho" is still standing the day after, but I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.

10/13/06 Update: Dr. Strangelove, please keep an eye on your toys. Your grandchildren are getting forgetful.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Katie blogs, with humble awe for the White House and (apparently) its occupant

From Katie Couric's blog post about her first week in the new content-free CBS News anchor chair:
Visiting the White House is always a humbling experience. I’m always in awe of the history those walls have witnessed. And I was impressed by the respect President Bush has for the place. He even told one of our producers “Straighten your tie, young man. You’re in the White House.” I loved that.
She wasn't nearly as enamored of protocol in 1992, when she turned the first President Bush's courtesy call during a Barbara Bush house tour into a nearly 20-minute grilling on the upcoming election and other topics. But that was in a previous life, and before Dan Rather demonstrated what can happen to an anchor who is not properly deferential to the current occupant of the White House.

John Yoo's hypocritical, partisan posturing about presidential powers

Former Bush administration legal eagle John Yoo, now a Berkeley law prof, publishes an exercise in partisan political hackery masquerading as a Sunday NYT Op-Ed. Glenn Greenwald persuasively shreds Yoo's legal arguments.
I began writing a post in response to this truly ridiculous Op-Ed by John Yoo in this morning's NYT -- in which Yoo gleefully celebrates every authoritarian transgression of the Bush administration, from torture and pre-emptive wars to endless invocations of presidential secrecy, the issuance of "hundreds of signing statements" declaring laws invalid, and even what Yoo calls the President's assertion of his power to "sidestep laws that invade his executive authority" (what we used to call "breaking the law") (emphasis added in all instances).

But then I thought better of it, because, at this point, anyone who fails (or refuses) to recognize that the President does not have the power in our system of government to violate laws by invoking national security concerns is never going to recognize that. Yoo's Op-Ed is so flagrantly frivolous that it ought not be taken seriously. He even goes so far as to claim that the "founders intended that wrongheaded or obsolete legislation and judicial decisions would be checked by presidential action." How can you be on the faculty of a major law school and say this?
Check out the rest of Greenwald's post. And then, to judge the intellectual substance and honesty of the arguments of Yoo and his ilk about extending the powers of the Bush presidency, all you need to do is ask if they would make the same arguments if Democrats held the White House.

Would they have supported giving the same powers to the last President Clinton? Why didn't they? What about the next President Clinton, or any other Democrat? If not, what the hell are they talking about?

Monday Sunrise Blogging: 9/18/06

Sunday, September 17, 2006

One foot in summer, one foot in autumn

One of those magical September mornings today when summer and fall were entangled and it was both at the same time, the kind of day when it hasn't made up its mind yet what season it really is. Green was still everywhere, but there were hints of brown and burnt autumnal colors. All too soon, it will decide, and somehow it always decides the same way.

But for the moment, a smell of freshly-mowed clover along the bike path reminded me of when I was a kid in the country, golden days when it seemed I could ride forever, and the sun would always shine.

On the "butterfly bush" there were monarch butterflies in the asters.

Beaches were sunny and deserted.

In Vilas park, right in the heart of the city, a sandhill crane stood in the shade of an oak tree and kept an eye on what was going on.

And on the South West Bicycle path, there was a geometric arrangement in black & white, a Paul Strand moment.

Site Meter Blogging?

Random screen capture, 9/16/06 Althouse Site Meter: Entry Pages

Would you blog differently if you couldn't look at the Site Meter records? Do you know any bloggers who won't use Site Meter? Not seeing the symbol on the page doesn't mean they don't have it. If you pay for premium service you can opt not to show the symbol. Most bloggers seem to have Site Meter but not to pay for premium service. I think I'm in the smallest category: those who pay for premium service but don't hide the symbol or even block access to the records. I just like seeing the detailed records! What am I looking for? I'm not sure, but I have more to look at.

Some bloggers are proud of having no traffic meter, and others express pride in rarely checking the meter. They seem to think it affects the content of the blog and the whole feeling of being a blogger, and they are probably right. I'm a big meter-checker myself, and I probably started out as the kind of person who would be a meter-checker, but all that meter checking over the years, so closely connected to the daily practice of writing, has got to have had an effect on my mind. If the meter were taken away from me now, what would become of me? -- Ann Althouse, " What would we do without Site Meter?," 9/02/06