Did everyone else know that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is awesome? Am I late to the party on this? Does he make speeches like this one on the Senate floor every day, speeches that clearly and unhysterically spell out exactly what is at stake with these lunatics running the show? Have I been missing them? Or did he just today for the first time manifest a serious case of the awesomeness? Either way: Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), you are my new hero.

But my wife....

There seems to be something a bit odd going on with this whole Borat movie (or to give it its full title, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan) business.

Maybe I'm misreading this, but it seems like here, the New York Times implicitly criticizes the movie for its failure to accurately depict Kazakhstan culture etc. Writes Steven Lee Myers: "There is almost nothing, in short, remotely truthful in the satiric depiction of Kazakhstan popularized by Sacha Baron Cohen" and "Mr. Bayen...like all ethnic Kazakhs, bears no resemblance to Borat whatsoever." But part of the point of the original Borat concept was how absurd and unbelivable Borat is (for instance, "Where is cage for woman?") and therefore how gullible and ignorant people are that they can be taken in by it. In other words, the joke's on westerners, not Kazakhs. What possible interest, when you think about it, would Sacha Baron Cohen have in sending up Kazakhs?

But this mistake seems like it's getting made because the Borat of the movie, unlike the Borat of The Ali G Show, isn't Sacha Baron Cohen going around pretending to be Borat to play jokes on the people who believe him. It's a conventional movie dynamic where an actor, in this case named Sacha Baron Cohen, plays an "outrageous" character called Borat, much like Will Ferrell plays an "outrageous" NASCAR driver called Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights -- in which Baron Cohen co-starred (and he was totally the best thing about it). And rather than being aware the whole time that this is a setup, the audience is supposed to do the whole conventional willed-suspension-of-disbelief thing and believe in the character.

That seems to pretty clearly change the whole basis of the humor. It's still, for some reason, hilarious to hear someone say things like "Women can now travel inside of bus." But it's not as funny as hearing someone say that and then seeing a western person take them seriously. My understanding is that the movie does still make use of that same western gullibility dynamic in parts, but you can't do that nearly as successfully in the context of a conventional movie concept where you're supposed to actually believe in the protagonist as a character.

Funny Matt Taibbi column on the stupidity of 9/11 conspiracy theories:

CHENEY: Of course, just toppling the Twin Towers will never be enough. No one would give us the war mandate we need if we just blow up the Towers. Clearly, we also need to shoot a missile at a small corner of the Pentagon to create a mightily underpublicized additional symbol of international terrorism -- and then, obviously, we need to fake a plane crash in the middle of fucking nowhere in rural Pennsylvania.


If Zack's post below has made you wonder, What is this Microsoft iPod killer: it's called the Zune, and the best thing I've seen on it so far is here.

Breaking technolgy news

(Not really, it's already been written about, but still... ) So my friend Dave helps run this indie music blog called Music for Robots, and recently Microsoft flew one of his co-bloggers (along with a bunch of other buzzmakers) out to Seattle to get a look at their long-awaited challenge to-the-iPod product. They apparently made a big deal out of how it didn't look anything like an iPod, but then it turned it out to look alot like an iPod, with a wheel and screen and everything. The screen is apparently somewhat bigger than the iPod screen, making it better designed for playing movies and TV shows or whatever. And the other big thing is that if you put two of them close to each other (I think like within a few feet or yards) you can "beam" stuff from one device to another wirelessly, but you only get access to it for 3 days or 3 plays, whichever comes first. And there are certain features that encourage you to download stuff from their Microsoft Music Store or whatever they call it, suggesting a broad challenge to the Apple music empire. Also it doesn't work yet so Microsoft couldn't give them any.

Something else re: Studio 60: Why did Sorkin choose to move his SNL analog to Los Angeles? Maybe he wanted to have the network suits on hand for dramatic conflict, or maybe he wanted to distance it from the real SNL, or maybe he just likes living in LA and didn't want to move. But it's an impossible location for the show-within-the-show. Like SNL, Studio 60 supposedly runs from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. (In Monday's episode, Matthew Perry threatened to reduce Sarah Paulson's role to "waving goodnight at one in the morning.") SNL is performed at that time in New York, then tape-delayed in the rest of the country. A west coast version, like Sorkin's, would air live in New York at two in the morning.

I'm sure they thought of this and decided not to give a fuck.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (NBC, Mondays)
The first problem is, How do you make the audience care about the making of a sketch-comedy TV show? Sorkin solves this by (a) using the difference between edgy, funny sketch comedy and lame sketch comedy to represent the squandered potential and possibility for redemption of television itself; (b) putting the very appealing Amanda Peet's career at stake; (c) amping up the race-against-time aspect with a giant clock. Sorkin: 1, difficulties: 0.

The second problem is, How do you follow The West Wing? Sorkin (and Schlamme) respond by replicating the feel of TWW in a consistently more grown-up vein: longer and more beautifully composed tracking shots, faster and more continuous and less cutesy dialogue, no benevolent-daddy-sorts-out-right-from-wrong at the end of each episode. Also, at the thematic core they replace race (embodied in TWW in the strangely moving father-son/master-slave relationship between Bartlett and Charlie) with religion, the hipper, sexier reason that Americans can't talk to each other. Sorkin: 2; difficulties: 0.

The third problem is, If you make a show that posits a genuinely funny version of SNL, do you also have to be able to make a genuinely funny version of SNL as an existence proof? The first episode of Studio 60 suggested that Sorkin's answer to this question was no -- that we'd see the backstage machinations but take the quality of the finished product on trust. The difficulty here is that you can only be told that a person is brilliant at their job so many times before you want to see some evidence of it. The second episode took the other tack, showing us the big opening sketch that was supposed to set the tone for the rebirth of the show-within-the-show, exemplify the possibilities of sophisticated and daring and genuinely funny sketch comedy, and demonstrate the Matthew Perry character's genius. Perhaps Sorkin is incapable of writing sketch comedy, and, because he's good at writing dramatic comedy, doesn't know it. But this is really the best he can come up with: a Gilbert and Sullivan parody? Sorkin: 2; difficulties: 1,000,000.


As you probably know, Apple recently started selling feature films through the iTunes Store (formerly known as the iTunes Music Store). Wal-Mart (a huge player in the DVD retail market) has reason to fear that this will cut into their bottom line. Now, the Post reports, studio executives say Wal-Mart has threatened to buy fewer DVDs from any studio that goes into business with Apple. Early adopter Disney has already received "cases and cases" of returned DVDs.

Would someone who knows something about antitrust law please tell me this: If these allegations are true, isn't Wal-Mart opening itself up to an anticompetitive-practices lawsuit?

Update: Wal-Mart disputes the Post's report.


Weird syntax thing alert: There's a particular kind of sentence structure that's been bugging me a lot lately. I think it's an error. But it occurs in generally well-edited publications, and so I'm forced to wonder if I'm wrong. It was raised above the waterline of my conscious awareness by two examples in Michael Weiss's interesting-but-I-think-ultimately-wrongheaded John Hughes retrospective in Slate:

Anyone who grew up in the '80s ... can probably remember high school as much for its unique misery as for the Breakfast Club references it evokes.

Gen X nostalgia is as interesting for what it remembers as for what it chooses to ignore.
Is it just me, or is each of these "as much for ... as for ..." constructions back-ass-wards? If you say "as much for X as for Y," aren't you putting the syntactic emphasis on X rather than Y, which I'm pretty sure is not Weiss's intention in either case? The first term should be the surprising one; the second should be the expected one. It's not surprising that you remember high school for its own qualities -- what's surprising is that you remember it because of associations with a John Hughes movie from 1985 -- so the sentences as Weiss writes them sound to my ears like truisms rather than arguments.

If I were Weiss's editor, I would invert each of those sentences, like so:
Anyone who grew up in the '80s can probably remember high school as much for the Breakfast Club references it evokes as for its unique misery.

Gen X nostalgia is as interesting for what it chooses to ignore as for what it remembers.
Is this just me? I am asking for real.

Here's a brief and slightly off-topic report by Matthew Yglesias about the Wire screening event featuring David Simon in DC last night, in which Gabe had expressed interest.


And speaking of that David Brooks column: Brooks describes Louann Brizendine’s The Female Brain as "a breezy — maybe too breezy — summary of hundreds of studies on the neurological differences between men and women." That interjected criticism, "maybe too breezy": Did David fucking Brooks, of all people, really read The Female Brain and say, "Too breezy! Insufficiently technical!"? Or -- speculative alternate theory -- did he read Robin Marantz Henig's review of The Female Brain in last week's Times Book Review, in which Henig, who actually knows something about science, criticized Brizendine for offering "breezy generalizations" instead of factual detail?

David Brooks's column yesterday provided more evidence that he's a total fathead. (You can read it here, if you get TimesSelect.) Summarizing Louann Brizendine’s new book The Female Brain, Brooks takes his readers on a whistle-stop tour of the current wisdom on the physiological basis of gender differences, which segues into a summary of evolutionary psychology:

The prevailing view is that brain patterns were established during the millenniums when humans were hunters and gatherers, and we live with the consequences.... Happiness seems to consist of living in harmony with the patterns that nature and evolution laid down long, long ago.
Where on earth did Brooks get the idea that evolution wants us to be happy? Evolution wants our genes to survive. To that end it has equipped us to be dissatisfied almost all the time, but to imagine that satisfaction is just around the corner if we can just find an attractive mate, eat some food, or improve our social status. (A creature that can easily make itself happy in a lasting way is an evolutionary dead end.) If we want to be happy, our best shot is to fight "the patterns that nature and evolution laid down long ago" as best we can.

This is a classic fallacy of pseudoscientific thinking -- the idea that what is natural is by definition desirable. Why does this guy get to write about stuff he doesn't understand?

It's not really a backlash if you don't talk about the show itself, you only talk about how annoying you find the chorus of praise for the show. Update: I missed this at the time, but the New Yorker's brilliant Alex Ross is a fan. And yes, I will continue linking the documentary evidence of the Wire groundswell until I get bored.


Not so fast...

The inevitable Wire backlash begins. Via Yglesias, who has, as usual, figured everything out.


The New York Times editorial page has got The Wire fever. So does the Post's TV critic, who begins his review of season four with "Thirteen hours ago I was a different person." Updates: Slate editor Jacob Weisberg joins the happy throng, with a piece beginning "The Wire, which has just begun its fourth season on HBO, is surely the best TV show ever broadcast in America." Plus, Slate will be team-reviewing the episodes weekly, and HBO has just renewed the series for a fifth and final season, this one focusing on the media. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive.

You know that "six degrees of separation" thing? Apparently it's bullshit.


Great moments in customer service: The guy at Time Warner Cable customer service just informed me that he's Level One, and the guy who can help me is Level Three. "Can you put me through to Level Three?" I asked. No, he said, he can't put me through to Level Three, he can only transfer me to Level Two and they can connect me to Level Three.


Matthew Yglesias is going to save the world. Seriously. This is fantastic news.