What didn’t he know, and when did he not know it?

Remember way back, oh, in 2000? When one of the candidates for president was really wonky and verbose and put everyone to sleep; and the other was dumb as a box of rocks and couldn’t name a single leader of any other country but had an aw-shucks-just-a-regular-guy kind of persona?
Which do you wish had become president now?
Remember back to those days, when George Bush didn’t know a damned thing and didn’t care. And now read this little list from Salon’s Tim Grieve and tell me if you sense history repeating.

Sept. 6, 2007: “Fred Thompson says a top challenge for the next president is fixing Social Security. Asked how his ideas for overhauling the system differ from those of George W. Bush, the actor and former Tennessee senator says: ‘I don’t even remember the details of his plan.'”

Sept. 7, 2007: Asked how he would handle Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida differently than George W. Bush has, Thompson said: “Muslims have been carrying on against us for some time. We didn’t pay much attention to it for a while but we are now and we’re finding there’s a global war going on against us. And we better figure out a way to contain it because it’s going to be with us for a long time after Iraq.”

Sept. 13, 2007: Asked about the concept of a national catastrophic disaster insurance fund to help with hurricanes and the like, Thompson told voters in Florida: “I don’t know enough about it yet … I’ll give it serious consideration.”

Sept. 13, 2007: “Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson said Thursday he doesn’t know enough about efforts by President Bush and Congress to keep Terri Schiavo alive to have an opinion on the right-to-die case that stirred national debate.”

Sept. 22, 2007: “Asked about the Jena Six case today on his way into a San Antonio fundraiser, Thompson said, ‘I don’t know anything about it.'”

Sept. 27, 2007: Thompson, who made his support for the death penalty a major part of his 1994 Senate campaign, said Thursday that he didn’t know that a federal judge had ruled last week that lethal injection procedures in his home state were unconstitutional. “Thompson also told reporters he was unaware that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed this week to consider a Kentucky case about whether lethal injection violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.”

Spamming in new boxes

When we think of spam, we think (most of us, some of us think of spiced ham) of the inbox. The infinitely large virtual inbox that seemingly overflows with junk telling us how to enlarge parts of our bodies or reduce others; entices us with the promise of riches just for helping launder some money through our bank accounts; shows us where we can buy watches that look just like Rolex but without the inflated price.
Recently, I’ve been noticing that the wretched spammers are thinking outside the inbox. Now they’re targeting the mailbox and voicemail box.
A couple of months ago I received a letter in the mail, sent from London. The letter was a classic Nigerian financial scam, but instead of sent to my email it was printed and mailed overseas to my house. I stared at it in bewilderment — sending an email to try to scam someone is cheap, a fraction of a cent. But posting an actual physical letter from the UK? That cost the spammer 78p just for the postage (about, oh, $1.50). I don’t know how many they sent, but it wasn’t cheap.
Then this morning I received a call on my mobile phone, from a London number (44 2075986777, in case you’re wondering). Since I don’t know anyone in London — at least, no one who knows my mobile number — I let it go to voicemail. To my surprise, they actually left a message.
It was a credit card scammer. I’ve seen their emails plenty of times, those spams claiming that you’ve been approved for a credit card limit increase, and that you must act within the next 24 hours to get it and, by the way, there’s a nominal $49 fee for the increase.
Well, that’s what the voice mail was.
Every day we are innundated with scams and spams everywhere we look — in our mailbox, our phones, and our televisions (“Lose weight without dieting! We couldn’t say it on television if it wasn’t true!”). I’m saddened but not surprised that as a civilization we haven’t become more savvy; we are still easily flim-flammed by quacks and snake-oil salesmen, and with the addition of technology and ubiquitous communications, we’re so much more easily targeted.
I often wonder if our technological advances have far outpaced our societal advances. I think the answer is quite obvious, really.

Less than Non-Human

Just love this snarky take on the new TV season from Lisa deMoraes of The Washington Post

What Do Aliens, Talking Fish and LGBT Characters Share?
By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, September 25, 2007; Page C07

Your chances of seeing a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender character on the broadcast networks in prime time this new TV season are about the same as your chances of seeing a talking fish or caveman.

The number of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) characters on broadcast TV is plunging in prime time, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation states in its most recent “Where We Are on TV” report.

Seven regular LGBT characters, out of 650 regular lead or supporting characters, are featured in just five scripted programs, the group reports.

That’s down from nine characters on eight scripted series in the ’06-’07 season; and two seasons back, GLAAD clocked 10 LGBT roles on nine scripted shows.

In fact, this season’s only new non-heterosexual regular character is Bonnie Somerville’s bisexual character on ABC’s chick ensemble series, “Cashmere Mafia.”

On the new prime-time schedules, LGBT characters represent just 1.1 percent of those 650 characters. In real life, based on U.S. Census projections, LGBT marketing companies estimate 15.3 million adults identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, which would be about 6.8 percent of the population.

In contrast, non-human-race (NHR) regular characters are enjoying something of a renaissance on broadcast TV.

Six have prominent roles in prime time, including a talking fish, a talking dog and an alien of the outer-space sort, all on Fox, and three cavemen on ABC. All told, they represent 1 percent of those 650 characters (compared with LGBT characters’ 1.1 percent). In real life, based on Census projections, talking fish, talking dogs, aliens and cavemen make up 0 percent of the population. It appears they are the only group besides white men who are overrepresented on broadcast prime-time TV.

We think this might be the highest count of NHR characters on the broadcast landscape since the Golden Age of Non-Human-Race TV, when shows such as “Lassie,” “Mr. Ed,” “My Favorite Martian” and “Bewitched” graced the airwaves.

“The reality is, we are your neighbors, your co-workers, your family and your friends, yet you’re just as likely to find a novelty character like a talking fish as you are to find a gay character on network TV,” GLAAD rep Damon Romine told The TV Column in an e-mail yesterday.

This, of course, screamed for a response from the Alien, Talking Animal & Cavemen Alliance Against Caricature (ATACAAC), but, sadly, that group exists only in our head.

More from the masters of calling the kettle black

Oh, boy. This is one of the better quotes from the Bush White House.

This just in from the Irony-Free Department: A “senior official” in the White House of George W. Bush tells journalist Bill Sammon why Barack Obama won’t be the next president of the United States: Obama is intellectually “capable” of the job, the official says, but he relies too much on easy charm. “It’s sort of like, ‘That’s all I need to get by,’ which bespeaks sort of a condescending attitude towards the voters … and a laziness, an intellectual laziness.” [via Salon]

Clickety Clack

You’d think that after two years and 4 months in California I’d have run out of comparisons to my old home in DC, but every so often I realize that something is different and I didn’t even realize it. Today? Trains.
Back in the DC area, trains — from freight to passenger — are relegated to a few tracks here and there. There are, of course, train yards dotted around, one large one used to stand where my local Target was opened over by the river. My old office backed up to train tracks, which featured MARC, Metro, and freight trains all day.
But they were on the periphery. Here in San Jose, the trains are all over.
Tracks and a train yard are just blocks from my house, and in the wee hours of the morning I can hear the high-pitched squeaks of freight train wheels as they roll slowly through. During the day, CalTrain commuters zip up and down the line through San Jose. Tracks run across city streets in the middle of downtown, used a few times a day by gravel trains from quarries in the mountains. And here across the street from my office in Campbell is a single track that sometimes hosts a freight, rumbling deeply through the building as it passes, backing up traffic as it goes. I won’t even mention the light rail system that runs right on the downtown streets.
Tracks are everywhere here, and they crisscross around downtown behind warehouses and old canneries. Today those canneries are pricey lofts, and the tracks still run inches away from the bedrooms of those living there. Back in DC, they had little by way of industry, so the tracks were easy to keep isolated.
I am strangely comforted by the sounds of the trains at night, as I lay in bed I listen to their rhythm and it reminds me of long ago.
Then a private jet takes off at the airport after curfew, and the 21st century Silicon Valley intrudes.

Time to turn off the comments

It seems that every newspaper has opened up comment boards for stories, which has resulted in every kook, ass, and moron voicing his opinion on serious news stories. Sometimes, there’s simply no reason to allow this sort of thing.

A moment of silence has never been more appropriate

The celebrity trifecta is complete.

(09-23) 04:59 PDT PARIS, France (AP) —
Marcel Marceau, who revived the art of mime and brought poetry to silence, has died, his former assistant said Sunday. He was 84.
Marceau died Saturday in Paris, French media reported. Former assistant Emmanuel Vacca announced the death on France-Info radio, but gave no details about the cause.
Wearing white face paint, soft shoes and a battered hat topped with a red flower, Marceau, notably through his famed personnage Bip, played the entire range of human emotions onstage for more than 50 years, never uttering a word. Offstage, however, he was famously chatty. “Never get a mime talking. He won’t stop,” he once said.
A French Jew, Marceau survived the Holocaust — and also worked with the French Resistance to protect Jewish children.
His biggest inspiration was Charlie Chaplin. Marceau, in turn, inspired countless young performers — Michael Jackson borrowed his famous “moonwalk” from a Marceau sketch, “Walking Against the Wind.”
Marceau performed tirelessly around the world until late in life, never losing his agility, never going out of style. In one of his most poignant and philosophical acts, “Youth, Maturity, Old Age, Death,” he wordlessly showed the passing of an entire life in just minutes.
“Do not the most moving moments of our lives find us without words?” he once said.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon praised Marceau as “the master,” saying he had the rare gift of “being able to communicate with each and everyone beyond the barriers of language.”
Marceau was born Marcel Mangel on March 22, 1923, in Strasbourg, France. His father Charles, a butcher who sang baritone, introduced his son to the world of music and theater at an early age. The boy adored the silent film stars of the era: Chaplin, Buster Keaton and the Marx brothers.
When the Germans marched into eastern France, he and his family were given just hours to pack their bags. He fled to southwest France and changed his last name to Marceau to hide his Jewish origins.
With his brother Alain, Marceau became active in the French Resistance. Marceau altered children’s identity cards, changing their birth dates to trick the Germans into thinking they were too young to be deported. Because he spoke English, he was recruited to be a liaison officer with Gen. George S. Patton’s army.
In 1944, Marceau’s father was sent to Auschwitz, where he died.
Later, he reflected on his father’s death: “Yes, I cried for him.”
But he also thought of all the others killed: “Among those kids was maybe an Einstein, a Mozart, somebody who (would have) found a cancer drug,” he told reporters in 2000. “That is why we have a great responsibility. Let us love one another.”
When Paris was liberated, Marcel’s life as a performer began. He enrolled in Charles Dullin’s School of Dramatic Art, studying with the renowned mime Etienne Decroux.
On a tiny stage at the Theatre de Poche, a smoke-filled Left Bank cabaret, he sought to perfect the style of mime that would become his trademark.
Bip — Marceau’s on-stage persona — was born.
Marceau once said that Bip was his creator’s alter ego, a sad-faced double whose eyes lit up with child-like wonder as he discovered the world. Bip was a direct descendant of the 19th century harlequin, but his clownish gestures, Marceau said, were inspired by Chaplin and Keaton.
Marceau likened his character to a modern-day Don Quixote, “alone in a fragile world filled with injustice and beauty.”
Dressed in a white sailor suit, a top hat — a red rose perched on top — Bip chased butterflies and flirted at cocktail parties. He went to war and ran a matrimonial service.
In one famous sketch, “Public Garden,” Marceau played all the characters in a park, from little boys playing ball to old women with knitting needles.
In 1949 Marceau’s newly formed mime troupe was the only one of its kind in Europe. But it was only after a hugely successful tour across the United States in the mid-1950s that Marceau received the acclaim that would make him an international star.
Single-handedly, Marceau revived the art of mime.
“I have a feeling that I did for mime what (Andres) Segovia did for the guitar, what (Pablo) Casals did for the cello,” he once told The Associated Press in an interview.
In the past decades, he has taken Bip to from Mexico to China to Australia. He’s also made film appearances. The most famous was Mel Brooks'”Silent Movie”: He had the only speaking line, “Non!”
As he aged, Marceau kept on performing at the same level, never losing the agility that made him famous. On top of his Legion of Honor and his countless honorary degrees, he was invited to be a United Nations goodwill ambassador for a 2002 conference on aging.
“If you stop at all when you are 70 or 80, you cannot go on,” he told The AP in an interview in 2003. “You have to keep working.”

Alice Ghostley

No, no, no… this has been a terrible week. First the fantastic Brett Somers, and now one of my very favorite actresses of all time: Alice Ghostley.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Alice Ghostley, the Tony Award-winning actress best known on television for playing Esmeralda on “Bewitched” and Bernice on “Designing Women,” has died. She was 81.

Ghostley died Friday at her home in Studio City after a long battle with colon cancer and a series of strokes, longtime friend Jim Pinkston said.

Ghostley made her Broadway debut in “Leonard Sillman’s New Faces of 1952.” She received critical acclaim for singing “The Boston Beguine,” which became her signature song.

Miles Kreuger, president of the Los Angeles-based Institute of the American Musical, said part of Ghostley’s charm was that she was not glamorous.

“She was rather plain and had a splendid singing voice, and the combination of the well-trained, splendid singing voice and this kind of dowdy homemaker character was so incongruous and so charming,” Kreuger said.

In the 1960s, Ghostley received a Tony nomination for various characterizations in the Broadway comedy “The Beauty Part” and eventually won for best featured actress in “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window.”

From 1969 to 1972, she played the good witch and ditzy housekeeper Esmeralda on TV’s “Bewitched.” She played Bernice Clifton on “Designing Women” from 1987 to 1993, for which she earned an Emmy nomination in 1992.

Ghostley’s film credits include “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Graduate,” “Gator” and “Grease.”

She was born on Aug. 14, 1926, in Eve, Mo., where her father worked as a telegraph operator. She grew up in Henryetta, Okla.

After graduating from high school, Ghostley attended the University of Oklahoma but dropped out and moved to New York with her sister to pursue theater.

“The best job I had then was as a theater usher,” she said in a 1990 Boston Globe interview. “I saw the plays for free. What I saw before me was a visualization of what I wanted to do and what I wanted to be.”

She was well aware of the types of roles she should pursue.

“I knew I didn’t look like an ingenue,” she told The Globe. “My nose was too long. I had crooked teeth. I wasn’t blond. I knew I looked like a character actress.

“But I also knew I’d find a way,” she added.

Ghostley, whose actor husband, Felice Orlandi, died in 2003, is survived by her sister, Gladys.

I have always loved that I share a birthday with Alice. I adored her, and loved the way she made me laugh.

Bits and pieces before bedtime

1: Walt Mossberg obliquely references my film festival in his column tomorrow. Interesting that he knows who we are… solution.allthingsd.com/20070919/directions-are-a-cellphone-call-away/

2: A few pics from the road this past week. First, a blurry long-distance pic of the emergency communication system on Metro. You probably can’t see it, so I’ll clue you in on what made me take the picture.

At the top of this emergency system is an arrow pointing up to a red button, with the legend “EMERGENCY ONLY PUSH TO TALK.” Under that is a SECOND call button with arrows pointing to it. I have no idea which one to press.

3: On the last page of the inflight magazine on United Flight 241 from Dulles to San Jose, I found this message.

I’m not entirely sure how the writer expected to make this hook up request work, but I can only assume that he didn’t find the action he was looking for at the airport bathroom. He should have tried Minneapolis instead of Dulles.

4: After a week of having my picture taken by DC Shorts paparazzi that made me look like a beached whale, I was pleased that this little snapshot with my phone looks so good.

5: This is the sort of typical inconsiderate DC behavior that made me want to leave. And I saw this same phenomenon about 5 times over the weekend, asses parking illegally over wheelchair ramps everywhere.

6: I had a blast seeing my graphics projected on a big old movie screen in high def. Woo hoo!

Brett Somers

Sad news.

Brett Somers, 83; Actress Was ‘Match Game’ Regular
Associated Press
Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Brett Somers, 83, an actress and comedian who amused game show fans with her quips on the “Match Game” in the 1970s, died Sept. 15 at her home in Westport, Conn. She had stomach and colon cancer.

Hosted by Gene Rayburn, “Match Game” was the top game show during much of the 1970s. Contestants would try to match answers to nonsense questions with a panel of celebrities; much of the humor came from the racy quips and putdowns.

Shows from the 1973-79 run, featuring regulars such as Ms. Somers, Richard Dawson and Charles Nelson Reilly, are still seen on cable TV’s GSN (formerly Game Show Network.)

Ms. Somers married actor Jack Klugman, the future star of the television shows “Quincy, M.E.” and “The Odd Couple,” in 1953.

The two separated in 1974 but never divorced.

They made many television appearances as a couple. Ms. Somers appeared on several episodes of “The Odd Couple,” playing the ex-wife of Klugman’s character.

In summer 2003, she appeared in a one-woman cabaret show, “An Evening With Brett Somers,” which she wrote and co-produced.

Ms. Somers continued to perform after her cancer was diagnosed.

She was born Audrey Johnston in New Brunswick, Canada, and grew up in Portland, Maine.

She ran away from home at 17 and headed for New York, where she settled in Greenwich Village.

She changed her first name to Brett after the lead female character in the Ernest Hemingway novel “The Sun Also Rises.” Somers was her mother’s maiden name.

In addition to her husband, survivors include three children.

A tie is not always a tie

I don’t agree with the study that came out today placing the Bay Area second — tied with DC — in traffic congestion. Here’s why.
I drive every morning at 6:45am to work, about 9 miles, down I-880 south from downtown San Jose to Campbell. It takes me about 9 minutes to get to work, and traffic is light.
Ah, you say, you’re driving against traffic, not on 101, and early in the morning!
Yes, that’s true. If I were driving north toward San Francisco at 8:30 in the morning on the 101 freeway, things would be very different. But here’s why this doesn’t matter: in the DC area, it doesn’t matter what time or what direction you’re driving in, or what highway you’re on. Rush hour there lasts all day and all night, and in every direction. So while the traffic here in the bay area may be just as bad as in DC, it only reaches that point twice a day, on weekdays. We still have rush hours here, back in DC the rush hour is now something like 20 hours long, 7 days a week. (In fact, traffic is often worse on Saturday in the DC area than any other day.)

Home again, home again, jiggety jog

Here I am, back in San Jose after a looooong week back in DC. Every time I make that trip, my comfort level in calling San Jose “home” grows a bit. I really miss my family, but I am reaching a point now where I want to stay in San Jose no matter what happens — I was struck by the, well, unfriendliness of people back in DC, the horrific traffic at all hours of the day, the two million people on the Metro, and the humidity that made it difficult to walk only a few blocks. Here in San Jose, I can walk for miles without a problem, in DC just going three or four blocks left me winded and sweaty.

It wasn’t all hellacious: DC Shorts was great! Almost completely flawless, thanks to an amazing group of staff and volunteers who kept everything running smoothly. I was personally gratified that the projection system I devised worked without a hitch — more on this later, it was really cool.

Judging was insanely difficult — every single film presented was worthy of an award, so picking 8 or 9 was a struggle, and we waffled back and forth for a few days.

I was running around keeping an eye on things so I really only got to go to one party; that was a blast! It was in the super-secret Gibson Guitar showroom, hidden away near Verizon Center where artists can shop for guitars in peace. Drank copiously and had fun, knowing that I wouldn’t be drinking or having fun the rest of the time!

Time was so short, though. I didn’t have a chance to spend more than a few hours here and there with family. Had a great time one night playing with my sister’s Wii videogame and whomped them bowling. I really have to get one of these things; although I have a feeling it won’t be nearly as entertaining without a bunch of people to play with.

More later, including a few pictures — one of which was both amusing and kind of sleazy from the airplane… how’s that for a teaser?