His 2010 State of the Union ditched the mercifully forgotten light bulb screwing in boondoggle in favor of 57 new flavors of pork, along with an implausible “discretionary spending freeze”. Thus Obama’s appearance at a rally in Tampa on Thursday trumpeted a new brainstorm—handing over $1.25 billion for a Train to Nowhere.
Obama has called for the construction of a high-speed rail line that will run from the Orlando airport all of 75 miles to a To Be Announced destination in the sprawling Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metroplex. (The current best guess for the Tampa Bay terminus seems to be “a little past Ybor City.”)
Think about it. (Obama hasn’t.) Rail travel works best connecting centralized cities. Orlando is hardly centralized. But Tampa Bay is likely the least suitable metropolitan area in America for an expensive new rail system: its center is salt water.
Q. After you drive to south suburban Orlando International Airport, park, and wait for the ObamaTrain, it accelerates up to 168 mph but then soon starts decelerating so it can grind to a halt somewhere near Tampa (meaning it will only average 86 mph), what do you do next?
A. You stand in line at the Hertz counter to rent a car to drive to your actual destination in the far-flung Tampa Bay exurbs. (For example, it’s 25 miles from downtown Tampa to downtown St. Petersburg.)
Wouldn’t it have been simpler and cheaper just to drive from Orlando?
January 29, 2010
With James Cameron’s Avatar shouldering aside George Lucas’s original Star Wars and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight for second place on the all time movie box office rankings (behind only Cameron’s own Titanic), it’s a good time to note one of the odder twists in the evolution of popular film culture: the rise of the self-proclaimed do-it-all writer-director-producer.
Of the last thirty Best Picture nominees (2003-2008), ten had directors who also took screenwriting credits (including George Clooney for Good Night and Good Luck).
And of the top 30 box office hits of all time—a list dominated by recent films due to inflation—the director has also served double-duty as a screenwriter on 16.
The growing allure of the writer-director extends even to Lucas and Cameron, both of whom seem more intrigued by technological innovation than by fine-tuning dialogue. Lucas is notoriously tin-eared, while Cameron abstains from originality in plot and dialogue to—as he explains it—avoid confusing the audience.
After triumphing as the sole writer-director on the original Star Wars in 1977, Lucas took a public role for his 1980 sequel The Empire Strikes Back more like hypomanic producer David O. Selznick’s on 1939’s Gone with the Wind. Lucas handed the screenwriting credits to old-timer Leigh Brackett and young gun Lawrence Kasdan, and the directing credit to Irvin Kershner. Is it surprising that The Empire Strikes Back is widely considered the best of the five follow-ups?
Yet, when Lucas returned in 1999 with The Phantom Menace, the spirit of the age encouraged him to take sole credits for both writing and directing. And it showed.
Still, The Phantom Menace made plenty of money. People like the idea of the embattled genius coming back after 16 years away (or 12 years in Cameron’s case) with his deeply personal revelation. Ironically, a variant of the auteur theory—that dauntingly intellectual Parisian rewrite of Hollywood history intended to establish the primacy of the director as the “author” of the film at the expense of the actors, screenwriter, producer, and the rest of the crew—is becoming the standard way to make crowd-pleasing popcorn movies. The public adores identifying with megalomaniac filmmakers.
That reminds me of the Two Minutes Hate directed at William Bennett about the same period of time after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans for referring to Steve Levitt's Abortion-Cuts-Crime theory on the radio. I wrote:
Ever since New Orleans, the hysteria among the political and media elite has been building: Who among us bigshots will crack first and allude to the elephant in the living room?
Also, I'm reminded of the 2003 incident when Michael Eisner fired ESPN columnist Greg Easterbrook for mentioning "Jewish [movie] executives" in denouncing a slasher film in his blog on the The New Republic:
Easterbrook was widely excoriated both for terminal unhipness and for supposedly resurrecting the myth that Jews control the media. Disney supremo Michael Eisner, however, did control Easterbrook's other employer, ESPN, which immediately fired him. Most commentators opined that Easterbrook had it coming.
All I can say is that if Walt Disney were alive today, he'd be spinning in his cryogenic preservation chamber.
January 27, 2010
January 26, 2010
One thing I noticed is that gunshot homicides predominate in gang war neighborhoods, such as Compton. In contrast, the tonier the neighborhood, the lower the proportions of gunshots and the higher the proportion of "stabbing" and "blunt force" homicides. At the highest levels of society, "other" is the homicide method a la mode. For example, please check out the homicide log for the Beverly Crest neighborhood (the part of Los Angeles in the Hollywood Hills above Beverly Hills).
The LA Times and Jill Leovy should be congratulated for providing this useful information. From the FAQ:
The website was created in January 2007 by Jill Leovy, a veteran Times’ writer, as a reported blog. Leovy, the author of nearly all the unsigned posts from 2007, launched the report as a way to balance the crime coverage of the Los Angeles Times. As a practical necessity, printed editions of The Times, like those of other metropolitan newspapers, give the most attention to the most unusual, and thus statistically marginal, homicide cases.
It is our goal to give readers a complete picture of who dies in homicides, where, and why -- thus conveying both the personal story and the statistical story with greater accuracy and providing a forum for readers to remember victims and discuss violence. ...The new version of the report, which launched Jan. 26, 2010, merges the blog posts with a searchable database and interactive maps. The maps break down homicides by various categories, including race/ethnicity, age, neighborhood/city, gender, method of death and more. Readers can link to the original Homicide Report to read archived comments and the original posts. In some cases the content has been edited to fit into the new style and format....
Why does the Homicide Report give the race of victims and suspects?
The Homicide Report includes information on race or ethnicity of each homicide victim, as well as the name, gender and age and the time, place and manner of death. A number of readers have asked why race is included. Some have criticized the practice.
Racial information was once routinely included in news stories about crimes, but in recent decades, newspapers and other media outlets stopped mentioning suspects' or victims' race or ethnicity because of public criticism. Newspapers came to embrace the idea that such information is irrelevant to the reporting of crimes and may unfairly stigmatize racial groups.
The Homicide Report departs from this rule in the interest of presenting the most complete and accurate demographic picture of who is dying in homicides in Los Angeles County.
It's worth taking a look at a gateway website, which is reminiscent of Ed McMahon's old Publisher's Clearing House lottery junk mail:
Select Your Language >>
Why do we have to have a lottery? Teddy went to Harvard (for awhile). Does Harvard let people in by lottery? Why is a lottery good enough for the United States of America, but not good enough for Harvard?