Saturday, October 07, 2006

True Crime Diary


My friend Michelle McNamara has always been intrigued by the grisly, disturbing exploits of criminals and ne'er-do-wells. (Hence her affection for me.)

She has turned her hobby into a fascinating blog, True Crime Diary. It's compelling and often moving, and will either make you sleep with the lights on, or give you great ideas for your next chop spree.

Advertising Questions

I have a couple of commercial questions, and I'm hoping someone out there who is "in the know" can answer them for me.

First of all, there are those great DirectTV ads. When I saw the ones with Ben Stein and Bill Pullman and Verne Troyer, I thought, "Well, okay, they could use makeup and costume to redress them and shoot their half of the scenes over again, then insert it into the originals. A lot of work, but doable."

But the new one with William Shatner blew my mind. Because it's younger, thinner, springier Shatner. I mean, one could reasonably make Ben Stein look like his younger self, but you can not make Shatner look like that anymore.

So now I'm convinced that they are having 2006 Shatner hold his head very still, and then putting whatever parts of his present face are necessary onto the original clip. Does anyone know? How far off am I?

Also, isn't there an implied endorsement by Helen Hunt or Mike Myers or Leonard Nimoy... or even that goofy kid from Ferris Bueller? Do they have to negotiate with each of those actors? I can't imagine that Mike Myers, for example, comes cheap.

Now, then, on to the Gap ad with Audrey Hepburn. I like the idea, though I don't think it's very well executed. Also, I think it's unfortunate that a whole generation will only know this great actress and humanitarian as the "girl wants to dance girl wants to dance" chick.

But here's what I'm wondering: I know the Gap reached an understanding with her estate, and made a sizable donation to UNICEF in exchange for the use of her image. But I thought Audrey Hepburn exclusively wore Givenchy. If those pants were designed by Givenchy, doesn't the Gap have to pay the House of Givenchy (or whatever it's called) for the rights to merchandise them?

These are mysteries, and I don't like mysteries. They give me a bellyache.

To Define a Predator

I once wrote a joke for a pilot that went like this: a guy is meeting a militant feminist. He offers to shake her hand. She refuses. "You know, a handshake is just a tiny little rape."

Underneath the joke, my point was that by applying the word "rape" to anything and everything we cheapen the word. We do a disservice to real victims of that horrible crime.

Now I think the word "predator" is being devalued. We can't reasonably apply the same word to:

1. A guy who has sexual online chats with 16-year-olds.

2. A guy who is invited to a house by Dateline NBC to have sex with an imaginary teenager.

3. A guy who kidnaps, imprisons, sodomizes and kills a child.

IMHO, these are three very different crimes. (And I'm still waiting for someone to explain to me why #2 is a crime, since there was no actual teenager involved.)

All are creeps, and I'm not calling for leniency toward anyone who engages in any kind of sexual congress (no pun intended) with a minor...

But even if #1 and #2 are precursors to predatory behavior, we really shouldn't call all three by the same word.

And, on a sidenote: I have not written about Congressman Foley, because while his story is creepy and sad, it's all too familiar and it's not the main issue. Hastert and anyone anyone else who covered this up is the issue. It's a bloodboiling issue. The care of these pages is a trust that should not have been violated, and any threat should have been reported and dealt with immediately.

But I've been fascinated by how charitable the news media has been toward the participants in this story, compared to, say, the pervy schnooks who show up at the Dateline NBC house. Foley is repeatedly described as "inappropriate" or "familiar"... or "overly friendly," as if he were Ned Flanders. Can you imagine NBC describing one of the Dateline skeevs as "overly friendly"?

And the Today Show only uses phrases like "story Hastert wishes would go away" or "Republicans try to stop the bleeding"... Genius! As if they're characters on ER, staggering in with a gunshot wound... AND they're also the heroic doctors trying to save the patient!

Never mind that they're actually the shooters, and that it's the American people and the pages that are really the victims. That narrative is too messy. And subliminally, what does this metaphor suggest? That enforcement of legal and ethical standards is a disease? That the Democrats are an opportunistic infection?

A story you "wish would go away" is when you hit a rabbit with your oar, or you accidentally go to a locked door, or when you throw up on the Japanese Prime Minister. Sexual misconduct and a coverup conspiracy is not a "wish you would go away" thing. It's a "throw the bums out" thing.

Script Buddy


In other posts, I've raved about Writely, the free, web-based alternative to Microsoft Word. It's simple, reliable, and did I mention it's free? Just go to www.writely.com and Bob's your uncle... though thankfully not Microsoft Bob.

The success of Writely has inspired a number of web-based tools, including one for screenwriters. It's called Script Buddy, and you can find it (where else?) at www.scriptbuddy.com. There is no fee to write and store your scripts, but there is a $5 a month membership fee if you'd like to export them to PDF's. Seems reasonable.

The interface is a little awkward, unless I'm missing something. It seems to take an extra click or two to move from one element to another. Still, it works well and it's free... and if you're a beginning screenwriter without a lot of extra cash -- and is there any other kind? -- Script Buddy is a good way to get started.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Daily Show on Bush's Job: Sheer Genius

I Get Lucky Thanks to Buzz Out Loud... Twice!

So I'm listening to one of my favorite podcasts, CNET's Buzz Out Loud, starring Molly Wood, Veronica Belmont, and some guy who is neither Molly Wood nor Veronica Belmont so he is of no consequence to me.

And they congratulate AT&T on eliminating DSL contract requirements, and making month-to-month service available at the same rate. An unusually cool move for such a huge, Death-Star-like conglomerate.

A visit to AT&T's website later, and I realize that for what I'm paying SBC Yahoo for 3Mbps I could be getting 6Mbps if I had AT&T Yahoo. And SBC is AT&T, no?

I am online-chatting with the service rep, and he says sure, no problem, easy switch, same price, double the speed.

Lucky break #1.

I ask when I can expect to have my hair blown back, and he says I need to buy a new wireless router from them. I describe my setup, which is Fleckman-esque in its complexity, and explain that I'd rather not pull out a single Jenga block I don't have to. No use... Gotta switch the router.

Oh, well... Must have speed...

So in the middle of placing the order, their chat client dumps me out!

D'oh!

I reconnect and now I have a different rep. I start over, and she says the other guy is crazy, I don't have to do a thing, they'll hit the afterburners button from their end. So getting disconnected from the first guy was Lucky Break #2!

Anyway, I share this to remind you it's all too easy to forget about your high-speed service. It's not like cable... You can check around every now and then and make sure you're getting the best deal. (At least until Congress screws it up.)

And to remind you not to trust everything people tell you... which is something I forget all the time, unfortunately.

And I also tell this story to say: Thanks, Molly & Veronica! Come on over any time for fast Internet and margaritas.

The Slanket: Goofy But Cozy



The Slanket website calls it "the best blanket ever." I have two, so obviously I agree.

It's genius: a blanket with sleeves. Why didn't they think of this before?

I would hate for anyone to see me in one, but I have to admit that when my Slanket and I get together I feel like a big toasty cinnamon bun. If you have one, too, back me up on this. Don't leave me out here all alone. 'Fess up.

Google Reportedly In Talks To Buy YouTube For 1.6 Billion Dollars

Should've Asked Me available for five hundred bucks and a Pizookie.

"I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."

PART ONE



PART TWO


Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Best Part of Chevy Chase's Worst Night

I'm psyched for Chevy Chase's portrayal of a not-at-all-based-on-Mel-Gibson character in an upcoming Law & Order. It brought to mind Chevy's roast, when Stephen Colbert, on a stage full of cruel and funny people, was far and away the cruelest and funniest.

How Much Would It Suck If You Happened To Be Sunbathing at the Precise Moment Google Earth Took the Satellite Photo of Your House?

The Nine and the News

(The Nine SPOILER ALERT)

After watching Lost last night, I rehinged my jaw and watched The Nine. I really liked it, and thought it was extraordinarily well-crafted.

One part, though, struck me as completely unrealistic: the funeral of one of the show's hostages was quiet, dignified and lovely. In real life, this tender event would have been turned into a grotesque circus by crowds of screaming photographers, TV vans, cable news reporters doing live stand-ups, and helicopters swarming the gravesite.

Then, this morning, I turned on the TV and saw the coverage of the funerals of four of the little girls killed in the Amish school crisis. Reporters described the funerals as "modest" and "solemn."

Really? That's incredible! I expected them to have balloon animals and an oom-pa band!

If anyone in the news business is reading this, please let me chime in with my two cents:

That these children were kidnapped and killed is news. Because it was unusual. Covering that was fine.

That they were buried, however, is not news. That is what people do with their children when they pass on. (Had the parents instead, say, strapped the children to a rocket and shot them to the moon, I suppose that would be something to cover. But a funeral??)

Private funerals are not something you cover. They're things you should allow to happen with peace and dignity. You can report that the funerals happened, but to film them and show them is unnecessary and creepy.

Those families didn't bury their little girls so you could have B-roll.

He's Even Cuter Than The Dancing Indian!





Not Really a Great Walking Ad For the Vitamin Barn

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Apropos of Nothing...

I was in the shower just now, and I knocked over a bottle of shampoo. When I bent over to pick it up, another bottle up on the shelf tipped over and the shampoo splashed onto my back. "Hmmm..." I thought. "This must be what it's like to be Paris Hilton."

My Favorite Colbert Green Screen Entry So Far

Here's How Naive I Am

I just saw a report from yesterday's Today Show about the bacteria found when a microbiologist swabbed the lipstick and eyeliner samples at a department store cosmetics counter. Needless to say, they were crawling with disgusting germs.

I watched this with my mouth open, my glass of juice nearly falling from my hands.

Are you telling me that women walk into a department store, pick up a
used lipstick, and put it on their lips? In their mouths?? Or that they put on eye makeup that's been God-knows-where?

You gotta be kidding me.

How could this have been going on all this time and I had no idea? I used to work in the frangrance and cosmetics industry, and we made individual samples. I assumed cosmetics counters gave those out. Because no sane person would apply municipal lipstick!

I wouldn't borrow someone's ChapStick, or even their Visine. I wouldn't use
antiperspirant someone else had used.

My world has been rocked. I'm begging you, ladies, explain the thinking to me. You daintily line your toilet seats with paper, and then go smear
something you found in a store on your mouth and in your eyes???

Until this moment, I thought there was nothing wrong with a woman being elected President. But now...

Please, tell me I misunderstood. Restore my faith.

Burger Time


Lifehacker has a link to an eHow article on "How to Grill a Perfect Burger" as well as interesting recipes and suggestions from Lifehacker's readers.

Of course, everyone has his or her own special method and tricks... and since I love to grill burgers, why should I be any different? Remember, as always, this is all my opinion, and is worth exactly what you're paying for it.

I would agree with the article that you should never press down on the burger and squeeze the juices out. In fact, my trick is to put an ice cube on top of each patty... it may be superstition, but a little but more moisture can't hurt.

And everyone feels differently, but I say only flip once. YMMV.

I also either inject the condiment into the burger halfway through the cooking, or put it on the topside after I flip it. Either way, the ketchup or barbecue sauce seeps into the juices and becomes part of the flavor of the burger, instead of a cold, separate item. (However, I firmly believe God meant for buns to be served at room temperature)

And lately I've been shaking things up by using hoisin sauce instead of ketchup. It's fantastic!

I love reading mouth-watering barbecue ideas, so if anyone has any, please chime in.

And at the risk of starting a flame war: With all the attention that In N Out Burger has gotten in the tabloids lately, it only reminds me that In N Out is great, but they're just my second favorite fast food burger.

I gotta admit, I'm a Wendy's man. Wendy's burgers, IMHO, are thicker, juicier, but without being as greasy and goopy as In N Out. But I understand if I'm in the minority.

One more thing, though it's not burger-related. Can someone please explain Quizno's to me? I've tried it four times, and each time I've been served something more vomitatious than the time before. The brisket sandwich I had recently looked nothing like the mouthwatering delicacy in the commercials. It actually looked like someone had eaten the sandwich and then spat the boluses onto the bread. (And then put it under a lamp.)

If anyone knows something at Quizno's that's better than, say, Togo's please let me know, because I'd love to know why the Q is so popular.

Monday, October 02, 2006

In Honor of CSI: Miami's 100th Episode


I will say that CSI:NY is still far and away my favorite, but I do enjoy CSI: Miami.

As a fan, let me offer some compliments, and a few (I hope) constructive criticisms.

I think Khandi Aklexander is one of TV's finest actresses, but I find the way she speaks to the dead irritating. And in one episode I saw recently she actually tenderly caressed the hair of an 18-year-old girl's corpse, which I found downright disturbing. Let's try to keep it all-business.

Second, I don't want to give his/her name, but
the worst actor or actress in prime-time TV is on this show (IMHO). It's impossible to believe one wooden word. If you agree, you know whom I'm talking about. (If you disagree, you have no idea whom I'm talking about, so I know I haven't offended you.)

On the other hand, Eva La Rue is so gifted, natural and relentlessly attractive as Natalia that you wish she were onscreen more. (The same is true, by the way, of Milena Govich on
Law & Order. Dennis Farina for Govich is the best trade since Olden Polynice for Scottie Pippen.)

Also on the plus side, this show looks
outstanding in HDTV. It also features the most dazzling and opulent architecture on television; the HQ alone is an improbably gaudy masterpiece. (That's another thing I like about CSI:NY: its crime lab actually looks like what I imagine a lab looks like.)

And then there's David Caruso. He seems to have embraced his Shatnerian side, to the extent where he should have "Honeybaked" stamped on his forehead. My favorite moment in each show is when Horatio arrives at the crime scene.

Well, "arrives" is the wrong word.

He actually stands near the body but a little ways away, posing manfully, until Frank notices he's there. Then, without looking, he says, with gravity, "Fraaaank...?"

And Frank fills him in on the details of the body's discovery.

Then Horatio takes off his sunglasses (a la Robert Stack in Airplane!) and says something very dramatic, usually implying that Frank doesn't appreciate the seriousness of the situation. Something like, "This is just the beginning" or "Trust me, this is no game." Then cue The Who.

Somehow, Caruso makes it work perfectly. And thanks in part to his character's gravitas, the shot in the Rio season premiere where Horatio is praying for vengeance at Christ the Redeemer was dramatically right, visually stunning and a Who fan's dream.

My only hangup -- and I admit this could be all in my head -- is that the brightest, sunniest show on TV also stars TV's palest, freckliest actor. Every time I see David Caruso on this show I pray that he's slathering on the sunscreen.

Montage

I've been working with Montage screenwriting software for a few months now, but haven't said anything here. I've been rooting so hard for a Mac alternative to Final Draft that I didn't want to mention Montage until it was ready.

Now that Macworld has reviewed version 1.0.2, the cat is out of the bag. Like all of Mariner's products, Montage is good-looking, well-designed, and shows tremendous promise. I would even be willing to put up with the quirks Macworld mentions, for that's how eager I am to get out of Final Draft's monopolistic clutches and into something natively Mac. (It's not like FD is quirk-free.)

But I can't use Montage for work until it exports seamlessly into Final Draft. For better or worse, FD is the industry standard.

However, I'm confident Mariner will get there. Until then, try Montage yourself. It's a great program to learn screenwriting on if you're a Mac user.

And while you're at it, check out Mariner Software's other products: Write is a fantastic alternative to MS Word. And a great screenwriter's tool is Desktop Poet; its intended use is as refrigerator magnet poetry for your computer, but by editing the wordlists I turn my desktop into a drag-and-drop corkboard for virtual index cards.

A Good Excuse For a Repost

I have briefly torn myself away from watching the hypnotic post before this one (it hasn't been easy).

The justified attention being paid to Bob Woodward's new book gives me an excuse to repost something from back in April. The Bush White House was calling whoever leaked the existence of the illegal NSA eavesdropping program a traitor, and saying that the New York Times was jeopardizing national security by letting the terrorists know we were listening.

I pointed out (as did some others) that the leaker was, in fact, Bush himself. He had bragged about it in 2001 in a conversation with the President of Pakistan, and then Bob Woodward published the conversation in 2002. Presumably the terrorists were wise to the program long before the Times article in 2005. But no one ever mentions this, and it's driving me crazy.

So forgive me for quoting my own blog, but like so many things the Administration says, this depends on your having no information or memory:


SHOULD'VE ASKED ME


"Let's Hope They Don't Read Books"


"Now the other issue I brought up was the issue of the terrorist surveillance program. You bet the President has spoken out about its unauthorized disclosure, because what its disclosure has done is shown al Qaeda, our enemy, the play book. This is an enemy that watches us very closely. This is an enemy that adapts and adjusts when they learn information about our tactics. And it's important -- it's important, as we carry out this war on terrorism, that we don't do anything that could compromise our nation's security."

-- Scott McClellan, White House Press Briefing, 4/7/06


"He had become fascinated with the ability of the National Security Agency to intercept phone calls and other communication worldwide. If they got the key phone calls, future terrorism might be stopped, certainly curtailed. Bush summarized his strategy: 'Listen to every phone call and close them down and protect the innocents.'"

-- November, 2001 meeting between Bush and Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, recounted in Bush at War, by Bob Woodward, published in 2002. Presumably, either Bush or Musharraf was Woodward's source. The surveillance program was already underway. (And note that the President said "every" phone call, not "non-domestic" phone calls.)