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June 2010
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August 2010

Political Briefs

  • The main number for your employees in the Congress is 202-224-3121.
  • New Deal Replaced By Half A Donkey Deal
    Shockingly, in adopting woefully inadequate financial legislation in July, 2010, the Congress and the President chose to ignore PSACOT's editorial of February 2009 which set forth a comprehensive plan which would actually have protected the economy, the country, and its citizens.
  • Governmental Design Problem
  • Is Mukasey Unfit For Public Service?
  • From 2004: Where Your Dollars Are Still Going
    This is what one extraordinarily popular Republican with military experience said about military spending:
    "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."
  • Daniel Schorr, A Real Journalist
  • An A.I.G. Failure Would Have Cost Goldman Sachs, Documents Show

    “It’s as if the New York Fed used A.I.G. as a front man to bail out big banks all over the world,” Mr. Grassley said in a statement. “It took nearly two years for the public to learn these details, and they only were revealed because Congress wouldn’t take no for an answer. Taxpayers deserve to know what happened with their money.”
  • Why Conservatives Hate Keynes
    Does this ring any bells:

    "Keynes observes that the total amount of employment is dependent on net income, which is equal to the sum of consumption and net investment. Net investment equals the difference between total investment and costs of and reserves for repairs and replacements, which amounts to total depreciation. If businesses increase their reserves for depreciation, total income goes down. As total income drops, so does aggregate employment. Keynes provides a concrete example:

    'In the United States, for example, by 1929, the rapid capital expansion of the previous five years had led cumulatively to the setting up of sinking funds and depreciation allowances, in respect of plant which did not need replacement, on so huge a scale that an enormous volume of entirely new investment was required merely to absorb these financial provisions, and it became almost hopeless to find still more new investment on a sufficient scale to provide for such new saving as a wealthy community in full employment would be disposed to set aside.'"
  • Secret Afghan war archives here and here
    About the leaks matter, those involved should be thanked for bringing this flaw to the attention of those who were derelict in their duty by allowing someone to carry blank media in and out of a secured space. What was operational need for music while at work? In how many other allegedly secured locations are similarly lax procedures in place? What check has the person in charge (and there is only one person in charge) made, or ordered made, of each such location? When was the check made? What were the results? If there were no check, why not?
  • As you suspected: 2004 election was stolen too
  • Liberal Pelosi constituent unhappy with her term as speaker
  • Repeal the estate tax!

Let It Rain

3 stars out of 5
Nothing like a French film to serve as an antidote to all the over-hyped American drech of the summer. Is this a great film? No. Is it French with subtitles? Yes. Does it have more intelligent dialog than Hollywood's entire output for the summer? Yes. Sure, it features adultery, and is one of the saddest movies I have ever seen misadvertised as a comedy. But if it shows up in your town, take the plunge. I enjoyed it; you might too. Great acting, beautiful scenery, and some food for thought.

Carroll Cat Column, Dan Grobstein File

Jon Carroll outdoes himself with an unusually surreal cat column: Cats and dogs in the same 1-foot space

Dan Grobstein File

Six Minds Contestant Advice

Well, the time has come to admit that Paul's Friends are not going to be selected to play on ABC's new prime time game show Six Minds. If you're interested in trying out, call  (323) 785-2119 for information first, then write to the contestant selectors at [email protected]. You can see the original Russian version here (the logic puzzle: What does a pirate ship carry that allows it to get close to other ships so it can board them. Answer: foreign flags), or read about the Russian show at Wikipedia. Of course, they'll change the format some for the American market. But when we tried  out, we saw the pilot, and everyone was dressed in formal wear (supplied by the show), just as in Russia. How much money can you win? That is under discussion, and probably won't be decided until the shows are taped July 24-26.

You may recall a brief note here on June 1 that I was assembling a team. We all met up in LA on June 19; there were three people on the team I knew only from email. I thought we did great, but apparently casting executive CC (name and initials changed for privacy purposes) did not. In all my years of trying out for gameshows, this was the first time they dismissed me without even taking my picture (or that of any of my teammates).

I am not a naif in the game show world. My first appearance was on Wheel of Fortune in 1983 (won), followed by Jeopardy 1985 (lost), Scrabble 1991 (won),  Win Ben Stein's Money 1997 (lost), Merv Griffin's Crosswords 2007 (lost). I know what it takes to be cast for a prime time entertainment show. First and foremost, you have to be able to play the game. Secondly, you must look like you're enjoying it. Third, you must be audible. For the first time since my Wheel tryout in 1983, when the contestant coordinator told us our behavior in the tryout room was being observed, I had the feeling we were auditioning from the moment we sat down in the unadorned conference room. And apparently, we didn't pass. There were two teams in the room who alternated play; we were certainly more voluble than the other one, and did better, but it wasn't a competition between the two teams in the room, it was a competition between us and the ideal. And that was a competition we lost. No one from the other team had their picture taken either.

I can offer some logistical advice (reducing anxiety and mystery), and some game playing advice. It is always difficult to know how  to play a game that has never been on the air. There was no such problem with Wheel of Fortune (than in its third year of syndication), or Jeopardy (in its second year, but I knew the original quite well). No one was going to get on the Wheel if they weren't fast with words. No one was going to get on Jeopardy if they failed to put their answer in the form of a question when they auditioned. Scrabble was a simple game, and Chuck Wollery kept reminding us how to play. Even at that, I made one or two game-playing errors. Ben Stein's money had not aired when I taped my show, and in fact, I tripped up over a fine point of game play that cost me my chance to play against Ben (details available on request). Crosswords hadn't aired either. I would have lost in any case, but my performance was reduced by an utterly unfamiliar and complicated game (which may have been a partial explanation for its cancellation after one season).

So here's the logistical advice. I am not going to give out the production company address (I still want to be on another game show or two in my life), but I can tell you it is closer to Burbank than LAX, so fly into Burbank if you can. If you have people coming from all over California, they can get to Burbank early. A frequent flyer friend of mine said to make sure and leave plenty of time, because flights are sometimes late and sometimes canceled.  The Northern California contingent arrived three hours early.

The Boston-area member of the team took the red-eye in the night before.

The closest AAA two-star motel (I've been in 1 star motels; you don't want to go there) has rooms for $90, $100 and $110 a night. It is one-quarter mile from the studio, so we met there in the Boston guy's room and walked. We were told parking can be difficult during the week; we were there on a Saturday; plenty of parking.

Vagabond Inn--Hollywood (destination: California/Hollywood)
1133 Vine St.
Hollywood, CA  90038
United States

  Hotel Phone Number:  323-466-7501
  Reservations: 800-522-1555

I have offered this advice before in my other writings about game shows: it is HOT in LA in the summer time, especially in the direct sun. This production office has more shade than most on the street, but if you burn easily (as I do), bring an umbrella!

The instructions are clear--you will be thrown out if you are found in the building without a guide from the show staff. This does NOT include the veranda outside the front door, so buzz when you get there and you can sit in the shade, on a bench, instead of standing on the sidewalk.

There are several serious requirements about ID; pay attention to them. If you don't know where your social security card is (the original), find it, or get an official duplicate from the Social Security office near you. The producers want a minimum of 8 team members, with no maximum, so recruit as many people are you can. You'll be asked for a team name; think of that before you call or you'll end up being known as "Paul's Friends," which is what we were called.

I can only speculate as to why we were not selected; I suspect we did not appear to be having fun. May I suggest caffeine? A pep rally? Some cheers out on the sidewalk? Get your adrenalin up and be ready!

This is the hardest game show to prepare for that I have ever seen. There is nowhere on the planet (except, perhaps, Russia) where you can find puzzles to practice on. Please note that I have not revealed any of the puzzles used to test us, even the one they give you on the phone as an example when you're signing up. Again, I'd like to continue to be beloved by contestant coordinators.

Still, I can offer some advice. As CC said, several times, quite loudly and clearly, "LISTEN TO ME." He has a lot of information to impart. Listen to him very carefully. Listen to the contestant staff that meets you on the veranda and has you fill out forms. I am sure an inability to follow instructions is disqualifying. When CC  talks to you, answer loudly, clearly and with enthusiasm. Mushmouths don't make it onto television.

One key piece of advice (which I learned the hard way years ago when I was trying out for Password): the show staff is always right. You think your answer was right, and they don't? Keep it to yourself. Never argue with the umpire.

So, let's see. Loud, Energetic. Happy to be there.

Now let me offer a couple of specifics. On TV you get to see the question, but during the audition they simply read it to you. CC will tell you that the questions are deliberately tarted up with extra verbiage; listen hard and close and understand the actual question. Had we known, we would have assigned one or two team members to listen, so that when our 60 seconds to solve the puzzle started, their job would have been to say, "We're looking for a what" or a who, or a when, or a where. Of course, you answer should be the category being sought.  Another pointer; the first thing the team leader should say is "gut check." Anyone who thinks they know the answer should say it. The team leader should then say, "bank it" and force the team to discuss other possible answers, out loud, for the remaining 50 seconds. Pick out the key words; "pirates," "other countries." No matter who assembles the team and appoints themselves team leader, CC will have you play at least once with someone else as the leader (or at least he did our day).

As CC told us, "there are no bad guesses," except those not spoken out loud. Those guesses are lousy.

I don't know how you practice this, but if you think about it, and talk about it, maybe you'll be picked. Gut check. Every guess out loud. Bank an early guess and go on. Look like you're enjoying this.

The prize money was not set when we auditioned; they said they might not set it until the tape rolls on July 24. But CC promised it would be "life changing money" for all six members of the team.

I can't wait to see the show; I only wish I was going to be seeing it from the front of the camera.

Political Briefs

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

3 stars out of 5
Years ago, I won a tournament of You Don't Know Jack (a once-thriving, perhaps soon to be revived on-line trivia game), in large part because I got the Dennis Hopper category, and the answer was that his role in a particular film was either "psycho" or "not a psycho." All the answers, of course, were "psycho." For a while, it appeared to me that Nicholas Cage was going to be the new Dennis Hopper. Surprise, surprise, he plays a relatively normal--well, OK, sorcerer. Still, for Cage, this is as close to normal as he's been in years. Alfred Molina, on the other hand, plays a villain with a Van Dyke--and neither the actor nor the facial hair is a real surprise. I don't expect my movies to surprise me, necessarily, but I do want them to enthrall and entertain me. All the CGI in this film is entertaining, and you can see how hard the screenwriters worked to get it all come together (foreshadowing abounds). But they didn't achieve enthralling.  I wish I knew myself better, so I could explain why I feel this way, but basically, for me, this film is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. My other choice was Knight and Day, but the stench of the fragrant reviews for that turkey was still fresh in my nostrils. So, probably better than K&D, but don't go out of your way.

Neal Vitale Reviews: Inception (in IMAX)

3 stars out of 5

I had hoped to love Inception, but "like" is probably a better - albeit perhaps optimistic - word. I should have known better than to think that there were any cool visual effects that were not in the trailer. Yes, the scenes with zero gravity, imploding/folding  Paris, crumbling cityscapes, etc., go on longer in the actual film, but there's not much that's different. Writer/director Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Dark Knight, The Prestige) has produced a film that murkily explores memory, dreams, psychology, and possibly religion, with a fine cast and plenty of action, but which is surprisingly dull. Unlike with the clever puzzle at the heart of Memento, Inception baffles with cloudy references and incomplete connections. The very inscrutability of the terrain of psyches and multiple realities may be what fascinate some but, while modestly entertained, I was never captivated.

[Paul adds:

4 stars out of 5

Does profound automatically equate with incomprehensible? This is a question I had almost two and a half hours to contemplate recently as I sat in a crowded theater and was baffled by Leonardo diCaprio in this film.  I think it was probably art. It could certainly stand  up to multiple viewings. The writers deserve some sort of award just for making it to the final scene. And Christopher Nolan is either a genius or insane, one or the other.]

Dan Grobstein File