More Hardboiled Dialog

I find I can’t help myself. The dialog in Monsieur Spade is so good this may become a regular feature. Sam is in italics. Regular type for other characters.

I don’t think we’re having the same conversation.

As a private detective you have the same legal authority in France as a rat catcher. In my case they’re one and the same.

(To an awful human being who says he may move to Norway) I hear Norway needs more assholes.

(Is that a threat?) Whoever taught you English didn’t teach you the difference between a threat and a promise.

Listen with your ears and not your mouth.

For some the truth is an insult.

Like searching for a needle in a needle stack.

Great Hardboiled Dialog

Monsieur Spade, available on Acorn and AMC+ (which you can subscribe to through Amazon) imagines Dashell Hammit’s detective retired in France years after his last adventure in San Francisco (which is why he never met Phillip Marlowe). A tip o’ the PSACOT Hat to the creators/writers, Scott Frank and Tom Fontana, who have managed to perfectly capture genre dialog, so much so that I have been compulsively writing down quotes. From the early episodes (Spade’s responses are in Italics)

Drop dead. I’m working on it.

There you go, impugning my war record. To have a war record, you must first have gone to war.

(To Spade after he wakes someone in the early morning hours) “Is your clock broken? Why wake me up?”

I don’t care. Not caring doesn’t make you bulletproof.

(another character) I treat her like any woman I despise. I respect her when she’s here, and lust for her when she’s not.

Fake News

In Terry Pratchett’s book, The Truth, among the many cogent comments about journalism (to be found here) is that of Lord Vetinari: “It amazes me how the news you have so neatly fits the space available. No little gaps anywhere. And every day something happens that is important enough to be at the top of the first page, too. How strange...”

One way in which this happens is the original “fake news,” events made up solely so they can be covered by the media. The annual story about “word of the year” from dictionaries. The annual “color of the year” from paint companies. I, of course, make sure to include both in my column.

Another story of this ilk is the annual selection by Wayne State's Word Warriors of “words to bring back.” This year’s selection is blatherskite, a person who talks at great length without making much sense.This selection resonates with me, but I don’t know why.

So, got a hole on the front page? Run that story about… color of the year and/or word of the year…

Or, on January 1, a very slow news day, run a front page story about the way in which Americans define class. I swept America’s front pages with that story in 1976

Great Writing

The NY Times' Frank Bruni's subscriber-only newsletter has a regular feature, For the Love of Sentences, in which readers who spot good writing pass it on to him. As a lover of good writing, I think it, alone, is worth the price of admission.

The first one I read is amazing. From now on, go get it yourself from the source.

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Kevin D. Williamson let it rip in a recent essay in The Wall Street Journal about how far American democracy has fallen. Here’s one whooshing stretch: “With the old media gatekeepers gone, right-wing content creators rushed in and filled the world with QAnon kookery on Facebook, conspiracy theories powerful enough to vault the cretinous likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene into Congress, fake news sponsored by Moscow and Beijing and fake-ish news subsidized by Viktor Orban and his happy junta, and whatever kind of poison butterfly Tucker Carlson is going to be when he emerges from the chrysalis of filth he’s built around himself. The prim consensus of 200 Northeastern newspaper editors has been replaced by the sardonic certitude of 100 million underemployed rage-monkeys and ignoramuses on Twitter.” (Thanks to Lisa Lee of Newton, Mass., and Emily Hawthorn of San Antonio for nominating this.)

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I am delightd by at “whatever kind of poison butterfly Tucker Carlson is going to be when he emerges from the chrysalis of filth he’s built around himself.” Chrysalis of filth. God, I wish I could write like that.

I am proud of “golden glow of nostalgia,” but that isn’t even Triple-A ball compared to Williamson. Too, a 77-word sentence might seem like someone winning a bet (I’ll bet I can slip a 77-word sentence past the copyeditor at the WSJ), but I admire the lucid structure beneath it.

Michigan J. Frog

My grandson and I agree that the Warner Bros. cartoon One Froggy Evening is the funniest cartoon ever made. Until this year, you could stream it on Max. Then, the idiots there, in a cost-saving move, deleted Looney Tunes from 1950-2004, including “What's Opera, Doc?”, “Feed the Kitty,” “Rabbit of Seville,” “Duck Amuck” and “One Froggy Evening.” As I said, idiots. Most of these cartoons you can find on Itunes for 99 cents or 1.29.

In case you don’t remember it, One Froggy Evening  is the template for Mr. Ed. There is a singing and dancing frog (later the spokescartoon for the WB network) who only performs when he is alone with his owner. The rest of the time he just croaks. Unlike Wilbur, this owner ruins his life trying to make a buck off the frog. Directed, of course, by Chuck Jones.

It is on the DVD Looney Tunes All Stars, Volume One. You can buy an electronic copy of Froggy Evening alone on Itunes for 99 cents. You can buy it on Amazon Prime for $2.99, or you can buy the DVD for about $30 on EBay.

See it again, or for the first time. You’ll enjoy it.

What We’re Watching

While I have been keeping you apprised of my books and music (well, at least my own music), I have been remiss in sharing my TV habits with you. In no particular order:

Only Murders in the Building/Hulu

They had me at Steve Martin and Martin Short. And they didn’t lose me at Selena Gomez. Intrepid podcast murder hounds do an Angela Lansbury on a building in Manhattan that seems to have a Cabot-Cove like rate of murders per capita. Hysterically entertaining.

Lessons in Chemistry/Apple

The book was amazing, the TV series is even better (and probably won’t be back for a second season, says the creator). If you think women are treated like shit now, get a load of 1952.

The Holdovers /Amazon

Another great Alexander Payne movie, this time featuring Paul Giamatti at his most Paul Giamatti-ish. Fantastic, entertaining, moves right along. If you hate predictability, this it the movie for you. A 50% unsatisfying ending, very odd for an American movie, but that in itself was refreshing.

 The Crown/Netflix

If you’re not already watching this, let me help you pick the wallpaper pattern for the cave you’re living in. I suggest starting with season one if you haven’t seen any yet.

The Original 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special/You Tube

I haven’t watched it yet, but after years of references in the Sally Forth cartoon strip, I am anxious to see it, as you should be too.


A Murder At The End Of The World/Hulu

A version of a locked-room mystery with a billionaire, and all the snow Iceland (either real or on a Hollywood back lot) you could ask for.


Life On Our Planet/Netflix

Planet Earth III /Amazon

You pays your money and takes your chances. Morgan Freeman or Richard Attenborough.


Schmicago Apple TV

Extremely impressive pastiche parodies in the style of various eras in the Broadway musical.


The Patient/ FX on Hulu

There’s a term for this: a two-hander. The series consists almost entirely of Steve Carell―in a career defining role―trying to calm down a patient who has locked him in a basement in order to force him to provide therapy. The ending is not obvious until the very last moment. From the people who brought you The Americans.


Galaxy Quest/Apple TV
Groundhog Day/Amazon

And then two of the greatest movies ever, which I have written about so often that I feel they need no introduction. Just a reminder to watch them again and bask in their perfection.

To Script or Not To Script?

That isn’t really even a question. I’ve been told I should be speaking from notes. I previously noted that I did not manage that trick during my last concert MC job. Then, I realized I had done an entire half-hour radio broadcast of my love songs, since my come-to-Jesus moment with my friends, sans script. Not even the opening, and I have been scripting the openings of my live broadcasts since I was 14. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. As we used to say in the old days, Honk Honk, Waddles The Goose.

Getting Paid To Read The Paper

I’ve been a New Yorker subscriber for 50 years. For the first 20 years, I read it cover-to-cover every week. Sometimes that was a difficult task. When my mother heard about it, she said “No one’s paying you to read it,” so I stopped.

It suddenly occurred to me recently that for the five years after I graduated from MIT, I was paid to read the paper. AP and UPI obviously required the local papers to be scoured for news items. At Bank of America I was in the PR department, and was assigned to read the San Francisco Examiner every day from first page to last. At the Oregon Journal it was required that we read the Oregonian cover-to-cover every day. In addition, it was strongly advised that we read a few out-of-town papers from elsewhere in Oregon, looking for uncovered news.

Then in 1979 I joined the trade press fraternity, where we were encouraged to read the local newspapers, but only the front page and the business section―looking for Silicon Valley news.

I enjoyed being paid to read the newspaper and sometimes I miss it, even the Hartford Courant.

Family Newspaper Ownership

The family that owns the Seattle Times makes me continue to wish that the Jacksons still owned The Oregon Journal (and that Newhouse hadn’t shot it in the head), the De Youngs still owned the Chronicle and that the Grahams still owned the Washington Post. Vulture capitalists and rapacious, penny-pinching chain ownership (HELLO NEWHOUSE) are destroying a public service industry I once served and loved. When this slow-motion train wreck (or controlled flight into terrain) was just underway, a venerable Texas journalist had the right idea:

I don't so much mind that newspapers are dying-it's watching them commit suicide that pisses me off.
-Molly Ivins


There is a Computer Chronicles story I have been dining out on for decades, especially any time I am being micced up for a TV appearance. My voice is loud and booming. During a sound check, a Chronicles sound engineer once said, "Paul, the reason you wear a mic is so that you don't have to speak directly to the people at home. Could you bring it down a little?"