Thursday, February 26, 2009

Metro mayhem

Okay, not actual mayhem. But the threat of mayhem -- the definite possibility thereof.

I took the #71 downtown today instead of the #64, which takes me directly to work. Assorted people stood with me at the #71 stop in Ravenna, including a very nice Australian lady, and we all talked about Seattle's three snowplows and climate change. Despite the unseasonable cold, we had a nice time. At the Westlake station of the transit tunnel, I got out and walked to the #3, doing in reverse what I do every day to get home. I boarded the #3 on First Avenue, and it wasn't unusually full when I got on, but as we moved toward the hillclimb more people crowded in, until it was hard to move, breathe, etc. Then we started to go up the hill. We reached Fifth Avenue before the driver decided we had too many people -- we were too heavy to ascend the slope (this was a trolley bus). Then something happened that reminded me, perversely, of the scene in The Dark Knight wherein Heath Ledger's Joker attempts a nasty little social-psychology experiment, telling the passengers on each of two ferryboats that they have to blow up the other boat in order to survive. Spoiler alert: Human nature isn't quite as dark as the Joker presumes it to be, and everything turns out fine.

On the #3, there was much grumbling after the driver stopped the bus and told us that unless someone got off, none of us would be going anywhere, because we simply couldn't get up that hill with so many bodies crammed into the vehicle. There was swearing among the passengers, and no one, myself included, wanted to hike up Jefferson Street in the cold. We stood there for about ten minutes, and then people finally started to get off the bus. Before that happened, I thought more clearly about class and Metro than I had in some time. I'm scheduled to get my car back Monday evening, but a lot of the people on the #3 probably didn't have cars at all. When you don't have much money and can't afford an alternative, you have to put up with whatever bullshit Metro throws at you.

In this case, the bus driver was scolding us for being stubborn, but a woman at the back of the bus rightly pointed out that the driver, knowing the route, could have kept such a big crowd from accumulating in the first place. (Indeed, it was within her power not to open the back door and to tell people trying to get in the front that they were out of luck.) The woman in back claimed, perhaps a bit cynically, that the driver insisted on packing the bus beyond capacity because Metro hungers for our money. While I doubt this driver's motivation was primarily financial, the angry rider made a good point: Overstuffing a bus and then forcing people out is kind of a raw deal. (Then again, most of the people on the bus had boarded in the free-ride zone, and no one who got off at Fifth and Jefferson had to pay.) Anyway, the bus eventually got moving.

I look forward to having the option of driving again in the near future, but the other day I ran into an acquaintance from Oberlin who lives in South Seattle and doesn't have a car (he works in West Seattle, mostly), and he seemed perfectly happy busing, biking, and walking places. As I said, I'm still glad I have a car, but I plan to drive it to work just a couple days a week after I get it back. And while I wouldn't appreciate such an eventful commute every day, it was certainly an eye-opening experience. A nice balance, in a way: At my first stop, I saw people bond in a way that's unusual in keep-to-yourself Seattle, and on the #3 I witnessed equally uncharacteristic expressions of anger -- more Big Apple than Emerald City.

(By the way, credit for the photo above goes to, not me.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My chemical romance, part two

At the beginning of this month, I switched from Basic Health to Group Health Cooperative thanks to my job at Childhaven. I hoped that the Lexapro I'd been taking since late October would be covered, but alas, GHC only covers it if you've tried a variety of other SSRIs and they've all failed you. So I, like my friend Elana, agreed to make the switch from Lexapro to Celexa. This is likely old news to those of you who've been on Lexapro and tried to get it covered by health insurance, but it made an impression on me.

Specifically, it reminded me that people on prescription medication are at the mercy of a system that's looking out as much for its own good as theirs. (In other words, Sicko was right.) I was reluctant at first to give up the medication that had helped me so much, but my doctor quickly assured me that Celexa is simply a less concentrated formulation of the same stuff that makes up Lexapro. (Hence, 20 milligrams of Celexa is a suitable dose for someone who, like me, was on just 10 milligrams of Lexapro.) The fun part is that Celexa, with insurance, costs me $13 or so per month, versus nearly $100 per month for Lexapro.

I've been on Celexa for a couple of days now, and I haven't noticed anything out of the ordinary. The pharmacist told me that some people have side effects when they switch, but those tend to be the people who are more prone to SSRI side effects in the first place. Since I experienced only mild side effects when I started Lexapro, and those went away quickly, I decided to do what the pharmacist said works for many people: take my last Lexapro one day and my first Celexa the next. So far, so good.

Of course, there's something slightly troubling about the fact that insurance rules prompted me to switch medications, rather than any kind of problem with the Lexapro itself, but if they really are virtually the same, and I don't notice a difference, I'm not sure it's worth getting too worked up about. I've been thinking about my previous (non-Group Health) psychiatrist's statement that if a medicine works -- that is, if it makes you feel better -- it must be a good idea to take it. This, I'm finding, is also a very popular view among people who aren't psychiatrists. When I mentioned the Lexapro to my dental hygienist, she regarded it the way insulin is seen vis-à-vis diabetics, or heart medication for cardiac patients -- a targeted drug for someone with a diagnosed problem.

While this view might not apply to SSRIs, whose exact way of working scientists remain notoriously unsure of, it's hard not to value the experiential over the theoretical. Theory suggests that SSRIs might merely mask whatever problems led the troubled soul to seek them out in the first place; the moment he or she goes off them, back come the various problems, and has any progress really been made? In practice, I think, there are rough patches in life, and antidepressants can help us out of them and onto higher, more stable ground.

I have no idea what happens when I quit an SSRI, but I've heard accounts from other people who have weaned themselves off antidepressants, and they're mostly positive. My meditation teacher in Brooklyn emphasized that we, his students, shouldn't take his word for things; instead, we should try out his suggestions and see where they lead us. Experience can be deceptive, but at certain points in our lives we lean harder on experience than on theory, and I think that's okay.

Update, 10:09 p.m.: Just looked at Philip Dawdy's latest post about the maker of Lexapro and Celexa. Troubling.

Purim madness

I'm not often found at a Tia Lou's, the popular Belltown club where flirting, "macking," hair-twirling, and various other mating rituals are known to occur with some regularity. However, you'll find me there the night of Monday, March 9, because I'm co-organizing a gigantic Purim party with folks from Jconnect and other Jewish organizations. Which means: You should come, too. The theme is '80s Bar Mitzvah, I'll be working the door for an hour, and the incomparable Leyna Krow will be hiding behind her camera (I mean, serving as unofficial party photographer). C'mon -- you know you wanna don a costume, drink margaritas, and engage in coquetry on a school night. You know you do.

Back in the saddle

Or, rather, the driver's seat. A miscommunication between me and my mechanic at Hilltop (on 15th Avenue East, a block from where I used to live) led me to believe that after $840 of repairs, my beloved '95 Subaru Impreza, Gracie, was still unsafe to drive. As it turns out, she isn't, so I'm going to pick her up Monday evening and learn a few things about checking fluids while I'm at the service station. I still plan to bus to work three times a week to save gas money and reduce wear and tear on the car, but mainly I'm glad that if someone's having a party in SoDo, I don't need to rely on buses, friends, and taxis to get me there and back. To say nothing of future open houses at Bastyr. Gracie, you're like the earliest Christmas present ever. I'm glad you're coming back to me, because I just didn't know how to quit you.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Overheard in Seattle

Now that fate has demoted me from driver to Metro rider, I get to eavesdrop again. In the spirit of the great and mystical OINY, I aspire to bring you, from time to time, snippets of other people's amusing conversations. (So does LiveJournal's Overheard in Seattle community, which is definitely worth a look.) What I hope will be a recurring feature debuts with this little gem:

Female student on cellphone: Mary Poppins was not crucial to my philosophical development!

--Metro bus (#73) on 15th Avenue Northeast in Ravenna

Praise for the Kibbutz

JTNews managing editor (and frequent Kibbutz visitor) Leyna Krow doled some out today at I think she's nicely captured the unique charm of our community. I particularly enjoyed her post because the story she tells bears a striking resemblance to my own (except that I live on the Kibbutz and she doesn't). We love you, too, Leyna!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Smile! Google Earth needs to take your picture

That is, when it isn't photographing stampeding elephants, anti-gravity cars, or naturally produced works of art (like Canada's "Badlands Guardian," above). PC World's feature must be seen to be believed -- and even then it isn't easy.

If it weren't for my boss...

...who would provide me with a steady stream of adorable pet photos?

"Tom Girls"

This American Life's Valentine's Day episode is particularly notable for its inclusion of a segment on two transgender eight-year-olds. (Both were born anatomically male but have thought of themselves and lived as girls for virtually their entire lives.) It's tremendously moving, and a good example of how TAL keeps things fresh, in this case by juxtaposing a fairly traditional story of cross-cultural romance (the episode's first act) with a tale of platonic love that's unlike anything else I know of.

JDate Village '09

It's like the Olympic Village. Except here the sport is finding an attractive Jew to marry.

A friend has already voiced her unwillingness to go, but if you go, please blog about it at I'll even lend you my login. I'm just that eager to know what the hell actually goes on at these things. I mean, besides the obvious rum 'n' hookup combo.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

And the winners are...

Not a bad show, all in all. I spent it at the Capitol Theater in Olympia at the annual party hosted by the Olympia Film Society. Ate a bit too much sugar, but hey. Biggest whoop from the crowd came when Penn won Best Actor. As I mentioned to Joel, when Sean Penn's win is the top surprise, it's a fairly predictable night at the Oscars. I loved Dustin Lance Black's speech, and I really appreciated the new thing where past winners personally commend current nominees in the acting categories before announcing the winners. Oh, and Ben Stiller's Joaquin Phoenix impression -- Stiller's doing better comedy at the Oscars than in his movies, which is a little sad.

Pictured above, in case you're unaware: Best Director winner Danny Boyle, whose film, Slumdog Millionaire, snagged eight statuettes.

My mini-review of "Waltz with Bashir"

Just posted it at

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Facebook backlash

It's in full swing, at least in the eyes of Newsweek.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Captioned corgis

My boss sent this to me today. Besides pugs, I think corgis might be my favorite breed. takes the long view

Regarding the Oscars, that is. Michael tipped me off: The site's Screengrab blog just posted a list of the best and worst Best Picture winners of all time.


I saw him for the last time at my birthday party, less than two weeks ago. He was his usual self: social, friendly, and very much attuned to the music. When the festivities traveled from one of the Kibbutz's two households to the other, he followed, and he got a kick out of the live band (composed of Michael Geier, Mai Li Pittard, and Larissa Brown, among others). He was particularly impressed with their rendition of "Take Five"; as the party wound down, he talked about how hard it is for a pick-up band to play that piece so well.

Though friends of mine were closer, some much closer, to Rickey than I was, I appreciated his joy at life's offerings, especially the musical kind. When he presented a song at the periodic listening parties that Michael would co-organize, Rickey tended to tell a long, winding story to go with it, but it was always a good one, and he excelled at doing what the party was arguably about: expressing to other music appreciators what each song meant on a personal level. I sometimes bumped into Rickey on the street when I lived in Capitol Hill, but after I moved to Ravenna in late August, I didn't see him much. I'll miss him, and I'm truly glad I got to see him happy and so much himself so soon before he passed away. I know this is cheesy, but I can't help it: Wherever you are, my friend, I hope the music's good.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dating advice from Facebook

A little while ago, my editor, Leyna Krow, complained that Facebook's sidebar ads, which are supposedly based on users' interests, were trying to find her a Jewish husband. After one "Jews: Don't Marry Non-Jews" ad too many, she posted a heartfelt rant on's blog. Now the networking site has some romantic input for me: A recent sidebar ad directed me to, no doubt the Internet's premier site for those who desire mates with pale skin, magenta hair, and any number of piercings. (In case you share my alleged taste, has some helpful tips on snagging an eligible Goth.)

My theory is that these targeted ads know both Leyna and me better than we know ourselves; they seem to be tapping into some dark corner of our subconscious. Forget that Ms. Krow doesn't require her dates to be Jewish, and that I prefer mine not to appear undead. In fact, forget everything we think we know. Facebook has been studying us for years, accumulating data points while watching our every move. If it thinks we want Jews and Goths, far be it from us to protest. Unless, of course, tomorrow's ads tell us what we really want is to make sweet love to Portuguese shrimp farmers. Facebook, may thy whimsical will be done.

"Watchmen" will, after all, kinda suck

The first trailer gave me hope. In fact, I thought it was one of 2008's best, thanks in part to the oddly appropriate Smashing Pumpkins song it's set to:

Then I saw the newest trailer, and my sneaking suspicion that 300 director Zack Snyder wouldn't do right by the legendary graphic novel -- well, it seems a lot more justified now. No surprise, but still disappointing:

What worries me: the instrumental music, which makes the movie seem like a fairly typical superhero flick; the frequent use of slow motion; and the sight of Matthew Goode in his Ozymandias outfit. (Masked-avenger costumes don't always make a dignified transition from page to screen, as Batman & Robin's George Clooney can tell you.) Also, Muse? I have nothing in particular against the band, but the choice of "Take a Bow" is so much more obvious than the apocalyptic Pumpkins B-side that helped make the first trailer so memorable.

I'll be in Vancouver on March 6, when Watchmen opens, so I'm not likely to see it with the most ardent fanboys, but I'll get around to it once I'm back in Seattle. After all, 2009's biggest event movie thus far has been... what? He's Just Not That Into You? Give me crime-fighting freaks over tepid rom-com fluff anytime. Well, not anytime, but certainly this time. Also, however the script and direction shake out, Little Children's Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach (who narrates the second trailer) is a brilliant bit of casting. No doubt about that.

One last note: I hadn't yet read Tad Friend's wonky piece on movie marketing when Cloverfield smashed January box-office records last year, but I've read it now, and I'll be eager to see how Snyder's final product compares to what the ads have been selling us for the last six months or so.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Facebook pwns your immortal soul

The insanely ubiquitous networking site is in the news more this week than at any time since Scrabulous-gate, way the hell back in March of 2008. What's the story this time? Simply what you've always suspected: Facebook freaking PWNS you -- and your info, too.

Update, Feb. 18: Facebook has responded to users' complaints.

Update, Feb. 20: ABC News provides a helpful rundown.

Tad Friend strikes again

The New Yorker writer responsible for "The Next Big Bet," one of the magazine's finest arts features of the '00s, is back with a piece about movie marketing, and you know what? I might just read it right now. Can't believe I missed it the first time around. Maybe my new pledge to take the bus to work three times a week (which will be a lot more meaningful once my car is fixed and I actually have the option to drive) will help me get back to my peak New Yorker-reading pace. Believe it or not, there were a couple months in which I wasn't behind. At all. I'd actually be ready for each new issue when it arrived. Brigadoon, I know.

In other news, I've created a Wikipedia article about Childhaven. It's a work in progress (note Wikipedians' request for the citing of references or sources), but I think it's off to a pretty decent start.

Bristol speaks out

Still engaged to the highly questionable Levi Johnston, Sarah Palin's daughter -- now an 18-year-old mom -- is here to tell you that if you think your teen will make it through high school unsullied, well, you're dead wrong. Better ditch that stork story and bring out the actual truth before it's too late and you have an impromptu in-law. A related point: Bristol's labor must have been fairly painless, since
It was "harder than labor" telling her parents she was pregnant.
I saw Juno, so I know better. But it's a good line. turns two, looks inward

JTNews editor Joel Magalnick is on the scene and has the story.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Another precinct heard from

New York's Oscar predictions surprised me only in the Best Supporting Actress category, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised, because Button might have to win something besides technicals. Sigh.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


John McPhee's fun little New Yorker piece on fact-checking is worth a look. It's in the anniversary issue, alongside the Updike tribute.

Money management and me

Now that I'm thirty, it seems as good a time as any to improve my money-management skills. I'm not great at saving or even scrimping, and my past budgeting efforts have generally lasted about a day. I kept track of my spending for a while in the fall of 2006, primarily because I was making less than $10 an hour at University Book Store (which, by the way, is good pay for a bookseller -- I don't mean to make UBS seem stingy).

Anyway, I've decided that since 2010 is the last year I'll get a check from the inheritance fund my father left me, it would behoove me to commit myself with unprecedented vigor to the fine art of making and following a budget. I wrote a note on Facebook asking for people's advice, and as usual my friends came to my aid, recommending not only the zine pictured above, Punk Rock Finances, but also and Quicken Online, both of which seemingly aspire to be the Facebook of Money Management. (That is: Each boasts an easy-to-use, visually pleasing interface, both are free, and both aim to turn something most people would rather die than do into something kinda fun.)

I've given Mint a quick whirl, and I like it so far, but Reed says Quicken is better. As for Punk Rock Finances, kudos to any publication whose goal is "understanding our relationship to money and how we can survive in a capitalist system while making deliberate choices to involve ourselves in it as little as possible."

Friday, February 13, 2009

Family album

I uploaded some old photos on Facebook today. It does my heart good to know they're digitally preserved.

Short temper, short films

Michael drew my attention to this piece in The Atlantic about the changing landscape of network TV. The first part of the article tells the sad story of Heroes creator Tim Kring, who recently dissed his own viewers -- some of them, anyway -- in an interview:
The serialized format is “a very flawed way of telling stories on network television right now,” a blogger quoted Kring as saying, “because of the advent of the DVR and online streaming. The engine that drove [serialized TV] was, you had to be in front of the TV [when it aired]. Now you can watch it when you want, where you want, how you want to watch it, and almost all of those ways are superior to watching it on-air.”

Then, in a fit of pique for which he is still apologizing, he said: “So on-air is [relegated] to the saps and the dipshits who can’t figure out how to watch it in a superior way.”
The Atlantic piece doesn't break much new ground, but it does provide a useful overview of the networks' current state of affairs. Hint: It's not unlike that of our economy.

On a somewhat brighter note, I saw both the live-action and animated Oscar-nominated shorts this week (they're playing at the Varsity at least through Thursday), and I have much good news to report, and only a little bad. Interestingly, the live-action films were more consistent than the animated ones; often it's the other way around. Denmark's The Pig, about a old man who becomes sentimentally attached to a portrait of a pig while in the hospital, has a pretty good sense of humor and a decent premise; its biggest problem is that it goes on a bit too long.

Not so Manon on the Asphalt, the most beautiful of the live-actioners visually -- I could have watched it again the minute it ended. It tells the simple story of a young French woman who bicycles without a helmet in Paris and thus meets her demise. As she dies, she thinks about all the people in her life and everything she hasn't done yet, and never will. It sounds incredibly mawkish, but co-directors Elizabeth Marre and Olivier Pont employ a lively, colorful style that strikes a nice balance of pathos and joie de vivre. What's more, they really know how to use light. If L'Auberge Espagnole director Cédric Klapisch decided to make a short about a death swoon, it might look and feel a lot like this.

Also good: Ireland's New Boy, adapted from a Roddy Doyle story, and easily the funniest of the bunch. Again, a potentially hackneyed premise (Zimbabwean boy moves to Ireland, faces torment at the hands of insensitive classmates) is winningly fleshed out; it's written with great economy and wit, and cut superbly. Nice use of music, too. Even On the Line, which deals with pretty dark themes -- voyeurism, loneliness, murder, deception -- rarely loses its footing. The protagonist is a glum security guard who falls in love with a pretty bookstore clerk while watching her on the store's security camera (shades of Red Road's treatment of surveillance and obsession). The plot takes a few unexpected turns, and the film ends on a deliciously ambiguous note that continues to haunt me. Toyland, a forgettable Holocaust story (and part of Germany's unfortunate cinematic habit of flagellating itself about World War II), is the only entry I really could have done without.

The animated nominees: more of a mixed bag. Still, Oktapodi, a brisk two-minute romantic adventure starring octopi (pictured above), is a total winner in the Pixar mold, and House of Small Cubes, a sadder, slower, more nostalgic kind of love story, has stayed with me as well. One of the also-rans, which round out the animated program, won my heart, too: John & Karen, which manages to make British humor cuddly without surrendering its wry edge. Bill Plympton's Hot Dog, another also-ran, offers the cult animator's usual mix of perversity and light-heartedness, and it's a delight. Worst of the pack: Varmints, a 24-minute environmental parable that manages to be simultaneously preachy and deadly dull. Use this movie's bloated running time to get yourself a bit more popcorn, or maybe some frozen Junior Mints.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I'm sorry

I can't not. Turn away, ye tender-eared folk! Clicketh not on the aforegoing link! (Thanks be to Greg for the tip-off.)

Moishe House in "The Jewish Week"

Pretty thorough piece. Then there's this:
Yadgar said the Hoboken house attracted a younger crowd and had more parties; in Great Neck the events have more Jewish content.

That’s the point, according to co-founder Cygielman. There is no overall formula, but rather an attempt to find the right fit for each community.

He noted, for example, that the organized Jewish community “has been so unsuccessful in programming for this age group” because they still make the mistake of combining 20s and 30s in their offerings. “They think a 25-year-old and a 35-year-old are the same, but they’re not. We’re targeting a specific group” who are between the college years and their late 20s.
Honestly, in a world where adultolescent is an increasingly recognized term, I'm not sure combining twentysomethings and thirtysomethings is such a bad idea. But maybe I'm out of touch; after all, I did just turn 30.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

John Updike teaches from beyond the grave

Reading The New Yorker's artful collection of excerpts from the late author's oeuvre is like taking a tiny master class. From a droll poem about neutrinos (which in 1960 were a hot topic) to the sensuality and unnerving suspense of "Elsie by Starlight" (2004), the magazine's tribute effectively demonstrates to Updike neophytes why he's so widely celebrated.

As a writer, I appreciate the way this assortment hopscotches from fiction to poetry, then to memoir, and back to fiction, with a few book reviews tossed in for good measure. It's an impressive display of Updike's versatility, but it's also inspiring, since he makes genre-hopping look tremendously fun and rewarding. Also well worth a look: Adam Gopnik's lovely obituary, and Roger Angell's even lovelier one. The first makes me want to read Updike; the second makes me want to write fiction.

On an equally vital cultural note: the stories behind various Muppets, courtesy of (by way of Kelly).

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

One more argument for the elimination of television

I kid, of course. But I couldn't help but be both intrigued and amused by today's Herald Tribune article on yet another of TV's many (alleged) side effects. It's the new smoking, people. I expect that in the next several years, scientists will link excessive Family Matters viewing to blood clots, too much Full House to severe schizophrenia, and any contact whatsoever with America's Funniest People to massive stroke.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The power of Wordle

This delightful online app can convert a perfectly normal essay into a lively word cloud.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Best. Birthday. Party. EVER.

Thanks so much to all who helped with setup, lit candles, cut cake, brought cards, contributed alcohol or food, played music, helped clean up, and -- most important -- helped me celebrate my landmark birthday. You're all wonderful, and I'm grateful to have you as friends.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

It's not TV -- it's AMC

I realize I'm late to the party, but I'm six episodes into the first season of AMC's Mad Men, and I can't help but comment on how good it is. The Sopranos alum Matthew Weiner has created a series that lacks that show's graphic sex and violence (AMC, after all, is just cable, not premium cable) but absolutely possesses the winning combination of juiciness and narrative heft that propelled HBO's best programs (including Sopranos and Six Feet Under) to critical acclaim and a whole lot of Emmys.

The sex is mostly implied rather than depicted in Mad Men, which takes place in the early 1960s; thanks to the Hays Code, that's how it was in films of that time, too. Yet Weiner and his team of writers and directors manage to suffuse every episode with innuendo, suggestion, and titillation. Similarly, the series' violence is almost entirely emotional, moral, and verbal, but most episodes (especially in their final scenes) exude an unsettling feeling of existential despair, danger, and corruption -- not unlike The Sopranos.

Of course, Mad Men accomplishes things The Sopranos didn't. The series about Madison Avenue advertising executives often has a subtler way about it than the Mob show -- as when, in the first scene of an episode, the protagonist, Don Draper, casually examines a funny new magazine ad on the train ride home from work. Just before the scene ends, the ticket taker catches a glimpse of it and laughs to himself. It's a clever way of suggesting to us that whatever Don may think of the ad, the public is going to like it. As it happens, the very same ad snakes its way through the rest of the episode, bedeviling and delighting the men of Sterling Cooper, Don's agency, in equal measure.

Though Mad Men departs in many ways from Weiner's HBO roots, he clearly learned a lot from The Sopranos, whose creators lovingly crafted a protagonist who's neither villain nor hero. Tony Soprano was a bad man, but he was hard to strongly dislike -- which was fortunate, since he generally claimed a large chunk of screen time per episode. Don Draper may not be a murderer, but his flaws are many and varied, and he's certainly not the series' most virtuous character. Who is? That remains to be seen, which to this viewer means that Weiner and company are doing something right. Another HBO show Mad Men reminds me of is Big Love, in which a similarly embattled head of household, Bill Henrickson, leads his family according to outmoded values and can hardly be described as the program's hero.

Across HBO's many series, simplistic notions of heroism break down, and even seeming villains, like Big Love's endlessly scheming Roman Grant, turn out to be human, or at least close enough. Mad Men's characters are sharply drawn and delightfully unwilling to stay in the categories we devise for them: good girl, sycophant, adulterer, desperate housewife. They evolve and grow during each episode -- every time we see them, really. So far there hasn't been any dead air, creatively speaking.

I've known for years that HBO's bold programming choices have had a trickle-down effect on regular cable and the networks, leading to the development of daring series like FX's The Shield and shows that take milder risks, like Lost and The Office. But now cable has finally produced a show that's at least as good as HBO's best output, and a good bit better than some of its lesser fare. Ironically, though not surprisingly, HBO may be losing subscribers to cable shows inspired by the premium channel's own flagship dramas. Call it a case of unfortunate cable karma.

Jews and Buddhism

My piece went live today! Hooray!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Bob Goldfarb in the news

My Jerusalem-dwelling friend and mentor recently made headlines in that city's Post. Well done, Bob!