Today: the immigration bill explained; Richard Shickel comes down with GOML Syndrome, hard; final "24" update

Lovely day. Heat without malice. I overslept – the alarm didn’t go off, because I didn’t seat the iPod in the alarm clock all the way. You know how that happens. Had five minutes to get Gnat to the bus, which usually cannot be accomplished without gentle jabs from a pickle fork, but she was rested and cheerful. Up! On! Brush! Out! She ate breakfast at school, and I returned home for a leisurely breakfast. To my surprise the top quarter of the paper had a GIGANTIC promo for a Star Wars story on the inside, and honest to God, I thought: I’d like to read that. Because I like Star Wars, even though most of it is krep. Lovely eye-popping krep. Then I remembered that I’d written the piece. I banged it out in 20 minutes the day we got the big bad news, so any glaring lameness may be excused. (Note: can't post the link at the moment, for technical reasons. Go to and search for Star Wars. Sorry.)

Interesting news about the immigration debate, eh? I understand they’ve crafted some sort of bill. Having read the whole thing, I feel compelled to offer some of the highlights:

6 (1) (D) Undocumented Xenonationals who have been in the country since noon  March 16,  2004 (this language reflects a compromise between the hardline “AM” faction and moderates who wanted to extend the deadline to 4:57 PM) will have to report to a government office to announce they are departing. This is the HIMBG Provision, or the “Hello, I Must Be Going” provision. Immigrants will have to return to the Mexican border, put their left foot in, put their left foot out, put their left foot in and shake it all about. (Language requiring that the applicant then “do the hokey pokey was removed  over an inability to define the exact nature of said action.) The immigrant is then required to return to the place where he announced he was leaving, present a notarized photograph of himself sticking a portion of his body into Mexican airspace; at that point, he will be eligible to receive a “Q” visa, which enables him to start the process towards a "Z" visa, which estabishes a legal framework towards a “path towards citizenship,” although applicants who have paid 67% of their adjusted tax burden over the last 14 years, minus inflation, will be put on a “jogging path” towards citizenship.

The entire process will take no less than seven years, during which the applicant may not work, but must stand absolutely still in a small room while reciting the Constitution. (Spanish is permitted for the boring Amendments.)

I. (7) (3.14) There shall be a fence stretching 356 miles. The fence shall be three feet high. Paper mache crocodiles shall reside on the other side, arrayed in a threatening manner ($400,000 shall be appropriated to determine the optimum angle of the opened jaw; the final crocodile shall represent a consensus among herpetologists, and reflect a crocodile who is defending his position but showing his teeth to warn off, and not necessarily threaten violence.) Every nine miles, there shall be a sign that reproduces the FBI warning that precedes all DVDs and videotapes and warns of criminal liability for breaking the copyright law. (It has worked so well thus far the language might as well be used intact.) The fence shall be raised to four feet in the event the population of any state becomes 51% undocumented Xenonationals. The fence shall be raised to five feet in the event GOP presence in the Senate drops below 4 seats. The fence shall be raised to ten feet after a nuclear device is smuggled in from Mexico, providing the yield of the bomb is at least 4 (four) kilotons. A bomb with a yield between 3 and 3.99 kilotons will be a sufficient trigger to raise the fence only if the attendant radiation is carried by prevailing winds a distance greater than 20 miles.

T. (t) (t) $779,000 shall be allotted to create Inez, a mascot who provide a welcoming and comic presence to the INS offices.; $3.2 million for an ad campaign that raises awareness of Inez; $2.9 million to be put in escrow from the inevitable sexual harassment suit after Woodsy Owl learns about here; that bird can’t keep his wings to himself; $1.2 million to buy out Woodsy’s contract

7 (b) (f) (f) The government shall, at its discretion, ignore the hell out of any of this

II. 5.6 All legal immigrants will be required to go through the entire process again, just to rub their noses it in. Mark Steyn shall sit in his car on a bridge between Canada and the United States until he learns his place.

R. R. (x) Any illegal immigrant from a state known to sponsor terrorism will be required to renounce terrorism by an oath of utmost solemnity. This act shall also supply funds for translators to determine the equivalent of “pinky swear” in other tongues. The translator will work through the world’s languages in reverse alphabetical order.

XX (vi) Employers found guilty of employing illegal aliens must perform the crying aria from Pagliacci.

F. (U)  This bill shall be passed before anyone can read it.

In other news, the esteemed critic Richard Schickel - a man whose work I've enjoyed for years - comes down with a bad case of GOML syndrome in this LA Times piece. GOMLism, or "Get Off My Lawn" disease, is most commonly manifested as an attack on blogging, which the sufferer defines as gape-jawed groundlings artlessly pounding away at computers about things they ought not to write about. Mr. S writes:

I don't think it's impossible for bloggers to write intelligent reviews. I do think, however, that a simple "love" of reading (or movie-going or whatever) is an insufficient qualification for the job. That way often leads to cultishness (see the currently inflated reputations of Philip K. Dick or Cornell Woolrich, both easy reads for lazy, word-addicted minds).

You can say many things about Dick, but “easy reads” for a “lazy mind” might not be as apt as Schickel thinks. PKD can be as obtuse and frustrating as the titles suggest: “The Galactic Pot-healer,” for example, doesn’t scream Oprah Book Club. Unless they renamed it “The Pot-Whisperer of County Cane,” perhaps. He goes on:

And we have to find in the work of reviewers something more than idle opinion-mongering. We need to see something other than flash, egotism and self-importance.

Over the plate, it’s a low, hanging softball! I’ll resist. 

We need to see their credentials. And they need to prove, not merely assert, their right to an opinion.

Surely this sounds harsher than the author intends; surely he does not want the Reading Public to resemble a nestful of hungry hatchlings, throats wide and beaks open, trembling in anticipation as Mama Reviewer settles down to throw up a meal of expertly digested, credentialed worms into their gullets.

The lack of critical faculties asserts itself rather quickly, you know. No one tunes in daily to read fanboy raving, unless they’re also a fanboy, raving. If that’s the case, it’s unlikely they’re in the market for finely-tuned ruminative lit-crit, anyway. They want someone else to shout how AWESOME book nine of the STELLAR FIRE: WARFIRE AT FIRE STAR series is, even though Commander Xhonuff dies at the end although he’ll probably come back because he had the clone-chip upgrade at the end of book six, right?

In any case, I’m sure Mr. S. is speaking in a frequency my tin-lined ear cannot detect, because it seemed to me that he said people need to prove they have  a right to an opinion. This may be some odd variant of the First Amendment of which I am unaware: Congress shall, if it feels like it, make any law that keeps an electrical engineer from criticizing “Catcher in the Rye,” even if he minored in English. Hell, especially if he majored in English.

He continues:

At the recent Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, there was a fascinating panel featuring writers whose books were written in what time they could spare from their day jobs. Inevitably, blogging was presented as an attractive alternative — it doesn't take much time, and it is a method of publicly expressing oneself (like finger-painting, I thought to myself, but never mind).

Here’s an example of finger-painting, from Terry Teachout’s blog:

I also watched a kinescope of the original 1953 telecast of Paddy Chayefsky's Marty. Videotape was still in the cradle back in the Fifties, and all three networks ran weekly drama anthology series broadcast live from New York. Most of the scripts were mediocre and are rightly forgotten, but a few of the better teleplays of the period, among them N. Richard Nash's The Rainmaker, Rod Serling's Patterns and Requiem for a Heavyweight, Horton Foote's The Trip to Bountiful, Reginald Rose's Twelve Angry Men, and Gore Vidal's Visit to a Small Planet, were later adapted for Broadway and/or Hollywood and thus are still remembered.

Marty was filmed in 1955. It was the first low-budget indie flick to take Hollywood by surprise, winning the best-picture Oscar and grossing $5 million (it cost $340,000 to make). Alas, the film version, which starred Ernest Borgnine, wasn't very good. Borgnine's acting is likable but ordinary, while Chayefsky's screenplay, to which he added a half-hour's worth of additional scenes in order to make it long enough for theatrical release, is flabby. The original hour-long TV version, by contrast, is lean, direct, and characterful, and Rod Steiger and Nancy Marchand, who play a pair of painfully plain New Yorkers looking for love, are so natural and unaffected that they scarcely seem to be acting at all. It's easy to see why Marty, though it only aired once on network TV, made a deep and long-lasting an impression on all who saw it.

If you go in for trivia, by the way, you probably already know that a half-century after appearing in the best-remembered live TV drama of the Fifties, Marchand made a similarly powerful impression on postmodern viewers when she played Tony Soprano's mother. I have decidedly mixed feelings about the so-called Golden Age of Television, but some of it was and is worth celebrating, and it's nice to know that one of its most talented actors lived long enough to do equally unforgettable work in the true Golden Age of series TV.

Finger-painting, eh. Yes, I know, Terry is a professional critic. He’s also a blogger. He’s not qualified because he’s a blogger, but the fact that he blogs does not infect his work, as Schickel’s grumpy musings suggest. The LA Times piece continues:

D.J. Waldie, among the finest of our part-time scriveners, in effect said "fine." But remember, he added, blogging is a form of speech, not of writing.

I thought it was a wonderful point.

You can hear in these remarks the echoes of old dead men who didn’t want the Bible translated from the Latin, either.

The act of writing for print, with its implication of permanence, concentrates the mind most wonderfully. It imposes on writer and reader a sense of responsibility that mere yammering does not. It is the difference between cocktail-party chat and logically reasoned discourse that sits still on a page, inviting serious engagement.

Maybe most reviewing, whatever its venue, fails that ideal. But a purely "democratic literary landscape" is truly a wasteland, without standards, without maps, without oases of intelligence or delight.

If you wanted your review to be read in six years, would you rather it ran in a newspaper, with the online version behind a firewall, or on a site cached for the ages and filed in Google’s panopiticon? But let’s assume that print reviewers write for the ages, and that this bestows a particular responsibility that rises above mere yammering.  let’s look at two examples of criticism. TV criticism, in this case.

Here’s the LA Times critic writing about the Sopranos.

Here’s Matt Zoller Seitz, a former print critic now blogging at The House Next Door, on the same show. It’s longer, richer, deeper – and has 132 comments by those blasted amateurs, many of which actually have something interesting to say.

The Times piece has no comments. 

Schickel has a website, incidentally. His gripping, credential-establishing introduction:

I've loved the career that resulted from that commitment. It hasn't always been "fun." But it has always been absorbing. Imagine being paid to comment on a topic that fascinated you long before it ever occurred to you that you might somehow make a living by writing about it. That's the kind of good luck most people never have. Which does not mean that I ever feel complacent. Like every writer I know, I never begin a new piece of work without wondering if I'm still up to it, still able to find the words (or the images) and string them together in a coherent, intelligible way. But...On the whole...So far, so good.

Having enjoyed much of his fine work over the years - he is one of the deans of American criticism - I’m inclined to agree: so far, so good. On the whole. On this matter, however: it’s like someone complaining how the buggywhip has no effect on an automobile’s speed. Why, people press the pedal, and it goes. Anyone can drive around. Where’s the skill in that?


Now, to prove Mr. S.' point, blogging about TV.

Last week was okay. The week before was okay, even if Milo had to learn “never volunteer” the hard way. The problem is this: I don’t care. I’m tired of it all and I just want it over. I could take another 19 episodes of the Sopranos, in which all the plot points are stretched to the consistency of an individual filament of dental floss; fine with me, as long as the writing and direction and acting maintain the same exquisite quality. But this? It’s like an entire season of “Spock’s Brain.”

But I’d best ride it to the end. So then! Time to step outside and fire up one small evil cigar, make the popcorn (Walgreen’s house brand; not bad, if you like baked crunchy newspaper wads) and set aside the wine, because nothing goes together more poorly than a red wine and popcorn. They don’t get along. They don’t even nod to each other at company events anymore.

Oh, this is a two-hour episode. Yikes.

UPDATE: the HD feed is farked. Great. Blur-O-Vision.  We learn, once again, that the Russians are willing to attack a US base because we gave the Chinese a circuit board that contains all the secret codes to disable the Russian military. In a related development, Russia decides to invade Germany because someone left the keys to the Kremlin in a taxi in Berlin.

UPDATE: Agent Ricky, still auditioning for his spin-off series, injects the kid who is Probably Jack’s Son with a subdermal transponder, on loan from the “World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” Star Trek episode.

You know, if the day began with a nuclear bomb, a nuclear bomb that almost went off, finding the “FB subcircuit bomb” does not have the same impact as finding “another bigger dead-inducing big-kabang bomb.” Just saying. 

President Tolliver is not good under pressure. He seems to be wearing Depends, just in case.

UPDATE: Jack suspects the exchange may be manipulated, but he cannot do a thing, since CTU has flipped the OFF switch on his status. It’s located between the shoulder blades. They use it three times a year or so.

UPDATE: Hot gripping one-on-one White House hallway palaver! Thankfully, we switch to Bill Buchanan, whose ON switch has been activated by a shadowy, unaccountable cabal of individuals known only as “The Writers of the Show.”

UPDATE: Nadia has put on her Emma Peel catsuit for the finale; nice.

UPDATE: THERE MAY BE A MOLE IN CTU. There might also be a prize in each of these specially marked boxes of Lucky Charms. I suspect the rotting corpse of Edgar, using neural implants from the graveyard.

UPDATE: Stupidest question of the year, or ever, from Nadia. “Jack escaped? How?” By using the Power o’ Bauer, lady. If they were smart they’d spell Power P-A-U-E-R. But they don’t, because the covert community is institutionally incapable of public manifestations of gratitude, man.

UPDATE: Veep interrogates Karen. The viewer sighs, because he knows that absolutely no point in the plot can be advanced by this discussion. You might as well have the White House Elevator operator have a chat with the nice lady who cleans the ashtrays and presses the Presidential seal into the fine white sand. You’d think that would be a disincentive to smoke; you’d think people would hate to ruin the perfection of the impression. But they never do. There’s always one guy who grinds a Winston into the sand and ruins everyone. One guy. He’ll ruin five, six ashtrays a day, too –

Oh, wait, the Transfer of John-Boy is about to happen. Agent Doyle has less than a minute to earn his spin-off.

Oh, crap: they used the gag circuit board. Explodes in your face! Amaze your friends!

UPDATE: the important business of avoiding war stops while the White House staff discusses Bill and Karen’s retirement options. President Tolliver has a moment of squishy-arse wobbly doubt. Meanwhile, Jack’s father, standing on the oil platform no one will ever discover because he has hidden his financial interests from the CTU database and thus made the actual physical platform disappear entirely, winces. Jack winces. A real Vader-Luke moment, this. The wincing spreads to Chloe, who has passed out – perhaps because she hasn’t gotten any sleep in seven years. There might be some evil Chinese mental-bomb thing going on here. Or she’s pregnant. With the baby of Milo’s brother.

UPDATE: Whoa! Bill Buchanan makes his bid for a spin-off of his own by commandeering a helicopter. The Matlock of CTU! Meanwhile, the Russians have assumed tactical flanking positions, which allow them to tactically flank our positions. Sweet Jeebus, why is the Russia’s misplacement of a circuit board is our problem?  It’s not like we stole it. We got it off a drone carrying a Russian nuke, right? Finders keepers, losers reconfigure defense codes, okay? The US gets nuked and half-nuked, and at the end of the day we not only fail to do squat, we fire everyone in the organization responsible for preventing three other nuclear blasts.

UPDATE: Jack approaches the abandoned oil platform, which is lit up by 23,594 individual bulbs, This thing wouldn’t just show up on satellite thermal images, it would show up on an Etch-A-Sketch in Montana. Some fine old-style Bond-movie henchman-mowing-down results, though. But we’re 90 minutes into the show, and absolutely nothing surprising has happened. It’s been exactly what you feared it would be: Jack Saves the Boy, Defying and/or Complying with CTU instructions, depending on which way Nadia “Iron Pants” Yasser has flipped in the last few minutes.

UPDATE: It’s not often I wish a young man would shoot his grandfather, but this is one of these times.

UPDATE: Done, and done. Now it’s a tender family moment. “You don’t want to die here. Not with me.” Only good line of the show.

And here come the warm jets.

Question: if you’d just landed on an oil platform, and someone said he’d pick you up on “level 3,” would you know where to go? Yes! If you’re Jack “Tauer of Pauer” Bauer! He gets schematics in his dental fillings!

President Subarov stands down, and Vice President Tolliver delivers a long, warm stream of urine into his garments in sudden unexpected relief. The crisis is over –

No, Jack fell in the drink.

No, he’s okay. He was just making his escape, because he knows something no one else knows: there are 24 minutes left of the show.

UPDATE: Karen and Bill get to resign with dignity, showing how ridiculous this show has become. We all remember how George Tenet was sent to prison on 9/12, after all. Meanwhile, back at CTU, Chloe is . . .

Well, did I call that, or what? Great; she’s pregnant. Someone else to be held hostage next year.

UPDATE: Tom breaks the happy retirement-package news to Karen, and sternums across the land suffer hairline fractures as hearts quicken. They can’t keep up this pace all night! They can’t!

UPDATE: Chang has come down with a severe case of Lobster Face. Couldn’t happen to a nicer spy.

UPDATE: So this all comes down to Audrey, now? I appreciate Jack’s anger, but he’s not really making a good case to be a son-in-law here.

UPDATE: Jack does not jump off the cliff.  It’s over.

And believe me, Jack, when I say: the nation is grateful.