Complications Ensue: The Crafty TV and Screenwriting Blog
Complications Ensue:
The Crafty TV and Screenwriting Blog



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Sunday, October 31, 2004

WE NEED SOMEONE WHO DOESN'T KNOW WHERE HE STANDS

All the Republican propaganda has me convinced: Kerry doesn't know where he stands until he listens to other people's opinions.

This seems to me exactly the kind of president we need now.

We need someone who can govern from the reasonable middle. We need someone without scruples who's willing to give the Germans and the French whatever they need to guilt them into helping us in the Iraquagmire. We need someone who can make deals with Republicans AND Democrats.

Someone who doesn't know where he stands!

This blog (surprise surprise) endorses Kerry.

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Saturday, October 30, 2004

ONCE IS AN ACCIDENT, TWICE IS COINCIDENCE, THREE TIMES IS ENEMY ACTION

I was watching Alien before the power blacked out yet again. And I was noting all the "plotholes" that are necessary to get the deadly critter onto the Nostromo. Why do they let the bug onto the ship? Why don't they just freeze Kane? Waaaaal, it's enemy action.

This same solution turned out handy for Unseen, where I was in plothole hell. It's so much easier to make unlikely things plausible if someone is causing them to happen than if they're supposed to happen by accident.

Which brings to mind a neat quotation from one of Stephen Brust's Vlad Taltos novels. A fellow is explaining why he is no longer with his (recently deceased) bandit comrades.

"They met with an incident."

"You mean, they met with an accident."

"Oh no, my lord. There was nothing accidental about it."

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Friday, October 29, 2004

SERIOUS PROBLEM WITH ONLINE NEWS

You can keep checking endlessly.

I am totally wigging out about the election. Zogby was on Jon Stewart last night and says Kerry will take it. I am doing nothing to help, but I feel compelled to read all the news stories about the election... on the Times site, Washington Post, LA Times, USAToday, Salon and Slate. They get updated all the time, so why not check one more time to see what the latest is?

'Cause you don't get any writing done that way, is why.

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BATTLE OF THE BULGE

According to Salon.com, a NASA photo analyst has sharpened photos of Bush's back during the first debate, and it sure does look like he's wearing a wire.

You have to ask yourself, what kind of idiots would have put a device on under Bush's jacket that can be seen so clearly, and why would such a device have to be so thick?

On the other hand, how are we to believe that the President's tailor is that bad?

I wonder if we'll ever know the truth. For the mean time, it's more news to get the Bushies off message.

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Thursday, October 28, 2004

WHEN IT STOPS SUCKING, YOU'RE DONE

Lisa was getting upset about her book, because everything she was writing was sucking. No matter that she's just started her book, and she has a year to complete it -- she was behind schedule.

I pointed out that when you're starting everything comes slowly, and she'll probably pick up the pace.

But more important, of course it's sucking. When you write, most of the time things suck. That's because when it stops sucking, you're done, and you can move on to the next thing.

The outline for Unseen was sucking for most of its life. Then things finally clicked into place. I made a few changes, and the outline was done. Now I'm on to the script. The scenes suck until they stop sucking, and then they're done, and I can move on to the next scene.

So it's a useful rule: when it stops sucking, even a little bit, you're done. And it's cheering to remember that when it is sucking.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2004

THE DEATH OF SHAME

Ashlee Simpson semi-apologizes for lip-synching on SNL, after slagging lip-synching. She says she "holds her head up high" and explains she had to do it because she was hoarse.

The point of an apology is you feel bad. You are not holding your head up high. You're lowering your head in embarrassment.

There seems to be a bit of confusion about the notion of taking responsibility. Ronald Reagan "took responsibility" for the deaths of the Marines in Beirut, which, it turned out, meant that no one had to take responsibility. Various administration officials "take responsibility" for things, which seems to mean, "yes I did it, now go away."

If you "take responsibility" for a massive screwup, there are supposed to be consequences. E.g. Ashlee could offer a free concert where she actually sings. Administration officials who "take responsibility" are supposed to resign.

Used to be in Japan, you took responsibility by committing hara-kiri. No need to go that far, but guys, where's your shame?

How about Condoleeza Rice taking responsibility for her massive, massive screwups in failing to coordinate the intelligence activities of the CIA, FBI, State, etc., which is after all the reason her job exists? How about resigning?

How about Colin Powell taking responsibility for lying to the UN by resigning?

How about George Bush taking responsibility for the missing WMDs by saying, at a bare minimum, oops, he faked us out, my bad?

Why does everyone brazen it out? What's wrong with our society when we reward people for brazening it out?

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PREDICTION TIME

I find trailers instructive.

I think "The Polar Express" is going to bomb. Two reasons:

a. I have no idea from the trailer what the obstacle is. Or even the goal. The hero is a little boy who takes a train to the North Pole, and there's a lot of singing and dancing. But why does he want to go? What is he running from? What does he dream of? And what's in the way of his getting to it?

b. The animation is creepy. There's too much detail for it to be a cartoon, and not enough to look human. It will tank fro the same reason Final Fantasy tanked. You can't appreciate the characters as caricatures, and they are obviously not real actors feeling real feelings. Too close or too far.

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Monday, October 25, 2004

POLITICS ENSUE

How do you get a job as a speechwriter? The Dems need some good ones. I wonder how hard it is for a TV writer to get a speechwriting gig.

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THE POWER OF A STORY PEOPLE WANT TO BELIEVE IN

Bush is up three points. Quibbles about likely vs. registered voters aside, what the hell is going on? There hasn't been a single major news story in Bush's favor in months. Everything on the front page contradicts what he's saying, i.e. freedom marching on in Iraq (boom! bang!). And he climbs in the polls.

Obviously the Republicans are better at putting out their story. It helps that it's a simpler story. And it helps that most people don't read the front page, especially not in the red states. (Lisa pointed out that all the states with a decent newspaper are blue, whether the paper's for Bush or not: Illinois and the Chicago Trib, New York and the Times, California and the LA Times, Massachusetts and the Globe, etc.)

I think the Dems have missed it by failing to tell the whole truth: Bush is responsible for 9/11. He dropped the ball. He had the warnings and he did nothing. But Kerry has at least pointed out that he's botched the response: botched Afghanistan, attacked Iraq, then botched Iraq.

My sole consolation is that if Bush gets in for another four years, the country may well be in such a mess by the end of it that all the Republicans get thrown out. The next four years are going to be bad, bad, bad.

Thank God I live in Montreal.

Depressedly yours,...

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Sunday, October 24, 2004

TEAM AMERICA WORLD POLICE

Lisa and I walked out. There was no one to root for, and the movie couldn't seem to make up its mind whether it was a parody of rootin'-tootin' red-blooded American action movies, or a red blooded American action movie.

We're supposed to root for these guys who are blowing up most of Paris in the intro. Whereas in South Park: Bigger, Better and Uncut, we were rooting for the kids to stop a war.

Even in a parody we have to sympathize with someone!

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Thursday, October 21, 2004

PVR, BELL'S TIVO

I am thoroughly pleased with my Personal Video Recorder. I'm watching a lot more TV now that I can click on the program guide and a few clicks later I've scheduled a show for recording.

And, without it, I'd have had to change the channels manually between recordings. Which wasn't happening.

This is definitely the way of the future.

Oh, and being able to fast forward 15x and 60x makes those commercials go away superfast.

And, being able to start watching at the beginning while the end of the show is still taping -- I'm all about that.

Now if I can only find a truly intelligent show to watch, beyond Gilmore Girls.

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ON THE OTHER HAND

I'm watching Jon Stewart interview Farheed Shakaria, a print journalist, who is saying remarkably level headed and nonpartisan things about Iraq... and I'm wondering, why the hell is this on a comedy show instead of a news show? Oh, right, because there are no news shows any more. There are only infotainment shows.

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STILL LOOKING FOR A DECENT SHOW

Watched last season's finale and this season's premiere for The West Wing. Why? I don't know. Just masochistic I guess.

Sorkin's West Wing used to take on difficult issues and trumpet both sides' reasoned arguments. You never knew which side was going to win until the end. The solution was often something real politicians would never dare; and sometimes, his politicans didn't dare, even if they knew what it was.

Wells's West Wing premiere was a hodgepodge of plot elements that linked up in specious ways. The staff was weirdly united in favor of military action against a terrorist cell tucked into an apartment compliex where, mysteriously, it remained in place for days on end. Toby ignoring collateral damage? Leo shouting at the president at the top of his lungs? C'mon. It wasn't good theater.

In place of good theater, we got locations and helicopter shots. Okay, so they can spend the money. Compare that with Sorkin's bottle show, "Isaac and Ishmael," the post Sept. 11 season premiere, and which makes more watchable television?

It's a damn shame.

Now what am I supposed to watch?

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Tuesday, October 19, 2004

MY DEVOUT HOPE

Is that Kerry wins the electoral vote, Bush wins the popular vote -- as current polls suggest.

Why?

With one each, the parties might finally decide to abolish the electoral college, which effectively disenfranchises millions of people. Or, at least, allocate electoral votes on a proportional basis by state, rather than winner-take-all.

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A LITTLE LATE IN THE SEASON, NO?

"The OC" premieres this year on Thursday, November 4. Isn't that a bit late in the season? And the West Wing premiere is tomorrow, October 20. Didn't shows use to premiere earlier? Like around the time the kiddies went back to school? What's with the late dates? Are they rolling the shows out slowly so that they don't crowd each other? Are the showrunners late with their shows? Do they just need more time? What?

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Saturday, October 16, 2004

CRAFTY WRITER'S TOOL: WATCHING THE COMMERCIALS

Because you can tell who's watching, that's why. People complain that the Miss America contest is for lecherous old men, but the ads are all for Maybelline. Teen girls are watching it, that's who. Smart ads for luxury goods = show for educated rich folk. Ads for beer and pickup trucks = show for young guys. Maybelline and tampons = girls. Etc.

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Friday, October 15, 2004

HONEST I'M TRYING

I am trying, trying to watch episodes of tv shows I haven't seen. But Battlestar Galactica, the miniseries, was unwatchably slow and dull -- an hour in before the Cylons even attack! -- and now I'm trying to get through a second episode of One Tree Hill. I can't figure out what the hook is. I can't figure out why we care about all these pretty people. It seems to lack the glamor that makes The OC at its best a guilty pleasure.

Argh!

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CLARIFICATION

A reader asked about parentheticals being upper or lowercase (they should always be lowercase), but he was really asking about character continueds:

JIM (CONT'D)
Yo.

For some reason people are no longer using character continueds so much. I find them useful to remind the reader that the same person is still talking. But I'm enough of a Hollywood animal that if people are no longer using them, I'm no longer going to use them, too.

If used, they should be uppercase.

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THEY'RE THROWING CURVE BALLS, AM COMING HOME

Played pot limit poker for the first time. Yikes. That's a whole new ball game.

Rumor has it poker's become "hot" in showbiz. We have Matt and Ben to thank for that, of course. It makes perfect sense. There's a lot of poker in showbiz, it teaches valuable lessons, and it's an opportunity to hang out with people without talking ideas (which many people in showbiz don't have, except creatively, and they don't broadcast those for fear of poaching) or gossip (which many people in showbiz are sick of).

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Wednesday, October 13, 2004

MORE SCHADENFREUDE, SORT OF

I continue to wonder whether I should be appalled or reassured by Hollywood Animal. People keep buying Joe Eszterhas's scripts and then trying to rip their guts out. Not just soft the edges -- take out the thing that makes them sexy and scary and dangerous and commercial. Rip their guts out.

Should I be reassured -- yes, Virginia, they do that to everybody, even people they pay $4 mil to for a script -- or appalled -- no, Virginia, there is no level of writing to which you can aspire where they won't piss all over your work so it smells like them.

If you want control, become a producer, or work in TV. Or both.

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FASTER THAN TRAILERS

I'm convinced I can read the "Memorable Quotes" from the IMDB and tell if I'm going to like the movie. From this standpoint, Shaun of the Dead looks great. I just skip-sped through The Dark Crystal as research for Unseen. Terrible slow bad movie and it had bad quotes too.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2004

TRASH

I'm not entirely sure why I'm still reading Joe Eszterhas's autobiography, Hollywood Animal, unless it's the fascination we all have with car wrecks. He boasts about what a jerk he is, how he cheated on his wife, etc., but he does it with such energy and passion it's hard to stop reading.

It's also mildly interesting to see what frame of mind you have to be in to write wildly commercial trash like he writes.

And, of course, it's easier than working on my own stuff.

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Monday, October 11, 2004

MONSTER INC.

John Gregory Dunne seems to be (have been?) a reticent fellow, and out of his book I get no sense that he actually loves writing screenplays, or even that he loves writing novels and writes screenplays to support his novel writing habit.

But I was perversely gratified to read that Columbia Pictures tried to stiff him out of a delivery payment for a screenplay they didn't like, and that he had to go to the WGA, and wound up getting paid in full, with late charges. So those sorts of shenanigans, with which I am rather too familiar myself, go on even at the highest level.

My personal feeling, and the standard of the industry, enshrined in both the WGA and WGC contracts, is that if you don't like what a writer wrote, you still have to pay him -- he has, after all, done the work -- you simply don't work with him again, at least on that project. For some reason, producers who would never think they didn't owe an assistant director for his work, think they can reject a screenplay and not pay for the effort that went into it. (Of course producers also fail to pay assistant directors when they can get away with it, so you see the pattern. Maybe producers don't particularly think they don't owe the writer, they just think they can play on the writer's doubts about his own work to get away with not paying him.)

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Sunday, October 10, 2004

MONSTER ETC.

I am still reading John Gregory Dunne's Monster, though it's not a truly compelling story. It's a peek into a world I will probably never inhabit, where writers grouse about working for six figure sums because they have to do 'free' rewrites, e.g. 'we did four rewrites in 17 days, three of them free.' (Some people would consider seventeen days a short amount of time to do one rewrite, but that's Hollywood: hurry up and wait.)

It seems amazing to me how much rewriting goes on in the feature world. I am not convinced very much of it results in better scripts. In Monster, for example, the Dunnes do five drafts of Up Close and Personal, only to be taken off the project. Then other writers get their mitts on it. Years later the Dunnes are hired back onto the project to rewrite their very first draft. Everything else is out the window. But development execs must justify their salaries. And, to be honest, there is the occasional 3000, that is developed into an entirely other hit movie: Pretty Woman started as a dark tale about reality.

I do still think I prefer TV. Sometimes you write a really great script, sometimes you misfire, but almost of your stories wind up on the screen.

At the same time I am hard at work on Unseen and it slowly seems to be getting better. I used to spend less time on features, and I'm really trying to learn to perfect a script, to subject it to the kind of hard critical eye that my former writing partner is so good at, without just getting sick of the whole thing and junking it. (Getting sick of something and junking it is generally a bad idea. You are not always the best judge of your won work. Though sometimes you need a rest from something you got too close to.)

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Saturday, October 09, 2004

SCREEN TRADE TALES

In search of inspiration, or possibly schadenfreude, I'm reading Joe Eszterhas's Hollywood Animal and John Gregory's Dunne's Monster. Dunne and Eszterhas could not be further apart. One's crass, one's cultured, but they both live in a world that is utterly divorced from mine. I have broken through the velvet curtain into making a pretty good living as a tv and feature writer lately, but these guys are hobnobbing with the people you've heard of -- and in Eszterhas's case, telling the people you've heard of to go fuck themselves.

I am not sure I'd like their world, for all its money.

I do distinctly remember the studio world from my days in it. It is a coldhearted crazy unhappy world. I've been able to work with some people I actually like and respect. I was going to say that most people up here don't seem to feel they have the same gun to their heads but it's not true at all. I'm surrounded by people who are living hand to mouth (at a very high level of income to be sure), or not at all sure how they'll make their payments, or not at all sure they want to stay in the biz. I've just tuned it all out. I hit a point four, five years back where I had one more shot and if that failed I was out of showbiz. The shot succeeded and I went up from there. I've learned to tune out the fear. You have to tune out the fear when you're up against the wall. Then when you're a little further away from the wall, you have to keep the fear tuned out. There's no way to say whether your particular niche will stay lucrative, and people continue to want to work with you. You just have to love the work and have faith it'll keep coming.

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Friday, October 08, 2004

IT'S HARD TO WRITE MAGIC

I'm not very happy with my beat sheet for Unseen.

Part of the problem is that I've written a document I don't generally like to write. The Telefilm Screenwriting Assistance program wants you to go from a 5 page pitch to a 20-or-so page outline. I find an outline that long to be unwieldy. You lose the story in all the pages. A screenplay is different, it comes alive with the dialog and the action. An outline rarely comes alive, so it may as well be as short as it can be to encompass all the beats. That way you can see the story structurally.

The bigger problem is I'm not seeing the magic in my story right now. It's a contemporary urban fantasy set partly across the Veil between Seen and Unseen. But I feel I've either drawn the Veil aside too much or not enough. I've treated the Unseen as science fiction, not as mystery. There are answers, if you only had time to sit down and hear them. The story is a thriller story -- the heroine's mom has been kidnapped by the Unseen. That means there's little time to sit down and absorb the mystery. There's some clunky expo that puts the facts down on the page.

Once again I feel I'm pushing the story on the audience instead of pulling them towards it.

It feels somehow wrong that there should be answers at the end of the story. There should, maybe, just be questions...

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Thursday, October 07, 2004

BEAT SHEET DONE

I've finished a longish beat sheet for Unseen, the feature version for the Telefilm Screenwriting Assistance Program. Not sure how I feel about it. I think I prefer the series idea, because it's a world I'd like to delve into endlessly, assuming there's some kind of budget for it and we're not just talking about fur pasted onto papier-mache. I think it's a good little feature but somehow it doesn't quite have the magic or the mystery I want. I wonder what's missing. Have I followed the path of least resistance somehow? It's hard to tell when you're writing a fairy story whether you're writing mythically or predictably.

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UP A CREEK

Today, Bush insisted that even if he had known Saddam didn't have WMD's, he'd still have invaded, just because Saddam wanted them. Which is sheer craziness, considering who else wants WMDs.

Meanwhile, my stepson is getting picked on at school because he's American. I told him to remind the other kids that most Americans didn't actually vote for our President, and he stole the election.

Lord, I hope Americans figure it out by the time they get to the polls.

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OKAY, YOU'RE NOT MUMBLING

Finally got my ears checked and yes, I am a little hard of hearing. I find myself saying "what?" and "say again" entirely too much, and that's because I'm short on the decibels in the 8K range.

Argh.

I hope it doesn't get much worse.

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Monday, October 04, 2004

CART BEFORE THE HORSE

Generally I don't delve into characters' lives offscreen. There is a school of writing that would have you work out who your characters are in some depth before writing them. I'm more story oriented; I think the needs of the story define who they are. I also think that working out the characters in the abstract is risky: you may know the characters so well offscreen that you forget to give them characteristic things to do onscreen, so your viewers don't have any clue who the character is.

But now I've got my heroine meeting up with an important character, and I have no idea how he should react. Here's where I think I need to write up who exactly he is, in order to see how he'll react. So it's not entirely a useless method.

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Friday, October 01, 2004

NEITHER FISH NOR FOWL

I've played a couple of hours of Final Fantasy X, which my 9-year-old stepson is playing passionately. (He's played about 24 hours of it.) I find it frustrating. It is less a game than a narrative punctuated by game elements. The computer seizes control for long sections, playing computer rendered movies that you can only watch. You theoretically get control back between the movies, but the computer tells you what the terrain looks like and gives you a little red arrow to point the direction in which you're supposed to go. The only places you have full control are during battles (turn based) and when upgrading your characters. You are going to see what they planned out, or your character dies. There are no different strategies for playing the game.

I'm much more interested in strategy games like Civilization and Warcraft and SimCity, where you can pursue different strategies and get different results. I'm interested in Fable, which is only available on X-box -- supposedly it's a role playing game where your character actually changes according to your actions, which is how it is in real life. But I'm not sure it's the killer app worth buying an X-box before; and then there's the moral question of whether to willingly buy a Microsoft product.

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A NEW THREAT TO DRAMA

I have been feeling fairly sanguine about the fate of dramatic television, especially with the advent of the boxed DVD set of an entire season of more and more shows. Few people want to revisit season two of Survivor, but if season 5 of Gilmore Girls draws you in, you may wind up buying the rest of it rather than waiting for syndication to come around. That's an incentive for producers to make intelligent, unique, lasting shows. Which is good for me, because that's what I want to write.

But a network exec was less sanguine. DVD sales are counterbalanced by MPEG ripoffs. Just as the music industry may be suffering from file sharing programs like Kazaa, there's little to stop people from trading pirated episodes on the Net.

On the other hand, there is the argument that the "slump" in the music industry is just because CD sales were unnaturally boosted so long as people were replacing their vinyl; and that people tend to rip tracks that they would not otherwise have bought anyway. My parents would buy DVD's if they could figure out how to plug their DVD player in (they still don't have Call Waiting); they would never consider ripping off Season Two of Sopranos. (Nor would I. I don't think people who make a living selling content should steal it, though I'm less sure it's evil to pirate Microsoft products.)

I do think we're going to be seeing a huge rise in the number of TV shows available on DVD, just because it costs almost nothing to package up the content and sell it on Amazon. The marginal cost is tiny. Which is good for all of us TV writers who need to research shows we're spec'ing...

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SPEECHIFYING

As this election picks up the pace, I've been wondering if I could write speeches. I've been writing speech for characters for a couple decades, after all; and I keep hearing the candidates and thinking I could make their dialog cleaner, sharper, stronger and more impressive.

Maybe one of these days I'll get more involved in politics. We ran a little Democrats Abroad fundraiser last night showing the debate on our tv, and thirty people came. It's a start!

And it looks like the Canadian Liberal party could use some help around here.

I thought Kerry was really good last night. I also thought the Shrub was impressive, too, although thankfully only Republicans thought so. He seemed to be on top of what he's doing as President, quoting the names with whom and places at which he's been doing things presidential. Of course there was also quite a bit of Dan Quayle about him, repeating endlessly "wrong war, wrong time, wrong place," which seemed unwise anyway -- since when do you repeat your enemy's charges?

We're hosting another debate party next Friday. Should be fun.

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