Ice Coffee vs Iced Coffee at Tokyo's Mister Donut

Monday  October 12, 2009
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You don't exactly think donuts when you think Tokyo—unless you've been to Mister Donut. Just as it's mandatory I find an In N' Out within 2 hours of landing in California, I'm automatically looking for a Mister Donut when I surface from the Tokyo Metro. It's a franchise that has more or less died out in North America, but continues to thrive in Tokyo. As it should. The donuts are quite different than a Krispy Kreme or Dunkin's—I'm not saying their superior, but they're lighter, less sweet, almost cake-like, and more importantly, you can eat two or three of them and not feel ill. But my favorite item on the Mister Donut's menu has to be the "Koori Coffee" (literally "ice coffee"), a beverage where milk is poured over ice that's made out of coffee as opposed to, you know, water. They're sort of like crumbled iced coffee popsicles. A tip: order "Iced Coffee" and that's what you'll get, cold coffee over normal ice. Order "Koori Coffee" specifically if you want what's pictured here. If anyone figures out if you can order chilled coffee over coffee-ice, let me know, because that would be awesome—an iced coffee drink that actually gets stronger as the ice melts.—kevin sintumuang

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They're Closing All the Factories Down

Friday  October 09, 2009

It's hard not to be reminded of America's industrial past when you look at this salvage yard from my hometown of Cleveland. Afterall, the structure itself—a massive, run-down Fisher Body plant built on 12 acres—is a relic of the kind of manufacturing muscles we used to have. For pennies on the dollar, the folks here buy about 10 semi-loads a day of everything they can get their hands on from shuttered factories across the country and resell it to locals. The aisles—filled with machinery from closed-down Big Three auto factories, bicycles from Worksman Cycles in Queens, N.Y., and palates of unused parts tickets from a Chrysler Assembly plant in St. Louis—are a literal graveyard of what we used to be. Even more so, they're a reminder of the challenges we've got ahead.—michael williams

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Join the Gang!

Friday  October 09, 2009

Five minutes with Rob McElhenney

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Crack addiction, incest, abortion, and child molestation—these are just a few of the patently-offensive themes waved about like a drunk uncle’s unlicensed handgun in the FX sitcom It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, now in its fifth season. Creator Rob McElhenney catches us up on the deranged happenings in his City of Brotherly Love.—dan fierman

Being fully familiar with the degeneracy that you guys traffic in on a regular basis, I’m curious how you plan to mock basic human decency this season. You know, how much further can the line be pushed past “dumpster babies”?
[laughs] [pause] How much more evil can we be? Well, for fuck’s sake. What can we expect? Well, right now we’re shooting a scene that is a flashback, which we’ve never done, it’s a flashback to last October where we sneak into the World Series. Game Five of the World Series when the Phillies win.

You shot in the stadium? That sounds high tech for the show famous for its low budget.
It certainly is. But the episode we’re really pumped about is an episode called “The Gang Wrestles for the Troops” where we decide that there’s nothing more American than Hulk Hogan fighting the Russian Bear and the Iron Shiek. We felt like we had these troops coming home and they aren’t being celebrated, so we decide to put on the wrestling show and we enlist the help of Roddy Roddy Piper.

Did you guys really make the pilot for 85 bucks?
Yeah, that’s essentially what happened. I wrote a script that was never supposed to be a TV show—it was just a short film. By that point I had written a few scripts and was sick of writing for other people and then leaving it. So I said, Fuck it. I’m going to write something, bring my friends in, shoot it and who cares if no one understands it. It was a comedy about a guy coming over to his friends house and telling him that he has cancer and all the friend can think about is: I have to get out of this room right now. It was relatively easy. The hardest part was finding a boom mike. We used a mike that you could buy at BestBuy and then taped to a broom handle. We visited the networks. Popped in the DVD and had offers a few days later.

And then you get Danny DeVito to co-star. He’s delightful on the show, by the way.
I’ve never heard it put that way. I like that. Danny Devito is delightful on our show.

DeVito is a delight! What else can you say? How did you get him?
Well, after the first season we were really happy creatively, but people had never heard of the show. So FX approached us and said we need to figure out a way that we can generate some kind of word of mouth and the easiest way to do that is to bring in a name. We were really wary of that at first, but we kinda didn’t have a choice. So we said, okay, we’ll go down a list of people who make sense with our sensibility, and Danny was up there on the list. And it turns out that Danny’s kids were big fans of the show. So I basically went over to his house and said what we were thinking and within a few hours of me leaving his house he signed on to the second season. He’s been with us ever since.

What do you tell folks who aren’t hip to the show? How do you get them to watch?
Well, look, if they’re not  hip by now, they’re just dumb-asses, would be my guess. We’re in season five. You know, get off your couch and stop being such a pussy and change the damn channel!

2010 = 3D TV (Whether You Like It Or Not)

Thursday  October 08, 2009
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If there's one obvious story coming out of CEATEC (Japan's major consumer electronics trade show), it's 3D. Everyone from Sony to Hitachi has some sort of 3D TV system coming out in 2010 involving glasses that are less goofy yet more cumbersome than the paper blue and red cutout variety. And all of them are decent—if you like 3D. I don't. In an odd way, the 3D experience is less immersive—you have to train your eye to adjust to the depth of scenes to get the optimal experience, you're eyes are constantly wandering around looking to see what's popping out rather than, you know, paying attention to the plot, and objects have this miniature quality to them as if they're toys in a diorama. Maybe I'll change my mind down the line, (like after I see Avatar in it's entirety) but for now, nothing seems more immersive than a plain ol', big-ass screen.—kevin sintumuang

Japan's Coolest Mobile Phone Brand

Wednesday  October 07, 2009
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There's a constant effort among tech companies in the U.S. to make mobile phones more fashionable, luxurious, "lifestyle" objects (whatever that means) by working out co-branding deals with labels like Prada or Giorgio Armani or just offering phones in a variety of garish colors. But what they should really be doing is taking a page from the playbook of KDDI, one of Japan's most design-forward handset manufacturers. Their new sub-brand IIDA, whose lineup was on display here at CEATEC, puts an emphasis on what people really want when they're looking for a phone that stands out: smart design from the world's best industrial designers like Naoto Fukasawa—not slapping Swarovski crystals on an otherwise ordinary handset. It would be hard to give up my iPhone, but if I did it would be for one of these.

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The retro-futuristic "Prismoid" phone which comes out in Japan in October is by Naoto Fukasawa. If Darth Vader rocked a mobile phone in the original Star Wars, he'd be phoning-in the destruction of Alderaan with something like this.

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The "Ply" phone by Hideo Kambura. It's sort of a riff on the grains of wood in a 2x4. Notice how each layer represents a different button/function.

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iida even pays attention to the design of power chargers, what's normally a banal afterthought even though we have to use them every single day. The floating astronauts (proper name is "Rangers" by Shunsuke Umiyama) are a bit whimsical for my taste, but I like the practical simplicity of the Winding-Charger by Youta Kakuda. Why aren't all cords retractable at a push of a button?—kevin sintumuang

Beef Stew and Other Things Sold At MUJI's Tokyo Flagship

Tuesday  October 06, 2009
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One of my first stops when I get to Tokyo is the MUJI flagship in Marunouchi. While Muji has recently opened stores in New York and their affordable, cleanly designed wares have been available for a while now through the MoMA Design Store in the States, our selection of the stuff pales in comparison to what's available at this three story Muji mothership. You can get everything from potted plants, to folding bicycles, to watches, to radios, all with that distinctively non-distinct aesthetic. It makes me wish I brought an empty suitcase. Good thing you can get those here too.

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I'm sure MUJI Beef Stew beats Dinty Moore.

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I'm not endorsing bringing a bike home from Tokyo, but they do have have smart folding bikes with cool matte finishes that wouldn't be difficult to check on your return flight.

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If you're into chunky plastic frames, they have dozens for around $100.

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All that and, yes, bags of chips.—kevin sintumuang

Tech and More from Tokyo

Monday  October 05, 2009
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Certain passions have their Meccas. If you're an auto enthusiast, it's driving 150 miles per hour on the German Autobahn. If you're an Oenophile, it's drinking your way through the tasting rooms of the vineyards in Napa or Bordeaux. And for gadget-heads, there is Tokyo, a city that seems to pulsate with the bleeding edge. The wonderment starts as soon as you leave Narita airport. The vending machines on trains; the foreign chimes of sliding doors; the toilets with seat warmers. And there's the Akihabara neighborhood where, between alleyway shops the size of shoeboxes and football stadium-sized mega-stores that deserve their own zip code you could spend days discovering things that won't be coming to the states until next year if you're lucky, and never if you're not. But the electronics envy culminates at CEATEC, Japan's annual consumer electronics trade show where, every October, tech companies show off not just new products that will end up on the shelves of Akihabara next year, but innovative technologies (motion sensing remote controls) and out-there concepts (cars that detect their surroundings like bees) that seem a decade or more away. Walking the convention floor at CEATEC is like visiting a futuristic Wonka's Chocolate Factory. Of course, all of the tech-awe turns into mild aggravation mixed with a bit of jealousy after a few hours: Why don't our mobile phones have solar panels? Why can't we get that micro four-thirds camera in red? When am I going to be able to get my one-wheeled robot? But I guess that's the point—we're getting a taste of the future. And if the future were now, it wouldn't be the future would it? So that's why I'm back at CEATEC this year—to see how far off I am from being able to buy a one-wheeled robot. And to blog. Come back throughout the week to check out the latest tech from Japan as well as the craziness that is one of my favorite cities in the world: Tokyo.—kevin sintumuang

UPDATE: Game Brain

Monday  October 05, 2009
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For her story “This Is Your Brain on Football” (October 2009), GQ correspondent Jeanne Marie Laskas profiled a team of scientists who had made a startling discovery: Concussions in pro football players can lead to dementia (to read her story, go here). The NFL vehemently denied such findings and even refused to compensate some retired players suffering from the disease. But last week, a new study by the University of Michigan, commissioned by the NFL itself, was released, showing that dementia-related diseases are as much as nineteen times more commonly reported in retired football players than in the general population.

Spokesmen for the NFL, however, were quoted as saying that the findings are inconclusive. In reaction to these events, Congress announced that it will hold formal hearings on head injuries among NFL players.

Laskas recently contacted Julian Bailes—chairman of the department of neurosurgery at the West Virginia University School of Medicine and one of the scientists she originally profiled—to get his thoughts on the latest developments.

You told The New York Times that the Michigan study is a “game changer.” Did you expect Congress to become involved?
No—or certainly not this quickly. I hope this will help move the issue along so that we can begin to focus on prevention. The Michigan study is the first time any research performed or commissioned by the NFL has offered any contribution to the notion that banging heads with big fast guys thousands of times could even possibly affect your brain.

Which is exactly what you and a lot of other scientists have been saying for years.
Right. We knew all this already. We proved this already, and not just with phone surveys. In autopsy—Bennet Omalu first discovered the pathology, and he and I have studied numerous proven cases of football-related dementia. We’ve studied brains, we’ve studied players themselves, we’ve developed an experimental model in the lab, we’ve concussed rats. As you reported in your story, this has been out there for years. We’ve presented our research. The only difference now is that the NFL’s own study has found it. And yet you see in their comments they’re not exactly embracing it. They’re trying to minimize how the Michigan study was designed. Which is ironic considering that it was, you know, their own study. You have to wonder, if the study had found no dementia or Alzheimer’s, would they still be criticizing their own methodology?

Ira Casson, co-chairman of the NFL’s concussions committee, was quoted as saying: “What I take from this report is there’s a need for further studies to see whether or not this finding is going to pan out, if it’s really there or not. I can see that the respondents believe they have been diagnosed, but the next step is to determine whether that is so.”
He’s basically saying that we need to study the study to see if what the study said is true. How long is this going to go on—especially since these findings are in agreement with prior published research? If this were the first study of its kind, yeah, you’d have to get it corroborated. But this has been going on and on, similar findings, institution after institution. I don’t hear the NFL spokesmen indicating any change in their long-held and stated opinions that multiple brain injuries while playing football don’t lead to any problems later in life.

We’re not just talking about NFL players. The congressional hearings are possibly looking into the effects of head trauma on college and high school players, too.
Shockingly, we have found this even at the high school level. Bennet Omalu has examined the brains of three high school players who died as a result of injuries they sustained from playing football. In the brain of one of the players, he found incipient CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

CTE in a high school football player—the same sort of brain damage that led to the downfall of Mike Webster, Terry Long, Andre Waters, and so many others?
Right. In a high school player. It gets back to the point you made in the GQ article: What is the NFL’s responsibility for the greater good? The greater good, meaning all the young men and women who desire to participate in football and other contact sports, the ones who aspire at a young age to emulate the NFL and their players and are fueled by their advertising and the incessant bombardment of our society. What is their responsibility to the greater good? I don’t know. They’re going to have to answer that.

Do you agree that it’s time for Congress to step in?
There is some historical precedent for this. Back in 1905, President Roosevelt was practically going to ban football when eighteen young men died and 149 were injured seriously that year. And that’s how the NCAA was formed. Here we are, 104 years later, and it’s come full circle. I think we have to make changes again. It has to be pretty significant changes. I really believe the velocity factor, the speed of the game, is what’s doing it. It’s not necessarily the hit; it’s your head movement. It’s what’s going on inside the cranium with the brain floating and moving and rotating. And a helmet, as you explain in your article, will never prevent rotational injury.

I can see the headlines: “Obama Wants to Ban Football.”
Look, Roosevelt loved football. He saved the sport. Guys were dying. There was no NFL yet, just college ball, and guys were dying playing it. He summoned people from Harvard, Yale, Princeton to the White House. He said let’s make the game less dangerous. The public was denouncing it as barbaric.

Well, the public is hardly doing that now. The reaction to the Michigan study and the GQ story on fan message boards has been interesting. People are saying things like: “Well, duh! Football players bash their heads for years and end up demented. That’s like saying if a girl has sex, she could end up pregnant.” They’re also saying: “Leave our game alone. We like football the way it is.” The fans love the hits.
I have seen and heard some of that, too. Okay, so maybe this is not that important, maybe this is not something that the players, their agents, their representatives, or any of the clubs or owners or the league should think is important. As a physician, as a researcher, as a brain scientist, my job is to alert what we see from a public-health perspective, and what we’re discovering is a new, previously unappreciated syndrome. It’s up to the people who are the stakeholders in this how to react. Dementia is the worst disease. This is worse than saying that football causes cancer, or football causes heart attacks. With this, you lose your mind and you lose your dignity.

You’ve seen the footage of the Tim Tebow hit?
It was a really bad hit, because it was a double impact. I thought when he hit the back of his head on the other player’s knee is when he really got it. It’s one of those hits that make you hurt to look at.

And yet we keep looking at it. It’s a YouTube sensation. People love this stuff. The more violent, the more thrilling. Never mind the damage to the players. Who cares? Give us more crashes. Is there a whole cultural shift that needs to happen here?
Ever read the book A Voice in the Wind? It’s one of my favorite books. It’s about the Roman Empire and the thirst for blood. In that book, when the gladiators were brought in, they had certain rules to kill so many in the arena. In Rome they fought to the death with tridents, nets, and short swords, and to gain their freedom they had to survive for three years. And that was okay back then. You know? That was okay. Maybe it’s time for us to look in the mirror.

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Thursday  October 01, 2009

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"Polanski, man. He's tearing the Internet apart." That's what one blogger I've never met but like very much—ace film buff Bill Ryan, the wag behind The Kind of Face You Hate—lamented to me by e-mail after he and I had gone several rounds in the comments threads of more than one online forum, his own not included. While we hadn't exactly been at daggers drawn, since I respect his POV and think the feeling's mutual, we'd definitely come at the Great Polanski Kerfuffle from different perspectives.

Ryan is a straight-arrow conservative who thinks the law is the law, is purely revolted by Polanski's long-ago rape of a 13-year-old girl and won't buy any argument that gives the fugitive director wiggle room. His position is all the more principled because, if anything, he admires Polanski's movies more than I do. As for me, though I share his revulsion, I'm more ambivalent about what I think should come next. But compared to the flame wars around us, our exchanges on the topic have been a minuet.

The 76-year-old filmmaker's arrest in Switzerland last week—30-plus years after he pleaded guilty to having sex with a minor in a California courtroom, then fled to Paris when the very lenient sentencing deal he'd been promised went haywire—was a twist that nobody, most obviously Polanski, saw coming. Things had been looking up for him ever since his 2003 best director Oscar for The Pianist (which he couldn't collect in person) reminded everybody of his long exile.

His victim, Samantha Geimer, who'd gone public back in 1997 and reached a private settlement with him, was and still is on record as saying she wanted the charges dropped. Now in her mid-forties, she was also a sensible and gallant talking head in last year's HBO documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted & Desired, which I reviewed at the time for GQ. It established beyond much doubt that some fairly appalling judicial misconduct drove him to bolt (though one interviewee has recently recanted)—while also, be it said, soft-pedaling the even more appalling particulars of his original crime.

Not that I get any pleasure out of revisiting them. But for the record, mere unlawful sex with a minor—the reduced charge Polanski ended up copping to back in 1977—is a euphemism. Lured by the promise of a potential French Vogue photo shoot, Geimer was drugged and then violated in multiple ways. Her ordeal went on for hours, and she'd made her unwillingness clear to Polanski—not that her "consent" would have had either legal or moral meaning. Even if some of the indignation meisters now slavering to see the little creep behind bars at long last don't sound especially motivated by concern for his victim, facts are facts and what he did to her wasn't just criminal. It was vile, and also "really gross"—to quote Geimer's own description.

The Hollywood and other supporters who want the little creep to walk free are pretty damn anxious not to remind us of all this too vividly. In a September 30 New York Times op-ed, novelist Robert Harris—Polanski's collaborator on the film adaptation of Harris's novel The Ghost, a project now in post-production limbo thanks to his arrest—attacked "the almost pornographic relish with which his critics are retelling the lurid details of the assault," a tactic that let Harris off the hook of mentioning so much as its lurid generalities. "Of course what happened [note the passive construction] cannot be excused, either legally or ethically," went his only other comment on Polanski's deed, a bit of boilerplate woolly enough to apply to everything from the Final Solution to insider stock trading. But the true—gross, hilarious?—Hollywood note came out in Harris's idea of a deft chess move: "His daughter and mine keep in regular touch."

When it comes down to the brass-tacks question, though—do I really want to see Polanski brought back Stateside in handcuffs?—my answer is a very tentative, ambivalent no. While I don't believe a victim's wishes should always trump legal retribution—or legal restraint, for that matter—Geimer's own preferences cut a lot of ice in my book. 32 years after that wretched afternoon, she's understandably sick of seeing the meaning of her life reduced to having been The Girl In The Roman Polanski case. A new trial (or whatever, since I'm not sure what actual form the proceedings would take) would not only oblige her to wearily revisit the original trauma, but put her back in the middle of a tabloid storm. And fairly remarkably, she's even said that the media did more to "ruin" her life than Polanski—no small claim, since she's hardly denying that he did plenty.

The flip side is that if Geimer were telling interviewers, as she'd have a perfect right to, that she can't wait to see him jailed for what he did to her, then I don't think either the "Polanski has already paid a steep price" camp—yes, he has, but not in a courtroom—or the "But he's a great artist" crowd (so TF what? What if he were Ed Wood instead?) would have a leg to stand on. Simply because it's prevented him from working in the U.S., Polanski's fugitive status has probably done more real damage to the career he might have had than the few months in stir he'd most likely have served. We'll never know what we missed—another Chinatown, a follow-up to Rosemary's Baby?and neither will he. But A) that's his own fault, B) he's still a much honored filmmaker who leads a cosseted and luxurious life, and C) what if he were Ed Wood? Or just for the hell of it, some Fox News personality or GOP bigwig?

In the latter case, the cultural divide— special pleading that reeks of elitist hypocrisy on one side, self-righteous indignation and gleeful schadenfreude on the other— not only would be but has been duplicated in reverse. Even from my limited sampling, the Polanski cyber-war has brought out the creeps. ("Being a photographer, I'm not bothered by nude depictions of adolescents," wrote one swiftly unpopular commenter on Glenn Kenny's Some Came Running. As an ostensibly relevant citation of professional credentials, that's on a par with, "I'm a dentist, so of course I enjoy seeing kids get punched in the mouth.") But on both sides, it's also brought out the haters. After posting her favorable post-arrest appraisal of Polanski's Repulsion—a "masterpiece" that "all women should watch"—on HuffPo, film writer Kim Morgan chronicled the choleric response on her own Sunset Gun site, including "bizarre wishes that I should be or had been raped" for defending Polanski. I've got my own problems with Morgan's take—on the crime, that is, not the movie—but c'mon.

When I chipped in on Some Came Running and elsewhere, it was mostly to engage one of the Polanski case's abiding memes—the "it was a different era" line. Well, it was: one I remember firsthand, though from the limited vantage of a not particularly swinging nonparticipant who was a couple months from graduating college the day Polanski gave Geimer a Quaalude. But to say it was a different era is neither a legal argument nor an alibi for him. It's just a cultural truth, one Wanted & Desired disappointed me by not exploring more ambitiously. The sexualization of barely adolescent girls was so rampant that even virtuous, middle-class Americans were being bombarded with the quasi-explicit message: "There's no such thing as jailbait anymore."

At the time, all this made me feel queasy. I can still remember the one time I leafed through one of that creepazoid David Hamilton's egregious coffee-table photo books of barely nubile young girls; I was all of 17 myself, but I learned in a hurry that this wasn't my taste in porn and calling it art was a snow job. But outraged I wasn't, because what did I know? After all, I wasn't furtively lurking in some scuzzy joint off Times Square. I was in my new Ivy League college's very swank bookstore.

Strange days indeed, as John Lennon once put it. I've never had too much trouble since imagining how much more hyperbolized—as acceptable behavior, not just acceptable bookstore browsing—all this newly guilt-free pretty-poison licentiousness must have been in Polanski's Hollywood circle, and let's not even talk about the arena-rock circuit. When he met Geimer, very little in either the culture at large or his privileged pals' attitudes—or actions, but that's speculation—would have been flashing a warning that this was particularly taboo or something he'd be penalized for. That left his own moral scruples as the only deterrent, and…well, we all know how that worked out.

A vivid awareness of living through a peculiar but transitory era of history isn't adolescence's best event. Yet now that I've been turned into a modest cultural historian by not only age but predilection—I can't stand literal jigsaw puzzles, but assembling the past's figurative ones is my favorite hobby—don't blame me for caring about the sad and cruel little saga that's come to define the sexual mores of my inattentive youth. The most ridiculous figures in the Polanski debate are the predictable scolds grousing about all the attention we're giving to such sordid goings-on. Just like the O.J. Simpson trial, this is one of those crystallizing episodes whose themes—then vs. now, art vs. life, justice vs. ???—have every reason to keep us riveted. Odds are they'll fascinate 22nd-century Ph.D's, too.

As for my tentative reluctance to see Polanski reincarcerated—not that I think it's a likely long-term scenario—I'm sure his advanced age has a lot to do with it. I don't feel the same way about chasing down concentration-camp guards a decade his senior—and I sure don't feel that way about paroling Charles Manson, either—but go figure. Even so, if he does end up back on trial in L.A., I'm damned if I'll call that an injustice or feel much regret. Except, in a convoluted way, for Geimer's sake, but it would be presumptuous to speak for her.