Friday, January 10, 2003

THIS BLOG IS ON VACATION: We'll be here for the weekend. Back Monday. Relax. Enjoy. Go EAGLES!
WHAT'S MORE, YAO MING NEVER MADE KAZAAM: Is Shaquille O'Neal a racist? According to Irwin Tang, yes.

Of course, Shaq's also bitter at Yao Ming because, for the first time in years, Shaq won't be starting in the NBA all-star game, the expected consequence of the NBA's decision to allow voting from China for the first time.

Indeed, the Chinese-language ballot is available here; for French, Russian, Japanese, Portugese, Serbian and other instructions, here's where you'll want to be.

Finally, to vote in English, click here. Voting ends Sunday, January 12.

Thursday, January 9, 2003

HOW BAD WAS THAT MOVIE? PINOCCHIO BAD: In response to my question about first computers, one loyal reader writes:
It was Xmas of 1982, I think. I was 9. And under the tree…The TI 99 4A, thanks to my father (who, incidentally, has maintained to this day his tendency to embrace whatever version of the Latest Technology eventually loses the battle for market share. The Commodore 64 came out later that year, whereas TI was months away from giving up the computer business altogether. We were a WordPerfect household too).

Ah, the TI 99 4A. What a machine. A blazingly fast 3 MHz processor. 16K of RAM. “High resolution video”, by which I mean that it used the TV as a monitor. Tape cartridge drive. And best of all, it was pitched by Bill Cosby in full besweatered glory.

As I recall, the idea was that my brother and I would grow up conversant with computers, speaking BASIC like our native tongue, and take our place in the New World Order. I dutifully banged out a few BASIC programs of stupefying simplicity and uselessness, but could never manage to find them on the tape after saving them, which sort of took the fun out of the whole thing.

This is where the embarrassment reaches its peak. The final blow to my father’s dreams of a computer-literate daughter occurred with the 1983 release of “Superman III.” This movie—which was lamer than lame, which actually featured synthetic Kryptonite laced with cigarette tar as the big gimmick--had a scene in which the evil supercomputer sucked in the villainess and turned her into a robot. This image haunted me for, literally, years, and I refused to touch the damn TI for a month lest it, um, turn me into a robot. Yeah. Scarred for life by a movie starring Richard Pryor.

On a happier note, my younger brother maintained a sublime indifference to All Things Computer until he was 12, when the acquisition of a Sega Genesis game system sparked some kind of buried interest. He’s now a grad student at MIT, and he seems to be writing a lot of programs. I’m not really sure what they’re about, since I glaze over 30 seconds into any attempt to ask. I’m not sure what the moral of the story is. Maybe it’s that, when attempting to mold your child, you should try to avoid linking promising career paths to images of devouring enslavement. At least, not explicitly.

Wednesday, January 8, 2003

25 VS. 1: Given how many people have come here to see what I said about Joe Millionaire, I figured I'd better have something to say about The Bachelorette, which debuted on ABC tonight.

But I really don't. With the exception of FOX's Bachelorettes in Alaska last summer (there was really nothing else on -- and the show did feature salmon-catching and ax-hurling), I've never found any of the reality-dating shows to be that compelling. I'm not interested in watching people deceive themselves into thinking they can fall in love with a stranger in a matter of days; I'm not interested in reality shows where there's not a real venue for back-biting and other forms of nasty behavior. I guess part of it is that when a show really just relies on a binary choice (I love her/I love her not), it's hard to "play along" at home and figure out how you'd be doing things differently from the contestants.

The Bachelorette, in theory, I guess is supposed to be all about our reactions to seeing the genders swapped. Okay: it was kinda cool seeing guys squirm and tense up as they worried about being among the fifteen chosen by Trista from among the initial 25. But beyond that? Seeing one woman taking the opportunity to hook up with a bunch of guys who are all living together isn't new or shocking -- that was my sophomore year in college. Nothing scandalous or interesting there.

No, the only interesting part is that since they cast as The Bachelorette the woman who had been dissed in the finale of the first season of The Bachelor, a large number of the twenty-five male contestants signed up specifically to meet and woo Trista herself. It put this weird stalker-ish tone on the whole program -- "Hey . . . I saw you on that show, and you were real hot, and that guy was a dick, and I knew as soon as I saw you on that show that I wanted to date you," etc. Like, shouldn't she be bothered by this kind of attention?

Apparently not. Most of the stalker-ish guys have made it onto the next round. I, however, probably won't: watching people fall in "love" in a contrived setting just doesn't do it for me.

Nor, for that matter, did CBS' Star Search, which just reminded me that I never watched it the first time it was on either. Unlike American Idol, it's not going to have the intensifying drama of seeing the same group of people back week after week, and despite the inspired casting of Ben Stein as a judge, seems to have none of the acidic Cowell-Jackson sting in the judge's remarks. To the contrary, Naomi Judd, Carol Leifer and guest judge Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan, (Chaka Chaka Chaka) Chaka Khan just didn't have anything interesting to say at all to the performers. Seriously, it was all on the level of "you've got a nice voice" and "you were good" -- it was almost as if someone at CBS decided, "well, we've got to let the judges talk, since that's what they did on Idol", but forgot to remind them they they ought to have something worth saying.

It's just a lame-ass talent show, only they forgot to invite the talent. It'll be off television by mid-February, and host Arsenio Hall can go back to hanging out with Chunky A and talk about back in the day, when he used to be funny -- hell, used to matter.
IT'S NOT TV, IT'S MY WIFE'S SHOW: In conjunction with SnarkSpot, I am proud and thrilled to bring you the following announcement, courtesy the good people at Variety Magazine:
'Sex' Scribe to Make 'Bed' for HBO

HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - HBO has pacted with Emmy-winning "Sex and the City" scribe Jenny Bicks to develop a small-screen version of "Good in Bed," the best-selling Jennifer Weiner novel about female and family relationships.

The sitcom will revolve around 28-year-old Cannie Shapiro, a size 16 single gal living in Philly and dealing with her dysfunctional family, an annoying ex-boyfriend, a late-in-life lesbian mom and the struggles associated with being a big woman in a size 2 world. Her character will be a wedding photographer, and Bicks hopes to use that angle as the jumping-off point for many stories.

Bicks said she was attracted to the project, still in the early stages of development at HBO, because of the character of Cannie.

"She's real and funny and smart -- a Lane Bryant Mary Tyler Moore who's trying hard to make it," she said. "It's an amazing opportunity to put a real, fat woman on TV. We're not talking about someone's who 10 pounds overweight."

Cannie will not be a loner but rather someone "who's smart and funny, has lots of friends -- and she has sex, sometimes good sex. But it's not a show about sexcapades.". . . .

For more, the full article is here. In addition, Jen has a Q&A about the deal on her blog. Wh-HOO!

Tuesday, January 7, 2003

ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE CREDIBILITY OF THE 2003 GRAMMY AWARD NOMINATIONS IS CONTAINED IN THE FOLLOWING SENTENCE: Accused child molester R. Kelly received more Grammy nominations (one, for Best R&B Performance, Male) than Wilco did for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (zero), despite its being heralded by every music critic on the planet as being among the best rock albums of 2002.
ATTENTION JOE MILLIONAIRE FANS: Yes, you're in the right place. (Thanks, Emily!) My review's here.
THE HALL CALLED TWO: Gary Carter, Eddie Murray: welcome to baseball immortality.

(Wow. I'm really surprised Sandberg fell that far short.)
JUST FORUM SHOPPING? In September 1997, 17-year old Samuel Sheinbein of Silver Spring, Md., killed Alfredo Enrique Tello Jr., 19, also of Silver Spring. Tello's body was found burnt and dismembered in a vacant house near Sheinbein's home.

Sheinbein confessed his guilt to his father, Sol. Mr. Sheinbein, a lawyer, encouraged his son to flee to Israel, where he believed Samuel would have citizenship rights owing to Sol's being born there, despite his having left at the age of six. Sol bought him a round-trip ticket to Tel Aviv.

Both the United States and Israel sought Sheinbein's extradition back to the United States for trial. But Israel does not extradite its own citizens to foreign countries for trial, and the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that Sheinbein was, indeed, an Israeli citizenship based on his father's birth there.

Sheinbein pled guilty to murder in Israel, agreeing to a 24-year sentence as opposed to the life-without-parole he would have faced in Maryland.

All this, howevever, is background, and the articles linked in the sidebar to this Washington Post article will give you even more.

What was most recently at issue was that the State of Maryland sought to disbar Sol Sheinbein for his role in assisting his son flee from American justice -- and, not surprisingly, the Maryland Court of Appeals agreed.

So? So, take a look at the dissent, starting on page 38. Judges Eldridge and Raker make one of the more interesting arguments I've seen lately -- that the State of Israel had an equal interest in prosecuting Samuel Sheinbein because he was an Israeli citizen, and that, point of fact, if it's okay for Attorney General Ashcroft to choose to try the sniper suspects in Virginia rather than Maryland or D.C. because of the increased likelihood of obtaining a death sentence, it's fine for a defendant to try to be tried in the most lenient jurisdiction possible. Mr. Goose, meet Mr. Gander, writes the dissenting justices:
Thus, the question inevitably arises, in a situation where two sovereigns have jurisdiction over a particular offense, whether an attorney or parent, who has counseled his or her client or child to proceed to the jurisdiction with the lesser penalty, has committed any misconduct? The answer to this question is clearly “No.” Submission to custody in one jurisdiction, whether the result of an attorney’s advice, or a parent’s advice, or the client’s uncounseled choice, or a decision by the Attorney General, necessarily hinders prosecution in the other jurisdiction. Hence, even assuming arguendo that the respondent had sent his son to Israel with the specific intent of opting for Israel’s prosecution over prosecution in Maryland, the action is not criminal. . . .

Indeed, when more than one sovereign has jurisdiction to prosecute a person for homicide, it appears to be entirely appropriate for those on the prosecution side to send the alleged perpetrator to the sovereign likely to impose the most severe punishment. According to the majority opinion, however, it is not appropriate for those on the defense side to send the alleged perpetrator to the sovereign likely to impose a less severe punishment. If prosecutors are free to forum-shop for a jurisdiction with more severe penalties, or a broader capital punishment statute, when choosing where to prosecute the accused, the defense should not be punished for sending the accused to a jurisdiction with less severe maximum penalties.

According to Annapolis defense attorney Gill Cochran, "He got his son a 24-year sentence, which is a hell of a lot better than he would have gotten in Montgomery County. It's what defense attorneys are duty-bound to do. Frankly, it was lawyering at its best."

Is it? There's a certain level of beauty to the symmetry here: prosecutors routinely try to try murder cases in the county most likely to produce a death penalty; plaintiff's attorneys in medical malpractice cases in this region do whatever they can to bring their cases before Philadelphia juries rather than the surrounding counties -- so why not allow criminal defendants to try to game the system themselves?

Except that what's wrong for the goose is what's wrong for the gander as well. The proper answer to forum-shopping by defendants is to prevent its use by plaintiffs and prosecutors: try murders where they occured, in the jurisdiction where they occurred, in the order of when sufficient proof to levy the charges was assembled and presented. Malpractice cases and other personal injury suits? Try them where they happened, and not where the most generous juries are.

I'm all in favor of steps that would reduce the use and abuse of the death penalty and other draconian prosecutorial tools, but this one just leaves a bad taste in my stomach. Maybe yours, too. Does it?
"IT'S NOT A BAD GIG, IF YOU CAN GET IT." It's time to take a look back at the illustrious senatorial career of Dean Barkley, which ends at noon today after seven glorious weeks of service on behalf the good people of Minnesota.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, today also marks the end of the Senate careers of Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond after 78 combined years in the chamber. It still feels like only yesterday . . .

Monday, January 6, 2003

JOE MILLIONAIRE: Well, hot frickin' damn, that was some quality television to start up the new year.

I kid you not. Now, I certainly had my trepidations about the show -- was it just going to be The Bachelor with a wicked, humiliating money shot at the end? Was there going to be nothing original to it but the twist at the end -- that Evan Wallace, recent inheritor of $50 million and your host at a French chateau, was really just Evan Wallace Marriot, $19,000/yr construction worker and part-time model?

Thankfully, no. There's a there there, and that there, primarily, is the imperfections in our man-about-France. First off, he seems like a genuinely decent guy -- which is to say that he's cognizant of the moral thicket he has willingly waded into, and he's already expressed his qualms about engaging in this Big Lie with these twenty women. Moral Conflict = Good Television.

Two: the Fox producers haven't trained him perfectly in the art of posing like a multi-millionaire. Yes, we got a lot of footage of the butler quizzing him on wine choices (Pheasant? White. Steak? Um, red? Foie gras? What's that?), and trainers to get him started on etiquette and dancing lessons. But they haven't provided him with a full backstory as to where he came from, where the money came from and whether he plans to work again soon. This produced a lot of stumbling, a lot of "uh"s, and a real long pause when he was asked what his middle name was -- since they were using his real middle name as his fake last name. (He eventually offered up his mother's maiden name, "Elder").

So, we've got the constant risk factor of it all falling apart. Again: this is Good Television.

Three: we've got a butler. Let's just call him Jeeves. He's a learned confidante, he's got a British accent, and he's snooty. Bravo. Nice touch. Everyone loves butlers.

There are drawbacks: first of all, of course, this is trashy, humiliating, degrading television which should shame us all for its existence, let along watching it. Shame, shame, shame on all of us.

Okay, now, with that minor disclaimer out of the way, it should be noted that we've only got 20 women, already down to 12, and down to 5 next week. That's a bit fast. Other than that, it's too soon to get a good read on our cast, whether they'll be as memorable as the women of MTV's Sorority Life or just another garden variety troupe of schemers, dreamers and halfwits.

Also, there's a female host (Alex McLeod, formerly of Trading Spaces) who's sucking the life out of the room like having your grandparents chauffering you on prom night, and is just unnecessary. More Jeeves, less Alex.

Finally, there's a serious problem with Our Hero: he somehow thinks that by lying to women and claiming that he's rich, eventually it will allow him to figure out who'll love him for who he is. Now, that'd have worked in reverse -- a rich man poses as average to find out who'll love him for who he is, not his money -- but it doesn't make sense here. In the real world, if you lie to someone and boost your credentials, she generally isn't too fond of hearing the truth later on. His justification for being on the show doesn't make any sense when you think about it.

Aw, who cares? It's trash tv, and it's good trash, because unlike most reality tv, it acknowledges its own immorality, and rather than revel in it, Our Hero's got some problems with it. Good. Will he find true love? Will he want to, once he realizes what he's done? Will the butler get some?

All this and more, for the next month or two, on FOX. (And to think I was worried about my Monday night viewing once the football regular season was over . . .)
BLAST FROM THE PAST: Oh, for the halcyon days of 1994, when Ace of Base and Lisa Loeb topped the music charts, Clerks and Pulp Fiction highlighted the silver screen, My So-Called Life ruled the television (well, at least, my television), and for a brief, fleeting moment, term limits became a major issue.

Well, the Swedes are gone, Lisa Loeb's probably working at some coffeeshop, and Tarantino disappeared off the face of the earth for a while, but term limits are back. Well, kinda. Read about the GOP's problems living by its own promises here.
HOT STOVE BANTER: For baseball fans looking for sustenance during the cold off-season, I heartily recommend this series of articles by the writers at, outlining the strengths and weaknesses of every Hall of Fame candidate this year from unlikely vote-getters Mickey Tettleton and Danny Jackson to should-be-HOFers Eddie Murray and Dave Parker.

The articles run each nominee through the Keltner List, a series of fifteen subjective questions devised by baseball analyst Bill James to determine a player's Hall-worthiness, ranging from "Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball?" to "Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?" to the deeply subjective "Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?"

The test is not an absolute "get ten right and you're in", but as these articles show, it's the best way to start thinking about these players.

The Hall election results will be announced at 2pm EST tomorrow. For what it's worth, I'd vote this year for Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Eddie Murray, Jack Morris (best pitcher of the 1980s) and Dave Parker. I'd probably vote for Bruce Sutter and Ryne Sandberg some day, but I'm still not convinced of their claims on immortality. I'd predict, however, that Eddie Murray and Ryne Sandberg are this year's inductees, with Carter just barely falling short. Again.
RECURSION: According to The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, more Republicans than Democrats go online for election-related news, and significantly more Republicans (46%) than Democrats (28%) register their opinions in online polls.

How did they find this out? By taking a poll. Whuh?

Okay, it was a telephone survey and not an online poll, but, still, I'm dizzy.
DOES HE STILL HAVE THE BEST UMBRELLA? Ladies and gentlemen, the Jimmy Fallon backlash has begun:
"I believe that there is a special place in hell for people like Jimmy Fallon," says a 24-year-old former record label employee who asked only to be identified as Craig. "A place where pretty-boy comics who get inventive with hair gel crack each other up with 'pull-my-finger' jokes. If there is any justice, Fallon will get a corner suite."

See also this article on the MTV Video Music Awards, which notes of the SNL star:
Jimmy Fallon is going to be gross when he's old, because he'll still be doing that "awww shucks" cute-boy thing, like Paul McCartney still does. But Paul's rich and can make those faces, being a 20th-Century Beethoven and all. Jimmy's just gonna be icky, like a Monkee's reunion tour. I should just enjoy these images of Mr. Fallon mugging in a tighty-white guido-tee while I can, but I can't help but speculate. I know. Can't leave well enough alone.

Or this article from a recent Philadelphia Weekly, titled "Nine Things I Hate About Jimmy Fallon". Also, this list of reasons to hate Jimmy Fallon, which claims that Fallon will be to SNL what Noah Wyle is to ER: the last remnant of a once-proud regime.
TRYING TO ANAESTHETISE THE WAY THAT YOU FEEL: Fear for the future. Hell, fear for the present -- here's a list of the ten most-played songs on the radio for 2002:
1. Nickelback, "How You Remind Me" (421,770 plays on US radio in the last year)
2. Puddle Of Mudd, "Blurry"
3. Linkin Park, "In the End"
4. Jimmy Eat World, "The Middle"
5. The Calling, "Wherever You Will Go"
6. Vanessa Carlton, "A Thousand Miles"
7. Avril Lavigne, "Complicated"
8. Ashanti, "Foolish"
9. Nelly feat. Kelly Rowland, "Dilemma"
10. Nelly, "Hot in Herre"

By my count, that's maybe three decent songs out of ten, with the Lavigne and Carlson songs becoming really annoying with the repetition, but "Hot In Herre" somehow got better each time I heard it. Give the boy from the 'Lou his propers; that's one catchy song.

If Missy Elliot's "Work It" doesn't top this list next year, there's some serious injustice in the world.