Friday, June 27, 2003

DIMEBALL: I finished Michael Lewis' new book Moneyball: The Art Of Winning An Unfair Game yesterday. While insightful at times, it just leaves you wanting more -- or less. It could have worked well just as a standalone New Yorker/NYT Magazine article (and, indeed, the chapter on trades was excerpted in the Times a few Sundays ago) that had a minibio of Billy Beane and a brief exploration of his methodology . . .

. . . or, preferably, this book needed to be much longer than its 286 pages. Lewis does a solid enough job on the basics of how the Oakland Athletics have launched a revolution in baseball by winning without spending, by exploiting the sabermetric tools of on-base percentages and the knowledge base built up by Bill James and the Baseball Prospectus crew, but there isn't enough context. There isn't enough discussion of the economics of baseball, and the reasons why other low-budget teams haven't competed -- or of the fact that many have, including the Twins and Angels (duh) of last year, and have done so without going Beane's way.

Nor does the book have the longitudinal scope I wanted to see. There's a great chapter inside the A's draft room, and a brief epilogue on how two picks have done during their first few months in the minor leagues . . . but I want to see how Beane's picks are three years down the line, because that's where the proof of his methods lie. I wanted to know more about the Giambi-Mabry trade -- was it really just a Beane temper tantrum? I wanted to see dissenting viewpoints all over the place -- why can't the A's win in the playoffs? how did Art Howe, the A's manager, feel about all this? what will happen when more rich teams get smart?

(Also, how about more than just a brief mention of a certain Rogers Communications employee who was one of this site's earliest regular readers? He's earned it, even if he once believed this site was named for a Ned's Atomic Dustbin song.)

I'm all in favor of any book which brings the work of Voros McCracken to a wider audience. But for those of us who already know Voros (and have corresponded with him), a deeper, more sophisticated book would've been far preferable.

Also, finally: what up with the mammoth picture of Lewis on the back cover? Is it that anyone who'd want to blurb the book is already quoted in it?
"If I had Paris Hilton's [bleep] on my computer, that's all I'd look at" - Liz Phair in GQ, on finding out that a photo of the hot-blooded hotel heiress' nether region was circulating on the Internet

And almost immediately she felt sorry.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

YES, BUT DID THEY ALSO RUN ADS PROMOTING LUXURY SUITES AT THE LINC? Eagles QB Donovan McNabb was married this weekend, in a reception that apparently included Phanavision for the guests in the cheap seats (see picture).

Reports are unclear as to whether Eagles superfan Tom Murphy led the assembled crowd in the Eagles cheer before the first dance.
BALIS, WHAT ARE YOU DOING ON MY SHOW? Jeff Balis explains why he came back for Project Greenlight 2.

Via TV Tattle.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003


BLOGGING -- LIGHT TODAY, TOMORROW . . . : Andy Lloyd of Pathetic Earthlings suggests the following Simpsons excerpt in re: The McGriddle:
Dr. Nick: Hi everybody!

Homer+Bart: Hi Doctor Nick!

Nick: Now there are many options available for dangerously underweighted individuals like yourself. I recommend a slow steady gorging process combined with assal horizontology.

Homer: [pensive] Of course.

Nick: [points to a chart] You'll want to focus on the neglected food groups such as the whipped group, the congealed group and the chocotastic!

Homer: What can I do to speed the whole thing up, Doctor?

Nick: creative. Instead of making sandwiches with bread, use poptarts. Instead of chewing gum, chew bacon, heh...

Bart: You could brush your teeth with milkshakes!

Dr. Nick: Hey, did you go to Hollywood Upstairs Medical College too? And remember, if you're not sure about something, rub it against a piece of paper. If the paper turns clear, it's your window to weight gain. Bye bye, everybody!

To me, it's still closer to the Good Morning Burger.

Anyone out there try it yet?

Monday, June 23, 2003

AH, LIZ PHAIR (IN LOVE AND WAR): Yeah, it's also possible to write balanced pieces about Liz Phair's new album, to treat her new album not as career suicide but as a legitimate effort by an established audience to broaden her appeal.

See the Boston Globe's Joan Anderman and Evelyn McDonell in the Miami Herald, both of whom have balanced-to-positive takes. For instance, Anderman quotes Phair defending the venture: ''It's pretty simple. I'm not 25 and getting high all the time. I'm happy I did 'Guyville' and that people felt that way about it. Honestly, I look back and think, 'How did I do that?' I can't write like that anymore, so I'm just gonna keep going. This album is a true representation of what I like and who I am. I know what makes me happy, and I'm unafraid to pursue it.''

Still, for every article like that, there's still writers like long-time Throwing Things favorite Jim DeRogatis, who tackles the new album in a lengthy Sun-Times piece:
Now, with the self-titled "Liz Phair" (Capitol), the singer-songwriter is devoting herself to scoring the mainstream hit that has so far eluded her. She yearns for a feel-good ditty as ubiquitous and innocuous as "Soak Up the Sun" by her friend Sheryl Crow, which found Phair adding backing vocals, and she proves that she's willing to pander to sexism (she appears naked on the cover but for a guitar) and the demands of the pop mainstream (parts of the disc were produced by The Matrix, the platinum-selling production team behind Avril Lavigne's "Let Go") in order to get it.

Phair is no Crow (she lacks the sophistication) and she's certainly no Lavigne (she's never been that naive, energetic or blissfully bubblegum). The result is one of the most tragically compromised records that a once-uncompromising artist has ever made.

DeRogatis recently described Exile in Guyville about as accurately as you can in two sentences: "[T]he album is a statement about what it's like to be a sharp, talented young woman who simultaneously loves and hates the men in her life. She can't live with them, and she can't live without them, but she'll be damned if she stops trying to find her ideal soul mate--or to concede that the problem may be partly her own."

Whatever this album ends up becoming, they can't take away my Guyville.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

WHY DO YOU ACCEPT SUCH A SECOND-RATE, CORRUPT PERFORMANCE FROM YOUR GOVERNMENT? Departing Philadelphia Inquirer editor-in-chief Walker Lundy wants to know.
JUSTIN, KELLY, MAN, DAWG, HOW'S IT GOING? LISTEN, YO, MOVIES ARE HARD: How bad is From Justin to Kelly, the American Idol rush-job movie?

[I know, I know, I usually save the bad review collections for former Academy Award winners, but this is a special case. This is a movie that should never have been made -- Guarini and Clarkson should've headed to the studio right away and recorded albums to have been released by last Thanksgiving, not filmed a quick cash-in movie for which neither of them was qualified, and for which the show wasn't designed.]

Oh, it's not a good weekend to be a tuffle-head. Let's start with Jack Matthews, from the New York Daily News:
The Simon Cowell in me wants to say to last year's "American Idol" winner Kelly Clarkson and runnerup Justin Guarini that their performances in the spring-break movie "From Justin to Kelly" are just awful.

Dreadful. Possibly the worst pro acting debuts I've ever seen.

But that distracts from the film itself, which is more than awful, more than dreadful, and easily the worst beach movie ever made.

Yep, worse than "Beach Blanket Bingo," worse than "Sizzle Beach, U.S.A.," and way worse than the recent reality bust "The Real Cancun," which at least had titillation value.

Stephen Hunter, Washington Post:
Oy and woe, double trouble boil and bubble, has it come to this? Yes, it's come to this: the movie, produced, edited, scored and released in six months, starring the winner and runner-up of last year's Foxstravaganza "American Idol," turns out to be industrial-strength insipidity diluted only marginally by bad music and worse dancing. As a showcase for Ms. No. 1 and Mr. No. 2, it seems unlikely to advance careers out of the Trivial Pursuit answer category. Basically it's "Where the Boys Are," all Foxed up with no place to go. . . .

The result is pretty much the same as watching ants panic when you drop a firecracker into their hill. Not pretty, but damned lively.

Christopher Kelly, from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
As hard as I tried, the critic in me couldn't be repressed. I couldn't stop obsessing about the bad lighting -- the exterior shots are all overcast, the interior shots are all harsh and grimy, so that everyone's skin takes on the color and texture of curdled cottage cheese. Your average TV news weather report is more visually striking -- and your average weather forecaster is certainly able to generate more chemistry with a blue screen than Clarkson and Guarini can summon up. They look stilted and unsteady together, as if one of them has just been diagnosed with SARS and the other is afraid it's catching.

Nor could I help but puzzle over why, as every actor runs circles around them half-naked, Clarkson and Guarini just keep piling on the clothes, covering up every square inch of skin. Or why -- despite the wall-to-wall bikini-clad girls and shirtless boys -- I've seen episodes of Jimmy Neutron sexier than this movie.

Over to Wesley Morris, writing for the Boston Globe:
They have the chemistry of step-siblings, so a movie that has them make out is, as the one of the few girls in the theater exclaimed, ''so gross.''

''From Justin to Kelly'' was made so soon after their victories there was barely time to change their names. So Kelly plays ''Kelly'' and Justin plays ''Justin,'' and anyone who plunks down $10 to see them sing plays the fool. . . .

What's depressing about ''From Justin to Kelly,'' whose title seems to refer to the text messages he sends her, is that it's been made without a lick of love, skill, or, apparently, money. ''American Idol'' judge Randy Jackson is more attractive than this movie.

This happens to be a Robert ''She's All That'' Iscove joint. You can tell because ''From Justin to Kelly'' has the same remarkable cruddiness the director cultivated for his Freddy Prinze Jr. vehicles: the noncommittal camerawork; the sub-boy-band choreography; the insulting cluelessness about human behavior, happy endings, kissing, and life as it is generally known on earth. Kim Fuller whipped up the script, evidently in minutes, and he collaborated on the rest of the PG production to tell us that music brings the people of spring break together. Yeah!

And finally, Lou Lumenick, from the New York Post:
'From Justin to Kelly," a quickie attempt to wring a few more bucks from last year's "American Idol" finalists, is arguably the most insipid movie released so far this century. . . .

"I can tell you right now that none of the critics are going to like this movie," [Clarkson] told TV Guide. "They're going to tear into it."

Right on the first count Kelly; wrong on the second.

To truly tear into a movie, it first has to engage you, however negatively.

"From Justin to Kelly" is the movie equivalent of general anesthetic; the handful of unwary civilians emerging from yesterday's first show at the Union Square looked like they had just awoken from a very deep sleep.
BY THE PIONEER CHICKEN STAND: Jen introduced me to Warren Zevon. I think for her it was a precondition to getting serious about me -- if I didn't "get" Zevon, I couldn't be a proper mate.

Well, she was right. I fell for Zevon much like she had years before, in love with the mordant, deadpan lyrics, the great songwriting, that wicked sense of humor.

And despite all that's gone poorly for him lately, his skills are still there. Let Eric Olsen help you catch up with Warren Zevon, his new album, and the good news he still has in his life.

(Link via Instapundit.)