Saturday, December 11, 2010

PRONOUNCED "CAESAR":  This blog, as you've probably noticed by now, doesn't actually care about Division I-AA football (or that it's been renamed), even when it comes to the hometown titans of Villanova.  Nor would we be writing about today's upset playoff win of Appalachian State merely to highlight that senior wide receiver Matt Szczur scored touchdowns via rushing, receiving and passing all within that same game (and in one half).

But add to that this story:  Szczur is also a baseball prospect.  Last season, years after having been encouraged by his football coach to be tested, he found out he was a 1-in-60,000 stem cell match for a toddler suffering from leukemia and sacrificed ten baseball games last season to donate the necessary bone marrow.  After the season, he became a fifth round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs, and had a 960 OPS in low-A ball this summer. "Anybody can go out there and play football or baseball," Szczur said, "but there's not too many people who get a chance to save a life."

I understand someone else won the Heisman.
HERE'S TO 30 MORE:  With the final film of its first run airing tonight, Dan Fienberg ranks all of the ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries from bottom to top.  (We did some interim ranking in August.)  Where I'd disagree with him most is that he has the USFL and Loyola Marymount films too low (though that may be because of my affection for the subject matter) and the rotisserie baseball one far too high (stylistically, I couldn't deal with the goofiness).  As noted before, my top three is Reggie/Escobars/6-17-1994, and I'm not sure that the order matters.

Overall, what a nicely ambitious series, and a real demonstration that sports documentaries could move beyond Ken Burns/talking heads format into something with more authorial voice.  Yes, there were some stinkers towards the end, but given how generic so much of ESPN feels these days this was, overall, an unexpected pleasure.
DEAR UNCLE RANDY: So I was riding on the train to NYC yesterday for a business function, and the gentleman who was sitting next to me got off at Newark and, I discovered, left his expensive-looking silver business card case in the seat. I opened the case and ascertained its owner, then emailed him offering to return the case to the address listed on the card.  Within hours he wrote back:
Thank you. Never even missed it ... you are very kind. Maybe I can return the favor someday.
So here's the question: do I just hope that he pays it forward some day, or can I make an explicit suggestion that he do something in return, like make a charitable contribution of whatever amount he deems appropriate to some worthy apolitical cause of my naming?  Does the fact that it's The Holiday Season increase or decrease my ability to make such an ask?

Friday, December 10, 2010

HEAVEN IS OVERRATED: iTunes announced today that America hates music, though technically the phrase it used was "'Hey, Soul Sister' was the most downloaded song of 2010." Is this the most anachronistic new song ever to get this popular? A band whose previous peak was over a decade ago (on the foaming crest of fake-alternative rock radio) name-checking Mister Mister and making a big deal about radio/stereo? I predict that in 2030, the number-one song transmitted directly into consumer brains via neural embedding will mention downloading a Train song via iTunes.

In the nearer term, I see two major related consequences. First, Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez, and Randy Jackson almost certainly have heard the first verse of this song a million times in AI auditions. Second, the biggest loser here is the band that owns the rights to the song previously used by every male AI contestant with a preference for inoffensive mainstream rock -- "Drops of Jupiter."
MUST-SEE: I just wanted to give brief props to the four really cool NBC half-hour comedies last night.

Community did something I usually don't like -- an animated episode -- but by acknowledging its animatedness mined both emotional stakes (part of the point of this episode was how tenuous Abed's grip on reality really is, and how his friends want to protect him from that) and comedy (Professor Duncan: "You're grabbing me in real life!"). And [SPOILER ALERT] the reflection of the live-action characters in the claymation TV screen at the end was really cool.

30 Rock -- that was just damn funny. I don't think this show has done this many jokes per minute since its glorious second season. The Tracy story didn't really pay off for me, but virtually every word and glance among Liz, Jack (angrily: "or other things"), Colleen, Milton, and Avery was golden, and I even liked how the show used Jenna and Paul's mostly straight (pun intended) but so weird "O Holy Night," where he was in drag singing the high harmony and she was in blackface as Lynn Swann.

The Office was the other slice of bread in this happy meat-on-sad sandwich, but the part that really got me was the effective and overt Dwight-Jim psychological thriller subplot. You expect things like that from Community, but I don't remember this show ever doing it. Enjoyable.

And commercials reminding us that last season's best comedy, Parks and Recreation, is back in January? It's a Christmas miracle.
READY THE HARD HATS: Yes, we know it looks funny--in response to the virus queries we've gotten from several folks, we've tweaked the template in an effort to resolve some things. (Hopefully, the change we've already made should have resolved at least some of the virus issues.) We're going to continue tweaking the template as needed, and if you can be as specific as possible with the errors/warnings you're seeing, it'd be helpful.
PHONE RINGS, DOOR SLAMS, IN COMES MY TICKET ORDER: In the great Venn Diagram of things that hit the ALOTT5MA sweet spot, Neil Patrick Harris in a New York Philharmonic production of Company this Spring would seem to basically hit the bullseye. Yes, parts of the book are dated, and yes, Bobby is a rather inert character for much of the show, but this could be very very interesting. (Other casting suggestions are encouraged.)
NOW HE CAN VOTE AND OWN FIREARMS: Forty-one after he was arrested (and later convicted) in Miami of indecent exposure, public use of profanity, and public drunkenness -- a trifecta that in Miami is known today as "brunch" -- The Doors' Jim Morrison has been pardoned. Not that Morrison, who has been dead longer than most of us here have been alive, really cares, but it's about time somebody did something for the man who gifted us a world in which Val Kilmer demands to be taken seriously as an actor.
The slim, fit-looking president of Botswana -- considered one of Africa's most eligible bachelors -- says he is finally ready to get married but made it clear that overweight women need not apply.

President Ian Khama, 57, has never been married, but at a political party meeting last month he said his top requirement for a future wife is that she needs to be tall, slim and beautiful – in a country known for short, heavy set women....

Khama claims he's been too busy running the country to find a wife, and has dispatched presidential aides to find a suitable mate.

The president's status as a bachelor is of general national concern. Khama, elected in 2009, is not only president, he's also the chief of the Bamangwato people, Botswana's largest ethnic group. Marriage is a requirement of tribal tradition, something that Khama, so far, has defied.
Alright, I'll taste the soup.
PRINCETON CAN USE A GUY LIKE JOEL:  Nice toss-up question from the AV Club today -- name a fictional party from film or literature you'd have liked to have attended.  A certain "Roman toga party"?  The big bash in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet?  Jackie Treehorn's beach bonfire, or the graduation party where Lloyd Dobler played keymaster?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I KNOW BECAUSE THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER PUBLISHED IT: James L. Brooks' romcom How Do You Know cost $120 million to make (minus $20M in tax credits from Phila and DC), including $40M in salaries between stars Paul Rudd, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson and Jack Nicholson. Before you click on that link, guess how much of that $40M went to each of them.
GRAPHIC DESIGN FAIL OF THE DAY: Can someone (anyone) explain to me the logic behind Comedy Central's new logo? I do agree that the logo could use a little freshening--it's been the same since 2000, and the logo was only slightly changed since the network launched in 1991, but something that looks like a rejected concept for a logo for Creative Commons.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I DON'T KNOW WHY I'M GOING HOME:  And on Top Chef All Stars tonight, I can't explain it either.  I don't even know that an elimination by Gail Simmons and Katie Lee should even count on a show that's bringing back Anthony Bourdain and Wylie Dufresne next week.

DO NOT TAUNT THE ANGRY LOOKING WHIFFENPOOF. OR THE ONE WHO LOOKS LIKE YOUNG HODGMAN:  Ah, yes.  "Modern" (or Buble) songs done a capella tonight on The Sing-Off, with one easy and one surprising elimination.  Full discussion below the fold.

[Also, wow: Kathy Bates' new show lets her litigate against a two-armed Rocket Romano?  Awesome.]

HOW'M I DOING? NOT FEELING GROOVY: "The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge," Nick Carraway tells Jay Gatsby, "is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world." From the ground, Woody Allen's Manhattan made it magical. Hank Scorpio blew it up.   Are they really changing the name of the 59th Street Bridge to the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge?

[Related: does anyone refer to the Triboro as the RFK Bridge?]
OUR OWN VERSION OF THE ILIAD: We've received some inquiries about folks getting Trojan warnings when they come to the blog--we're looking into it from our end, but it appears this is an issue on the Blogger side of affairs (linked to the template), rather than anything we've posted here in particular, and none of us are getting the errors, despite various firewalls of our own, which may indicate that Norton is generating false positives for some reason--rest assured that we're as committed to keeping this site virus-free as you all are. We'll keep you posted on further developments and apologize for the inconvenience.
I WANT CHANNING TATUM TO STOP BEING IN STUFF: We haven't talked about Glee in several weeks, and last night marked our last new episode until the Super Bowl. A few bullet points to spur some discussion:
  • As I noted over on Twitter, Lima, Ohio and William McKinley High School seem quite vulnerable to several Establishment Clause claims. (Though they were careful to choose only non-expressly-religious Christmas songs to appear in the episode.)
  • As noted over at HitFix, if you had Brittany in your office pool for "most three-dimensional character of the season so far," you've turned a nice profit. (And Coach Beiste is probably running in the top 3, alongside Kurt.)
  • We get a passing reference to Rachel's Judaism, but Puck's goes unmentioned?
  • Even by the relaxed standards of Glee, the Kurt/Blaine number, while lovely, had absolutely no narrative tether to the rest of the episode.
  • Apparently, Brittany S. Pierce and Hermione Granger share a deep and abiding dedication to the welfare of elves.
  • We established last year that Will's parents apparently live nearby--they've apparently disappeared, since Will spending Christmas alone was a major plot point.
  • For all the problems I had, there was a lot of funny stuff--Mike Chang's wish that supplied the post title, Will's list of potential gifts to give to Sue ("1. Dog Robot 2. A Soul")--and some authentically heartwarming stuff (the final scene, "I don't hate Christmas. I just hate you.").

At its best, the show remains a ton of fun, and even when it's misfiring, there are enough moments that work that I'm not going to abandon it any time soon, despite a shaky start to this season as they try and figure out a way to balance the overly large ensemble while at the same time adding even more characters to the mix--seriously, the show now has 15 performers billed as regular (though some do not appear in every episode), plus Mike, Sam, Figgins, and Blaine, who are regulars in all-but-title, which is way too many.

AND THAT'S WHY YOU CHECK THE AMAZON GOLD BOX:For any who might not own it, or anyone looking for a suitable gift this Holiday season--Amazon's offering all three seasons of Arrested Development on DVD for $28 today. It's been offering some great TV on DVD deals in the Gold Box over the past few months, offering seasons of Good Wife, Modern Family, and Community at massive discounts (and the Community DVD's are well worth picking up, even at close to full price, if just for the ton of special features, especially commentary on every episode from a revolving group of creatives and actors).
WHEN HE'S KING OF THE WORLD ...  The Baseball Writers Association of America has elected the Philadelphia Daily News' Bill Conlin as the 2011 J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner for lifetime contributions to baseball writing.  Conlin will receive the award as part of the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies next July, same weekend that Pat Gillick will be inducted (and Marvin Miller, sadly, won't be), with Roberto Alomar, Jeff Bagwell and Bert Blyleven (at last) as the likely main ballot inductees.  He is, to my knowledge, the third DN journalist of this era to be inducted into his sport's hall of fame's writer's wing, joining Ray Didinger (NFL) and the late Phil Jasner (NBA).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

TEN THOUSAND PEOPLE, MAYBE MORE:  Billy Bragg had to add his contribution via telephone, but otherwise the Cage Against The Machine all-star recording of "4'33" went off without a hitch yesterday.  Proceeds of the potential Christmas #1 single will benefit, among other charities, the British Tinnitus Association and the Campaign Against Living Miserably
BABA BOOEY BYE BYE: Howard Stern says he's not going to take a paycut from his current $100M/year deal with Sirius/XM to provide his talent, while Sirius/XM says "you're taking a paycut if you want to stay on our airwaves." Now, I'm no fan of Stern (found him far more interesting before he divorced his long time wife and married the hot, much younger lingerie model), but I think it's an interesting question--where does he wind up--does he become the biggest, most expensive, podcast ever? Does he take his act to cable TV? Does CNN want the ratings juice enough that they'd turn over a couple of hours to him? Does he get his own TV network? Any idea on where this is winding up?
FOR CAESAR RODNEY, PUNKIN CHUNKIN AND DOGFISH HEAD 60 MINUTE IPA:  Today is Delaware Day, celebrated annually to commemorate its becoming the first state to ratify the United States Constitution on December 7, 1787.  Back in October 2008, our friend George suggested things the Tampa Bay Devil Rays should do during their unscheduled World Series off-day marooned in Wilmington.

Monday, December 6, 2010

EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE A CAPELLA WORLD:  A thread for the debut episode of NBC's The Sing-Off.  My comments below the fold; also, more Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town.
A COMMENT ON COMMENTS:  You may recall that it was 49 weeks ago that this blog finally upgraded to a new template and, with the demise of Haloscan, accepted Echo's offer of a one-year free trial of its commenting features.

Well, that year is coming to a close, and the piper would like to be paid.  $10/month, to be exact.

There is a lot to like about Echo -- the multiple login options, the use of avatars, the "like" button, threaded comments and the ease of moderation from our end.  At the same time, its synchronization feature is erratic -- yielding multiple days on which comments aren't accessible from many devices -- and we do have issues like triple-posting and the like.

Also, this blog is a hobby and a lark for all of us -- we have never accepted advertising or sought any revenue from this, but nor do we necessarily want to be spending money on it either.  It may be an irrational distinction, but I think to have to start to paying for this would change they way we experience doing it.

Still, I wrote back to the Echo folks, $120/yr is a bit much for the value you provide to us.  How about $50, and if service improves we'll consider a full fee next year?, to which they responded, basically, "That's nice. Here's some other platforms you may want to consider instead."  (They've been quite friendly, in fact.) Intense Debate was one, and obviously we could use's own commenting functions.

So here's where we need your help.  What we're looking for in a commenting host is the following:
  • It should be free.
  • It should be simple and clean as a layout matter.
  • It should not require a complicated login, and must protect the pseudonymity/anonymity of our users.
  • It should synchronize with our existing comments, which reach 2,000/month.
  • It should allow comment reading and posting from all mobile devices.
  • It should allow for easy moderation/editing/spam protection.
  • Ideally, it would allow for threaded comments, "like" buttons, etc.
  • It should reward its bearer with riches beyond his or her wildest imagination.
So, gang, any advice? 
MORE AMUSING THAN ANOTHER ROUND OF "GAYLORD FOCKER" JOKES: The idea of someone deciding to legally change their name to "Captain Awesome" is amusing enough. That it resulted in a newspaper story including the sentence "That judge — whose name Awesome cannot remember and who is not identified in Awesome’s court records — questioned his seriousness," elevates it.
THIS IS A COMIC BOOK ABOUT FEDERALISM: Have you ever been troubled by whether evidence gathered by Professor X through mindreading is admissible? Whether the Keene Act in Watchmen would pass muster under current commerce clause jurisprudence? The patentability of all those things on Batman's utility belt? Well then, have I got a blog for you. (The only shortcoming? It's not apparently run by Matthew Murdock, who, as we all know, has substantial practical experience with these issues.)
YOU'VE GOT TO KEEP THE DEVIL WAY DOWN IN THE HOLE: There are two ways to tell a zombie story. In the first, there's no hope, in which case the story is an endless tale of attrition, where survival is dependent upon constant vigilance, and inevitable lapses are punished. In the second, there is a solution, and the struggle is less for survival than goal-oriented salvation. These tropes are not unique to zombie fiction (see A Brief History of the Dead for an example of the former; Battlestar Galactica for an example of the latter; Dan Simmons's The Terror for a book that keeps you guessing between the two), but zombie fiction forces the choice. In Zombieland, you know our idiot heroes aren't going to save the world, but you Resident Evil would be a lousy game if your only goal were to escape unharmed.

What was nice for me about this brief, engaging, surprisingly measured and thoughtful season of The Walking Dead is that it postponed that choice as long as it did. (Hopefully, I'm not spoiling the choice the show made.) Alan Sepinwall's summary of this season was that it was more prologue than story, and that seems exactly right: the direction next season is going to take necessarily will be different from the thread of this short season. So bring on next season.

Also, as usual, I will root for the zombies.
YOU ARE LISA SIMPSON:  Josh Kurp's Eight Times The Simpsons Made Me Cry might be my favorite highlight from SplitSider's Classic Simpsons Week.
NUMBER ONE SONG AFTER NUMBER ONE SONG: As a reminder, NBC's "The Sing-Off" returns for a second season of competitive unaccompanied singing this evening. The ten teams are listed here, including collegiate teams from Yale, Oregon, and USC/UCLA. Ben Folds, Shawn Stockman and Nicole Scherzinger return to judge. We all liked this show last season, and we've got some real experts in a capella singing whom I expect to see in our comments as the brief season progresses.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

SO IF YOU BELIEVE IN FATHER CHRISTMAS, CHILDREN, LIKE YOUR UNCLE BILLY DOES, THEN BUY THIS FESTERING TURD OF A RECORD:  Last year, Rage Against The Machine's "Killing in the Name" finally broke the streak of X Factor winners of the annual UK Christmas #1 Song competition.  Odds have been posted for this year's battle, and among those hoping to defeat the single from whoever wins X Factor 7 (expected to be their version of Lee DeWyze) is a reunited Take That as well as perennial favorites "Last Christmas" by Wham! and, of course, "Fairytale of New York" by the Pogues with Kirsty MacColl.

Want another oddball winner?  Two chief contenders: The Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird" (yes, because of this) and a celebrity cover (Billy Bragg!) of John Cage's "4'33"" (which will include remixes).

[For those unclear with what we're getting when X-Factor hits the States next fall, meet Jedward.]
... WILL BE ELIMINATED:   Thoughts about the penultimate episode of The Amazing Race 17 after the fold.

YOU HAVE THE LUXURY OF NOT KNOWING WHAT ANDY REID KNOWS:   According to, Philadelphia Eagles teammates have become so concerned about wide receiver DeSean Jackson's apparent unwillingness to take hits that “Vets were going to give 10 a code red if he didn’t quit being a candy ass.”