Friday, February 18, 2011

SYSTEMATIC! HYDROMATIC! KLOSTERMANIC!  So what's the deal with Bill Simmons' new sports-and-culture website?  Dan Shanoff explains "it is what The Awl could be -- if one of the world's largest media companies opened up its resources and said 'Do anything you think you should.'... It presents ideal conditions to launch what Bill is trying. It will be successful -- mostly, because I honestly can't imagine the future of media, sports or otherwise, if it CAN'T be."
HALLWATCH:  Three baseball outfielders:
Player A: .284/.376/.527 (132 OPS+) in 7,980 PAs. 393 HR, 4 ASGs, 8 GGs in centerfield. .274/.361/.513 in 64 playoff games, including 13 HR, and one WS title. 
Player B: .292/.393/.514 (140 OPS+) in 10,947 PAs. 509 HR, 9 ASGs. .248/.401/.398 in 44 playoff games, including 6 HR, and one WS title .

Player C: .318/.360/.477 (124 OPS+) in 7,431 PAs. 207 HR, 10 ASGs, 1 MVP, 6 GGs in centerfield. .309/.361/.536 in 24 playoff games, including 5 HR, and two WS titles.
The savvier among us know that A is Jim Edmonds and B is Gary Sheffield, both of whom announced their retirements from Major League Baseball this week.  Neither is a first-ballot Hall of Famer as the voters seem to insist on the distinction, but both merit serious consideration.  Edmonds earned that consideration by reputation, especially defensively, and seemed to get that all-around-good-guy veteran glow as the years passed.  Which leads me to Player C, who already is a HOFer -- Kirby Puckett -- and other than the ASGs it's a bit hard to justify a Hall that has Puckett but doesn't eventually induct Edmonds.

As for Sheffield, hoo boy. He may join Dick Allen as the only baseball players otherwise qualified for the Hall but denied entry on account of dickishness, playing for eight different franchises and burning his bridges with nearly each of them. Oh, and he was in the Mitchell Report.  This may be the hitting equivalent of his one-time teammate Kevin Brown's HOF evaluation -- so disliked by the media that he can't stay on the ballot long enough to be considered properly.  That would be a shame -- he was a feared hitter, with one of the more imitable stances of all -- and his performance merits a fair hearing.
DEEP (DISH) TROUBLE: Our Chicagoland readers will be despondent at the news that Giordano's has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, though it's remaining in operation for now.
ALOTT5MA FRIDAY GRAMMAR RODEO:  To split infinitives or to never split infinitives; that is the question. The Chicago Manual of Style answers:
CMOS has not, since the thirteenth edition (1983), frowned on the split infinitive. The sixteenth edition suggests, to take one example, allowing split infinitives when an intervening adverb is used for emphasis (see paragraphs 5.106 and 5.168). In this day and age, it seems, an injunction against splitting infinitives is one of those shibboleths whose only reason for survival is to give increased meaning to the lives of those who can both identify by name a discrete grammatical, syntactic, or orthographic entity and notice when that entity has been somehow besmirched. Many such shibboleths—the en dash, for example—are worthy of being held onto. But why tamper with such sentences as the following?
Its five-year mission is to explore new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

His first thought, when something went wrong, was to immediately hit the escape key—even when he was nowhere near a computer.
It seems to me that, at least given these two examples, euphony or emphasis or clarity or all three can be improved by splitting the infinitive in certain situations. It’s one of the advantages of a language with two-word infinitives. One might observe, for that matter, that English infinitives are always split—by a space.
Oxford more or less agrees, asserting as follows: "The ‘rule’ against splitting infinitives isn’t followed as strictly today as it used to be. Nevertheless, some people do object very strongly to them. As a result, it’s safest to avoid split infinitives in formal writing, unless the alternative wording seems very clumsy or would alter the meaning of your sentence," and The Guardian and Observer style guide notes:
Raymond Chandler wrote to his publisher: "Would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split." And after an editor tinkered with his infinitives, George Bernard Shaw said: "I don't care if he is made to go quickly, or to quickly go – but go he must!"
Wikipedia, of course, has much to say on the controversy, but is it one? I guess the question is this -- is this something about which you care at all, or are you going to willy-nilly split your infinitives when writing?

added: Poll results! Split infinitives -- "whenever you feel like it" (53%) wins over "sparingly" (40%) and "never" (5%).
NOW EXPLAIN IT TO ME LIKE I'M A FOUR-YEAR OLD: From Han Solo to How Do You Know, Splitsider reviews twenty-five film roles for which Bill Murray was considered or which he declined. Boone? Buzz Lightyear? Charlie Babbit? Sulley? It's an interesting list, for sure.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

FOUR ROOMS: Frequent ALOTT5MA Piñata Richard Rushfield talks to Alexis Grace, Jackie Tohn, Bucky Covington and (shockers) Carly Smithson about what Hollywood week is really like.  Good read.  Meanwhile, Dan Fienberg's faster than I am, so here are his thoughts on tonight's Idol episode.

Thus far, I have to say, this has been a darn entertaining season and the new judges are not getting in its way.
WHO AM I TO BREAK UP THE ROUNDUP GANG?  There will be two new Pixar shorts featuring the Toy Story characters in 2011 -- "Hawaiian Vacation" accompanying Cars 2 in the summer, and another to be released with The Muppets at Thanksgiving. Also, full speed ahead on Phineas and Ferb going to the big screen, in a live/animated hybrid.  (Is Bob Hoskins free?)
THOUGHTS ON A QUOTE: From TMZ: "Charlie Sheen took a trip to the fire department that responded to his house when one of his porn star party-goers called 911. ... Charlie said, 'These guys are like George C. Scott, with a capital C! Hardcore.'"
  • Lower case middle initials are so softcore
  • Deeply religious Sheen is referring to the Hebrew "chardcore"
  • Appearance of hardcore firefighters at Sheen home actually reduced average level of hardcoreness then present
  • Encounter between firefighters and porn stars in real life while Sheen was watching filmed encounter between firefighters and porn stars is legitimate explanation for psychotic break
NOT A COOKIE: Bourdain: "From the first second he looked into those three sets of pitiless, googly eyes, he was a defeated man. He had seen the Beast. And it was brightly-colored and fuzzy."
LEWIS SKOLNIK AND GILBERT LOWE ON THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA CAMPUS?  BILLY RAY VALENTINE ON RITTENHOUSE SQUARE?  Rocky in Philadelphia. RoboCop in Detroit. Name another movie character statue that belongs in a particular place.
THE TEACHER IS AN OUTSIDER, WITH LOW SOCIAL STATUS IN HIS NEW LAND:  Building off our previous conversation, here's ten ways that The King's Speech is like The Karate Kid.
EVERYONE WAS CONVINCED THAT BEING TALL WAS THE NEXT BIG MOVEMENT IN COMEDY:  Scharpling and Wurster provide an oral history of the greatest SNL season that never was -- the summer of 1985 tryout episodes with a cast unlike any other.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

YOU SAY FRAN-CHESCA, I SAY FRANZ-QUESTA: I have seen my share of crazy before on Survivor, but not since the dude who babbled about "holes" in his body has someone made an impression on me the way one competitor did tonight, forcing the greatest punctuation mark in Survivor history. Holy crap was that one fun tribal council, especially for the first one.

Everyone's got a strategy, and everyone's talking about it.  Awesome.  (Even if Rob and Russell having the same strategy is a bit troubling.)

added:  Denhart: "During all this, Jeff Probst’s mouth dropped open so wide you could have fit Russell’s entire ego in it."
COME WITH ME IF YOU WANT TO LIVE: Watson was less dominant in tonight's finale, in part because of boards that seemed to be more skewed toward the humans--far more puns and "back door" ways into clues, especially in the first round. Also, Ken continues to surprise, not just with his ever-present sense of humor but with knowledge you wouldn't expect a dorky Mormon to come up with (knowing the members of Gnarls Barkley?) and an extremely weenie wager in Final Jeopardy! We won't spoil the final outcome here, but let's talk about it in the comments. Sadly, we go from this (which has had boffo ratings) straight into the Teen Tournament, which may be the most boring week of the year, since they dial down the difficulty so much.
ADAM SCHIFF IS SOFT ON CRIME: Someone has finally done the public service of gathering conviction rate statistics for the first 10 seasons of Law & Order with charts and graphs galore. We haven't gotten to later seasons yet, so we can't determine whether Arthur Branch's "tough" policies led to a higher conviction rate, whether the retirement of Lenny Briscoe led to more police work that didn't hold up in court, or if Serena Southerlyn had a terrible conviction rate or if she was fired because she was a lesbian. There's much to be dug into here and I trust this audience will do so.
I BLAME THEM CHOOSING THE NAME "KOBO" FOR THEIR E-READER: As you've probably read, Borders filed for bankruptcy this morning, and has already announced the list of locations that they'll be closing--some surprises in that they're closing 3 of the 5 Manhattan locations (leaving the East Side major-bookstore free from 17th Street to 54th Street) and a relatively new/massive location at Garden State Plaza in Paramus (blue laws may have helped kill that one). I'd expect those stores will have some interesting liquidation specials over the next few weeks, and may be worth checking out. Mourn as appropriate in the thread below.
LOVED YOU IN WALL STREET!  We haven't had anything to say about the whole Charlie Sheen situation -- even now that we've learned that frequent ALOTT5MA bête noire ALOTT5MA Lenny Dykstra has worked his way onto Sheen's couch -- but Linda Holmes gives us a good jumping-off point with her piece yesterday on the moral and financial obligations of Sheen's producers/enablers as long as Charlie's Being Unrepentant Charlie.  As Linda notes, "There's just so much money. People do amazing things when there's that much money."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

LEELA:  I will continue to sing hosannas to The Good Wife, and if I haven't convinced you to sample it yet maybe Matt Zoller Seitz will. Still, with all the confrontations promised for tonight -- TGW v. The Social Network, Kalinda v. Blake, Alicia v. Will, Rita Wilson v. A Really Bad CGI'd Background and F. Murray Abraham v. A Paycheck (and I can't see him without shouting you killed Mozart! like I'm the kid in The Last Action Hero) -- that was more than a wee bit underwhelming.

THE INTERNET LEADS ME TO DARK PLACES:  As in when I tried to find visual evidence of the original show Mr. Sunshine, a failed ABC sitcom of the mid-1980s starring Jeffrey Tambor as a bitter, blind professor, the process unlocked a treasure trove of tv credit sequences of the era.  I'm going to ask you to watch the opening credits for a CBS show called "Better Days" right now, because it has three remarkable elements:

NOT THE PLAISANCE?  A computer may never understand why former Fort Wayne Mayor Harry Baals has become a cultural icon, but it apparently has some skills at turning straightforward fact-based answers into questions.  As noted in the comments yesterday, Watson's a Daily Double hunter, and remains most interesting are the questions it's not answering (as well as its wagering strategy).

[Added: on Watson's known unknowns, see this official IBM explanation on the one you're wondering about.]

Can mankind survive? Does anyone have John Connor's phone number?
SOMEHOW, THIS IS META-META-META-METACOMMENTARY: Aaron Sorkin will appear on 30 Rock later this season playing himself. Hopefully, he doesn't get brought in to punch up the sketches on TGS, because we all know how that went.
SHE WANTS YOUR LOVE, YOUR REVENGE, AND YOUR PREMIUM CABLE SUBSCRIPTION FEES: Following in the footsteps of Britney, Madonna, Justin Timberlake, and others, Lady Gaga will get her own concert special on HBO in May. I'll watch, even though there's no way you'd get me to go to MSG for the show.
CHANDLER BING AND KITTY SANCHEZ RETURN TO OUR TV SCREENS: I wanted to talk a little bit about two new sitcoms--Mad Love and Mr. Sunshine--which are different in tone (Mad Love wants to be a fairytale/love story, Mr. Sunshine is far more cynical), style (Mad Love is modified multi-camera in the vein of HIMYM, Mr. Sunshine is single camera), and premise (Mad Love is a pretty blatant HIMYM clone, while Mr. Sunshine wants to be The Office if a more cynical/bitter Jim Halpert were the lead)--but have the same central problem--a bunch of likable people involved that they can't seem to figure out what to do with.

I thought the first Mr. Sunshine was better than the Mad Love pilot, if just for "Allison Janney hopped up on painkillers," which is on my list of "things that are never not funny" (prior evidence), but Mad Love may have more potential--the pilot went through major tinkering, with Sarah Chalke replacing Minka Kelly (trade up in acting ability) and Judy Greer replacing Lizzy Caplan (which requires rethinking the character from "sarcastic outsider" to "self-sabotaging bundle of nerves")--so susbsequent episodes may find better ways to use those two in particular. I'll give both at least a couple of more episodes off the goodwill I have for the cast involved and because of goodwill for their respective leadins. Based on Twitter, seemed a lot of you quite liked Mr. Sunshine, but didn't hear much about Mad Love. Talk amongst youselves.
TACTICAL PARKING:  Tom Vanderbilt ask why more people don't back into parking spaces. As one person puts it, "When backing in, I have to drive past the slot, then back in. On my way past it, I can look in the slot to ensure it is clear. I have situational awareness, so it is pretty safe to back in. When I leave, I just have to drive out and that is safer than backing out. If I don't back in, when I leave I have to back out into what is basically unknown traffic."

Is this true? Is it really, as transportation engineer John Nawn puts it, "almost always safer to back into spaces rather than back out of them"?
YOU SHUT UP! YOU ARE THE AUDIENCE! I AM THE AUTHOR! I OUTRANK YOU! Actor Kenneth Mars, who played Mel Brooks' favorite German in The Producers (playwright Franz Liebkind) and Young Frankenstein (Police Inspector Hans Wilhelm Friedrich Kemp), has passed away. Plenty of YouTubage at link. P.S. Mars also was the voice of King Triton in The Little Mermaid.

Monday, February 14, 2011

IT BECOMES SELF-AWARE AT 2:14 AM EASTERN TIME AUGUST 29TH: Some spoiler-free thoughts on tonight's first installment of the Jeopardy: Man v. Machine challenge (though spoilage is fine in the comments):
  • Obviously, not every Jeopardy! viewer has been following the media coverage of Watson and its background, but did we really need so much background/documentary on Watson in the episode? We came to watch the game--not a briefer version of the Nova episode.
  • The "show Watson's calculations" format is amusing in that it shows us Watson's sometimes bizarre answers, but it takes away from the "play along" aspects of the game.
  • The "2 games over 3 days" format makes me wonder how much we're getting a narrative edit in the episodes.
  • One thing Watson clearly cannot do is listen to his competitors' answers and draw conclusions/guesses from them to put together the best possible choices/answers. Had there been even a rudimentary function to do that, there were at least a couple of clues Watson would have gotten right and didn't.
Discuss below, and we'll be back with more coverage over the next few days.
YOUR APHASIA STRIKES A BARGAIN WITH THE BARTER YARDIE: I didn't post the video of LA reporter Serene Branson being stricken suddenly with neologistic aphasia before last night's Grammies because it's scary, not funny (I'm guessing that's also why others around here didn't post it). And I assumed, like apparently everybody else, that she had an on-air stroke. CBS2 LA now says no stroke, and that after getting an all-clear from paramedics on site, the only prescription was to have somebody else drive her home, where she now says she's feeling fine.

Really? ENotes, which apparently is an online nurses' reference with excellent Google search optimization, lists the principal non-stroke causes of aphasia as "tumor, dementia, trauma, anoxic events (lack of oxygen), and infections affecting the left cerebral hemisphere," roughly corresponding, in my inexpert opinion, to prescriptions of "see a doctor, see a doctor, see a doctor, open your air passages and then see a doctor, and see a doctor." Fainting on camera is embarrassing but potentially trivial; I can't think of an innocuous explanation for losing the use of expressive language, even temporarily. So I hope Serene Branson sees a doctor, gets the best medical care available, and never has this happen again.
THEY STILL HAVEN'T ADDED THE ADDICTIVE CHEMICAL THAT MAKES YOU CRAVE IT FORTNIGHTLY: Following up on our prior coverage of Kennedy Fried Chicken and its variants and discontents, apparently, there's now a battle about who is the legitimate owner of the Kennedy Fried Chicken brand and secret recipe.
VALENTINE'S DAY PORN FOR PHILADELPHIANS:  Aces and Chooches reported for duty yesterday.
TRADITIONAL CRITICISM, PLOT RECAP, WHAT-WILL-HAPPEN-NEXT PUNDITRY, AND UNADULTERATED FANBOY-ISM:  "Television criticism used to be like restaurant criticism," writes Slate's Josh Levin in a love letter to Alan Sepinwall today. "A writer would sample a few episodes and then issue an informed recommendation. Today, it's more akin to visiting the same restaurant every week, then reporting back on the mood of the wait staff, the condition of the silverware, and what dishes might appear on the new fall menu." And there are strengths and limitations to the format, as Levin notes -- except Alan and his cohorts are also strong at the end-of-season "what it all means" stuff too.

Two people unjustly left out of the piece: first off, you can't talk about weekly Sopranos criticism without mentioning Matt Zoller Seitz, whose archives are a bit more scattered, but if you read nothing else today read his "Kennedy and Heidi" insta-react-slash-series-thesis, and whoever Damitol was at -- because his acidic 1999 recaps of the Real World: Hawaii season are what introduced me to this writing style.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

AS SIGOURNEY WEAVER CLIMBS ONE STEP CLOSER TO EGOT: Track tonight's Grammy winners here; this post is open for your commentary as the night progresses.

added, 11:30pm In the summer of 1989, Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance formed Merge Records to release a few cassettes and a 7" single from their new band, Superchunk (then, just "Chunk"), plus other bands with whom they were friendly. They didn't even release a full-length album until 1992 -- the Tossing Seeds compilation of Superchunk singles. Over the next two decades the label expanded -- Spoon, Magnetic Fields, She & Him and more -- continuing with the label's artist-friendly, DIY ethos.

Tonight, they've got the Album of the Year -- Arcade Fire's The Suburbs, and Best New Artist Esperanza Spalding is also a label alum. Wow.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN KNOWLEDGE AND WISDOM:  Ken Jennings and others talk to the WaPo about the place of trivia in a Google/Wiki world:
But now that it's so easy to find the answer, why carry it around in your brain? Rote memorization is a thing of the past. State capitals? Please. The dictionary? You have an iPhone. Libraries? You have a Kindle. With a keystroke, you can answer any question, and it's no fun to be a know-it-all when everyone else is, too.

"Trivia geeks are not the public resource they used to be," admitted Ken Jennings, the 74-game "Jeopardy!" champion who will be representing humanity alongside Rutter. "Now that Watson can play 'Jeopardy!' at human levels, has my one real talent been stolen away?"

... "I don't think we want to outsource our thinking to any machine," Jennings said. "I don't remember phone numbers anymore because my cellphone does, can't figure out what time of day it is by looking at the sun, but thinking and recall and analysis - these things are too central."