Saturday, January 19, 2008

FINALLY, A USE FOR THE SECTIONS OF THE WORLD ALMANAC I MEMORIZED WHILE PLAYING CARMEN SANDIEGO: Since I have Monday off (somewhat unexpectedly), are any NYC-area ThingThrowers up for trying The Big Quiz Thing on Monday night (or some Monday in the future)? I've never played, but have heard much good about it, and somehow expect that collective ThingThrower knowledge and snark would at least score us a few "Smart-Ass Points." If interested, drop a line in the comments, and we'll see what we can set up.

'Brady Bunch' actor dies at 84 -

BRINGING ALICE THE MEAT: Actor Allan Melvin, who played Sam the Butcher on "The Brady Bunch," has passed away at the age of 84.
A BRUSH-WITH-GREATNESS PARETO-EFFICIENCY QUESTION: So, there Mrs. Earthling and I at the front table at Uncle Yu's in Lafayette, enjoying a bit of gweilofied Chinese food. The only two folks waiting for their own table are Joe and Jennifer Montana (this was not shocking, as we knew they had moved to town, but the first time I'd seen them). Now, obviously these good folks were just trying to have a quiet dinner out with their two boys and a friend, who showed up a few minutes later.

Now, let us take as a given that Joe Montana is my fourth-favorite football player of all time (after Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott and Steve Young) and that I would have at least felt it rated adding Joe Montana into a "list of ten things I've done that you haven't." Mr. Montana's cost would have been to have been both initially disturbed by me and having had to suffer through a hello and handshake and 10 to 15 seconds of fanboy chat.

What's the efficient outcome of this event? Is this pareto efficient? I'm certainly better off; is Mr. Montana worse off, not worse off, or better off for my having said hello? Mind you, this event would have been in the entry way, not walking up to his table an interfering with his family event. If this would have made Mr. Montana worse off, would my having said hello be at least Kaldor-Hicks efficient?

Or should I simply accept that there is no way to internalize the externalities and that I should go ahead and shake him down for an autograph?

[By the way, all I did say "hey" as he walked past, as a way to break up and excuse my overly long staring. He said, "hey" back.]
MORBIDITY AND MORTALITY, WEAKLY: Remember back in September 2006 when we speculated about who was the youngest celebrity to have an already-written obit? Well, the Associated Press now has prepared one for Britney Spears. Yikes.

As far as the "whose obit has been stale for the longest?" query, the Jeanine Basinger book now has me convinced that the answer may be Deanna Durbin, once among Hollywood's biggest musical stars, who left the industry for seclusion in France in 1948 at the age of 27 ... and never looked back.

Friday, January 18, 2008

SOME THING TO TALK ABOUT: Though I haven't seen it yet (plan for tomorrow night, if I can get tickets), I assume a thread to discuss Cloverfield is in order. Apparently, at least from a commercial perspective, it's turning out far more Blair Witch than Snakes on a Plane, but your reactions and thoughts are welcome.
AFTER A LIFETIME OF ZWISCHENZUGS, A ZUGZWANG: Bobby Fischer, grandmaster, prodigy, iconoclast, cipher, recluse, self-loathing anti-semite, misanthrope, muse (Searching for Bobby Fischer, and probably Yiddish Policemen's Union in some ways as well), titan of 1970s popular geek culture, barbaphile, the Ivan Drago of cold-war Russian nightmares, the Stu Ungar of the Royal Game, died yesterday in Iceland. Iceland is, obviously, the Valhalla of chess legend. When Kasparov joins Fischer there, legend has it that Fischer will unleash "chess ragnarok," where knights will travel in straight lines, pawns will lay down with bishops, and the black queen will shed a single tear.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

"NEWSWEEK KILLS STORY ON WHITE HOUSE INTERN": Or so claimed the Drudge Report ten years ago this evening. Ten years. Damn. There's a lot that can be said about the political reverberations of that newsflash, but the more interesting significance to me right now is in what it marked in terms of the viability of the Internet as a news source, as a means by which information could jump past the "gatekeepers", the day on which "citizen media" started to take off.

For better or for worse, from January 17, 1998 onwards, any piece of information or analysis that some citizen wanted others to hear could be voiced publicly, could potentially find some audience, and in due time force those gatekeepers to deal with that previously unwanted information. Credibility was no longer solely attached to institutions, but to individuals who could demonstrate their merit over time. My favorite example is from outside politics altogether: Bill Simmons. He honed his voice on his personal website, built his audience virally, and ESPN came calling because of the credentials he built on his own.

Or, you may just want to take this moment and say, "holy crap -- ten years already?" Up to you.
YOU KNOW YOU LOVE THIS, XOXO: Sure, the CW's out of new episodes of Gossip Girl, leaving us to ponder whether frenemies Blair and Serena will successfully unite to overthrow the new Queen Bees of Constance Billard and their evil underling, Jenny Humphrey. But if you're missing it, Gridskipper provides a helpful guide to major filming locations for the show so you can go off and be fabulous on your own time.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

METH MOM, FINGERNAIL BOY AND THE IMPRESSIONIST: Your thoughts on Idol audition nights 1-2, whether on the competitors or any changes you've detecting in the program, are welcome.
WILL EARL BLUMENAUER (D-OR) BE THE FIRST ONE VOTED OFF THE ISLAND?: Tune in, because Survivor champion Yul Kwon is planning a run for Congress.

Ginsburg Is Latest Justice to Reflect on Faith -

1996 U CHI LEGAL F 495: I confess a significant level of giddiness and anticipation now that the core Fifth Amendment question in my published law school student comment is finally being litigated. [FWIW, I agree with the magistrate judge's opinion on this one -- you can't force a defendant to disclose the contents of his mind.]
DEPARTMENT OF ACCURACY AND CLARIFICATION REPORT: I have no opinion one way or another about the assault allegations against the Patriots' Randy Moss. Says Moss:
I want to make something clear. ... In my whole entire life of living 30 years, I've never put my hand on one woman, physically or in an angry manner.
His hand -- accurate! The bumper of a moving car, well, that's another story.
ARE POLITICAL PARTIES RATIONAL SELF-INTERESTED ACTORS? (Note: This post is, and all comments should be, certified 100% ideology-free.) Something is bugging me about this election season -- it's that neither party seems like it wants to win (I'm referring, of course, to the Democrats and the Republicans, and not to the Greens and the We-Call-Ourselves-Libertarians and the United-We-Stands and the Naders, who pretty much include not winning as part of their core platform). Right now we go from state to state, letting every voter with a party affiliation (or without one, in an open-primary state) have a roughly proportional say in who the nominee will be. It's so nice and so democratic, and thoroughly suboptimal.

Let's say I am a fat cat with a lot of juice among the party decisionmakers. When I get them all together in my cigar-smoke-filled back room and after plying them with scotch and slush funds, here's the pitch I make: There are states we're going to win no matter who we run, and there are states we're going to lose no matter who we run. Voters in those two states should have no say in who we nominate. The voters who should decide our nominee are the ones in Ohio and Florida and New Mexico, who could go either way and who will decide the general election, not the ones in Utah and California and Tennessee and Washington State and New York. So let's rig the process so that the battleground states pick our nominee.

In other words, democracy schmemocracy. We've got an election to win. What (apart from whining about fairness and donor-stroking, and also an annoying likelihood that this will result in more centrist candidates) is wrong with this?

WE-E-E-LL LA-DE-FREAKIN'-DA: With all the media attention on steroids and PEDs in the past few days, a friend of mine from high school and I took a trip down memory lane together. It’s a story that might not work as well in written form, but I’ll give it a try.

On my high school basketball team there were a couple of guys who were fairly serious druggies. Somehow the coach learned about that. One time he gathered all of us in the locker room before an away game to give us the “don’t do drugs” speech. Picture the typical high school “away” locker room, but even a little more depressing than usual – fluorescent lights, rough cement on the floor, ancient wood benches, a pervasive odor of mildew and sweat, and a trickle of water coming down one wall where there was a crack.

The coach’s heart was clearly in the right place, but he was out of his comfort zone on this subject and his oration skills … left a little to be desired. Picture Chris Farley as motivational speaker Matt Foley on Saturday Night Live.

Anyway, our coach got very fired up and lost his composure as he was yelling at us not to do drugs. The climax of his speech was supposed to be an exhortation that under no circumstances were we even to try hallucinogenics. But that word, admittedly difficult to pronounce in the heat of the moment, proved too much for the man. He ended up saying something like “Hah-Goose-Ah-La-Netics”.

There was dead silence in the locker room for a moment. Then a guard on the JV could not help himself and started to giggle. Within a moment, the entire team was laughing.

I crossed paths with a teammate from that team a few years ago and the word “Hah-Goose-Ah-La-Netics” had us in stitches years after the fact.

I WISH I HAD A RIVER I COULD SKATE AWAY ON: Another talented, troubled young actor won't be heard from again. Brad Renfro, of The Client, Ghost World and drug addiction fame, passed away yesterday at the age of 25.
RODENTS OF UNUSUAL SIZE? I DON'T THINK THEY EXIST: Well, then again, maybe they did. Still no evidence of the flame spurt or the lightning sand, as far as I know.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Rent - Broadway - Theater - New York Times

NO DAY BUT TODAY (AND EVERY OTHER DAY UNTIL JUNE 1, 2008): Because after twelve years, Rent will close on Broadway this spring. The show cost less than a quarter-million to produce on Broadway, and "has gone on to gross more than $280 million on Broadway and another $330 million on the road," as well as spawning a good number of posts on this blog. Still, says the father of the late Jonathan Larson, “For essentially 12 years I’ve been saying I’d trade the whole business in if Jonny could still be alive. I still feel that way.”

The Times' Ben Brantley raved after its 1996 workshop debut:
[O]n one level, "Rent" is about breaking through the self-protective detachment, here embodied by both Roger and Mark, of a generation weaned on the archness of David Letterman and the blankness of Andy Warhol. Like such other recent works as Mr. Sondheim's "Passion" and Nicky Silver's "Raised in Captivity," this show directly addresses the idea of being cut off from feelings by fear.

This is definitely not a problem for Mr. Larson. Indeed, one forgives the show's intermittent lapses into awkwardness or cliche because of its overwhelming emotional sincerity. And when the whole ensemble stands at the edge of the stage, singing fervently about the ways of measuring borrowed time, the heart both breaks and soars.
Brantley concluded, "[T]his show restores spontaneity and depth of feeling to a discipline that sorely needs them. People who complain about the demise of the American musical have simply been looking in the wrong places. Well done, Mr. Larson."
TASTES GREAT, LESS FILLING, DETOXIFIES CARCINOGENS: Greatest news or greatest news ever? Scientists are working on a cancer-fighting beer.
THEN DOES THIS MAKE OBAMA RORY, OR LORELAI? Given that the HuffPo has decided to argue that Hillary Clinton is similar to Paris Geller from Gilmore Girls (and offers a transcript from an old episode that makes the point)--time for our sage commenters to offer analogies from other politicians to TV characters. Let's stay away from the obvious (Rudy Giuliani or John McCain = Jack Bauer) or the attack-oriented (comparing pretty much anyone to Michael Scott), though, mmmkay?
TEN THINGS: This meme's floating around and I don't feel like getting ready for work just yet. Here's a list of ten things I've done, that you probably haven't.

(1) Walked into a drug deal in Belize in the back of a ranger station (involving the ranger).

(2) Conned NASA into giving me VIP tickets for a space shuttle launch.

(3) Sat next to the King and Queen of Tonga on an airplane.

(4) Set type and printed my own customized lunch bags on a vintage letter press at the age of 6 (yes, nominally supervised, but my grandfather and a goodly helping of Jack Daniels).

(5) At the Bellagio, received four aces in a row in blackjack, splitting them into four hands. I lost on three, pushed on the fourth.

(6) Told a United States Senator he was in my chair and had to move (he was quite apologetic).

(7) Sent mail-order barbecue ribs to Mrs. Earthling well before I ever sent her flowers (I'm sure you didn't send Mrs. Earthling anything; I'm pretty sure you haven't sent pork as a sign of affection).

(8) Been to the top of four biggest free-standing domes in the world (US Capitol, St. Paul's, St. Peter's, the Duomo).

(9) Saw a car (a Datsun B-210, no less) get hit by a freight train while I was first in line at the crossing gates. She lived.

(10) Seen two total solar eclipses.

Note your own in comments.
ZOMBIE DEFENSE BOOK CLUB: Given the awesomeness that is Max Brooks' World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, I've decided that a couple weeks out, we'll run a ALOTT5MA book club on that and, if you are so inclined, his companion piece The Zombie Survival Guide.

I, for one, want our readers to be prepared for the coming Zombie onslaught and who else but "The Studs Terkel of Zombie Journalism" can get us there?
SWIRLING THE TOILET BOWL (COUNTER-CLOCKWISE): Mrs Earthling and I had the pleasure of visiting with Australia blogger Tim Blair almost five years ago. While the prognosis is apparently good, he's been diagnosed with cancer. Yes, he's an ornery right-winger (but then, in many respects, so am I) but one of the damned nicest folks I've ever met, even among Australians. He's as much of an institution in the blogosphere as anyone and was good enough to give my own Pathetic Earthlings, as well as Throwing Things (note the sidebar), an early shout-out. If you have a moment, drop over there and wish him well.

Monday, January 14, 2008

I'M WAITING FOR THE "FOR GOOD" MONTAGE ON GREY'S: We previously explored whether two things this blog loves--the Muppets and R.E.M.--were, in fact, two great tastes that taste great together. Now, let's ask that question with two different things--"Defying Gravity" from Wicked and Joss Whedon's Firefly--which an enterprising viewer has mashed up for our viewing pleasure. Also, am I the only one who's watched Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: This Time Not Sucky largely because of the guarantee of more ass-kicking from River Tam?

Hat tip to a correspondent who pointed this out to us.
WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, OPERA GIRL? A new season of American Idol kicks off Tuesday night, which means it's time for several weeks of auditions. So be honest: are you watching to see how bad this year's nutters are, to find the few diamonds in the rough, for the human interest stories, or some other reason? Or are you one of those folks who'll boycott until we get to Hollywood Week?
ELEPHANT! PIGGIE! The American Library Association announced its annual awards for outstanding children's books today. For a recap, we turn to an expert, guest-blogger and regular commenter Christy:

The 2008 ALA literary award winners were announced today, the most famous of which being the John Newbery Medal, followed closely by the Caldecott, Printz, and Coretta Scott King awards, among many others.

Last year, while the Printz broke new ground by giving the gold to a graphic novel for the first time, the Newbery list was arguably underwhelming in that it consisted solely of quiet books with passive female protatgonists. What about boy readers? This year, the buzz has been relatively low in the kidlit world overall, but when it comes to the books people have been talking about, it's definitely been The Year of the Boy. The National Book Award for Young People's Literature went to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie back in November. Though that title was (as tends to be tradition) shut out of this morning's awards, we also saw recognition of The Wednesday Wars (my favorite this year) by Gary Schmidt, Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis, and The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, all middle grade novels with boy protagonists. Taking everything into account, though, it was a bit of an oddball list this year. A few particulars (and forgive me the formality, but nothing I've written here reflects the opinion of my employer):

John Newbery Medal: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz, which was very popular among the librarian bloggers this year. It's both a very unusual choice--a mix of poetry and history and illustration which strives to teach and evoke the organization and feel of a medieval village--and a bit predictable, in that it's the kind of book that would appeal to librarians more than anyone. But it's cool to see this award go to a non-fiction title, especially an unconventional one.

Michael L. Printz Award: The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean. Last year, all but one of the honorees of this award were male. This year, it's all female authors, with the possible exception of A. M. Jenkins, who seems to go out of their way to avoid revealing their gender. I must admit that none of the books on this list were on my radar. And I read a lot of YA last year.

Randolph Caldecott Medal: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. This unusual book, told partly in prose and partly in cinematic black and white illustrations, was probably the most talked-about kids' book of the year. Many bloggers worried that it wouldn't be considered quite right for either the Newbery (which doesn't take illustration into account) or the Caldecott (which traditionally goes to a picture book). So Hugo's fans breathed a sigh of relief when this committee also decided to do something a little different this year.

Coretta Scott King Award: Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis (author) and Let It Shine by Ashley Bryan (illustrator). Elijah of Buxton also got a Newbery Honor.

Theodore Seuss Geisel Award: There is a Bird on Your Head! by Mo Willems. An ALOTT5MA favorite, Mr. Willems also got his third Caldecott honor this morning for Knuffle Bunny Too. The relatively new Geisel award, for a distinguished book for beginning readers, is quickly becoming an interesting award that takes both text and illustration into account. Last year's winner, Not a Box by Antoinette Portis, is decidedly not a beginning reader, but is still a really interesting offering that wouldn't have been given a second look for Newbery or Caldecott awards.

I know we have many kids' book connoisseurs reading this, as well as parents of kids' book connoisseurs; thoughts on these choices? What were your favorites this year?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

THAI FOOD IN TAIPEI? Our penultimate leg of this season of The Amazing Race is an object lesson in the importance of small distinctions -- a fifteen minute gap in flight departure time, a moment's hesitation in choosing a mode of transportation, some brief insight from a local as to the best way to purchase train tickets. And I don't know that anyone could have predicted this final three.

Two questions about this leg: (1) Could you have purchased tickets for a later train and snuck onto an earlier one? (2) What was the purpose of that first task, anyway?
LIVE, FROM A PRESS CONFERENCE ROOM: We probably need a thread to discuss the relatively hype-free Golden Globe results and how they might change the Oscar race. Does the somewhat surprising complete shutout of Juno bode poorly for its chances with the Academy? Do the two (big) awards for Diving Bell and the Butterfly help it capture a Best Picture slot? Do the wins for Sweeney Todd and Atonement help them regain some of their (arguably) lost momentum? What was being smoked in giving David Duchovny his award, as well as Piven over Danson?
MANNING LEADS TEAM TO CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: It is hard for me to become excited during an NFL playoffs in which the Eagles do not appear, and I am going to miss not having the league's equivalent of Yanks v Sawks next weekend -- or, for that matter, the other expected rematch.

Still, one has to be rooting for The Ageless Gunslinger v. The Unstoppable Force as the Super Bowl matchup, even though two weeks of that hype should turn unendurable by about Wednesday of the first week. Thoughts?
A VISION CAPACIOUS AND CONVINCING: Given the demographic of this site, we probably ought to note that Prof. Laurence Tribe, arguably America's leading scholar on Constitutional Law, has apparently been diagnosed with a (benign) brain tumor. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with his views, Tribe's work has unquestionably been deeply significant. Among his contributions (according to Wikipedia):

I'm sure all of us here join in wishing Prof. Tribe a speedy and full recovery.