Saturday, September 27, 2008

ELEVEN MORE: As a Clutch Hits reader suggested, exactly ten years ago today the Phillies' double-play combo was Desi Relaford to Marlon Anderson (as a September call-up, starting for Mark Lewis) to Rico Brogna, a team that finished 31 games out of the lead and never tasted first place after mid-April. Oh, my, how times have changed, and we likely have the best-ever Phillie at each position right now starting for our second straight NL East Division Champions. Oh, and a freak of a 45-year-old on the hill ever fifth night.

[While the season isn't over for the Mets, Brewers, Twins and White Sox, Jayson Stark's year-in-review is online, including the genesis for the quote "You don't let Superman beat you when you have Wonder Woman on deck."]

Bob, Alex and I each have our reasons to be excited this October, and while this is not going to become a baseball blog, we certainly are going to be paying attention from time to time. Go Phightins!
THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN LACKS EZ-PASS: Is there a water crossing in the Northeast more majestic than the low-lying Tappan Zee Bridge's pass over the Hudson River? Well, enjoy it while you can -- the State of New York wants to spend $16B to replace the span with a parallel bridge that will also facilitate high-speed rail and bus lines.
HE WAS MORE THAN THE FACE ON THE SALAD DRESSING BOTTLE: Paul Newman has died. It wasn't unexpected, given the recent reports of his health, but sad nonetheless. Not only will his talents be missed, by all reports, he was also one of the good guys. Use the comments to recall your favorite Newman role (for me, he was always Henry Gondorff, thanks to repeated viewings of the film on a noisy projector during a three-day Northern Wisconsin monsoon in my first summer at Camp Nebagamon).

Friday, September 26, 2008

DON'T BORE NINA, OR THE COURT: Now, we have a more interesting Runway drama than most of what we've seen this season--a judge has issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Weinstein Company from moving the show to Lifetime subject to NBC/Universal/Bravo posting a $20 million bond. Unsurprisingly, the Weinstein Company has announced its intention to appeal.
THE MUST LIST: TimeWarner is circulating an email leading one to this website listing publicly-available "employee rate" subscriptions, which ordinarily I wouldn't link to except, seriously, $10 per year for up to three years of Entertainment Weekly? Any reader of this site who doesn't already subscribe ought to get on this offer. [For me: $12 for Food & Wine &/or Travel & Leisure is tempting.]

We haven't done a "what magazines are you reading these days?" thread in a while. So now we are.
HOMINES NON BONI SERIOSE: The Evil League of Evil is seeking applicants. Do well, or Bad Horse will vote neigh.
MAHNA MAHNA: Today's "Op Art" in the NYT features perhaps my favorite contributor explanation ever--"Statler and Waldorf Are Muppets." (And obligatory British Office clip.)
  1. Show, don't tell.
  2. Avoid starting a story with dialogue. Or finishing it with dialogue, or having dialogue in the middle.
  3. Write what you know. Especially if you have experience as a plumber, pizza delivery boy, nurse, schoolgirl, MILF, or Japanese tentacle.
  4. Never open a porn story with weather.
  5. Become intimately acquainted with your characters. One good way to do this is by having sex with them.
  6. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water, or sex.
  7. If you show a loaded gun in Act 1, someone must have sex by Act 3 early in Act 1.
OH, THIS IS ALL THAT'S ON TOP OF THE SURREY? This is late, but I'm still working through the DVR backlog, so sue me. I'm pretty much right on board with Sepinwall's thoughts on Fringe, which in my mind work out to "competent, but neither as intriguingly incoherent as Lost nor as exquisitely ridiculous as Alias." If you want to suggest fixes (e.g., more conspiracy sooner; or, if you promise naked Torv, deliver naked Torv), have at it.

I'm really here to ask two questions. First, when was the last time you saw a continuity blunder so obvious as "Day One: dead of Boston winter with snowstorm and bare trees and seeing people's breath; Day Two: trees in full bloom, swaying in the warm breeze as people picnic by the lake"? That kind of nature-generation must be part of the pattern, I guess.

Second, and this is the real question, how is the sixty- or seventy-second commercial break working for you? The point is to reduce (and, apparently, vary) the length of the commercial breaks to dissuade people from fast-forwarding through the commercials. I'm still fast-forwarding, but with the auto-correct I'm probably only coming out 15 seconds ahead and I may just give up and do what Fox wants -- leave it on through the commercials. If others feel the same way, this seems like a pretty ingenious low-tech way of preserving the value of the commercial break. Just wondering whether it's working.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I WONDER WHAT PEOPLE LIKE ABOUT ME (PROBABLY MY JUGS): OMG, The Office is back, and tonight's Eisenberg/Stupnitsky-penned hour-long opener had moments of pure ecstasy, of pain and sadness, and of sight gags so sublime that the eight-second rewind button got a lot of use tonight. Continuity abounded, including a callback to my favorite joke from the season finale, and love is very much in the air in Scranton, PA. Treble Trouble is as well, but as long as you keep your eyes on the goal and your fist in the air, I think we're in for a fine season.
118 YEARS WON'T BUY YOU A FEW MONTHS FROM THE BANK: I was mulling over some punny titles for this post, but I don't have it in me. Heller Ehrman, a 118-year-old titan of the San Francisco law-firm world and a recognized brand name throughout the US legal market, is dissolving on Friday. Unlike some past law-firm flameouts, this was principally driven neither by over-growth and hubris (cough Brobeck cough) nor by a decline in the quality or value of the firm's talent. Heller remains, until Friday, a top-notch firm, and was conservatively-managed and perennially profitable.

Instead, Heller is a lesson about how quickly things can snowball in volatile times. Law firms have merged like crazy in the last decade, and Heller started shopping itself this year. I don't know why; it wasn't as if it needed to. But once it was shopping itself, several groups of partners with the more profitable practices -- the assets that made Heller attractive to potential merger partners -- realized that they could make better deals for themselves if they separated from the less-profitable groups. The remaining lawyers weren't attractive enough to keep the interest of their dance partners, and the mergers fell through, weakening the firm. The departures crossed a threshold specified in Heller's line of credit. A year ago, even six months ago, there might have been some renegotiation and an extension while fees rolled in, but in this market the bank called in its markers, which left Heller without sufficient capital to run its business. So, with two days notice (though "staff" -- not clear whether that includes nonpartner employees -- gets 60 days pay), everybody working for a profitable firm gets a pink slip.

There are many, many lessons here (including that if you try to merge you had better be sure you know what you're doing, and that this multilateral game of bailout chicken we're watching is a huge ball of scary), but mostly I just wanted to say that I hope our friends at Heller land on their feet and soon.
A MAN IS ONLY AS GOOD AS HIS TOOLS Because we missed it yesterday was per Matt National Punctuation Day a day worth celebrating here I commend to you Nicholson Bakers musings on the comma from Room Temperature
The idea of the comma as an oasis of respiration, a point of real as opposed to grammatical breath, of momentary renewal and self-marshaling in the dotty onslaught of sixteenth notes, overlaid itself on my idea of the comma as a unit of simple disjunction in written English. How had we come up with this civilized shape? I wondered. Timidly and respectfully it cupped the sense of a preceding phrase and held it out to us. ... [T]here was an implied high culture in its asymmetrical tapering swerve that gave it a distinct superiority over the Euclidian austerity of the full point, or period. You might in fact have expected these two elements of disjunction to exhibit reversed functions: the comma seems more of a foil to the progress of the eye, a fallen branch partially impeding a stream, while the period, a mere dot, a small cold pebble, should allow sense to slip smoothly past. But perhaps the functions were as they were, I thought, because the graceful purling motion necessary to the creation of the comma, that inclusive flip of the pen, is similar to the motions we use in writing the prose that surrounds it, while the period is an alien jab, tacking the sentence with finality onto the paper. Even after Aldus Manutius put his typecasters to work, and they resolved the informal kinetics of its written formation into theoretically sound protractor-twirls and conic sections, the comma still retained all its original expressiveness, miming the extenuating dips of the hand we use when taking exception to a point in polite conversation. And in those recent typefaces in which commas have been chamfered into little more than rude cuneiformal wedges, their newer shape nonethless manages at least to evoke the rubber doorstop's dependable amenity, keeping the ostioles free from clause to clause, allowing metaphors to mix more freely. Working myself up into a state of reverence as I lay there, I began to be curious whether the statistical ratio of commas to sentences might have a predictive use in some sort of moral stylometrics: maybe, as a general rule, the fewer commas a person used, the more ruthless a tyrant he would prove to be if placed in a position of power.
IT TASTES LIKE CANTALOUPE JUICE: In light of PETA’s request that Ben & Jerry’s replace the cows milk used in its ice cream with breast milk (you think I’m kidding?), I think it’s appropriate that we once again harness the power of the ThingThrowers to help the fine Vermonters at Ben & Jerry’s come up with just the right name for the new flavor.
CONTINUING TO EMBRACE MY INNER 14-YEAR-OLD: For those of you who, like me, feel emotionally invested in David Cook's post-AI career, you can hear his soon-to-be-released new single here. I'm not a fan of the accompanying picture -- Cook looks a little too well-kempt and the eyeliner's a little too smoky -- but the song's not bad.
EVEN A DUAL-TUNER TIVO CAN'T SAVE YOU: At 9pm tonight, Grey's is back with a two-hour premiere and the debut of Dr. Lucius Vorenus of the Fighting XIIIth Legion, The Office is back with a one-hour premiere, and it's hour two of the Survivor: Gabon premiere. What are you watching?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

DROP THE CHALUPA: A list of dogs I would rather see in a movie than a sassy chihuahua:
  1. Loyal and daring collie
  2. Chinese dog of indeterminate breed who has been given a pointedly long name by a boy who lives near a well
  3. Sheepdog who is really a shape-shifted district attorney -- the only dog with a law degree and a pedigree!
  4. Lhasa apso with Jamaican accent and mad computer skills who makes himself available to assist a rogue CIA agent on the run from a shadow-government trained black-ops army of excitable and distractable yellow labs
  5. Bassett hound in a trench coat and fedora who may be an anti-crime educator or a pervert flasher or perhaps both
  6. Scottish highland terrier fighting a principled David-vs.-Goliath battle against evil corporations
  7. Some whippet junkie hustlers living paw-to-mouth in the Leith projects
  8. Handsome Dan
  9. Chow with an ill-advised crush on a flamboyant toy poodle hired by pinscher boyfriend to keep her company
  10. Hotshot bend-the-rules King Charles spaniel paired with a by-the-book Great Dane
  11. Young dalmatians at ballet school coping with the pressure of the annual ballet tournament
  12. Rag-tag band of mutts and pound dogs that beats the hated New York Yankees behind the fatherly advice of their alcoholic St. Bernard coach and the last-minute heroics of a pit bull terrier who learns to trust his teammates and a power-hitting bulldog-boxer mix who only needed glasses!
  13. Melancholy chihuahua who struggles with crippling shyness and spirals into deep depression while writing a heartbreaking masterpiece piano concerto that is callously overlooked by the classical music mogul and goes unheard for a hundred dog years before it is discovered by a dashing young composition professor at an ivy-covered New England university
  14. Pug.
LIGHTEN UP, IT'S JUST FASHION: I'm travelling and caught the Project Runway judging and elimination but not the rest of the episode. Any strong opinions? None here. Two comments, one a question:

(1) The challenge was one of those "show us your take on *arbitrary subjective category* so we can say 'that's not *arbitrary subjective category* because it doesn't have enough *arbitrarily prioritized component or frequently associated attribute*!'" type of affairs that I'm not too enthusiastic about (unless it's drag week, apparently).

(2) And Nina's "Marilyn Manson" comment ... was that a compliment?
CORPORATIONS ARE PEOPLE, TOO: Not that anyone cares (and not that anyone but me noticed), but yesterday was the thirtieth anniversary of the motorcycle accident that lead to Asahi Metal Industry v. Superior Court, 480 US 102 (1987). Light a candle and think of the hard work that your tire valves do for you every day. And remember that no matter where they came from, you can rest assured that you can sue the bastards that made them.
BUT WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ELI? Peyton Manning--Friday Night Lights script consultant.
MOTHER, MAY I BUY THESE RERUNS? Lifetime isn't limiting its forthcoming makeover to just enlisting Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum, but will suit up with HIMYM reruns starting early 2009. The good news is that because it's an insanely rich deal ($750K an episode for syndication rights!), it guarantees us a fifth season next fall.
IT'S NOT A TOOMAH: I didn't start watching House until last season, when it came roaring out of the gates with the Survivor parody arc, an unfair comparison for anything. I do remember that before that arc really got cooking, there was an episode very similar to last night's, when House used a janitor as a sounding board, but I thought last night was well-done enough to make the deja vu go away. A question, however, prompted by Sepinwall's recap: Are you pro or con on the detective who can't lie or pull off disguises?
DOES THIS MEAN DR. YANG IS ACTUALLY A CYLON? President Laura Roslin on Grey's? Yes, please. Especially if she's playing a woman dying of cancer and plagued by strange hallucinations. Seriously, between this and the casting of Kevin McKidd, that's a pair of very nice new characters.
COMIN' IN THE AIR TONIGHT:There are some movie-to-musical adaptations that make immediate sense, either because they started as movie musicals (the Disney shows), have pre-existing musical DNA (The Producers), or because you can immediately picture the characters breaking into song (Legally Blonde). American Psycho: The Musical wouldn't seem to fall into any of those categories, but claims to be aiming for Broadway, with a mix of new songs and original 80s hits.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

à la Sophia: David (Foster) Wallace's Syllabus

YES, THAT'S RIGHT -- HE WENT DOUBLE-SUMMA AT THE FAIREST COLLEGE: For those of us who are still a bit gobsmacked by David Foster Wallace's passing, three more reminiscences -- from Dale Peterson, his English thesis advisor at Amherst (he also did a philosophy one); from a former student, a course syllabus; and via the McSwy's gang, some memories and tributes. And while we're at it, two more pieces from the man himself -- his 2001 Harper's essay on the difference between prescriptive and descriptive approaches to grammar, and a 1996 piece for Tennis magazine on a Pete Sampras-Mark Philippoussis tilt at the US Open.
DEPARTMENT OF IRREFUTABLE LOGIC:I have decided that henceforth, any brief I write shall begin with the greatest argument and answer to any question in history. I speak, of course, of three little words--"I'm Chuck Bass."

YouTube - Jimmy Kimmel's Big Night of Stars

McSWIMMY: Big (faux) news from Shondaland on Sunday, as Jimmy Kimmel debuted the clip of Michael "Swimkata" Phelps joining the staff at Seattle Grace.
IF I WERE INVISIBLE: While Isaac has traditionally given our occaisional "Least Surprising News of the Year" award--prior winners include the Britney/K-Fed divorce and Isaiah Thomas being fired as coach of the New York Knickerbockers--in light of recent reports about Clay Aiken, I feel compelled to close the books early this year.
WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS, SQUEEZE THEM OVER YOUR OPEN SORES: Ever since the Knickerbockers wised up and canned Isiah Thomas, there's been tight competition for the coveted DirecTV Second Worst-Run Franchise in Professional Sports* title. It looks like a three-horse race right now. Your candidates:

Seattle Mariners. The case in favor: Will be first team in history to lose 100 games with a $100MM payroll. Traded Adam Jones, George Sherrill, Chris Tillman (the #1 minor-league prospect in baseball) and two others for an injury-prone Erik Bedard, who shockingly got injured and will finish his Mariners career with 15 mediocre starts. Declined offers by two teams to trade for Jarrod Washburn in straight $16MM salary dump. Instructed Felix Hernandez to throw nothing but fastballs for first three innings despite evidence that teams tee off on him when he throws only fastballs. Committed to valuing veteran-ness, clubhouse leadership, aggressiveness, and grit over plate discipline and statistical analysis. Incapable of learning from either successes or mistakes. Threw gay couple out of the stadium for a chaste peck. The case against: Ichiro; Felix; Morrow; Beltre until they idiotically trade him for pennies on the dollar.

Detroit Lions. The case for: This team's GM (a) was deemed by other NFL executives to have made more bad draft decisions than any other executive in NFL history; (b) who accused fans of being ignorant because they were focusing too much on the team's performance in games and not taking account how well the team is practicing; (c) is the second-highest-paid executive in the league as a result of a five-year extension given despite a record he agreed was "absolutely horrid"; and (d) was told, through an on-the-record newspaper interview by the Lions' Vice-Chairman, that if the Vice-Chairman had the power to fire him he would do it. The case against: Some of the 35 WRs the team drafted in the first round are good. 41-28 shootouts are always fun. Bill Junior seems like he's not an idiot.

Oakland Raiders. The case for: The majority owner, a noted, um, colorful character, makes a series of terrible free-agent personnel decisions with which the coach disagrees, strips the coach of any responsibility for the defense (effectively creating a dual-head-coach situation), nonetheless blames the coach for losses clearly attributable to the defense, plants repeated stories about the coach's imminent firing, allegedly has executives distribute stories critical of the coach to the beat writers (thus causing an ugly one-sided near-altercation between the accused executive and a beat writer, caught on camera), and wants to fire coach, but hesitates because he doesn't want to pay two-and-a-half years of the coach's salary for nothing. Meanwhile, two of the best three players on the team play the same position. Also, riding a BART train full of Raider fans can be a harrowing experience. The case against: Darren McFadden is enjoyable. Minority owners cannot be blamed.

I'd give it to the Mariners -- their problems truly are organizational, not just personality-driven -- but I'm biased.

*To be eligible for the US Airways Worst-Run Franchise in Professional Sports title, you have to deliberately and spitefully lose as many games as possible as a fuck-you going-away gift to the fans who supported you for 40 years.
MASTER THESPIAN, DENIED AGAIN! As we seem to note here every year, the MacArthur Foundation "genius" grants have been announced, and not only did Marilyn vos Savant and Wile E. Coyote not win, but nor did anyone else you've ever heard of, with the exceptions of the New Yorker's music critic Alex Ross and Johns Hopkins University critical care physician Peter Pronovost, whom you may recall from 2006 Genius Atul Gawande's profile highlighting his "checklist" approach to reducing error in intensive care settings.

Monday, September 22, 2008

THIS MEANS YOU CAN START SHOPPING FOR PRESENTS NOW: I'm not that old, but I remember when it used to be not till the day after Thanksgiving would you see stores put up their Christmas decorations. That's steadily crept forward, but generally, it's been a post-Halloween event. Apparently, Target has decided to break that next barrier, with snowmen and Christmas trees out at what I believe is their Brooklyn Atlantic Terminal store. (To be fair, I bought my first Christmas present a couple of weeks ago.)
121 AWESOME MINUTES LATER: In an episode that featured more talk of bimbos than a briefing session with Betsey Wright, HIMYM moved the ball forward on last season's twin cliffhangers with a decent, but not legen ... wait for it ... dary half-hour. This site's NPH favedom has not been abated.
PLEASE DO HIM WRONG. PLEASE CAST HIM OFF DISCOURTEOUSLY: It's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Keltner season, and at some point in the near future recent past Adam is going to point out that, other than (depending upon your personal preference) Chic, Bon Jovi, and Metallica, all of whom we Keltnerized last year, and one additional first-ballot addition, this is a crappy class. Adam volunteered me to Keltnerize nominee Jeff Beck, but I'm not going to do it. You don't need a Keltner analysis to tell you that Mark Langston doesn't make the cut for the baseball Hall of Fame, and Jeff Beck isn't getting one just because he was an early adopter of standing too close to the amp while playing. He's boring. End of story.

I will, however, recite for you the following facts (in small part aided by Wikipedia, I feel impelled to admit), which collectively represent all you really need to know about Jeff Beck:
  • Served 18 months of bridge duty between Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page in the band that eventually collapsed and became Led Zeppelin.
  • Clearly inspired Nigel Tufnel's haircut and wardrobe, and possibly Tufnel's childish petulance, in Spinal Tap.
  • Was unable to create a hit single in two albums with a young Rod Stewart (though he and Stewart much later had a hit with a bastardization of the Impressions' sublime "People Get Ready").
  • Jointly responsible for revitalizing the bloated charity benefit when he, Page, Clapton, Stewart, and Ron Wood staged the Rock for ARMS (Action for Research into Multiple Sclerosis) concert to benefit Ronnie Lane, which in turn prompted a delusional Neil Schon to muse that the 1980s equivalent of Clapton/Page/Beck was Schon/Santana/Van Halen.
  • Contributed to annoying pomp-rock fetishization of "Greensleeves," the sixteenth-century version of "Hey Ya."
  • Gave Carmine Appice his first high-profile job (unless you consider Cactus high-profile), thus inadvertently unleashing the Terrible Reign of the Ruggedly Handsome Drum-Pounding Appices.
  • The first song on his first solo album was a cover of a two-year-old song by his former band, which he didn't write.
  • Was a dick. Reportedly.
DON'T FORGET, MY SON, TO INCLUDE EVERYONE: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced its finalists for potential induction in 2009:

Metallica, Run-DMC, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Chic, Iggy and the Stooges, Jeff Beck, War, Wanda Jackson, and Bobby Womack.
First-time eligibles not nominated included Bon Jovi, the Smiths, Cyndi Lauper, Queensrÿche, and Howard Jones; still waiting for their call from the Veterans' Committee are Rush, Genesis/Peter Gabriel/Phil Collins, the Beastie Boys, Duran Duran, the Replacements, the Cougar (he's in -- oops!), The Cure/Depeche Mode/New Order, Cheap Trick, Journey, KISS and Richard Thompson ... among many others.

Top five vote-getters will be inducted. I've linked to our Keltner analyses previously performed, and we'll try to cover many of the others in the coming weeks.
THE MAN IN THE GREY FLANNEL SUIT: Gotta say that SNL is certainly making interesting hosting decisions this year, staying away from the big name stars--Anna Faris hosts next week, and October 25th's show will apparently be hosted by Jon Hamm. Who else do you want to see host? Should there be new members of the Five-Timers Club?
HO HO HO, MIGHTY CHEWBACCA: With O.J. Simpson again on trial, it's time to take a moment to consider the merits of the Chewbacca Defense (questionably SFW, though I hear worse than that on a regular basis in the office).

Sunday, September 21, 2008

[EMMY OPEN THREAD]: Go for it. Gosh, Heidi Klum is tall. And Jeff Probst should never be in a role in which he is forced to wear pants.

e.t.a. Mini-recap: The hosts sucked, and then they were thankfully sent to Mandyville, which is apparently a strenuously nonpartisan place. We knew comedy was not Heidi Klum's thing, but it's not Howie Mandel's either. Tina Fey won everything she could -- which is fine -- on a night when way too much time was spent on formats that no one watches (made-for-tv movies and miniseries), and no time at all was spent on clips highlighting what was actually worth seeing on television last year. Really: if you had no idea what Mad Men was about before tonight or how it was about what it was about, would tonight have taught you anything?

Also, boo on showing a Necrology without broadcasting the audience response throughout -- how are we supposed to assess Hollywood's hierarchy of its recent dead without an accurate applause-o-meter? And, finally, congrats to HITG! All-Star Željko Ivanek, and our sympathy to ABC, which just spent three hours hyping other networks' best programming. (Other than the Sonnenfeld win for directing the Pushing Daisies pilot and Jean Smart for Samantha Who?, did ABC win anything during the show?)
GET A LIFE: Getting a NYT obit is typically the end of a long series of accomplishments, but I'm not sure if "Joan Winston, Trek Superfan" really counts. A good argument can be made that Trek fandom paved the way for later fandoms--could there be Whedonites or Sorkinites without Trekkies--but this seems to push the bounds of the obit standard a little.