Saturday, October 25, 2008

NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH THE COMMITTEE TO PLAN PARTIES:As self-appointed chair of the ALOTT5MA Party Planning Committee, in an effort to actually hold the much vaunted ALOTT5MA Chrismukkah Party this year, wanted to feel out people's availability on the following dates and general locations:
  • Evening of Saturday, December 6 (Times Square)
  • Evening of Monday, December 8 (Lower East Side)
  • Afternoon of Saturday, December 13 (Grand Central)
  • Afternoon of Saturday, January 3 (Grand Central or Upper West Side)
Still at the embryonic stage, but want to gauge interest before moving forward.
RIGHT, LISA, LIKE THERE'S SOME MAGICAL ANIMAL... Is there anything more divine than bacon? Is there anything more revolting than mayonnaise? Given that Baconnaise is on its way, I can shortly resolve this culinary front of manicheanism.

UPDATE: I note that someone means to resolve this.

Friday, October 24, 2008

THEY EACH SPENT $150,000 ON CLOTHES IN A SINGLE SEASON. THEY WERE BOTH SCREWED OVER BY KATIE COURIC. AND BOTH WEAR WOMEN'S JEANS: The Friars roasted Matt Lauer today, and the Village Voice and EW were there for the NSFW carnage.
YOU DON'T NEED A WEATHERMAN TO KNOW WHICH WAY THE WIND BLOWS: A few years back, Marketplace did a great but self-defeating little bit about how dumb it is to ascribe conscious thought to collective market behavior. One of the examples, I think, was "Dow falls a half-percent on growing concern about the war in Iraq." Think about that for one moment, and then ask how a financial reporter could possibly make that causal connection. Whose concerns drove the market down? How? Who did the reporter interview to get that information? A representative sample of traders and investors? Why exactly would concerns about the war in Iraq drive investors away from technology stocks (or, for that matter, media stocks)? The point of the piece was that the reporters' analysis is often little more than choosing the most plausible cause from a menu of the day's top stories. And yet different financial reporters usually isolate the same causes for the same behavior -- nobody picks "Britney shaved her head" over "war fears" -- meaning that either there's an element of chick-sexing (they actually know it when they see it) or common training (right or wrong, everybody learns the same cause-picking techniques).

I raise this now because for several weeks up to and including today, I've seen a version of the following headline: Stocks End Lower As Conviction About Global Recession Grows. Look, I'm no financial engineer -- I can barely aggregate large debt obligations and separate them into discrete risk-stratified interest and principal components -- but I don't see how this can possibly be right. The premise of that headline is that (a) there is a block of investors who were on the fence about whether or not the economy is (technical jargon alert) turdlike; (b) a portion of that block decided today to get off the fence; and (c) that portion was large enough to move the market 3%. The implication being that before today, that gigantic 3%-moving block was reading the Journal and going, "gosh, Bear, Lehman, AIG, Wachovia, WaMu, Fannie, Freddie, buck-breaking -- what a conceivably coincidental string of potential aberrations."

For there to be a "growing belief that [a] severe global recession is at hand," there first has to be some portion of people that aren't already certain that a severe global recession is at hand. Do these people exist? Isn't a more plausible explanation that everybody agrees that there is a disaster but that the market collectively is calibrating its depths differently on different days? In other words, aren't "market just about ready to agree it's bad out there" and "market despairs as it tries to figure out just how bad" entirely different stories?
A FEW OF MY LEAST-FAVORITE THINGS: I've never been shy about identifying and cataloguing the worst kinds of music I've heard. I've ripped on Eastern Bloc heavy metal, 80s synth-pop, evangelical college a capella groups. I am constantly amazed by the fact that people will listen to songs in foreign languages that would horrify and shame them if sung in English (ever listen to an Israeli folk singer?), and I have a working theory that this is somehow related to the inexplicable Europop phenomenon (numa numa hey…).

Until recently, I had pegged Richard Marx as the low point in domestic modern music. His work is to good music as industrial-park buildings are to good architecture: cheaply built, designed for maximum profit, determinedly inoffensive, and utterly indifferent to invention or artfulness. It's the soundtrack of double-ledger accounting and actuarial tabulation.

But over the course of the last year, I've had to come to grips with the fact that Marx is not, after all, as bad as it gets. There is a saxophonist who often plays in the evenings above the Embarcadero BART station (I think I've mentioned him before), and I cannot even imagine a worse musician. You may think it's unfair to give the title to an "amateur" (scare quotes apply here because the root meaning of amateur -- one who does something for the love of it -- could not possibly apply to one who commits such violent acts against music) over a pro like Marx, but even if you grade them on a curve against their peers, Sax Guy has to win. He knows two songs: "Over the Rainbow" and "My Favorite Things." The latter is a song that, if played on a saxophone for mass appeal, really can only be played in 5:46:8, a la Coltrane. Sax Guy plays it in something closest to 3:4, with no syncopation at all, except that the beats don't quite fit together, sometimes hesitating as if there's a particular note to which he can never quite remember the fingering. "Over the Rainbow" is equally fitful, but because of the wider tonal leaps, it takes on an extra honk-squeak dimension. Both are played at appalling volume, which as you draw nearer creates a surreal malice to WHISKERS ON KITTENS and ONCE IN A LULLABY. I have never played a woodwind, but I am quite confident that given a year of practice a couple of days a week -- exactly the amount of time I have been listening to Sax Guy -- I would do a better job.

I'm sure this guy has fallen on hard times, and maybe he has a mental illness, and I hope he gets whatever he needs, but people: you are driving me crazy. Do not give money to terrible street musicians. NO RAINBOW.
PORTFOLIO, YOU'RE NEXT: With the news that both the print version of Radar and its most excellent website will be dying, let's take a moment to mourn other defunct magazines of the past--Wiki's got a list--I particularly miss Spy, Brill's Content, George, and Legal Affairs, and I'm sure some of our readers have a soft spot for Sassy.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

CHILDREN, CHILDREN! NO, NO, YOU'VE GOT IT ALL WRONG. DON'T YOU SEE, CHILDREN? YOU HAVE THE HEART, BUT YOU DON'T HAVE THE SOUL. NO, NO, WAIT. YOU HAVE THE SOUL, BUT YOU DON'T HAVE THE HEART. NO, NO, SCRATCH THAT. YOU HAVE THE HEART AND THE SOUL, BUT YOU DON'T HAVE THE TALENT: Conflicts arise often in the blogger world, so what do I do when this site's No Politics rule runs up against my fondness for derivative works based upon the 2004 film You Got Served?

The latter wins out. Some of the best CGI work I've seen in a long time.
GOD BLESS YOUTUBE: For those looking for a challenge (and impressive audio editing work), check out the last video round from the Big Quiz Thing--10 video clips from movies, overlaid with audio from altogether different movies. Name each movie. Answers in the comments. (We missed the video on numbers 4 and 6, but got all the others right.)
FULL HEART, EYES A LITTLE CLOUDY FOR SOME REASON, MUST BE THE DUST: I said below that Lost has the best peaks of any hour-long show on network television, and it's true, even though it's also a bit of a cheat. There are half-hour shows with higher highs, basic cable shows that have their partisans, possibly even premium cable shows (though it's a bit light there right now). But when I stuck the "network" modifier in there, I was thinking in particular of Friday Night Lights, the world's first independent-channel prerun before it opens wide on NBC after the new year.

I haven't been writing about FNL because there are probably only six or seven of you out there watching it, but I have to say this: It is very rare for a show to make good use of almost the entirety of a large ensemble cast, and rarer still for every member of that ensemble to hit every note perfectly. This week, while the writers and cast are throwing themselves at no less than five separate plots, each textured with doubt and remorse, they manage to mine little bits of gold from even the characters who aren't at the center this week (Julie's shaky attempts to rebuild her relationship with Matt; Tim's good-time charm) without anything seeming rushed. They even managed to observe what should be a cardinal rule of television: if you need an actor to carry a ton of emotional baggage without chewing any scenery (please pardon the mixed metaphor) while speaking with a southern accent, get someone from Deadwood. It was absolutely a perfect 50 commercial-free minutes of television, watched by what is probably the five-digit population of the middle of the Venn diagram of DirecTV subscribers and FNL adherents.

There may be no cultural question more confounding than why large numbers of people have never watched this show.
LIGHTS OUT: It's not my intention to blog every game of the 2008 World Series, but I at least wanted to note my favorite moment as the little smile Ryan Madson gave when leaving the mound after pitching a 1-2-3 eighth inning. That, and the fact that Lucy was very excited to join me here for the player introductions, neverending 80% of the Backstreet Boys singing 120% of the National Anthem and first inning. She [heart] J-Roll. (And the loud cheers from the sizeable Phillies contingent at the Trop.)

I should complain about all the runners left on base, but we're up 1-0 on the road, and that's what counts. (BPro liveblog here.)
YOU WANT ME TO GUESS HOW MANY JELLY BEANS ARE IN THIS HERE JAR WITH ONE JELLY BEAN IN IT?: Following up from my post of earlier this week, I note Arien O'Connell has been deemed a winner of the San Francisco Women's Marathon.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

KALASHNI-COD:Yes, Pushing Daisies is apparently doomed, but isn't it worth savoring while we still have it? Jim Dale uttering the word "badass," the awesomeness of Sassy Nurse Edna, mini-Chi McBride, and so much more.
A PROMO THAT CONTINUES TO ASK THE QUESTION: IF A PLANE FALLS ON BOONE IN THE WOODS, DOES IT MAKE A SOUND? The new Lost promo reminds me that (a) when all cylinders are firing, there is just no hour-long program on network television that holds a candle to this show; and (b) January feels like it cannot come too soon.
POINT BREAK II? Okay, not really.
SKINNY LEGS AND ALL: Am I the only one who's eternally thankful for Jezebel's "This Week In Tabloids," which prevents me from ever wasting another $3.99 on US Weekly by giving me the entire content of each weekly tabloid in just a few words?
MA-WAIT FOR IT-TERNITY: People lets us know that Alyson Hannigan is pregnant, with the baby due in the spring. No word on whether it'll be written into HIMYM and whether Lily will use it as an excuse to buy new and fabulous maternity clothes. Perhaps those who noted that Lily didn't drink her scotch in last week's flash-forward were on to something.
THE INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY COPS: Is it just me, or does at least the beginning of "Now Or Never" (HSM3's apparent answer to "Get'cha Head In The Game") owe a substantial debt to Madonna's "Four Minutes?"
BELIEVE: I don't care what the experts say. Hell, I don't even care to analyze the World Series rationally and break down the matchups. The Phillies are my team, and I will root like hell for them to win. This city needs it, and Charlie Manuel and this team (except Brett Myers) deserve a happy ending. I can't improve on my words from last year, except to revise and amend for 2008:
That is the true genius of Phillies fans, a faith -- a faith in simple dreams, an insistence on small miracles; that we can bring our children to the ballgame and know that the Phanatic won't hurt them; that we can yell what we think, blog what we think, without getting kicked out of the park; that we can scream for the Phillies at twelve of the other thirteen National League parks without fear of retribution, and that our all-star votes will be counted -- at least most of the time.

In the end, that’s what this season is about. Do we participate in a Phillies fandom of cynicism or do we participate in a fandom of hope?

Chase Utley calls on us to hope. Ryan Howard calls on us to hope.

I’m not talking about blind optimism here -- the almost willful ignorance that thinks we don't need a right-handed bat at DH in this series, or that Jamie Moyer's falling apart of late will solve itself if we just ignore it. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about something more substantial. It’s the hope of kids in the Italian Market sitting around a fire singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"; the hope of suburbanites setting out for Citizens Bank Park; the hope of a young Shane Victorino bravely patrolling the centerfield; the hope of James Rollins' son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a big kid at first base with the same name as a character on The Office who believes that the World Series has a place for him, too.

Hope -- Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope!

In the end, that is baseball's greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation. A belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days ahead.

I believe that we have a righteous wind at our backs (and a short porch at Citizen's Bank Park) and that as we stand on the crossroads of history, Charlie Manuel can make the right choices, and meet the challenges that face us.

Philadelphia! Today, if you feel the same energy that I do, if you feel the same urgency that I do, if you feel the same passion that I do, if you feel the same hopefulness that I do -- if we do what we must do, then I have no doubt that all across the region, from Bensalem to Wilmington, from Lancaster to Atlantic City, from Scranton to Fishtown, the Phillies will rise up in late October, and Jamie Moyer will receive his ring, and Cole Hamels will receive his ring, and this region will reclaim its promise, and out of this long sports darkness a brighter day will come.

Opening pitch is at around 8:35 or so tonight.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

THE BELLE OF UPPER DARBY: Entertainment Weekly is soliciting nominees for its annual Entertainer of the Year award. Previous winners, courtesy Wiki, are:
  • Bart Simpson (1990)
  • Jodie Foster (1991)
  • the cast of "Saturday Night Live" (1992)
  • Steven Spielberg (1993)
  • Tom Hanks (1994)
  • the cast of "Friends" (1995)
  • Rosie O'Donnell (1996)
  • Ellen DeGeneres (1997)
  • Leonardo DiCaprio (1998)
  • Ricky Martin (1999)
  • Russell Crowe (2000)
  • Nicole Kidman (2001)
  • Denzel Washington (2002)
  • the cast of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
  • Jon Stewart (2004)
  • the cast of Lost (2005)
  • the cast of Grey's Anatomy (2006)
  • J. K. Rowling (2007)
To me, there's only two real nominees for 2008: Tina Fey and -- pending the quality of The Soloist -- Robert Downey Jr.

e.t.a. And Our Friend Alan Sepinwall immediately notes that The Soloist has been pushed back to a March 2009 release. There goes that idea. The Battling Davids?
HI IN THE MIDDLE AND SWOLLEN TO GROTESQUE PROPORTIONS ON THE ENDS: Let's say you work for a company, doing, I don't know, typing or filing or whatever it is that lawyers supposedly do, since most of you are lawyers. You are one of maybe 100 people in your company with access to the Important File Room, where you are required to spend about an hour or two of every workday. In the last three years, six other people who have access to the Important File Room have developed a type of infection known to breed in environments like file rooms, and your company promises to look into it and fix the problem. Then you get a case of Filing Room Infection. You are treated, and it goes away, and your company again promises to fix the problem. And then you get another case. This time two very important parts of your anatomy -- did I mention that you are a man in this hypothetical (incidentally, you are also an ass, but that's not relevant, and anyway you didn't need me to tell you that)? -- swell so much that you cannot wear pants, causing you excruciating pain and keeping you from doing your job (which you enjoy) for at least a sixteenth of a year. So you understandably complain, both to your co-workers and to your industry's trade publications, about your company's cavalier attitude toward the clearly dangerous (and potentially deadly) Filing Room Infection problem, at least arguably in an effort to protect your co-workers from similar problems. What does your company do? Apologize and actually fix the problem, right?

No, if your company is the Cleveland Browns, it suspends you and docks you 1/16 of your salary for bringing "unjustified negative attention" to the company and for violating the company's "[company]-first concept." Because under the "team-first" principle, if one player has elephantitis-inducing staph, every player should have it, I guess. Anyway, I wish I could just fine people for bringing negative attention on me that I believe is unjustified. That would be kind of a cool superpower.
RUN, LOLA, RUN: Arien O'Connell finished more than 10 minutes ahead of her nearest rival in the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco last weekend. But she didn't win.

Monday, October 20, 2008

JIMMY OLSEN'S BLUES: Clearly the best HIMYM of the year, with Ted and Stella realizing that no island is truly isolated from the outside world -- not Shelter Island, and certainly not Japan. Things didn't feel too contrived, despite Barney's best efforts, and the emotional payoff was surprising and, in its own way, satisfying. To the comments, because spoiler turf is near.
NO SURVIVORS HERE: Jeff Probst got a pilot approved for Live Like You're Dying, a show he'd host in which Probst will help terminally ill people achieve life-long dreams. I will never, ever watch this show.
GOD, VERONICA, MY AFTERLIFE IS SO BORING: I don't watch Chuck, but perhaps I should. Any show that decides to offer up a high school nemesis (played by Nicole Richie tonight in a one-episode guest spot) named Heather Chandler is aces in my book.
ALOTT5MA FILMS PRESENTS: Law School Musical. A treatment follows:

Two young recent college graduates meet in a Karaoke bar in New York City one night. She (Ashley) is an ice-queen corporate gunner type. He (Jake) is a vaguely swarthy soul-patched public interest type. For reasons wholly inexplicable, the two wind up singing a song together which is original, but that somehow is on the karaoke machine. They lose each other in the crowd despite there being an instant attraction.

Some weeks pass, and both Ashley and Jake (unbekownst to either of them) are starting law school at generic yet prestiguous law school so as not to be overly geographically specific. Both are quickly placed into their respective cliques. Ashley is urged by her friends that she needs to stop thinking about Jake so much and should instead study through an extensive song and dance number in the law school library ("Getcha Nose In a Book?"). Mysteriously, no one complains that the students are engaging in elaborate choreography throughout the library rather than studying.

The law school is doing a musical, and tryouts go up. The queen bee of the law school (Poodle), and her gay friend sidekick (Brian) are first to try out, and perform a gaudy song about the recent federalism decisions of the Supreme Court. Ashley and Jake don't want to try out, but are urged by their friends to do so, and perform the song about federalism, but in an more appropriately earthy and mournful way.

Ashley and Jake's respective cliques are upset, and they proceed to sing a song urging them to stick to their respective gunner/public interest ways, which somehow manages to rhyme "status quo," "pro bono," "quid pro quo," and "ex aequo." Additional dancing ensues. Poodle and Brian are given the leads in the law school's musical, and proceed to turn it into a lavish over the top spectacle.

The musical is fast approaching and the first semester is over. Jake is at a protest, while Ashley is in the library. Despite being separate from one another, they can't help but sing about their love for each others. Ashley tuns to the protest, seeking Jake. Jake runs to the library, seeking Ashley. Due to the sort of comic misunderstanding only present in poorly written films, they somehow manage not to pass each other in the course of their journey. Comic mischief and additional singing and dancing ensue, until they run into each other outside the auditorium where musical rehearsals are going on.

Poodle and Brian are practicing their big number--a lavishly overproduced song in which they sing of the forbidden love between Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Clarence Thomas, featuring the other seven justices as backup dancers (breakdancing Justice Kennedy is a high point)--when Jake and Ashley run into each other outside. They sing of their love so loudly to interrupt Poodle and Brian. The Dean of the law school (cameo role--Antonin Scalia? John Roberts?) orders that Jake and Ashley shall play the leads and everyone claps (save Poodle and Brian, who fume comically).

Jake and Ashley walk back to their dorm and find acceptance letters. Jake has been offered a summer job crusading for the environment in New York. Ashley has managed to get a summer associate position with Wachtell. They celebrate and with the entire cast, sing a song about how they'll all be lawyers together. We fade to credits.

Potential sequels? Law School Musical 2: Summer Associates, featuring a cameo from Aquagirl, and Law School Musical 3: 3L Year, in which no one actually does anything, since they already have a job offer.
DAVID DANCED BEFORE THE LORD WITH ALL HIS MIGHT: I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed that Lucy's current obsession, Little Mermaid 3: Ariel's Beginning, is just Footloose + water.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

RAYS PREVAIL: After thrillers in Game 5 and Game 6 in which the Red Sox won, the Rays won the final game 3-1 and will head to the WS. I would like to congratulate the Rays and their fans. The Rays played an excellent series.

I would also like to honor the Sox, who are my favorite team and who turned in an inspired performance that fell just a little short.

On to what I believe will be a first rate World Series (go Phillies!).
E-RACE: So we were in Wellfleet for Oysterfest this week (no rematch on the Spelling Bee) (no, there is nothing like a fresh half-dozen Fleetian oysters from Pirate Shellfish), so I forgot that this was a CBS-has-the-late-game week, and so we'll have missed most of this week's Race. Clue me in.