Saturday, April 16, 2011

I HOPE JEREMY BULLOCH GOT PAID EXTRA FOR THIS: Via Buzzfeed, which has collected a number of ads from this era. My goodness, I hope these kids weren't scarred:

NOT YET INCLUDED--BILL CARTER'S LENO IS KIND OF A DICK, BUT SO IS LETTERMAN: The fine folks at Better Book Titles have modified the titles on the cover of oodles of books to more accurately reflect the books' contents. My favorites include the retitling of Updike's Rabbit books, Super Sad True Love Story, and The Elements of Style. (Contains some political content, but the non-political content is even funnier, excluding maybe the retitling of The Fountainhead.)
POCKY FOR KITTY?  The latest Superchunk video ("Crossed Wires") features a video camera attached to a cat on the prowl. Things happen.

Friday, April 15, 2011

NOTES FROM THE IDOLDOME: (1) Paul McDonald, completely charming in an exit interview: "I almost would feel guilty if I had won, or gone any farther, because I kind of had my own thing going beforehand, and I know exactly who I am as an artist. I'm super thankful that they kept me around this long. But I really want some of these kids — these contestants who want it so, so bad — to win it. Because they're the true stars and I'm just hangin' out, being on their team. Cheering them on."

(2) Next week: songs of the 21st century. Will Jacob sing "The Song Otherwise Known As Forget You"? Please?

(3) A tweet from @AmericanIdol an hour ago: "Holy pride of New Jersey....BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN in the studio right now listening to the idols sing!!!!"
VEGGIE LOAF, SWEETENED WITH FRUIT REDUCTION: I don't really have anything to say, but I felt like somebody should say something about how Parks & Rec consistently proves, including with last night's episode, how you don't actually need to choose between sweet and riotously funny. Long ago, before Seinfeld, all sitcoms ended with what Wm. Stephen Humphries called "the moment of shit" -- the two minutes at the end where every conflict miraculously resolved in a way that left everybody happy and everybody could still be friends. The miracle of Parks & Rec is that it can so often maintain fidelity to that formula -- good things happen and people like each other and problems get fixed in unrealistic ways -- without ever making it appear as if the formula dictates the events in the show, the same way that Shakespearean language doesn't feel dictated by iambic pentameter.

As originally conceived, the show set Leslie Knope's incurable optimism in opposition to the cynicism of everybody around her. Ken Tremendous & Co.'s stroke of genius after Season 1 was to make the real arc of the series the way that that cynicism ultimately yields to Leslie's optimism, and it continues to pay off in spades. Dour April, aloof Ron, scheming Tom, and clueless Andy could be largely one-note characters, great for comic relief in small doses but unsuitable for anything more. Instead, tempered by their affection for Leslie and swayed by her loopy sunnyness, the characters get to grow, and the actors get to shade them. April can drop her sarcasm for sincere moments with Leslie and Andy; Ron can be paternal for Andy and avuncular for April; Andy can grow out of his Season 1 selfishness; we can see both the benefits and the costs of Tom's ambition; Donna can reluctantly take over as Ann's flirting coach (just as Ann served in the same role for Leslie), and it's all because Leslie helped them out of their comfortable shells, bit by bit over two years. So the tidy endings feel earned, not forced.
42: Sixty-four years ago today -- boxscore, NYT, Baltimore Afro-American.
ANOTHER THING THE INTERNET HAS RUINED: Every morning, my bus passes by the Apple Store on Walnut Street, and each time there are at least 20-30 folks queued up outside to purchase from that day's allotment of iPad 2s ("iPads 2?"). And I certainly remember from growing up having to wait in line for concert tickets and the like, but I can't recall waiting in line at a store for something in years, not since one of the Harry Potter release parties at a bookstore. (Goblet?)  For what purchases have you queued in recent years?
ALOTT5MA FRIDAY GRAMMAR RODEO: Two items. First, a request from Heathalouise:
As I've mentioned before, I'm writing my dissertation on media coverage of the Boston Red Sox. Without boring you with too much detail, it's about the intersection of mythology, ritual and collective identity and the creation of "Red Sox Nation." I have struggled with this one stylistic dilemma: How do I write the possessive of Red Sox: Red Sox's or Red Sox'? 
The use is inconsistent in the press and at Major League Baseball. Because of the theoretical slant of my work, I can't just substitute with "Boston." I'll hold off on the logic behind my preferred style (and what it is), but I wondered what everybody else thought.
I think it's a real mess if you can't say Boston's. Sox' (no apostrophe) clearly can't be right, which leaves Sox's as the better answer. Seriously, I'd do whatever I could to avoid having to answer this one.

Second: Ben Yagoda's recent Slate piece tackles "How long should we cling to a word's original meaning?", citing these examples:
Disinterested traditionally meant "impartial," and now is generally used to mean "uninterested." Presently has gone from "shortly" to "currently"; momentarily from "for a moment" to "in a moment"; and nonplussed from perplexed to unimpressed, or fazed to unfazed.
I've adopted the newer definitions for the latter three, but haven't shifted on disinterested. You?

Poll results: Presently has shifted to "currently" (57%-43%), and nonplussed clearly now means "unimpressed" (71%-29% margin).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

AMERICA VOTED:  And there's at least a little to say.

CONSIDER IT A CHECKLIST FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE: Grub Street slideshows "101 dishes that we can honestly say represent the best of everything we see going on in American pasta". Among the Philadelphia entries: Amis's tonnarelli cacio e pepe, the spaghetti and meatballs at red-gravy classic Marra's, and ("of course," any Philadelphian would say) the spinach gnocchi at Vetri.
I'M HOLDING OUT FOR ELEANOR WALDORF'S APARTMENT: Do you have $9 million to spare and want a unique pop cultural curio? Well, then, you can buy the house prominently featured on Beverly Hills, 90210 as Donna and Kelly's home during college.
LOVING BOTH OF YOU IS BREAKING ALL THE RULES:  Next in our ad hoc series on the mores of modern dating, an anonymous friend of the blog seeks wisdom from the group:
At what point in one's relationship with person A does it become inappropriate to also be going on dates with persons B, C, and D? Obviously this is subjective. But what guides you? Is it how many times you've seen A? The frequency? Physical intimacy? You know it because you just don't feel like seeing B, C, or D anymore? Some other factors? Or is it "anything goes" until you have a talk and commit to exclusivity?
What I said is that (a) when it'd upset A to know about B/C/D, it's time to stop it (or when you, contra-wise, would be upset to know A was still seeing others); and (b) that as a matter of course, you'll hit a point with A that you just don't want to be spending your free time with someone else.  YMMV.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I ENJOY BEING ON THE BOTTOM, IF THAT'S WHERE I AM:  When they announced that this would be a double-Tribal episode of Survivor, I pretty much figured out what that mean. I just didn't know it would be this much fun. I can say "Rob Rob Rob Rob - please count this as 4 votes" above the fold; the rest will wait a moment.

SAIL ON, SILVER GIRL:  Tonight's Idol was a mess. The definition of "songs from the movies" got stretched from "oh, wait, that Simon & Garfunkel song was used forty years later in a Will Smith movie" to "I think Mike Tyson sang that in The Hangover" to "wait, Boomerang had a soundtrack?"

As for the performances, y'all know I'm all for idiosyncratic, personal and not-been-performed-before stuff. But, sheesh: Casey's indulgent "Nature Boy" had notes in all sorts of weird places; James's "Heavy Metal" may have had more Zakk Wylde than James; Scotty did a George Strait song which put America to sleep.

Look, if a TMZ report is to be believed, it's all Scotty/Lauren/James anyway, with James presumably sweeping up all the non-country votes to enter the finals. But let's pretend the singing matters for a minute: only Lauren and Haley did anything even marginally interesting in terms of selling a song; Stefano, Paul and Casey just didn't sing well; and when Scotty proclaims it's time to "return to his country roots" after his wildly eclectic run to date, ugh.  And the judges, of course, didn't judge (except for Haley).    A bad ninety minutes of television, and that's without wondering when joined the cast.

Bottom line: when you sing a song titled "End of the Road" it will be, Stefano.
I DON'T FIND THIS STUFF AMUSING ANYMORE: I didn't need to know that the line about "a short little span of attention" in Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al" was a reference to penile inadequacy, though the rest of this transcribed piece on the making of Graceland is cool.

But is it really a song just about midlife crisis and personal awakening in Africa? Or, is it (also) the story of an alcoholic's coming to terms with his illness -- with "Betty" being the Betty Ford Clinic and "call me Al" meaning, yes, I am willing to label myself as an alcoholic in need of your help.  (And what is a roly-poly little bat-faced girl, anyway?)
BOOING A POLITICIAN IS ALWAYS ACCEPTABLE, HE ADMITS:  Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, now weekly sports columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, presents his rules for booing.
MOVEMENT OF THE PEOPLE: Last year, they tweeted the Exodus. This year, it's a more comprehensive internet approach.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

KNOW WHEN YOU'VE OUTGROW THE MISTAKEN ASSUMPTIONS: My name is John Steigerwald. As many of you know, I wrote an article that didn't go over that well. Some people thought it was insensitive of me to blame Brian Stow for being beaten by Dodgers fans because he wore a Giants jersey to Dodger Stadium, and then to suggest that people should insult him if he ever wakes up from his coma. In fact, I achieved the rare 0% on the commentariat's Tomatometer. Bad for me! Well, I am an intelligent human being, and I certainly did learn some things this week. The things I learned included the following:

  1. In my article, I relied repeatedly on the assumption that people "think that wearing the jersey makes them part of the team." They don't!

  2. On a related note, Halloween is now going to be much less terrifying.

  3. On another related note, my "why isn't sports merchandising punishable under the fraud laws?" article is going to get a heavy edit.

  4. I said repeatedly that wearing jerseys means that you are not dressed like a "regular human being." Professional sports are played by human beings? Get out of town. There is egg on my face.

  5. My editor has just now informed me that when I say "there is egg on my face," I do not literally have to put egg on my face. Kleenex, please. Also, please feel free to return to town.

  6. I also just now learned that paragraphs can be longer than two sentences. I thought that you were supposed to put a paragraph break where you take a breath. Many times in the past have I passed out and awakened face-down in the carpet after trying to cram three or more sentences into a paragraph. In fact, that rug burn explains why my face is so red in my head shot.
THE SPACECRAFT HAS APPARENTLY BEEN TAKEN OVER – "CONQUERED" IF YOU WILL – BY A MASTER RACE OF GIANT SPACE ANTS. IT'S DIFFICULT TO TELL FROM THIS VANTAGE POINT WHETHER THEY WILL CONSUME THE CAPTIVE EARTHMEN OR MERELY ENSLAVE THEM. ONE THING IS FOR CERTAIN. THERE IS NO STOPPING THEM; THE ANTS WILL SOON BE HERE: NASA has announced today -- the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle launch (and the 50th anniversary of Gagarin's first manned space flight) -- that its retired Space Shuttle fleet will be displayed permanently as follows:
  • The Enterprise test orbiter moves from the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in NYC.
  • Discovery goes to Udvar-Hazy. 
  • Endeavour to the California Science Center in LA.
  • Atlantis, which will fly the last planned shuttle mission in June, will be parked at the Kennedy Space Center.
Among the cities dissed and pissed? Chicago, which at least will get the shuttle flight simulator; Houston, home of the Johnson Space Center; Seattle, which wanted one for its Museum of Flight; and Dayton, home of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
THERE MUST BE SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE MACHINERY: The great thing about Idol, really, is that even when the singing's not great there's still something to talk about. Re Pia's ouster, then, two items. First, my twitterbuddy Nigel Lythgoe may want to make Idol more like SYTYCD or X Factor:
Lythgoe, speaking to Yahoo at the So You Think You Can Dance callback auditions in Las Vegas, revealed that he had never expected Toscano to win the competition.

"I know the results, so I know she was never a frontrunner," he said.

... He also hinted at a possible format change in future seasons: "Maybe if we change the rules next season, maybe do the same thing we do on So You Think You Can Dance ... so that America votes for the bottom three, and then the judges decide who goes home ... I think that will be thought about."
Second, our friends from WhatNotToSing have crunched the numbers and have two major conclusions: (a) there wasn't as much cannon fodder in the finals this year, making everyone extra-vulnerable, and (b) Pia's real problem was that every performance but one of hers was of a song previously performed on the show, while the winners and runners-up have decidedly lower "repeat" percentages.

Finally: this week is Songs From The Movies week. Other than the obvious call of Paul McDonald singing "Falling Slowly," what else would you suggest for the contestants?  [Haley: "Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend" or "Seems Like Old Times," Scotty, "I'm Easy," and Jacob, "Let The River Run"?]

Monday, April 11, 2011

THE NERDIEST THING I'VE EVER DONE: That would be "read all four extant volumes of the Game of Thrones series," which I refuse to call the Song of Fire and Ice series, because that title is dumb. Anyway, Game of Thrones premieres on HBO this Sunday, and I thought I'd give my two cents. Thank god for the Kindle, because (a) at 3500 pages (and counting, four books into an alleged seven-book series) and a dry weight of 4.3 pounds, that's a lot of book to lug around; and (b) nobody wants to be the guy on the train reading the book with a picture of a glowing chalice on the cover or the word "sword" in the title. Look, these are books whose enjoyability is commensurate with their heft, and I know I shouldn't care what anybody thinks of what I'm reading, but I'm just stating the facts here: it is embarrassing to be a grown man reading a book that people will assume is about dragons.
DOES THIS MEAN WE GET A SEQUEL? In a ruling from Alex Kozinski today, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss had their efforts to set aside an earlier litigation settlement relating to Facebook tossed by the Ninth Circuit. The opinion's interesting not just because Kozinski comes down on the side of "Winklevosses" rather than "Winklevoss Parties" or "Winklevii," but also because it discloses (perhaps for the first time) that the Winklevii were at least alleged to have hacked into Facebook "to purloin user data." The legal issues honestly aren't that interesting (basically, questions are whether a term sheet can function as a complete agreement or just an "agreement to agree" and whether it's possible to defraud someone represented by sophisticated counsel), but if Kozinski is to be heeded, this story is now at its end. HT: Prof. Eric Goldman's Twitter Feed.
HUNGER GAME OF THRONES, A SYNOPSIS: A long time ago or from now on a familiar continent, all seven or twelve regions of the continent fought bloodily until the ascension of a brutal dictatorship, which ruled by dragons, or helicopters, from a capital blithely detatched from the suffering it imposed. It came to pass that annual tradition, or Nielsen imperatives, or incest and regicide, called forth from each of the seven or twelve regions a champion or two, chosen by birth or acclaim or television hostess, to fight for the throne, honor, survival, or free rent. The champions forged and betrayed alliances, employing the assistance of magic and science and sex and hairstylists and a lot of dumb luck. Quickly, or interminably, everybody killed everybody else, until at long or short last, our heroes lived the rest of their lives in peace, or died gruesomely, or undied gruesomely, or slinked off to hide behind a retreating publication date.

Outside the arena of battle, armies argued mercilessly about casting.
ALOTT5MA GRAMMAR RODEO MONDAY ALL-REQUEST EDITION:  Because Professor Jeff, our 2007 Distinguished Visiting Lecturer, has a question:
My son's Little League game on Sunday was originally set for 3:30, but it's now been rescheduled for an earlier, 11:30 start time. In explaining the new schedule, I referred to this change as "pushing back" the start time. Upon further reflection, though, I realized I could (and probably would) have used the exact same idiom had the game been rescheduled for later in the day -- i.e., if it had been "pushed back" to 5:30. So: which is the proper meaning of "push back" in the context of rescheduling an event: earlier or later (or both)? (Yes, I know there are easy ways to avoid this confusion -- "reschedule for earlier," "postpone until later" -- but where's the fun in simple solutions?)
IT'S TIME TO GET THINGS STARTED:  It's the first time I've had the NYT Business section wrested away from me by a seven-year-old, because they've published a table-setter for the Muppets re-boot this fall.  Of the Thanksgiving film, Lisa Henson says: "This is the first Muppet production of any size that is really being spearheaded by fans instead of hard-core Muppet professionals." Yeah, I'm excited.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

IDOL GIVES BACK: If we're going to give American Idol a hard time for all the things about it which suck, a moment for equal time -- The Ryan Seacrest Foundation has announced that it "has selected The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia as its newest site for the construction of The Voice, an interactive broadcast multi-media center for sick and injured children. The Voice provides young patients within The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia community with an outlet to engage in activities related to radio, TV and new media, ranging from broadcasting like a DJ and playing their favorite songs to watching live artists perform and interviewing celebrities."
WORDS FLOWING OUT JUST LIKE THE GRAND CANYON:  Below the fold, the trailer for "Fight For Your Right - Revisited," a thirty-minute film directed by Nathaniel Hörnblowér to accompany next month's new Beastie Boys album, in which every face is a familiar one.
FROM LONDON TO THE BAY : Seen today in Berkeley on various family adventures: