Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Such a Dirty Old Man

Being a latecomer to HBO/BBC's Extras, I've been catching up on the older episodes, including this one with Patrick Stewart. The man has got range!

Monday, January 29, 2007

I can't believe the news today...

According to Breitbart.com, certain parishes under the Church of England will now be able to perform services to the tune of U2 songs "in an effort to boost congregations." Two of the songs to be used are "Mysterious Ways" and "Beautiful Day."

As some of you know, I've listened to U2 since I was about 14. But if I were sitting in a church and suddenly I was told to please rise and sing the communion hymn, "Bullet the Blue Sky," I think I would have to flee.

Sadly, this sort of gimmick is not new. When I was in Catholic high school, someone conned our teachers and the local priest into playing Mr. Mister's "Kyrie" during the consecration.

Get Your Geek On

Dan McLaughlin has been musing about the Star Wars prequels. I know what you're thinking--Now?

Except that Dan isn't working in terms of recriminations. He's thinking about how the films could have been improved. And one of his ideas, in particular, will blow you. (Away!)

2. Combine the First Two Films. Since the original Star Wars ("A New Hope") billed itself as "Episode IV," the prequels had to be three films. But they didn't have to be these three. In fact, I think most Star Wars fans expected the first of the three films to introduce Anakin, the second to cover the Clone Wars, and the third to bring Anakin over fully to the Dark Side.

Had Lucas stuck with that order, a huge number of the narrative problems and omissions in the prequel trilogy would have fallen away. First, Lucas himself has admitted that he had to pad out Phantom Menace to get to a full-length film. Making an Episode I that covered Phantom Menace's storyline in 45 minutes before jumping ahead 10 years to pick up the Attack of the Clones storyline would have immediately removed or drastically shortened a lot of the filler and the redundant plotlines - the Gungans (Jar Jar even would not have been so bad with five minutes of screen time), the storyline where Anakin accidentally destroys the Death Star-lite, the fun but overlong pod race, the repetitive fight scenes at Padme's palace. As a corollary, instead of being off in a star fighter Anakin should have been present for the final battle with Darth Maul. That would have presented several opportunities - have him witness the death of his first mentor, intensifying his emotional scars. Have him play some role, through a not-entirely-intentional use of the Dark Side of the Force (perhaps even a Force-choke on Darth Maul that isn't noticed by Obi-Wan) that saves Obi-Wan and lets him kill Darth Maul, thus (1) establishing Anakin's unusual precocity without the need for a midichlorian blood sample and (2) serving as a sort of original sin in his relationship with Obi-Wan. Personally, I would also have laid out near the beginning the death of Sifo Dyas, whose critical role in ordering the clone army is never explained onscreen.

Hardware Hotness

Mike Goldfarb has a disturbing post about the unbelievably hot F-22 Raptor. Seems the fighter was designed without the ability to send data!

Caffeinated donuts. I'm just saying.

Friday, January 26, 2007

WorldWide Standard

Galley Friend and Eagles Super Fan Michael Goldfarb has taken over the WorldWide Standard and looks to be taking the blog in different, highly interesting directions. For instance, here's Goldfarb on the "MOP"--the Air Force's new stealth bunker-buster:

Military and Aerospace Electronics reports that the Air Force is working to outfit the B-2 stealth bomber with a "30,000-pound bunker-busting 'super bomb.'" The bomb, known as the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), is designed to destroy deeply buried and reinforced bunkers of the type North Korea and Iran have relied upon for their nuclear weapons programs.

You can read more about the MOP at globalsecurity.org, but most significant is its ability to penetrate more than 200 feet of earth and reinforced concrete. That is a significant improvement over the GBU-28, which is a 5,000-pound laser-guided bomb that was initially used to destroy Iraqi underground facilities in the first Gulf War. And while some experts have questioned how effective bunker-busters will be against hardened targets in Iran and elsewhere, John Pike told me last year that he believed the military had deliberately fostered such doubts in an attempt "to lull the mullahs into a false sense of security." He said the GBU-28 would cut through such facilities "like a hot knife through butter," which makes one wonder just what a bomb six-times heavier could do.

Goldfarb is a fine reporter and a great writer and if you have even passing interest in military affairs, he'll be required reading for you.

Sony: Completely Out of Touch

Take a look at this article, featuring an interview with Sony's Jack Tretton. The date stamp on it says "January 23," and I assume that's from 2007. But Tretton's description of the marketplace sounds like it's from January 2006. In the course of ruling out a PS3 price drop until 2008, Tretton says:

Tretton also stated that demand for the PS3 means that consumers will be willing to pay over the odds at launch.

“I think the consumers that get their hands on a PlayStation 3 clearly see the value and not only want to buy one for $599, in some instances they’re willing to pay ridiculous prices on eBay,” he said.

Here's the PS3 eBay page. First, note that there's a ton of inventory. Next, observe that there are indeed a lot of sellers asking ridiculous prices, but not a lot of buyers at those levels. The action seems to be on the many, many units which are selling below MSRP.

Aussie Open Notes

Andy Roddick can't roll with RFed, but he gives good interview:

He was asked what it was like to be on center court at the end of a Grand Slam semi in which he was sent packing in straight sets in just 1 hour, 23 minutes.

"It was frustrating. It was miserable. It sucked. It was terrible," Roddick said. "Besides that, it was fine."

Roddick was asked to explain the match starting from the point where the score was 4-4 in the first set.

"I got broken. Then I got broken three more times. Then I got broken two more times in the third set. Then it was over 26 minutes later. Is that what you saw, too?" he said.

Questions turned to Jimmy Connors, the former great who is now coaching Roddick and who the player had earlier said helped to boost his game and his confidence to the point where he believed he was ready to challenge nine-time Grand Slam winner Federer.

Reporter: "What did Jimmy say to you straight after the game?"

Roddick: "He gave me a beer."

What was Connors advice coming into the match?

"There was a lot of strategy talk," Roddick said. But, "It's not so much like, `If you're down 6-4, 6-0, 2-0 ...' We didn't really talk about that. Oops."

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Will Work For Food

Specifically, I will work for foie gras eggrolls, Bay scallop ceviche, and freshly shucked oysters. As Washington Post staff writer Sara Kehaulani Goo reports from Google HQ in Mountain View, California, that is exactly the sort of fare offered by the company's various cafés (and not cafeterias) to its hard-working employees.

Just a taste:

One week, according to menus Google provided, chefs featured the "tuna tower": a collection of "mixed organic greens, carrot matchsticks, and Asian dressing topped with sliced, seared Ahi tuna, diced ginger root and lime, toasted coconut, basil, mint, cilantro, pickled cucumber and peanut praline." Earlier this month, a menu at Cafe 150 touted egg rolls "stuffed with Szechuan duck confit, Sonoma foie gras and julienne celery root . . . served with huckleberry-ponzu jelly"; Bloody Mary consomme with "house made crab, saffron, and celery gelee"; and, for dessert, potato chips covered in chocolate and sprinkled with fleur de sel.

Two other things: Google offers not only lunch but breakfast and dinner, encouraging its 10,000 workers to spend more time in the office, thereby bolstering productivity. Second, did I mention it is all free?

I know what you're thinking. Go ahead, soak it up, enjoy it while you can. But nothing lasts forever and one day this too shall pass. Maybe so, but that might not be for at least another six or seven years. And right now, I am thinking of going to Potbelly's, wait in a line that wraps around the block, and purchase a "Wreck" sandwich and a bag of Utz sour cream and onion potato chips.

It's just not right.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bam Bam Bigelow, RIP

Sad news: Scott "Bam Bam" Bigelow is dead at the age of 45. ImpactWrestling.com has details about services to be held at the Jersey shore this Friday and Saturday.

I don't know that I ever saw a great build-up to the introduction of a new WWF wrestler like the one Vince McMahon gave Bam Bam. Remember all of the managers--Bobby the Brain, Mr. Fuji, etc.--fighting to sign Bigelow, only to have the weird Mr. Humperdink emerge with him after weeks of promos?

Quiescat in Pace.
At last night's State of the Union address, President Bush recognized Dikembe Mutombo for his humanitarian efforts, saying:

Dikembe Mutombo grew up in Africa, amid great poverty and disease. He came to Georgetown University on a scholarship to study medicine--but Coach John Thompson got a look at Dikembe and had a different idea. Dikembe became a star in the NBA, and a citizen of the United States. But he never forgot the land of his birth--or the duty to share his blessings with others. He has built a brand new hospital in his hometown. A friend has said of this good-hearted man: "Mutombo believes that God has given him this opportunity to do great things." And we are proud to call this son of the Congo our fellow American.

Afterwards, Mutombo told the Houston Chronicle in a phone interview that "My heart was full of joy. I didn't know the president was going to say such great remarks. He raised me so high. I'm so happy. I'm so proud to be a citizen of the United States of America and to be recognized for my work. God is good to have put this work in my heart."

The Rockets center then proceeded to Statuary Hall and greeted the press gaggle with a hearty "Who wants to sex Mutombo tonight?"

The Daily Mail reports that this frill shark was recently discovered off the coast of Japan. Widely regarded as prehistoric because it has barely evolved over millions of years, this frill shark lurks more than two thousand feet below the surface, has a "mouthful of needle-sharp teeth," and feeds on other sharks.

Shoot it! Shoot it!

House: A Very Special Episode

Blog Crush II got their hands on the script for a Super-Bowl themed episode, guest starring Peyton Manning. So brilliant you'll cry.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

SuperBowl Sour Grapes

Much--too much--is being made over Dungy and Smith being the first black coaches in the SuperBowl. Does anyone care about this stuff anymore?

But on the off-chance someone out there does care, I propose that we simply declare that the NFL will only have completely solved its diversity problem when a black kicker wins a SuperBowl.

(Or, failing that, when another white running-back wins. Whichever comes first.)

Get Your Fresh CulturePulp!

For real this time. A very excellent installment.

Best Headline Ever?

The wits at the Washington Post have this tidbit on Nancy Pelosi's new charm offensive:

"Pelosi Lures Cameras to the Speaker's Box"

Yeah, baby! No word yet as to whether Vivid or Digital Playground will win the rights.

Monday, January 22, 2007

My Fast Wants to Hump Peter Stormare

The best ad series of the year has got to be VW's new GTI series, "Un-Pimp Your Ride." The spots feature Peter Stormare doing a hipster/mad-scientist character that's a melding of his characters from Big Lebowski and Minority Report, with of dash of Sprockets added for good measure. The only way these ads could be better would be if he threw in a barely-audible cluck-ing sound.

This one is the best of the group:

Check out the wild look in his eyes just before he gets to the catch-phrase, "Time to un-pimp ze auto..." Priceless.

The two other entries in the series are here and here.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Aussie Open Notes

Saw a lot of the new Serena Williams this weekend:

"Get the champ some peanut-butter brickle ice cream!"

Friday, January 19, 2007

Mummy Represent

Dustin Rowles has some unkind words about the news that the third installment of the Mummy series has been given the go-ahead. But let's give a little shout-out to the Mummy: Yes, the movies aren't much, but the Universal Studios' roller-coaster, Revenge of the Mummy, may be the best theme-park ride ever made.

Plus, the Mummy franchise brought Rachel Weisz to the wider world. And if she isn't in your top five, something's wrong with you.

Cold Comfort Farm

Yes, this is the only thing Philly fans have to keep them warm this weekend.

Note the outstanding POD at the end of the clip. Some producer was thinking fast.

Darth Gates on the PS3

Sure, he's spinning, but Bill Gates makes some reasonably persuasive points nonetheless:

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has declared that the strategy for Xbox 360 is "working perfectly", questioning Sony and Nintendo's next-gen console offerings.

As reported by Dean Takahashi of the San Jose Mercury News, Gates observed that the original Xbox was "20 per cent better" than its rivals.

However, he continued, "It didn't matter. We were a year late, didn't have the best games. We had this bigger box. We did have online. We didn't switch positions on that."

But as for the strategy for Xbox 360, "It's working perfectly. We wanted to be the guy with the small box that costs less. We wanted to have the most games. We wanted to play to our software strength, and tools and online.

"We wanted to swap positions with Sony. We wanted to not be a year late, not be a big box, not be a more expensive box. How are we doing on that?"

Thursday, January 18, 2007

I can't believe I missed this but, last November, according to Jon Hilkevitch of the Chicago Tribune, "A flying saucerlike object hovered low over O'Hare International Airport for several minutes before bolting through thick clouds with such intense energy that it left an eerie hole in overcast skies, said some United Airlines employees who observed the phenomenon.... The sighting occurred during daylight, about 4:30 p.m., just before sunset.

"All the witnesses said the object was dark gray and well defined in the overcast skies. They said the craft, estimated by different accounts to be 6 feet to 24 feet in diameter, did not display any lights.

"Some said it looked like a rotating Frisbee, while others said it did not appear to be spinning. All agreed the object made no noise and it was at a fixed position in the sky, just below the 1,900-foot cloud deck, until shooting off into the clouds."

Luckily, the UFO found an open gate at Midway.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The master of ceremonies for this year's White House Correspondence Dinner has just been revealed by the Examiner: Rich Little. That's right, the Rich Little. Remember his Christmas Carol impression-extravaganza? Sure that was in 1978 but it still resonates today. And what about those indelible Little Debbie commercials? Frank Gorshin, if only you were still with us! (Or what about Pat Cooper?)


Blog Crush II has an awesome video of Prince Peyton. Scroll all the way down.

Seriously: If Manning wins, or even get to, the SuperBowl, ESPN and other NFL telecasts will become totally unwatchable next season.

For no good reason, here are Archie Manning's career stats. Go look the up the next time one of the ESPN heads talks about his greatness. That's right, 125 TDs vs. 173 INTs, lifetime. Only two seasons with more TDs than INTs.

I'm not sure he'd even start in today's NFL.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Short Sony. Now.

From Galley Friend S.B. comes this AICN entry indicating that porn producers seem to be choosing HD-DVD over Sony's Blu-Ray.

Update: The NPD console numbers are out:

Official hardware statistics reveal that despite the addition of new hardware to the market, Sony's PlayStation 2 was still the biggest selling home system, clocking up 1.4 million units for December, and 37.1 million to date in the US.

Microsoft's Xbox 360 added another 1.1 million units in December to a total of 4.5 million units since launch, while Nintendo's Wii sold 604,200 units for the month - with year end sales at 1.1 million.

Although Sony recently announced it had shipped one million PS3 units to North America, NPD data reveals the new console has only sold 687,000 of those, with 490,700 units sold in December.

Advantage: Blogosphere

Galley Brother B.J. sends us to the Nation of Islam Sports Blog. It's pretty good. Sample:
Salaam aleikum, Paul Hewitt.

Your Georgia Tech Black Jackets defeated the ultimate white devil, Mike Krshewissdiyssky and his evil forces of oppression, in the subhuman form of Duke Blue Devils.

For years slave master coach KKK has built his fortune and fame on the back of the original human. In turn, slave master coach KKK has tried to give the credit to the white players that have reaped the benefits of the Negro teamates around them. Jay Bilas, Bobby Hurley, Christian Laetner...etc, have all been products of their Negro teamates. Held in esteem and on high as they paraded themselves mounted atop the Negro throes beneath them.

How times have changed in Durham. Now, slave master coach KKK doesn't have the great numbers of talented Negro soldiers to fight his battles as in the past. Now his white players are exposed for what they are. Greg Paulus and Mcwhatever his name is are shown to be little more than above average players.

Here's NoISB on hockey:
White devils on ice. Whirling dervishes on skates. White athletes propelled and assisted by physics to speeds they can not reach on land. The ice. The last refuge and hiding place of the white athlete.

Not Michael Bay Blog territory, but still.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Great Moments in Philadelphia History

The drafting of the Constitution.

The election of Frank Rizzo.

And now this:
One group of Philly fans loaded up a pickup truck with imported snow in order to fire snowballs at Giants fans before yesterday's game. Even more hysterically sociopathic, the Birds supporters brought buckets to take the snow with them in order to hunt down New York fans in the parking lot.

Yeah, baby.

An American Hero

Some Galley Friends are aware of my slight misgivings about Realtors. But now I've found Frank Borges Llosa--a D.C. area anti-Realtor.

How great is Frank? If you go by his blog, he seems to know his stuff. And his mission statement seems to be along the lines of Are you sure you really want to buy that place?

But it gets even hotter--like this long post taking on the National Association of Realtors for their "It's a great time to buy or sell a home" campaign. (Only Realtors could figure out how to work the square root of -1 into market economics.)

Here's Frank on why not to trust the NAR. Here he is on how leverage increases the buyer's risks. Here he is on how Realtors fudge MLS data.

Go read it all.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

My Name Is . . . Koyyyyyyyyy!

What's better than TonyHomo.com? How about the Koy Detmer fanpage.

Has there ever been this much love for a holder? Go ahead and download the Koy Detmer wallpaper. You know you want to.

Peter Jackson's Progress

If you haven't followed it, Peter Jackson's fight with New Line has now escalted to the point where studio head Bob Shaye says that Jackson, who was responsible for the biggest success in New Line's history, is no longer welcome at the studio: "[T]he answer is he will never make any movie with New Line Cinema again while I'm still working for the company."

The genesis of this fight is a lawsuit Jackson and his wife have launched against the studio seeking to gain access to the company's finances (see Jackson's explanation here). The nub seems to be that Jackson and Walsh think New Line is cheating them out of some revenue still due to them.

That may be true. Heck, the way studio accounting works, it probably is true. But it says something deeply unflattering about Jackson that he isn't content with what he has and able to write off whatever theoretical moneys he's missing out on as the cost of doing business.

Let's not forget that until Mike DeLuca (the former head of New Line), plucked Jackson out of obscurity and gave Jackson the LoTR project, he was a small-time, fledgling genre director. If you look at >Jackson's track record, he had four features under his belt, the biggest of which grossed $16.7M. (Only one other of Jackson's movies topped the $1M mark.)

Yet DeLuca and New Line bet the company on Jackson, giving him an initial budget approaching a quarter of a billion dollars. (The actual budget increased as post-production costs increased and the FoTR performed well at the box office.) By all accounts, Jackson was given near total freedom from and support by New Line, he won himself a basket of Oscars, and pocketed, when all was said and done, somewhere in the neighborhood of $250M for himself.

If New Line is cheating him out of another $8M in DVD revenue--heck, if they're cheating him out of $80M--Jackson should be grateful to the company for making his career, supporting his artistic vision, and changing everything about his life.

Going nuclear over a few extra dollars here and there after he already has his "fuck-you" money, suggests that Jackson has gone Hollywood in the worst possible way.

But after seeing King Kong, maybe we already knew that.

Levels of Funny

(*Also from Blog Crush II.)

Hating on Charm City

From Blog Crush II:
Fun fact: My favorite movie of all time is the Sum of All Fears. I know: Ben Affleck crappiness matched up with Tom Clancy retardery. But here's the kicker: Baltimore gets blown the fuck up by a nuclear bomb. I own the DVD and it's the only part I've watched since buying it. Still the greatest purchase I ever made.

Scroll up to the next post and you'll get more from the Sex Cannon, particularly an awesome White Chicks joke.

Impossible is the Opposite of Possible

Galley Friend C.L. gives me, and you, this amazing, beautiful gift: George Michael Bluth doing Aleksey Vayner. Is it better than anything you could possibly imagine? Yes.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

News Flash: Sony Solves PS3 Supply Problem!

Executives at Sony have finally gotten some PS3 inventory onto shelves in North America, conquering what some analysts thought might be an intractable supply issue. With one half of the equation solved, Sony now turns to the PS3 demand problem:
Daniel A. DeMatteo, vice chairman and COO of GameStop, late last week said PS3s are available at "hundreds of the company's 3,700 outlets," according to the New York Times. The Wii, on the other hand, is still hard to come by.

"We got some [Wiis] in yesterday in really limited supply, and they virtually disappeared," DeMatteo said, according to the NYT.

The $250 Wii and $499/$599 PlayStation 3 were very difficult to purchase after their November launches, as gamers lined up outside stores at times days in advance to buy the systems. DeMatteo says this is the first time that PS3 stock has remained unsold in his stores.

Over the weekend, GameSpot editors visited a local EB Games, which is owned by GameStop, and found PS3s available for purchase. As for the Wii, one clerk told GameSpot, "We got some in earlier this week and they were gone in five minutes."

Pajiba Love

Our friends at Pajiba have kindly nominated (or nominated to be nominated) Galley Slaves for something called the Bloggies.

I don't know what the Bloggies are, but that's hardly the point. The reason I mention this at all is because Pajiba has put us on a list that includes two of the best blogs on the planet: Blog Crush II and Jenny's House of Romophobia. Which, however undeserving, is pretty sweet.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Easiest Sell in the History of Pictures?

The history of cinema is littered with high-concepts that practically sell themselves:

* A giant shark becomes territorial.

* A dinosaur DisneyWorld goes terribly wrong.

* There are snakes. On a plane.

But have you ever heard of a high-concept as easy as the one for Normal Adolescent Behavior? Here's Drew McWeeney describing the flick:
Amber Tamblyn stars as Wendy, a smart girl who is a sort of lynchpin for a group of friends who have known each other since kindergarten. The six of them decided to skip the world of Friday night parties and hook-ups and spin the bottle so that they wouldn’t get side-tracked.

So every Saturday night, they get together as a group and have sex.

If New Line can't make a lot of money with this, something's wrong.

Pepper . . . and Salt!

Words of wisdom from Galley Friend M.G.:

Being from Philadelphia, this is all we can hope for--all we live for. We can never win the Big One. But if we can ruin the Giants' and Cowboys' seasons . . . that's our measure for success. That's our SuperBowl.

True that.

This has been the most satisfying year of Eagles fandom in my lifetime. Consider:

* The Birds beat the Cowboys twice--holding Terrell Owens to 6 catches for 68 yards and exposing him as the washed-up nutcase he is.

* Owens had a 1-year contract with Dallas and now that the rest of the league has seen that he's as used up as LiLo's cooter, it's nothing but short money from now on. The Cowboys might pick up his 1-year option for next year, but I bet he's substitute teaching within three.

* Tony Romo's bungled hold against the Seahawks was the best Dallas defeat ever (non-Philadelphia division). It was so good that it didn't even matter what happened to the Birds on Sunday.

* Listening to Parcells rip Romo after the game ("It looked like a good snap"), it appeared that (a) the Great Tuna might not be coming back to Dallas and (b) Romo's confidence might be shattered, Chuck Knobloch-stizz.

* Let's be clear: The Eagles have no--zero--chance of beating New Orleans on the road. But by beating the Giants last night, they contributed to the Legend of Manning. I hear squash season begins the second week of February.

* Also, last night's win probably signed Tom Coughlin's coaching death warrant.

Just in case you're keeping score, that's at least three, maybe even four or five, Giant/Cowboy careers wrecked by the Eagles this year. Fucking awesome. To be honest, I bet winning a championship is nowhere near as satisfying. Not that I'd know.

(And the Birds went to the playoffs with a backup QB, which doesn't happen every day in this league.)

How good was this season? So good that, for today, at least, I don't even care that Malibu Brownie has returned to Sixers management and looks to be about 12 months from taking over the head coach job. If Billie King wants me to buy a Nuggets jersey that badly, then . . .

The Rowdy One

Start your week off right: With this excellent Roddy Piper interview. It doesn't get much better:
"The fans saved my life, I truly believe that," Piper explains. "There was this pay-per-view called Cyber Sunday and the fans voted between myself, Dusty Rhodes, and Sgt. Slaughter, some pretty good company there, and it was for who was going to be Ric Flair's partner going for the tag team titles. Kindly, the fans voted me in, we won the titles, then we're over in Europe and something goes wrong with my legs…they're not working. They fly me back to the States, put me on the slab, cut open my back and they discover I have cancer. Lymphoma. But there's a really happy ending to it. First off, they picked the wrong guy to bully; I'm going to kick its butt. Also, they caught it at its very early stage. They put me on the rotisserie every day now, I'm going to be on radiation for the next 4-5 weeks, and they think they can clear it up. I'm going to be walking down that hall again, Jon.

"If the fans didn't vote me in, I wouldn't have went to Europe, I wouldn't have had a reason to have my back checked, and from what has been explained to me, in two to three years, this would have been all throughout my body and I would've had to go out that day. But you know what, the fans have been taking care of me all my life. What can I even say to them for that? It's pretty special for me."

Proposed: In the pro-wrestling pantheon, the only guy who comes close is Ric Flair.


Friday, January 05, 2007

Lisa, Nielsen, etc.

Just catching up on back Lisa de Moraes columns and this one is gold:
It's hard to be one of the Reporters Who Cover Television this time of year. While the rest of the population gets to attend holiday parties and amuse themselves with witty conversation about the regrettably low standard of morality among that segment of the population younger than they are, the poor RWCT usually can be found backed into a corner by a mob of partygoers angrily demanding to know why their favorite TV show was canceled while "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" is still on the air even though no one is watching, why reality programming continues to be perpetrated upon them, why TRWCT are so mean to that nice Katie Couric and, finally, to give details of their own idea for the next sure-fire gimongous TV hit.

Generally, at the first party a Reporter Who Covers Television has enough distracting factoids in his arsenal to come back pretty chirpily to this onslaught, if the eggnog is of high enough octane. But by the second party -- third, max -- his knotted and combined locks begin to part and each particular hair to stand on end like quills upon the fretful porpentine, as Hamlet's dad used to say. . . .

Did you know, for instance, that "Studio 60," in addition to having an unusually upscale audience, as NBC likes to remind us, also is the year's No. 1-ranked show on Nielsen's Timeshifted Primetime TV Program list?

"Studio 60" enjoys an 11 percent increase in viewership when you add in all the households watching the show up to seven days after its Monday 10 p.m. broadcast. That's the largest percent increase of any program on prime-time television, Nielsen says.

This suggests that (a) NBC should try to strongarm Nielsen into using so-called "live + 7" numbers -- how many people record a show on VCR or DVR and watch it up to seven days after its broadcast -- in its weekly ratings reports so as to goose "Studio 60's" ratings and (b) maybe NBC should find a better time slot for "Studio 60." . . .

The Top-10 timeshifted programs are mostly serialized -- "Heroes," "Gilmore Girls," etc. -- but include the CW's reality series "America's Next Top Model." That makes sense since this fall it aired in the same time slot as ABC reality hit "Dancing With the Stars."

"American Idol," meanwhile, had the most product placements on broadcast TV this year with -- you want to be sitting down -- 4,086 occurrences in calendar 2006, which in the case of "Idol," really means between January and May.

"Idol" is the Mount Everest of product placement. Nothing else touches it. The No. 2 show on the 2006 Product Placement Top 10 is "The Amazing Race" with a mere 2,790 occurrences, followed closely by "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" with 2,701.

We're guessing about 3,346 "Idol" product placement occurrences come in the form of those three insidious red Coca-Cola cups prominently placed in front of judges Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson. Every time the camera cuts to Paula sitting at the judges' desk drinking "whatever" out of that Coke cup, it counts as one "occurrence," a nice Nielsen spokeswoman explained to The TV Column.

The rest of the occurrences on "Idol" are probably Cingular cellphones, from which we're urged to text-message in our vote for that week's best performance.

Not coincidentally, Coca-Cola is the most product-placed product of 2006, with -- will you look at that -- 3,346 occurrences. Cingular Wireless also is in the Top 10, but with a mere 532 occurrences. That's behind the Chicago Bears football team's 600 occurrences -- thanks to the ABC sitcom "According to Jim."

Here' s a fun fact you can wow them with at the next office party: All of 2006's Top-10 Product Placement Programs are reality series. Except for one scripted show, at No. 8.

Can you guess what it is?

[Pause] "King of Queens."

She's the best.

New Hotness

Not from Blog Crush or Blog Crush II, but from the original OG, Fr. Neuhaus:
Mark C. Taylor of Williams College is among the most nimble of nimble minds perched on the cutting edge of whatever, just possibly, might be the next big thing. His many books over the years on religion, philosophy, economics, architecture, and whatever have in common a neophiliac’s conventional delight in debunking what he takes to be conventional wisdoms. He was a friend of the late Jacques Derrida. (Earlier this year, The Onion ran the headline “Jacques Derrida ‘Dies.’ ”) Taylor is most noted for his conjoining of postmodernist a-theology with the “death of God” and a deconstructionist employment of the hermeneutics of suspicion. Older readers will no doubt remember the death of God. Taylor’s newest book is "After God."

In any event, Mr. Taylor’s op-ed (requires subscription) in the New York Times raises the alarm about the growing number of college students who “seem to be practicing traditional forms of religion.” These “fundamentalist” and “chauvinistic” students, we are told, do not take kindly to having their faith criticized. Even “distinguished scholars” are burdened by a new regime of “religious correctness” and some are “even subjected to death threats.” Mr. Taylor does not say whether he personally has been treated to the frisson of a death threat, but an administrator did once ask him to apologize to a student who complained that Taylor had offensively attacked his religion in class. Mr. Taylor writes, “I refused.” There are no doubt those who will admire his courage in the defense of professorial bad manners.

Of course, he does not see it that way. Mr. Taylor writes, “For years, I have begun my classes by telling students that if they are not more confused and uncertain at the end of the course than they were at the beginning, I will have failed.” Imagine that. A man who embraces as his life’s work instilling confusion and uncertainty in undergraduates. Challenging work, that.

Then he let the Alpine play.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Baby, have you ever wondered...

..wondered whatever became of me? I'm living on the air in Cincinnati. Cincinnati, WKRP. Okay, not really, but that's where I spent last weekend for a wedding and New Year's. It was my first trip to Porkopolis (and actually my first time in Ohio) and I enjoyed it very much. They like to eat in the Midwest. No, I didn't get a chance to sample the Skyline chili but I did have ribs, a skillet of eggs, bacon, onion, and cheese, and a wiener schnitzel. Coming from DC, it was almost disturbing just how friendly those Midwesterners are. They constantly ask if you are okay and if everything is alright. They look you in the eye and smile. And they give you their name and phone number and hotel room...

Anyway, a great town. I highly recommend visiting the bar at the Netherland Hotel (now a Hilton) and the Mount Adams bar & grill.

A few other things. I am in the midst of profiling Civilization creator Sid Meier. He couldn't have been a nicer guy. Almost Wallace Shawn-like. ("Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!") The interview will be part of a future piece but in case you are wondering, there is, he says, at least one cheat code. No, I couldn't get it out of him.

Secondly, has anyone else seen the Reuters story on the robot in South Korea that will aid in the delivery of babies? I believe the first two babies it delivered were named Luke and Leia.

Platform Agnosticism

I'm not much of a fan of David Denby as a movie critic, but his long piece on the future of movies is brilliant and beautiful. A must read.

Here's Denby on HD-DVD:
At the house of my friend Harry Pearson, who started the high-end video magazine The Perfect Vision, I watched movies on what must be close to the ultimate home-theatre system, a setup priced at two hundred thousand dollars. I thought that a glimpse of the best now available might be a way of anticipating the affordable future. It was also tremendous fun. Harry’s system uses a digital projector suspended from the ceiling, which fed a movie screen nine feet across the diagonal. Various electronic components decoded or upgraded the digital information or sent the sound to multiple speakers positioned around the room. The player was one of the new HD DVD sets made by Toshiba, and the experience of watching what it produced on that screen was like putting on a stronger pair of glasses for the first time: everything was brighter, crisper, more sharply defined—newer somehow, as if it had been freshly created, even though one of the movies we watched was a half century old. (Digital transfers are made by scanning a film negative or a print; technicians then digitally enhance the images.) With amazement, we watched a DVD of John Ford’s 1956 masterpiece, “The Searchers,” which is widely considered to be one of the most successful transfers of an old movie. The southwestern sky above Monument Valley was a brilliant azure; the desert was not a mass of orange-brown glop but grains of sand and pieces of rock; and, inside the pioneers’ cabin, details normally hidden in shadow, like drying corn hanging from the ceiling, were clearly visible. And so it was with a recent film. When Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby” opened two years ago, I referred to the Hit Pit—the gym where much of the action takes place—as “sweat-stained” and a “relic.” But the high-definition transfer of the film, bringing shapes and textures out of the murk, revealed a gym that was old and shabby but also tidy and scrubbed clean.

Yet, though the detail was extraordinary, the image was different from a film image, and strange in some ways. In film, the illusion of three-dimensionality is produced by the laws of perspective, by the manipulation of focus, and by the subtleties of lighting: we are led into depth by gradations of color or, in black-and-white movies, by shades of gray. A digital transfer compacts color and increases contrast, so, in the early attempts—say, from a decade ago—the actors looked almost like cutouts against a flat background, their flesh tones waxy and doll-like. The images didn’t breathe the way the original film images did—the faces seemed to have lost their pores. But high-definition digital produces a more nuanced gradation of color and a more definite molding of the face—you see planes and hollows. To my eyes, both in digital transfers and in movies that were shot digitally, flesh still looks a little synthetic, but it looks better than before, and no doubt it will look even better in a few years. (“You want pores, we’ll give you pores,” a digital technician in Los Angeles told me.) The image was steady, too, in a way that a film image is not. A film, after all, gets pulled into place in a projector by pins entering and then withdrawing from sprocket holes; the image onscreen can jiggle a bit. On Harry’s system I noticed an evenness, steadiness, and hard focus into the far reaches of the screen, and also the absence of earlier digital artifacts, like a black edge around shapes or a flaring of solid whites.

All in all, high definition is a big improvement over standard digital imagery, though in truth I admire it without loving it. To arrive at a film print ready for exhibition, the image has to go through at least four generations—from negative to positive, and then back and forth again—and, by the end, the multiple printing produces some minor softening and darkening of color. I like the way color blends on film: the image is painterly and atmospheric; more poetic, perhaps, than a digital image; lyrical rather than analytic. I may have seen more of the Hit Pit in the high-definition transfer, but expressive metaphor had yielded to workaday reality. I was happier with my earlier sense of the gym as a place of defeat redeemed by Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman. And I think that Eastwood, having directed almost thirty films, may have intended “Million Dollar Baby” to look the way it looks on film.

And here he is on the idea of platform agnostism:
No exhibition method is innocent of aesthetic qualities. Platform agnosticism may flourish among kids, but platform neutrality doesn’t exist. Fifty years ago, the length of a pop single was influenced by what would fit on a forty-five-r.p.m. seven-inch disk. The length and the episodic structure of the Victorian novel—Dickens’s novels, especially—were at least partly created by writers and editors working on deadline for monthly periodicals. Television, for a variety of commercial and spatial reasons, developed the single-set or two-set sitcom. Format always affects form, and the exhibition space changes what’s exhibited.

I looked at “Brokeback Mountain” on a portable DVD player with a seven-inch screen and headphones—the kind of rig people use on airplanes and in jury waiting rooms. The focus was precise, the color bright. And, through the headphones, I heard such extraordinary details as the flip-flip-flip of the rain on the tent when Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger are up in the mountains. Yet there was something wrong. I was not in the mountains. The grandeur of the terrain is not something the men are necessarily conscious of, but the massiveness of the mountain range, the startling clarity of the air, the violence of the weather enlarge the experience of feelings they have no words for and can’t control. If you watch the movie on a small screen, you’re not living within this great breathing, palpable place. The small screen takes the emotion out of the landscape.

Go treat yourself to this great read.

KSK Goes Blue

Blog Crush II has the following spit-out-your-coffee-awesome line in this post. It's dirty. Real dirty. So I'm going to put it in invisotext. Highlight if you dare:

Dude, have seen the cock on Darwin Walker? Good fucking Lord. You could hang Saddam Hussein with that thing and have enough left over to dock a battleship . . .

Pajiba Hype

Dustin Rowles has a ridiculously fun list of the most disappointing ("hype-busting") movies of 2006. Absolutely worth reading. What's that? You don't believe me? Sample the goods. On Nacho Libre:

Granted, by the time Nacho Libre arrived in theaters, I’d long since become sick of anything associated with Jared Hess’ directorial debut, Napoleon Dynamite (cubicle monkeys and frat boys had ruined all that was quirky and fun about the film by exhausting each and every catchphrase ad fucking nauseum and basically Lindsay Lohaned a cute, somewhat endearing indie film), and School of Rock had already sapped what little entertainment value Jack Black had remaining from his arsenal of fat-boy witticisms. Still, I’d naïvely held out some hope that the combination of Black and Hess could somehow rekindle their respective magic. Unfortunately, Nacho Libre was the ultimate comedic disappointment: Not only had Hess’ whimsy been exorcised by the big budget, but the film didn’t even work as mainstream gross-out, dick-and-fart fare. It was lame sketch comedy run amok, based on the flimsy premise that Jack Black’s flabby torso was intrinsically hilarious, especially in combination with a bad accent.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Episcopalian Monster Truck Ad

Galley Friend C.W. has sent us this unspeakably funny radio ad for St. Andrew's Episcopal Church. The ad, which C.W. said was commissioned, but never aired, was done up in the style of Monster Truck Rally ads. As in:

This Sunday-Sunday-Sunday! It's a Sacramental Showdown at St. Andrew's!

I'd transcribe more of it here, but you wouldn't believe me. So just click on the link and turn the volume up. Because this is the funniest thing you'll hear in 2007.

Bonus: The St. Andrew's in question is this church in Birmingham, Alabama.
How smart am I? This smart.

There will be no other discussion of the topic; talking about it will only detract from the enjoyment.

All Hail Tony Jaa!

For those of you who are fans of brilliant stunt work, here's a four-minute shot of a Tony Jaa fight sequence. It's done in a single Steadicam shot, which is kind of amazing. I can't even imagine how many takes they must have done to get it right.

Jaa might be the next Jet Li.

Boise State

This is a public service: If you didn't see the Boise State-Oklahoma game and then somehow missed the highlights, here's a brief montage of what was certainly the best football game in the last year and certainly ranks somewhere on the all-time list. It's only 2:30 long and you owe it to yourself to watch.

There are larger implications from this--or at least there should be. There is no compelling reason Boise State shouldn't be in the national title game instead of Florida. And if the Powers That Be in college football want to avoid a playoff system and keep the BCS, then they ought to mandate that if a team goes unbeaten, then they go to the championship team--and if that means that you get Boise State playing Utah every once in a while, then so be it.

The point of this dictum would be to force the big-conference schools to play the Boise States of the world during the regular season, giving the small-conference powers a chance to prove whether or not they're legitimate contenders. As it stands, the current system is ridiculous.