Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Bringing Up Baby

I just finished reading The Seeds Of Life.  It's about the search to find where babies come from.

It might seem obvious to us today, but this was a vexing question that confused serious thinkers and scientists for centuries.  They made lots of guesses (read the book to discover all the bizarre theories that were out there), but they didn't even have a framework for figuring it out.  Remember, they didn't even know that the blood circulated around the body until the 1620s.  You'd think that'd be easy to figure out, but it was a revolution.

As for how babies are created, imagine it's just several hundred years ago, before there were even microscopes.  What sort of evidence can help you?  Well, you know there are men and women, and they have sexual relations and that seems to lead to babies. (Most cultures figured that one out.)

But how is this baby formed, and how does it develop in the womb?  What counts and what doesn't?  Was it preformed, or did it grow into something?  And if it grew, how did it know to do that?  Does the woman supply the baby, or the man?  Is one more important than the other?  What does ejaculate do?  What is the meaning of menstrual blood?

All you can use is logic and observation.  You can look at other animals, and even dissect humans.  But how much does this help you?

Even after the microscope is invented, you've got problems (beyond the numerous biases that people naturally have). Now you can see sperm.  But what do they do?  Are they animals themselves?  How would semen fertilize an egg?  And if you do find an egg--though this isn't easy to do for women, or mammals in general--what does it do?  Does it develop into the baby, or does it just nourish the baby?  Or is it something else completely?

For centuries research zigged and zagged, sometimes moving forward, sometimes rushing into blind alleys.  While physics was making tremendous strides explaining things like the movement of planets, biologists had it rough.

Believe it or not, the answer--that the sperm and the egg fuse to form a single cell which then starts dividing--wasn't discovered until 1875.

I'd recommend the book, which is quite informative and surprisingly funny at points.  It also teaches us not to be too arrogant.  Who knows what tricky questions today will seem obvious in a few centuries?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Beat

I've been rereading Tune In, Mark Lewisohn's book about the early days of the Beatles.  It's the best book ever written about the band.

Though it's over 900 pages, it only takes us up to the end of 1962, just before the Beatles broke out.  The idea from the start was he'd write a three-volume work on the group. Presumably, the next book will take us right up to Sergeant Pepper, and the one after that up to their split..

Tune In was published in 2013, so it's turning into a long wait for volume 2.  I think Lewisohn may be running into a George R. R. Martin problem.  Each book in his "Game Of Thrones" series (I know the series has another name, but that's how most people think of it) is longer and takes longer to write.

Martin, of course, writes based on his imagination, but the storyline sprawls out further and further, the character list keeps growing, and he has more and more to say.  Lewisohn's story is based on research, but he was able to dig up so much from the Beatles' early days, before too many were paying attention, that I'm thinking he's overwhelmed with how much there is to say about their recording years.

My guess is he may slice the cake thinner and thinner.  He probably know he could easily do 900 pages on 1963 and 1964, but if the readers expect it go through 1966 there's no way he can keep it under 1000.  So maybe, from this point on, he'll do two years at a time and make it five volumes.  (And if he lives long enough, a final volume on their solo years.)

Actually, that's more like the Mad Men problem.  The original idea was each season would skip ahead and be part of a two-year span, but Matthew Weiner had something big on his hands, so he decided to slow it down and have seven seasons instead of five (though five would probably have been better).

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Word About Awards

I don't have too much to say about the Emmys, but let's look at some of the winners.

The two biggest winners of the night were The Handmaid's Tale and Big Little Lies. I didn't see the former, so it's hard to say if it deserved all those wins over some stiff competition, but I did see Big Little Lies, and thought it was mostly dreary.  I'm shocked it took so many awards over superior competition such as Feud, The Night Of and Fargo.

Donald Glover won both for directing and starring in Atlanta (though not for writing).  I like Glover, but was a bit surprised to see him do so well for his first season.  I guess his show was the hot new thing (but not hot enough to win best comedy, which went to Veep).

Julie Louis-Dreyfus won yet again for best actress in Veep.  The Academy just loves her. I'd say spread the wealth around, but her competition for the most part wasn't that great.

One of the best categories was supporting actor in a drama series, won by John Lithgow for his Winston Churchill in The Crown.  I've never seen The Crown, but he must be pretty good to beat Jonathan Banks, Mandy Patinkin, David Harbour and Ron Cephas Jones.

Lots of decent competition in supporting actor and actress in a comedy, but Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump and Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton swept everything away, and I guess that makes sense. In fact, SNL won for best variety sketch series.  You may not think that's a big deal, but SNL hasn't won a variety show Emmy in decades. Thank you, Donald and Hillary.
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver took some major awards. Is it becoming the new Daily Show With Jon Stewart that wins the big Emmys year after year?  Stewart's show won the variety award ten years in a row.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Heading For A Fall

On this day of the Emmy Awards, let's think way back.  Remember when you used to get excited about the new fall TV schedule?  No?  Is that because it's too long ago, or you never cared?

In any case, there was a time when the unveiling of the prime time lineup on CBS, NBC, etc., was a big deal.  Before Netflix, before HBO, before basic cable.

For better or worse, these prime time network offerings are still the most-watched shows (if you don't include The Walking Dead, Game Of Thrones and a number of others).

So let's see what we've got.


Sunday has become the best TV night of the week, mostly thanks to cable--for some reason, there's a tradition of putting their best shows on then.  But we're just looking at the networks right now, so what have we got? Well, there's pro football, but I don't care that much.  There's The Simpsons, which used to be my favorite show, but I don't believe I've watched it in a decade.  I still watch Family Guy, though, so there's that.  And as long as Fox is on, I sometimes stick around for Last Man On Earth.


Not much here for me, though I do still watch The Big Bang Theory, even if it's getting tired.  Who knows how much longer it'll be around, so might as well stay with it.  I also like Melissa Benoist on Supergirl, though the show isn't my cup of tea.


Now we're getting somewhere.  The night starts with The Middle--its last season.  The rest of the ABC comedies that night I'll probably skip. In fact, I may switch over the Fox to catch The Mick and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  Though this is the same time as This Is Us, so I'll have to choose.  (I know you can watch anything any time, but if you don't catch it the night of, it can start to pile up and you forget about it.)


There's good old Modern Family and nothing else.  The other ABC comedies I don't care about, and I care even less about all the drama on the other channels.


Thursday used to be Must See TV.  Is it still?  Well, CBS will move Big Bang Theory from Monday to Thursday in late fall, so I'll presumably check that out.  I'm not thrilled about the whole idea of Young Sheldon, but I'll give that a chance.  Anything else?  I might give The Orville a shot.  But for years, this night was owned by NBC's comedy lineup.  I don't really care about the new/old Will & Grace, or Great News, but Superstore I don't mind--though I'd pick BBT against it.  Then there's my favorite new comedy of last year, The Good Place, with a new, less enjoyable premise.  I'll check that out for sure--sorry, Young Sheldon.

Friday and Saturday:

I'm usually out.  Maybe that's why the worst shows are on these nights.

Metaphor alert

Coach seating on airplanes is a ‘Titanic waiting to happen’

I don't think small seats and big butts was the problem on the Titanic. Dinky little aisles? Maybe.

But they should look at the upside: The tighter they're packed in, the lower the expected offal disposal costs.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

...And Answers

Here are the answers to yesterday's Emmy quiz:

1. Cloris Leachman holds the record with 8 Emmys.  However, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has 7 and is up for her eighth this year. 

2.  L.A. Law won four Emmys as best drama, but not in consecutive years.

3.  In 2013, Louis C. K. was nominated 9 times in various categories—acting, writing, directing, producing, editing—for his show Louie, for his stand-up special and for a guest appearance on Saturday Night Live.  He only won one Emmy for writing his special.

4.  Henry Fonda was nominated for 3 Emmys, but never won (while his daughter Jane already has one—she also won an Oscar before he did.)

5.  2006 was the last year a broadcast network won for best drama.  The show was the Fox series 24.  However, NBC could break the cold streak if This Is Us wins this year.

6.  Jessica Fletcher herself—Angela Lansbury—has never won an Emmy.  But don’t feel too bad—she’s got an honorary Oscar, five Tonys and a bunch of Golden Globes.)

7.  Many have been nominated, but the only host of the Oscars to win an Emmy is Billy Crystal, who did it twice in 1991 and 1998.

8.  Jonathan Banks is getting his fifth chance to win his first Emmy this year.  He’s been nominated for playing Mike Ehrmantraut on Breaking Bad and now on Better Call Saul.  In 1989, he got his first nomination for playing Frank McPike on Wiseguy.

9.  Eddie Murphy was nominated for his work on SNL, but did not win.

10.  Werner Klemperer won the supporting actor Emmy in 1969 as Colonel Klink on the comedy Hogan’s Heroes.  He was up against Leonard Nimoy in the drama Star Trek because back then the category was for any genre.

Friday, September 15, 2017


The 69th annual Prime Time Emmys will be awarded this Sunday.  As a warm-up, here’s a quiz about previous Emmy winners and losers.
The answers will be posted tomorrow.  (You could Google the answers before then, but what fun would that be?)
1.  Which of these women holds the record for winning the most Emmys as a perfomer?

Candice Bergen
Tyne Daly
Edie Falco
Cloris Leachman
Jane Lynch
Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Mary Tyler Moore

2.  Three shows have won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series for four consecutive years.  Which of the following did NOT do this:

Hill Street Blues
L.A. Law
Mad Men
The West Wing

3.  What comedian was nominated for 9 Emmys in one year?  (Hint:  It happened in 2013)

4. Movie stars are often up for Emmys.  This year alone there are nominations for former Oscar-winners Robert De Niro, Reese Witherspoon, Jane Fonda, Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon and Geoffrey Rush.  Of the following names from the silver screen, which did NOT win an Emmy?

Fred Astaire
Henry Fonda
Jack Lemmon
Paul Newman
Al Pacino
Brad Pitt
Barbra Streisand

5.  The broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox) used to win most of the Emmys, but not any more.  When was the last time one of these networks won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series and what was the show?

6. What performer has been nominated for 18 Emmys without ever winning?  (Hint: It’s a woman who is now in her nineties)

7.  Which of these is the only person to win an Emmy for hosting the Oscars?

Bob Hope
Johnny Carson
Billy Crystal
Whoopi Goldberg
Neil Patrick Harris
Ellen DeGeneres
Jon Stewart

8. Who is the only person to be nominated for an Outstanding Supporting Actor Emmy for three different shows? (Hint: he’s nominated this year.)

9. Which of these Saturday Night Live names never won an Emmy for performing on that show?

Chevy Chase
Gilda Radner
Eddie Murphy
Dana Carvey
Tina Fey
Jimmy Fallon
Kate McKinnon

10. In 1969, Leonard Nimoy as Star Trek’s Mr. Spock had his third and last chance to win an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor.  He lost.  Who won? (Hint: the winner was playing a military man)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Now You've Done It

I'm reading a book called The Seeds Of Life by Edward Dolnick.  In a footnote that has little to do with the book's subject, he discuss the lyrics of Cole Porter.

He think the phrase "the birds and the bees" may have come from Cole Porter's "Let's Do It." The song famously opens with "Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it."

Except that wasn't the original opening.  As Dolnick notes, it was "Chinks do it, Japs do it, Up in Lapland even little Laps do it."

A few notes.

1)  There's no "even" before "little Laps."  It wouldn't scan.

2)  The "educated fleas do it" was originally in the song, but placed later.  In fact, it's still in a later chorus, making for an unfortunate repetition. (Except, because of a different number of syllables required, it's "even over-educated fleas do it." If the Lapland line that Dolnick mentions were moved down there, it would fit perfectly.)

3)  The rewrite was necessitated, as you can probably guess, by changing standards.  Dolnick either doesn't know, or doesn't have the time to note, how this change broke up the formal beauty of the song.  In the original, each chorus stuck to related items.  Thus chorus 1 is peoples of the world, chorus 2 are creatures of the sea, chorus 3 is insects and chorus 4 is mammals.

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