Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Say My Name

I watched some episodes of the first season of Supergirl on CBS, mostly because of lead Melissa Benoist.  I haven't been watching since it moved this season to CW, but I just noticed that last night's episode feature Mister Mxyzptlk.  I wish I'd watched (even though he now seems to be a dashing young man rather than a cigar-smoking pixie) just to hear how they pronounce his name.

I always found Mister Mxyzptlk a fascinating Superman villain.  How do you threaten someone who's invulnerable?  Well, you create something dangerous, like kryptonite.  You take away his strength under a red sun.  You put his loved one danger.  Or you introduce magic, which is where Mxyzptlk comes in.

He was a mischievous imp who'd come to our dimension just so he could mess with Superman.  And the only way to get rid of him (for only 90 days) was to get him to say his name backwards.  Even as a kid, this cracked me up.  Here's a trickster, having fun at Supe's expense, and literally the only thing he has to worry about is not saying his own name backwards, which is hard enough to do even if you want to.  Yet somehow, someone always figured out a way to get him to do it.

I'm sure Supergirl figured out some way.  Or did they change the character so much there's some other way to deal with him?

Monday, February 20, 2017

Laugh, Laugh

I recently wrote about how some sitcoms have the same plots by chance.  But sometimes whole shows seem similar, and you wonder if they were developed with an eye on each other.

Sometimes there's no question.  After Animal House was such a big hit the three networks (back when you had three networks and not much else) each put on their "Animal House"-style sitcom, one--Delta House--directly adapted from the movie with some of the same actors.  They all flopped, by the way.  Then in 1990 there was the TV version of Ferris Bueller on NBC, while Fox (hey, a new network) did a knockoff--that was considerably better--called Parker Lewis Can't Lose.

Last year, HBO and Showtime put out dramas about the business side of rock and roll, Vinyl and Roadies.  Both were high profile projects, and both were rejected by the viewers. (They weren't that bad--I was sorry to see them go.)

And now, this year, both HBO and Showtime are giving us their take on the world of stand-up comedy.  Coincidence? (Last week I posted about kinds of comedy, but I didn't include comedy about comedy.)

There's Crashing, which debuted over the weekend.  It's created by Pete Holmes, who stars as a younger version of himself--he's got a failing marriage and is just starting out in stand-up.  He goes to the clubs and we meet other comedians playing themselves.  Above all we meet Artie Lange as himself--Holmes leaves his cheating wife and crashes in Artie's pad.

The pilot wasn't bad.  Holmes is low-key but charming, and Lange comes across well.  The show is also produced by Judd Apatow, who must have more projects going than anyone else in town.  Mike Birbiglia is a consultant, which makes sense, since he made a movie, Sleepwalk With Me (2012), that was about his early days in stand-up.

Then there's I'm Dying Up Here, which will debut later this year on Showtime. Created (but not written by) Jim Carrey, it's based on the William Knoedesleder book of the same name about the 1970s LA comedy scene.  It stars Melissa Leo as a comedy club owner who I can only assume is a fictionalized version of Mitzi Shore, who ran the Comedy Store back then.

It sounds interesting, but you always wonder, when there's a show about comedians, will we be seeing much stand-up within the show?  That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be weird, since you're once-removed from it--is the stand-up part of the plot, or is it to be enjoyed on its own.  Ironically, if you're involved in the world of the characters, you'd probably rather see them offstage anyway.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


Over the past decade or so, the Howard Stern show has become more mainstream.  He used to interview third-rate celebrities and make fun of the big names, but now he gets the big names (and tends to fawn over them).

But one thing that hasn't changed--the Wack Pack.  They're a group of people who regularly call in, and are a bit off.  Some are honored to be members in good standing of the Wack Pack, while some don't like it at all.

Lately, membership seems to be hazardous.  I believe five Wack Packers have died in the last few years. (Not entirely surprising, as the Wack Pack, in general, don't seem to take good care of themselves.) In fact, the Stern crew has started a death pool--though some feel bad about it.

I remember when audience favorite Eric the Actor died at 39 a couple years ago.  I felt like I almost knew him, and it was a shock.  (To be fair to Eric, he had genetic problems and was not expected to live a long life.)

And now Nicole Bass has died, only 52.  She was not quite the "celebrity" that Eric was among Stern fans, but was certainly a mainstay.  I remember first seeing her on a Howard Stern TV special in the 90s.  There was a beauty pageant, and on parade was this person who looked like a large, muscular man.

Turned out Nicole was a wrestler and one of the top female bodybuilders in the world.  I admit I had my doubts, but according to sources at the Stern show, they checked her out and she was born a female.

So goodbye Nicole.  When certain celebrities die, I sometimes think it's too bad I never met them, but if I'd ever met Nicole Bass, I don't know what I would have done.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Sour Grapes Of Roth

For decades, Philip Roth's name has been mentioned for a possible Nobel Prize.  For various reasons (rarely having to do with literature), he has not yet received one.  As it's not given posthumously, they really should get a move on. But that's not why I'm writing about him.

I was just reading an interview in The Paris Review from 1984.  Roth is a fine writer, but his perceptions of the political world (which he has sometimes turned into novels) are often simply repeating the received wisdom of his social set.  Here's his response when asked about the relative disengagement from politics that intellectuals felt around 1960:

Little did we know that some twenty years later the philistine ignorance on which we would have liked to turn our backs would infect the country like Camus’s plague. Any satirist writing a futuristic novel who had imagined a President Reagan during the Eisenhower years would have been accused of perpetrating a piece of crude, contemptible, adolescent, anti-American wickedness, when, in fact, he would have succeeded, as prophetic sentry, just where Orwell failed; he would have seen that the grotesquerie to be visited upon the English-speaking world would not be an extension of the repressive Eastern totalitarian nightmare but a proliferation of the Western farce of media stupidity and cynical commercialism—American-style philistinism run amok. It wasn’t Big Brother who’d be watching us from the screen, but we who’d be watching a terrifyingly powerful world leader with the soul of an amiable, soap-opera grandmother, the values of a civic-minded Beverly Hills Cadillac dealer, and the historical background and intellectual equipment of a high-school senior in a June Allyson musical.

It's useful to remind ourselves how the opposition to any President so easily treat the situation as unprecedented and even apocalyptic. Their lack of perspective is clear enough decades later, but really it should have been clear at the time.

Generally speaking, intellectuals have no special insight into events of the day.  It's unfortunate that they have come to believe it's their duty to trade in on their fame and reputation, and speak out on issues beyond their expertise.

I see; Microsoft and Apple don't owe the taxes, those shiftless robots do

"Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and world’s richest man, said in an interview Friday that robots that steal human jobs should pay their fair share of taxes."

I assume Bill believes with equal fervor that the robots should validate their copies of Windows 10, too.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Sit, Sit

It can be surprising how sitcoms come up with the same plot at the same time.  I realize there are only so many stories to tell, but sometimes it almost seems like it's more than coincidence.

Wednesday, I watched The Middle on ABC, which was about whether the adults or the kids in the family should be in charge, or should apologize to the other.  Then I switched to Fox and watched The Mick, where the fight was whether the adult or the kids in the family should be in charge, or should apologize to the other.

Then last night I watched The Big Bang Theory on CBS, which was about how one of the adult characters is financially supported--but not respected--by his dad, and so he fights to turn that around.  Then I turned to NBC and watched Powerless, which was about how one of the adult characters is financially supported--but not respected--by his dad, and so he fights to turn that around.

Anyway, it's not just the story, it's how you tell it.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The State You're In

People have been talking about the Gallup poll that lists the happiest states in the U.S.

Here's the top six:

1.  Hawaii
2.  Alaska
3.  South Dakota
4.  Maine
5.  Colorado
6.  Vermont

Here's the bottom six:

45.  Ohio
46.  Arkansas
47.  Indiana
48.  Oklahoma
49.  Kentucky
50.  West Virginia

I suppose you could come up with reasons for these rankings.  You know--Hawaii is nice and warm, Alaska has wide open spaces, South Dakota is glad it's not North Dakota and so on.

But I wouldn't read too much into this list.  Actually, I wouldn't read anything into this list.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Virtual Virtue

I saw it in the library--The Universe Is Virtual, a graphic book by Alexander Marchand.  If this was true, it seemed worth knowing. Though, after perusing it, I fear Mr. Marchand falls short of the mark.

He spends an awful lot of time condemning modern science and philosophy for deluding themselves into thinking the world is objective.  Just a note--if you want to make an argument, you might mention at the outset that people's dogmas get in the way, but there's no need to keep repeating this. It's not an argument, and after a while such name-calling gets tiresome.

Marchand starts out reviewing the basics (it has to be basic--this is an illustrated book of philosophy, not science) of quantum physics.  In essence, once you get down to sub-atomic particles, things don't work as we're used to in the macro-world.  Things seem to be digital as opposed to analog, and causality doesn't seem to work as we understand it.

A decent start, but at this point, Marchand doesn't argue for what he believes so much as go off on a flight of fancy.  What he claims can't be disproved, I suppose, but that's not enough to put his case over.

I apologize if I simplify his heartfelt beliefs, but here goes.

First, as the title says, The Universe Is Virtual.  It's also subjective, not objective.  Thus, science, and the human race in general, needs to go through a number of paradigm shifts until we see things as they are.

The universe is data and probabilities, as you'd see in a video game--if you play a game with Super Mario, he has rules to follow, and where he goes and what exists in his world depends on what is done--there's a higher reality that exists and Mario, if he had such awareness, would understand that his world isn't all there is.

Because the universe is subjective, and its data only comes to life when dealt with by consciousness (in the same way that a book is just marks on paper until someone brings it to life by reading it), that would mean a rock in a cave on Venus that no living thing has ever seen only exists as a probability until some mind comes into contact with it and interprets it.  Reality is what has been recorded by minds--in fact, the more that gets recorded, the more everyone can agree on something and believe it's objective.  This is why mystical or paranormal experiences can't be measured objectively--because they generally happen to one person at a time, and if enough people experience them, they go from paranormal to normal. (Pretty convenient.  It makes it impossible to check out mystical claims.  Though it seems to me if people say they have the ability to read minds, or tell the future, or levitate, or anything else that intrudes into the objective world, then we can actually measure and test it.)

The objective rules that science has discovered work as far as they go, but, just as Newtonian physics still works within the limits of Einsteinian physics, so must our present understanding give way to a bigger truth.

Mind is thus separate from the objective world, and can't be understood by the same rules.  It's the way out of what could be compared to a great computer simulation.  In this simulation, entropy is central, and it's also another word for fear.  There's the past, present and future, and everything runs down eventually.  Thus we fight off entropy as best we can, especially by virtual love, which is better than nothing, but is still a losing battle.

But consciousness doesn't die.  Consciousness has been in all sorts of beings (thus so many constructs we believe in, such as sex, race, so on, are artificial and meaningless).  Sometimes fragments of former consciousness still exists in a present being, and thus we have tales of reincarnation--which is a true phenomenon, but only a partial view of a bigger truth.

The bigger truth is that all is oneness, a mass consciousness.  It's just this oneness has been divided, and digitalized, if you will, into our world--the world we understand (or think we do), with rules we live by.  But also the one that blocks our consciousness from comprehending the truth.

Ultimately, what we need is quantum forgiveness, where we erase the digital world we live in and return to the oneness, which is true love--not virtual love, which is the best we can manage in this delusional world of ours.

This return to oneness, by the way, is inevitable, but can be sped up by greater understanding.

Marchand makes a feint toward science at the beginning of his book, but soon is arguing entirely by analogy and metaphor (and some claims of personal, mystical experience).

There are many who argue there is a separate realm. In fact, that's a widespread belief.  Such arguments may be correct.  Certainly much of the truth of the universe is hidden from us, and may some day be revealed.

But until that day, I'm afraid we'll just have to accept the limited objectivity that we can manage.  If anyone has any other claims, assertion does not equal proof.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

You Gotta Have Heart

Happy Valentine's Day.


Positive energy

Now this is my kind of exercise: "But the energy expended to achieve those gains is about the same that you would spend taking a nap."

Or something like that

"There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation," Musk told CNBC. "Yeah, I am not sure what else one would do. I think that is what would happen."

Or something like that. What the fork does that mean, GoodPlaceGuy or whoever else might know?

It's a comforting assertion, in an isn't it pretty to think so sort of way. But boy does it ring hollow (although I suppose it depends on the range of "a pretty good chance").

Musk's fundamental point, which seems unassailable, is that humans process info (which is to say, it's the common, underlying factor of literally everything we do) at 10 bits per second or some such, whereas machines do so many, many orders of magnitude faster (and always increasing the rate).

Which translates into a statement that we are useless.

This was said much more effectively (and depressingly) about 20 years ago in an essay, "Why the future doesn't need us" by Bill Joy, and I suppose a precurser to that was about 40 years before, when Richard Feynman was saying "There's plenty of room at the bottom," arguing that soon enough the most massive libraries we had ever created would fit into the space of a sugar cube.

All very interesting, but why exactly does such a system need to give us "UBI," or a claim on any resources, when by definition we are inferior technology with no known use? Because we want it? Well, it's pretty to think so, but in the time it takes us to do that thinking we'll be processed at a frequency of, oh, say, google per second into something useful, as defined by something other than us.

I have a premonition that LAGuy in the next few days is going to say experts don't know anything more than anyone else once they step outside their expertise. Seems an obvious and yet nearly universally ignored point. Posner made the same assertion or argument about 20 years ago in "An Affair of State, and I'd have to say the concept is probably LAGuy's top five themes on this blog, e.g., entertainment critics telling us about politics--who cares what they think?) Pretty clearly Musk, however bright he is, has no idea. I suppose I should credit him for admitting it, "I am not sure what else one would do."

Suddenly I have a vision of James Bond asking Auric Goldfinger, "Do you expect me to live off a universal basic income? . . .. " I'd like to see a similarly happy ending to that movie.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Kinds Of Comedy

Three new sitcoms I've been checking out represent three different types of comedy you're likely to see on TV.

First, on Monday nights, from CBS, there's Superior Donuts, based on a Tracy Letts play I haven't seen.  The concept is simplicity itself: grumpy old Arthur (Judd Hirsch) has owned his donut shop in a rundown area of Chicago for decades.  Franco (Jermaine Fowler), a hip, young African-American, starts working there and wants to update the struggling shop. (This is the same basic plot as Chico And The Man.)

The two are surrounded by various eccentrics, including Randy (Katey Sagal), a Chicago cop who's been hanging around the donut shop since she was a little girl; Carl (David Koechner), a guy who does odd jobs and has his "office" in the donut shop; Fawz (Maz Jobrani), an Arab-American who wants to buy Superior Donuts as part of his plan to gentrify the area; and Maya (Anna Baryshnikov), a college graduate who spouts academic mumbo jumbo.  It's directed by the great James Burrows, who's worked on Taxi, Cheers, Frasier, Friends and many other notable sitcoms.

This is an old-fashioned sitcom, as CBS seems to specialize in.  There's one main set (the donut shop, including the back room and the street outside), and it's done in front of a live audience.  Many think this style is outdated, but I would think CBS, with the success of shows such as The Big Bang Theory, have proved this format is still viable. What it loses in subtlety it makes up for in lively performances and character chemistry (when it works).

The trouble with Superior Donuts, so far anyway, is its lack of originality.  The characters are clichés and the writing is pedestrian.  To get laughs, you need at least a little surprise, but we've seen it all before. The cast is likable, but unless the show improves (the writing gets smarter, the characters deepen, the plots become more imaginative, the rhythm improves--throw me a bone here), I can't see continuing.

Then there's the more modern type of network sitcom as seen in NBC's Powerless. Airing Thursdays, it's one-camera with no live audience.  This allows for more set-ups, and, presumably, subtler acting.  But it's still about the writing, and the characters, and the concept.  And this is a high-concept show.

The idea is we're with regular people trying to manage as best they can living in a world where there are superheroes, and supervillains.  In particular, we follow the exploits of the R&D department at Wayne Security (part of Wayne Enterprises--yes, from Bruce Wayne).  They come up with devices to protect against the dangers out there.

Vanessa Hudgens plays Emily Locke, the new director of R&D.  She's put in charge of a group of inventors and technicians, including Teddy (Danny Pudi, in his first major role since Community) and Ron (Ron Funches), who can be tough to control.  Emily's boss, Van Wayne (Alan Tudyk), is Bruce Wayne's less talented cousin, who's always trying to prove he's good enough to be a Wayne.

The novel concept (for a sitcom--this idea has been explored elsewhere) carries a lot of the show, but it won't be enough for the long run.  We'll have to get involved in the characters' lives, and not just the basic situation.  The problem with the concept is it doesn't (yet) allow for much humanity, since the situation is so unreal.  The cast is game, but the show will need more work on the characters for it to come alive.

Finally, on Tuesdays, there's a new cable sitcom, so it's edgy, or at least "edgy"--Detroiters on Comedy Central.  It feels more improvisatory, and less conventional (and lower budget) than a network show.

It's about Sam (Sam Richardson) and Tim (Tim Robinson), two guys who run a low-end advertising agency in Detroit.  It comes from Broadway Video, Lorne Michaels' company, and has certain names drop by, such as Jason Sudeikis and Keegan-Michael Key, not to mention the great Detroit newsman Mort Crim.

The show is shot in Detroit (as far as I can tell) and has a loose feeling.  Sometimes a bit too loose, but the two leads seem to have a rhythm, and some chemistry.

The pilot was okay, and, as I'm from Detroit, I'll probably keep watching.  I hope it gets better as it goes along, but as there'll only be a handful of episodes per season (another difference from network TV), why not stick around?

PS  I've also been watching The Mick, on Fox, though that started a month before the three listed above.  It's somewhere between Powerless and Detroiters, in that it's a one-camera sitcom with a high concept (a wild women moves into a rich household to take care of things after her sister and brother-in-law skip the country due to legal problems), while it's fairly edgy for a network sitcom.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Mater Matter

Got the annual call from my law school, asking me for a donation. I gave them my annual turndown.

This call is unlike the many other calls I get asking for money (or, for that matter, trying to cheat me out of money) in that I can't be rude, or slam the phone down. It's my alma mater, and I'm speaking to a student, so I have to be civilized before I say no.

Though this year I really got the hard sell. After some small talk, she (it was a she, and it usually is--is it just me or is it a plan?) asked for a big amount. I said no, and she asked for a smaller number. I said no, and she asked for an even smaller number. Each speech was part of a prepared spiel, and I could have saved her the trouble, except that's how it had to play out.

And it will play out that way next year. I'd rather they not call, but even if I could ask to be removed from the list, I don't think I'd have the nerve.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Simon Pure

I've been reading old interviews from The Paris Review. One from twenty years ago was of that most critical of critics, John Simon.

It's fascinating to hear his beliefs--his high standards, his self-confidence, his haughtiness (though he may not call it that).  Read it yourself, but here are a few fun excerpts:

There are several so-called critics—reviewers—who really hate my guts. There is one who slams a door in my face if he happens to pass through it ahead of me. But who cares? It’s wonderful to be hated by idiots.

One goes hoping that the theater is still alive and that this will be a good show. Nine times out of ten, one goes home with one’s tail between one’s legs, beaten again, and the only compensation is to sit down and write a vitriolic review. That’s the only satisfaction left one. 

Sometimes, sitting at a film or drama critic’s voting meeting, I feel surrounded by creatures from the black lagoon or from twenty thousand leagues beneath the sea. We don’t speak the same language. A great Russian film meant nothing to them, whereas a cheap American shoot-’em-up or cowboy movie is a masterpiece. They look at me as if I were some sort of strange comic monster; I look at them and think, What do I have in common with these people? Why am I sitting here? 

I once dated a very beautiful girl who thought Mick Jagger was the greatest thing in the world. So I showed her my review of one of his movies and she never spoke to me again. [....A] critic has to get satisfaction not from being popular or liked or invited to parties, but from having done the bloody best he could, however imperfect it may be. If somebody throws a cocktail in your face at a party because of a bad review, you just have to take it.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Miserable Company

I just read Joe Ollmann's Happy Stories About Well-Adjusted People, a collection of short story comics. As you might suspect from the title, the stories are generally about sad people living miserable lives. It's well done, and I recommend it.

But it made me wonder--why do we read books, or see movies, or plays, etc., about people in misery? Do we enjoy seeing other suffer (fictionally)? (I don't think it's that popular, since the most successful entertainment tends to be about people--good, noble people--triumphing.)

I don't have an answer, but I think where we're at helps determine what we like. I'm not talking about culturally, but how happy we are in our life. I don't necessarily mind seeing sad people having a tough time, unless I'm having my face rubbed in it. (And I'm talking about pain that feels real, without comic exaggeration.)

But the truth is, this sort of stuff is a lot easier to take when I'm feeling okay. Not great, just okay. When I'm feeling lousy, and something is going wrong with my life, I'd rather see escapist entertainment.

A lot of people believe the opposite--that seeing others suffer has a cathartic effect, and thus helps us deal with our own pain.  We all have our problems, and if they're not overwhelming, I get this.  But when it's overwhelming, sometimes, seeing other suffer is more than I can take.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

What's Up Doc?

Antenna TV offers reruns of the Johnny Carson show. He was at the top for almost thirty years, but when you watch, you can't help notice how styles have changed. Guests take their time with meandering anecdotes, and often the guests don't have anything to plug.

Nowadays, a segment on a talk show is short, and guests have already gone over with the show what stories they'll be telling--and when they tell them, they get to the point fast.

But what surprises me most about the Carson show is how poorly produced it is.  I don't mean less technical dazzle due to less fancy graphics, though there's that.  I mean stuff like missed cues and poorly-placed camera shots.

I recently saw an episode where Johnny interviewed Susie Essman, of all people, back in the late 80s when she was featured on Baby Boom.  She was talking about how her grandmother liked Johnny, but would change his wardrobe.  Johnny started talking about whose wardrobe Essman's grandmother would approve of, and she suggested perhaps Doc Severinsen's, since he takes chances.  And the two spent literally a minute discussed how wild Doc's clothing choices are, and how they're not for Johnny, and how silly Doc looks, and so on.  All during this time, you're waiting for the obvious cut to Doc so you can at least see what he looks like.  But it never comes.

Either the director was asleep (it was late in the show) or they had strict rules about where the camera can go when Johnny is doing interviews.  No matter which, it's all but unimaginable today--the producer, or host, would probably scream at the director for blowing it and make sure it never happens again.


Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Name Game

Here's a map of the most popular surnames in each state:

The eastern side of the country is mostly Smith, Johnson, Williams, Brown and the occasional Jones.

You get to the middle of the country and things change a bit.  Up north, you get a bunch of Anderson, as well as Olson and Nelson.

Down south, you get Garcia, Martinez and Chavez.

In my state of California, the top names are entirely Latino: Garcia, Hernandez and Lopez.

That's pretty much it, except Hawaii, where they've got Lee, Wong and Kim.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Glory Days

I find the best part of many show biz biographies are the early days, when the artist is learning, and have early success. Going from one hit to another can be interesting, but there's nothing like the story of making it.

Three recent books have demonstrated this well.  First, Four Of The Three Musketeers, a book about the Marx Brothers' stage work. (The title comes from a song they performed on Broadway.)

The team is best known for their movies, but they spent decades growing as an act before getting on the silver screen.  This book is the first to concentrate on those early days, and there's still plenty to say, as the Vaudeville years are often dealt with in a few chapters in other books.  This book not only shows how they created their characters and honed their humor, but also gives a bigger picture of the often miserable life that was Vaudeville (especially for the Marx Brothers, who for much of their career were blackballed from the best theatres). By the time you're done, you understand that the Marx Brothers were a stage act who hit it big in film, not movie stars who spent some years on the stage.

Then there's the aptly titled Her Again.  It's the story of Meryl Streep's early years.  She's become such a regular presence on the screen that we've almost gotten tired of her reliably good work, not to mention her Oscar nominations (twenty and counting).  How did she go from unknown to omnipresent?

Her Again talks about her childhood, but is at it's best describing her days in the theatre.  She was a phenomenon almost from the start.  People recognized she was an amazing actress in college, and then was such a star at the Yale School of Drama that she was practically running from one performance to the next--while classmate Sigourney Weaver complained she couldn't get a role. (The best part of the book is this section, since Yale Drama was apparently a crazy place in the early 70s.)

She went from Yale to Broadway without missing a step, and was soon the talk of the town.  She could play anything.  She probably thought at this point she'd be on stage the rest of her career, but movies came calling, and next thing you know, she was a movie star, with roles in The Deer Hunter, Manhattan, and winning an Oscar for Kramer vs. Kramer.  The book ends here, because she's now the star we all know well.

Bruce Springsteen's bestselling autobiography, Born To Run, was better than I expected. That's because while I like his music, I'm not an idolator. Reading long descriptions of many of his albums would leave me cold. But the early years, which take up a lot of his book, are fascinating.

Bruce can be a bit wordy (of course), but he writes with passion, and a love of rock and roll.  And, as we find out, he was not an overnight success. He kicked around in clubs, living hand to mouth, learning his trade, for about a decade before putting out his first album. And even then, it wasn't until his third album, Born To Run, that he truly made it.

I knew next to nothing about these years, and Bruce conjures up a lost world that has informed his work ever since.  And if the later parts of his book can't much the opening...well, I guess that's an occupational hazard.

And how many customers?

Amazon planning to open robotic supermarket staffed by just THREE humans, sources claim

Monday, February 06, 2017

Do Call It A Comeback

I don't think I can add much to the millions of words already written, but man, that was an amazing game.  I was rooting for New England, but that's because I went to Michigan--otherwise, I don't really support any pro football team except the lowly Lions, who never come within smelling distance of the Super Bowl.

Funny thing is, for three quarters, it was a lousy game.  Yet another blowout.

Actually, even before the blowout, you had the quiet-as-a-mouse offensive game.  These were two powerhouse teams, but the over/under, at 58 points, seemed like a joke when no one scored in the first quarter.  That feeling was soon overtaken, however, by Atlanta's three touchdowns in the second quarter.

No team had ever come back from a deficit of greater than ten points in the Super Bowl.  And when New England only managed a sad field goal at the end of the first half, I imagine most people figured Lady Gaga will be the main excitement this evening. (By the way, I didn't watch Gaga, so don't ask me about that.  Also, thought they commercials were pretty weak.)

Then comes the third quarter.  It's now or never.  Turns out to be never.  The Patriots can't score, but Atlanta still can, and make it 28-3.  New England finally score a touchdown so, but miss the extra point.  So hey, 28-9 and there's a whole quarter to go.  What odds would you give?

New England gets the ball back and, partly thanks to Atlanta penalties, look like they're going to score another touchdown, but they fail even at this, and settle for a field goal.  28-12 with less than ten minutes to go.  In other words, they need two touchdowns, with two two-point conversions, while Atlanta doesn't score.  Sure, why not?

Somehow, they manage another TD and, with some razzle dazzle, get the two extra points.  Then, maybe the most decisive moment of the game, Atlanta has a great drive, and gets the ball on the 23-yard line (if I recall).  Now they can just keeping running (their running game has been solid, while New England was barely getting any yards on the ground) and if they don't get anywhere, can kick a field goal and put it out of reach.

Instead, they decide to pass and get thrown for a huge lose, followed by a penalty.  They're now so far back they have to punt.  That's all it took--the Patriots score with less than a minute left and make the two-point conversion. (They could have let the clock run down, but I think they decided not to--if they miss the two points, they can try an onside kick.)

Now we get overtime, for the first time ever.  It's almost an anticlimax when New England drives down the field and wins the game with a touchdown.  It also means the "over" wins, and New England beats the spread, both of which seemed unlikely, to put it mildly, and the end of the first half.

I think we can all agree Tom Brady is the big winner.  The biggest loser? Maybe Roger Goodell, who got booed (deservedly, I think) for his role in deflategate at the awards ceremony after the game.

But worse, I think, was the unknown bettor who put $1.1. million on the Falcons.  He probably had his winnings spent before the game was over.  I can't imagine how he felt during that comeback--first laughing, but then sustaining one body blow after another.  Even after regulation time, he may have figured the odds are still okay--the spread even give him a field goal's worth of protection.  But no, nothing was going to work.  That's a lot of money to lose. I hope he wasn't poor.

Hope they hit the target

I have more than one email account (don't we all) and I receive distinct Groupon offers, same products but different discounts.

Okay, fine, everyone wants to capture my consumer surplus, I get it. I wouldn't mind myself capturing some of it, or even the producer surplus.

What worries me more is this is the first time I've been offered this service: colon hydrotherapy.

Big data could probably answer whether it has anything to do with the Patriots' victory, or it is simply, as my old friend Chief Justice Rehnquist used to say, "post hoke ergo pro-pter hoke."

Sunday, February 05, 2017

You Don't Say

It's time to bid a sad farewell to the IMDb message boards.  These were places where readers could comment on stars and movies, and I often found them quite entertaining.  But now, as IMDb puts it:

IMDb is the world's most popular and authoritative source for movie, TV and celebrity content. As part of our ongoing effort to continually evaluate and enhance the customer experience on IMDb, we have decided to disable IMDb's message boards on February 20, 2017. This includes the Private Message system. After in-depth discussion and examination, we have concluded that IMDb's message boards are no longer providing a positive, useful experience for the vast majority of our more than 250 million monthly users worldwide. The decision to retire a long-standing feature was made only after careful consideration and was based on data and traffic.

So to enhance the experience, they're taking something away.

The IMDb claims there's other social media they host where fans can exchange views.  Maybe, but I don't go to them.  Even if I did, I would still like the message boards.  Taking them away is one less reason to visit their site.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Fill This, Buster

People are talking about the filibuster again, and the nuclear option.  As much as I support gridlock in Congress, I have always been against the modern filibuster rule (no matter which party is in charge), which seems to go against the Senate's Constitutional duties.

Rather than argue it again, let me just point you to just a few of my highly repetitive posts on the filibuster here and here and here and here and here and here.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Egg On Their Face

I was recently in Bristol Farms, a local grocery store I prefer over Whole Foods. One aisle featured pre-packaged food. This included a few containers of store-made egg salad.

I noticed something odd. I looked at two containers, both containing about three-quarters of a pound--yet one cost twice as much as the other.

I looked more closely, and saw one cost $4.99 per pound, while the other was charging $9.49 per pound.  I assume this was a clerical error, and not that one batch of egg salad was secretly twice as good as the other.

If I had bought the egg salad, obviously I'd have chosen the cheaper container.  But which was the right price?  Would I dare point out to the store the discrepancy, taking the chance that it would be fixed against my interest?

As I was leaving, I asked myself: is there any chance this is a strategy?  They mark one product way too high, so everyone else feels they're getting a deal?  I wouldn't put it past them.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

What's So Funny?

TCM is doing its February tribute to Oscar-nominated films. Going alphabetically, last night they showed Annie Hall. Host Ben Mankiewicz claimed it was one of only six comedies to win the Best Picture Oscar.

I've been over this before--I think their definition of comedy is too pinched. If you go over the list of winners, I'd say you find 17 titles that can be classified as comedies, and that's not even counting several musical comedies.

Which ones? Chronologically, it's...

It Happened One Night

You Can't Take It With You

Going My Way

All About Eve

Around The World In Eighty Days

The Apartment

Tom Jones

The Sting

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

Annie Hall

Terms Of Endearment

Driving Miss Daisy

Forrest Gump

Shakespeare In Love

American Beauty

The Artist

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Okay, a few may seem like stretching.  But hey, if I were feeling really generous I could have included titles like Amadeus and Rain Man.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Not The Chuck Berry Version

When I was little, I was taught all sorts of old-timey songs.  I didn't question it, I just did what I was told.  I recently listened to "School Days" and it occurred to me--I sang the words, but I had no idea what they meant.

The song was written in 1907.  Here's the chorus--the only part anyone knows--followed by my comments.

School days, school days
Dear old Golden Rule days [1]
Reading and 'riting and 'rithmetic [2]
Taught to the tune of a hick'ry stick [3]
You were my queen in calico [4]
I was your bashful barefoot beau [5]
You wrote on my slate "I Love You So" [6]
When we were a couple of kids

1.  I'm not sure if I knew what the Golden Rule was when I sang it. When I look at it today, I don't just see a strained rhyme, but a line that doesn't make much sense. Since when is school about doing unto others what you'd have them do unto you?

2.  I think even as a kid I knew what the three R's were, so this is one of the few lines that actually meant something to me.

3.  I'm certain I had no idea what a hickory stuck was (or was for), much less what its tune was.  Looking at it today, it reminds you that corporal punishment was a part of life for kids a century ago--not just at home, but potentially from any adult who had any say in your life.

4.  I had no idea what calico was.  I don't think I tried to find out.  When you're a kid, some words are just sounds.

5.  Not sure if I knew what a beau was.  More important, just how often did kids around the turn of the last century go to school with no shoes on?

6.  According to the internet, the line is "I love you, Joe." Maybe, but I sang "I love you so."  I prefer my version--what if you're not named Joe?

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