January 29, 2008

Gag me with a camera

From now on, what say we make it illegal for morons to file lawsuits of any kind? I think it also might be good for Blue Man Group to require an IQ test for admission.

January 28, 2008

A graphic display

On the one hand, this New York Times graphic -- showing how many campaign stops each presidential candidate has made in each city in the country -- is totally cool. You can customize by candidate, by date range and even by the all-important circle size.

No, seriously, go check it out. Even if you didn't really need to know that Bill Richardson made two visits to Oskaloosa, Iowa, the fact is, you could, and you wouldn't have to look it up on some boring black-and-white chart. Slide the arrow thingy to select different date ranges and watch that map change before your very eyes. Click on the candidates' names for individual views and you might be able to figure out, for example, where Dennis Kucinich went wrong. (Or, if you're Laura, you might use that feature to make a list of which cities to avoid on your next vacation because Mitt Romney has been there.)

It's the most fun you can have with politics and graphics, maybe aside from watching Tim Russert use his white board on election night.

On the other hand, it's sort of embarassing, isn't it? While newsrooms all over the country are bitching about not having enough money to pay those people who come up with the words that get printed in between the pretty ads -- I think they're called "reporters" -- the NYT has clearly has enough cash on hand to pay someone to go through the data, create this pretty map with bubbles on it, and make it all interactive-like. And, while it is, as I mentioned, a totally cool graphic, I can't imagine that it's terribly useful to anyone outside of the campaign staffs or the populace of Oskaloosa, Iowa. It's not exactly going to help me pick my candidate or come to any useful conclusions about the election -- it's just a very well designed gee-whiz.

Seems sort of like watching your neighbor have to sell his car because he can't afford the payments and then pulling into your garage in a tasty little Aston Martin. Not a great comparison, but you get the picture.

January 24, 2008

Just let your soul glow

Disclaimer: This entry is somewhat self-congratulatory, but I'm posting it mainly so that (1) there's some evidence that not everything I write is cynical and, dare I say, snarky, and (2) so that next time I have a crappy day, I can dial up January 24 and read this. I guess that makes it self-congratulatory and self-serving. Great.

If you've been watching prime-time TV for long enough, you might remember -- and I hope you do -- the opening credits montage from the first few seasons of (holy crap, it's still on TV?) ER. The rest of you will, of course, find the video on YouTube.

Toward the end, there's a shot of Eriq LaSalle doing some quasi-karate move in the hospital corridor, as he celebrates in his own solitary-genius way the fact that he's just made a big save in the operating room. (Either that, or someone had just told him that he had great hair. I forget which.)

Can't get into specifics, lest I violate SFTC Rule One. Point is, I just had one of those moments.

First person to correctly explain the reason for this entry's title wins an iTunes song of your choice, courtesy of SFTC.

January 23, 2008

Thanks for stopping by

So long, Fred Thompson.

I'm shocked that your strategy of entering the race late and demonstrating no energy whatsoever during the campaign didn't win over more voters during the early primaries. Seemed like a sure thing.

Perhaps the most important result here -- as I'm sure Loree will agree -- is that I assume TNT can start rerunning Big Fred's episodes of Law & Order. And all is right with the world.


I set two rules for myself when I started this blog. Wow, it seems like just a few weeks ago.

Rule One: I won't write about my job. There have been a few instances already where that decision has cost me some blog-worthy material. But it'd probably just be a bad idea.

Rule Two: I won't just post random unconnected thoughts; that if I were going to waste my time and yours, I'd have something that was moderately interesting, something that might make you laugh or (and this is a much lower hurdle) something that would make me laugh.

But now, seven posts later, I've run out of things to write about. This is why I'm breaking Rule Two.

I've decided to introduce a new recurring feature -- although we'll have to see if it actually recurs; it's like when people hold an event and refer to it as the "First Annual Downtown Detroit Topiary Design Contest" knowing full well there's a slim chance they'll make it to the second annual DDTDC. I'm going to call it: Stuff I'm Starting to Like / Stuff I Still Don't Get.

The name might need some work. I'd explain the concept, but as self-explanatory concepts go, this should rank up there pretty high. Suffice it to say that pretty much any "stuff" is fair game, but I'm guessing I'll pull examples mostly from pop culture, food and beverages, and ... what else is there? Ah, I'm sure I'll think of something.

But I hope you'll share your related likes/don't gets, and maybe -- just maybe -- we'll promote peace and understanding and solve a few of the world's problems along the way. Overly ambitious? Maybe. But was it overly ambitious for Dean Kamen to say he'd sell millions of Segways and that urban American life would be utterly transformed by his invention? OK, bad example.

With that, I give you the first edition of Stuff I'm Starting to Like / Stuff I Still Don't Get.

  • Stuff I'm Starting to Like: Music by The National. Thanks mostly to living in L.A., I'm not hearing about good new bands on the radio anymore. I realize this is incredibly unhip, but I first heard about The National when their album, Boxer, was mentioned on just about every "Best of 2007" list. I downloaded Boxer from iTunes, and dug almost every song. Just added their previous album, Alligator, to my collection. Also great. (I even like that their web site is at americanmary.com.) If you haven't done so already, do your ears a favor.
  • Stuff I Still Don't Get: British sketch comedies. Aiming to fill the Hugh Laurie void during the WGA strike (at long last, a new episode of House airs next week!), Jenny and I netflixed a DVD set of "A Bit of Fry and Laurie." Maybe later when I have more time I'll expound upon all the reasons I don't think it's funny, but now, just trust me. Not funny. Wouldn't think it was funny if I spoke with a British accent and ate scones. It's just not. And while I haven't seen tons of other British comedies, I have seen enough to know that none of them are. British actors: Stick to Shakespeare and Hugh Grant movies. Leave the comedy to us.

OK, world peace can begin now.

January 16, 2008

Truth in advertising

Dress Barn is one of the worst names for a business ever. I make no judgment about the quality or stylishness of the clothing the company sells. I just don't get who would actually want to get their clothes from a barn. During the meeting to select the name of the store, what were the nominations that were deemed not as good as that one?

Which brings me to a company I read about in today's issue of the paper with all the news fit to print. On the one hand, I admire the firm's approach of letting the name speak for itself. On that count alone, it's a much better name than, say, Amazon or Zazzle, to give you the full alphabetic spectrum. On the other hand, if I worked there, I think I'd insist on not having business cards, a corporate email address or company-logo T-shirts.

See for yourself:

"When you buy a box of Cheerios in New York and one in Champaign, Illinois, you know they are going to be the same. By shortening the genetic pool using clones, you can do a similar thing," said Jon Fisher, president and owner of Prairie State Semen in Illinois.

Can't say I'd want to swim in any genetic pool that dude is talking about.

January 15, 2008

Nutra + sweet

Oh, science.

You've done so much for us. Cured disease, created the Internet, facilitated voyages to the moon, proven -- to most people -- the existence of global warming and evolution. Not to mention inspiring Andy Weinberg to feed grape juice, coffee and Tab to houseplants for an award-winning science fair project at Fort Garrison Elementary. (If memory serves, none of the plants outperformed the one that received water -- although the coffee-fed plant seemed hyperalert.)

I'm giving you a new project. Science, I need you to come up with a way to take the world's yummiest foods and make them nutritious. This doesn't seem like it would be too difficult. After all, you've already got the two raw ingredients: yummy foods and nutrients. Now just put them together.

Here are the first few items you can work on:
  • Kettle Chips brand Spicy Thai potato chips (Absolutely without question the best potato chip ever. Every time I eat them, I turn into a junkie. After I've devoured the last crumb of potato chip, I can't help tearing the bag open and licking up all of the seasoning left on the inside of the package. When all of the seasoning is gone, I generally break into a cold sweat.)
  • Pumpkin chiffon pie (It's based on pumpkin -- how bad can it be to begin with? Just go from there.)
  • Every item on the menu at The Cow in Reisterstown, Md. (For the uninitiated, it's like Italian ice but about 1,000,000 times better. And the flavors are ... I can't even describe them. Worth the trip from anywhere in the world. Worth standing in line outside, even when it's 30 degrees and you're freezing your ass off.)
  • Microwaveable mini cheeseburgers (Because Jenny would really appreciate it. The ones I've been buying are pre-ketchuped. How great is that? How lazy do they think we are? OK, we really are that lazy. But still!)
  • Tiramisu (Also, tiramisu gelato.)
  • Pizza (But just focus on actual New York-style; the others don't really count. Again, the basic elements are here for healthful eating -- we've got dairy, we've got tomato, we've got crust that should be thin enough to be good for you. It should be a layup.)
  • Coca-Cola Blak (Not because it's essential to my everyday life, but just because there must be so many chemicals involved that it would probably be an interesting challenge.)

Sure, nature has produced a few foods that are tasty and healthy all on their own. There's pineapple, for example. And, um, well, I'm sure there's more.

Anyway, please start with these seven. I really want to eat food that's good for me, and I really want to eat everything on that list. So get cracking.

SFTC readers: What would you add to the list?

January 10, 2008

Radio nowhere

There are plenty of reasons I can think of for the Internet to just be shut down. The proliferation of useless blogs (including this one) is just one.

But if you're looking for reasons the Internet is the greatest thing since... well, ever... I give you the web site for the country's best radio station, WXRT-FM.

As the five people who read this blog know, I moved to Los Angeles from Chicago a year ago, and I love 98 percent of everything about L.A. It'll be 100 percent just as soon as they fix two things: the traffic (I know, such an original thought) and the suck-ass radio stations. They call this the entertainment capital of the world, but apparently "they" forgot to tell the owners of every freaking radio station in Southern California.

Oh, sure, I can enjoy my commute thanks to Adam Carolla's show on 97.1 FM ... I can unwind to classical on KUSC-FM when I get home ... and I can fill in the gaps with podcasts of Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me. Oh, and if I want to hear six Linkin Park songs and five Chili Peppers songs per hour, I can tune into KROQ.

But there's nothing that comes close to good old 'XRT. No station that dares play such crazy radical acts as Wilco or Lucinda Williams, Elvis Costello or John Hiatt. Then, finally, last night I remembered that Chicago's Finest Rock streams online. (Only 12 months later, and who says I'm slow?)

So this morning at the office, I punched up the webcast. Less than an hour later, I felt like I had arrived at a sonic oasis after wandering aimlessly through a desert of musical detritus: Teri Hemmert was playing Supertramp, Oasis (as if to reinforce the sonic oasis metaphor), KT Tunstall, Peter Bjorn and John, The Shins, the Stones and Bruce Springsteen.

Al Gore, wherever you are, thank you for this incredible invention that we call the Internet.

January 8, 2008

Expert testimony

I'm all for citizen journalism, but.... Wait a sec. No I'm not. I think it's idiotic.

For yet another sign that journalism by nonjournalists is turning the once-great CNN into a complete journalistic joke (apologies to Christiane Amanpour and Anderson Cooper's hair), I offer the third, fourth and fifth paragraphs of a news article -- I mean, I think it's a news article. It looks like one. There's a dateline and it's got quotes and punctuation and everything -- about today's New Hampshire primary on CNN's bright, colorful and recently redesigned web site:

A wide open race in both parties and unseasonably mild temperatures could be contributing to the long lines at voting locations across the state.
"We've had unbelievable turnout for a primary," said I-Reporter Cynthia Gunn of Bow, New Hampshire. "It's a perfect voting day."
"Any other time we'd be having to shuttle a lot of people around, but people don't have a lot of excuses not to get out and vote today," said Gunn, a supporter of Sen. Barack Obama.

Wow, thanks, CNN! Cynthia Gunn, who has absolutely no discernible expertise or credibility whatsoever (although she does, according to a photo that was posted with the article, have a donkey), sure puts this important news story in perspective for us. I mean, she's from Bow, for chrissake -- she clearly has her finger on the pulse of the state's electorate.

Sounds like she's really spent a lot of time talking to people with actual statistics in many of the New Hampshire precincts. I'd much rather have her insight than that of, oh, I don't know, a political scientist or polling expert. To her credit, though, she paints a vibrant visual picture of just how great the weather is for voting.

Speaking of that, how screwed up is it that Americans supposedly decide whether or not to vote -- that most important and most fundamental act of our great democratic nation -- based on whether we might catch a chill walking from the car to the CLIMATE-CONTROLLED polling station? Thaaaaat's just great.

Smart and funny

I normally don't get too bogged down in thinking deep thoughts about pop culture. And you're in luck, because I'm pretty sure none of what follows could reasonably be called deep thoughts.

But let's start with something that's been bothering me more and more lately. It really bugs me that people who can't write (or are just morons) feel the need to post their own music and movie reviews on web sites like Amazon and Netflix. To illustrate my point, I thought I'd visit Netflix for you. It took me about one second to find an example of what I mean. Consider:

"... beautifully-filmed, generally well-acted, intermittently-compelling misfire of a film. However, its complete lack of narrative energy..."

Well, my hyphen-misusing friend, you're not Richard Schickel or Janet Maslin. You're not Roger Ebert, or even, for god's sake, Richard Roeper. You are, however, a blowhard who is posting anonymous 40-word reviews on a web site where millions of people a day can ignore your horribly written opnions. Get over yourself and your lack of narrative energy and just go talk to your friends about the movie and leave the rest of us out of it.

(Deep breath.)

That said, I was thinking about the movies I saw during the holiday break: Charlie Wilson's War (entertaining, with a manageable dose of Sorkin preachiness); 27 Dresses (in an L.A. sneak preview, two weeks before it opened everywhere else, sucka); and Juno.

And I was thinking about why Juno stood out as one of my favorite movies of the last year. I can best sum it up this way: Almost all of the funny moments -- and there were many -- came from people doing and saying smart things. There was humor in the awkward tenderness between Juno and her parents, and in the awkward awkwardness between Juno's family and the couple who's going to adopt her baby, but the movie didn't resort to making fun of them.

Oh, sure, I like my dumb comedies every once in a while. (I crack up at the most random moments remembering the scene in Dodgeball when Patches O'Houlihan is killed in a casino by a falling "Luck o' The Irish" sign -- or, as Vince Vaughn's Pete La Fleur describes it, "two tons of irony.") But most comedies seem to make the audience laugh by making the audience cringe, thanks to characters doing stupid things, berating other characters, or getting hit in the groin by a wrench (again, Dodgeball is a pretty good example). I rarely see a movie that generates laughs with intelligence, but Juno fit the bill.

Oh, it also was well acted and I found there to be a sufficient amount of narrative energy.

January 3, 2008

Putting the ass in caucass

I know it's not fair to generalize about such things, but I will anyway. I'm pretty sure that even in major markets, most people working at local TV news are morons.

During last night's 6 p.m. newscast, the local NBC affiliate ran a piece about today's Iowa caucus. An on-screen graphic -- something that someone had actually designed with a little logo, and, I assume, a producer had reviewed before popping it on the air -- read, "The Iowa Caucass." Oh, so close.


OK, first I'll explain the name.

The late great standup Mitch Hedberg had a bit in which he posited that an escalator can never be broken; it can only become stairs. So, he said, when an escalator stopped working, no "out of order" sign would be necessary. Just: "Escalator temporarily stairs. Sorry for the convenience."

So, thanks, Mitch.

I'm moderately disgusted with myself for creating a blog. If there's one thing this world doesn't need more of, it's attorneys. (Apologies to my two best friends and my uncle, who are three of the finest people I know.) But if there's a second thing this world doesn't need more of, it's blogs. (And let's not even get into blogs by attorneys.) Seriously, why can't we just keep some of these thoughts bottled up once in a while?

That said, I find I'm always posting comments on the snarkily entertaining World's Best Burger, which is the only blog I ever read. And lately I've been thinking that if I were Loree or Laura, the snarkily entertaining geniuses behind the WBB, I'd be thinking to myself, "That guy should really leave our blog alone and get his own damn blog."

So, thanks, Loree and Laura.

No idea what I'll write about next, or whether I'll actually keep SFTC going for more than a week.

But, for now, at least I've avoided posting another comment on someone else's blog.