July 31, 2008

Oh, eight days till 08-08-08

The Olympics start next week, and I don't know if it's just me, but there seems to be less excitement about this year's games than any other one I can remember. Aside from wall-to-wall coverage of Baltimore's own Michael Phelps (highly recommend article in the NYT's Play magazine today), and lots of handwringing about China's human rights blah blah blah and some stuff about Iraq's team blah blah blah, I'm not feeling the fervor that usually accompanies an Olympic year.

Although, in what must be a sign that the Olympics can still command attention for all the right reasons, the stream of news about drug-related suspensions started today.

I guess I'll try to watch Phelps' races, some track and, if the TV schedule is decent, some men's basketball. And maybe the end of the marathon, to see if it's possible for humans to run 26.2 while breathing greenish-brown air. But otherwise, I'm sort of eh.

What about you? Any interest? More or less than usual?

July 30, 2008

Notes for my screenplay, part 1

Pound for pound, my favorite line from a movie was in The Godfather: Part II. During a party for Hyman Roth, on a veranda (I know, just go with me) in Havana, a waiter brings Roth a piece of birthday cake. In the midst of a discussion about mob business, and without breaking conversational stride, Roth gets in an aside to the waiter: "Smaller piece."

Completely unnecessary in terms of the plot, but what a great touch of realism and character.

Now, I have no intention of ever writing a screenplay. But I've always thought it might be a good idea to keep track of strange bits of dialogue I overhear so I could throw bits like that into the script that I'm not planning to write.

Luckily, I just picked up a good one.

I'm walking back from lunch and a woman I've never seen before stops me. It's obvious she's going to ask me what time it is, so I start lifting my left arm toward my face.

"Hey, could you pick a number between 10 and 100?"
"Seventy-four," I say.
"Oh! Good!" She seems pleasantly surprised. "Alright - pick another one."
How can I lose? "Thirty-six."
She looks disappointed. "Eh, OK."

I have no idea what it meant, but maybe I'll find a way to use it.

This also reminded me of my most memorable random overheard dialogue from the years I spent in in Oz. I'm not sure how well it translates into print - I actually do a pretty spot-on impression of the speaker - but here it is:

Down-and-out older guy walking down the avenue, carrying on a heated conversation with himself. Very loud: "I cain't drink." Then louder: "But I can smoke!"

Kids, take your pick: Your favorite line from a movie or favorite random overheard comment?

Word to my mother, or The neutrality of nitrites

One of my summer jobs during the high school years was at a hospital clinic. I won't say where it was, but the city was at the time the teenage pregnancy capital of the nation. (Which made for some sweet t-shirts for the tourists.)

The best part of the job was that it yielded a very memorable phrase, uttered by a very large dude (he was a patient's relative, so what's the right term? customer? guest? client?) who was irate about having to wait for so long, or maybe it was a Medicaid billing issue or the utter lack of a functional air conditioner on a day when it was probably 100 degrees with 3000 percent humidity. Whatever. Anyway, after getting into it with one of the employees, he pounded his fist on the counter and yelled, "I'm tired of this shit-ass bullshit." (I added the hyphen.)

I'm sure I hadn't heard anyone else use that phrase before - and I haven't heard anyone other than myself and Howard say it since. It was beautiful.

That's a very long setup to get to the point, which is that the second best part of the job was that there was a hot dog cart about 30 steps away from the clinic's front door. (I can't swear that it was a Model 325, but it looked a lot like this one.)

This, of course, meant that when it was time for lunch, my only decisions was: One hot dog or two?

My mom was none too pleased with this seemingly unhealthful lunch diet. She said then, and has repeated numerous times since, that the nitrites from all of those weiners unquestionably stunted my growth. Her theory is that I deprived myself of the three or four inches in height that might have made it a cinch for me to make the high school basketball squad. Maybe she's right.

Or... OR!... maybe not. John Tierney, or as I like to call him, Saint John Tierney, has in today's NYT a list of 10 things that we might not need to worry so much about. One is the dietary properties of hot dogs. He dismisses the "nitrite scare" out of hand. And then goes on: "If you must worry, focus on the carbs in the bun. But when it comes to the fatty frank — or the fatty anything else on vacation — I’d relax."

There are other interesting tidbits, including the assertion that paper grocery bags are no better for the environment than plastic ones - I guess the optimist spin on that would be that plastic bags aren't as bad as we thought? - and that when it comes to saving gas while driving on the highway, no difference between using the a/c and opening the windows.

I'm more relaxed already. You?

July 29, 2008

Quake! update

A few random thoughts, post-quake:

1) In some weird way, it's nice that this at least made top-of-the-page news all over the place. Here's the New York Times story, which downgrades it to a somewhat less sexy 5.4 quake. And for posterity, here's a shot of the CNN home page, which gives us the exciting, but still ridiculous "Live breaking news" banner. Repeated memo to CNN: It's not breaking news anymore. It's already been broken. Get over yourself.

And, also for posterity, I guess, here's a shot of the L.A. Times home page, which illustrated the magnitude of the quake by showing that a lot of paper towels fell. Oh, the humanity!

2) First person who contacted me after the shaking stopped was the ultrawonderful Loree (holla!), who heard about it within minutes thanks to Twitter. I'll have to get into this subject more another time, but other than notifying friends about natural disasters - for which it apparently works beautifully - I don't get the attraction of Twitter. But it was still good to hear from Loree - let's not lose sight of that fact.

3) The quake was another reminder of how much Sprint blows. I don't know if it's really fair to blame Sprint for this, but I will anyway: It was 32 minutes before I was able to make a call on my cell phone. And nothing bad actually happened in my part of town.

4) Apparently this was nothing to the natives. I walked through town during my lunch break, and it was if nothing had happened - nobody was talking about it. Well, maybe these suckers are laid back out here.

OK, back to work.


Well, kids, just felt my first earthquake.

It sort of felt like the floor was rolling under me a little - only lasted about 5 seconds, but I didn't care for it very much. I know we're supposed to get under our desks when that happens, but it didn't occur to me to actually do that until officemate reminded me, by which time the whole thing was over.

Luckily, we have our I-can't-imagine-it'd actually-be-useful employer-supplied earthquake emergency kits. They have boxes of water and, like, flashlights or some crap. And they come in a cute little blue backpack. But I seriously think they're missing something, like helmets.

The details are here, but apparently it was a 5.8 magnitude quake near Chino Hills, which is about 45 miles from here.

Great. Some dude from across the hall just came over and told us about all the seismic activity happening on the Pacific Rim lately. Thanks, jackass.

Well, at least the weather here still rocks.

Come, uh, hover with me

I was all ready to add "jetpack" to my Amazon wish list - even though I've had a Segway on there for about seven years and nobody's bought that for me - but then I read the New York Times article about the latest iteration of the personal flying machine. Eh, not so exciting.

Even less exciting when you watch the 55-second video (a few scrolls down on the left). There are a few seconds when the camera is trained a few feet above the guy's head - presumably he also was waiting for the contraption to get up off the ground more than a few inches. I know they didn't want to kill the reporter who was testing it out, but still - let the thing go a little bit!

Then, it occurred to me: If you have really big news about something other than denim overalls, you're probably not doing your presser in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

July 28, 2008

Cuil down period

When your brand is the de facto term for the product or service you're selling, it's gotta be darn near impossible for competitors to dent the market. I'd guess that even more so than Kleenex or Coke, Google has become the term for its product. Has anyone in the last 10 years said they'd "conduct an online search"?

That's why I was interested to read about Cuil (pronounced "cool," apparently), a new search engine designed to compete with Google. Story is that it was launched by a husband-and-wife team who fled Google. Guess they're not going to the alumni reunion this year, huh?

Although the Times tech guy didn't like it much, I think the search results look kinda cool and organized, and when I Cuiled myself (less gross than Googling oneself?) it did better than Google at finding stuff I've written recently and posting it higher in the list.

But if you're launching a search engine that is supposed to compete with Google, you'd, uh, better make sure that on the day your p.r. hits the papers, this doesn't happen:

What are the odds Google employees created a program to crash Cuil's servers? Nah.

Mad man, for staying up to watch

You can go here to read about why the author of my favorite blog loved loved loved last night's season premiere of Mad Men.

But after staying up past my bedtime in anticipation of the early-60s fabulousness, I personally didn't get what all the hype was about. Now, I haven't seen any of season one, so I might have missed lots of the setup, and if that was the problem: my bad. But if that's all there is, that'll be my first and last viewing of the show the boobtuberati are going gaga over.

For you Maddies, I'll grant you that the acting seemed good enough, the writing was taut, and the whole thing looked cool, well cool-ish. Also, it was nice to see Anne Dudek, last seen as Cutthroat Bitch on TV's best show, House, M.D. (Season premiere September 16!)

Seemed to me the whole point of the exercise was to shock the hell out of us by showing that businessmen in the 60s were (1) men who (2) smoked at every opportunity and (3) drank at every opportunity including... gasp... during work!! and (4) stared at women's butts at every opportunity. Which got old after the first 15 minutes.

Actually, I thought the coolest thing about the hour was the ad for BMW, which presented the show "with limited commercial interruption." In keeping with the theme of the show, it started by having the creator of Beemer's "The Ultimate Driving Machine" tagline talk about how he came up with the phrase, and continued with a retro BMW spot. Very neato.

If you're a Mad viewer, enlighten me.

July 27, 2008

Just the fats, ma'am

At first, I was super-excited to read this article because the first two words in the headline are "California Bars," and y'all know how much I like hanging out in watering holes.

But, no, it was about my trendsetting state banning (wonder why they didn't say "California bans" - would have eliminated my confusion for sure) the use of trans fats in all restaurants and retail baked goods over the next couple of years. I'll see ya' later - before this thing goes into effect, I'm going to eat all the trans fats I can, and I'm starting right... now.

Time for a non sequitur: Are you wondering what song-that-was-released-more-than-30-years-ago I've had in heavy rotation on my iPod for the last week? I didn't think so. But now that I've brought it up, I'll tell you anyway: Vienna, by Billy Joel. This was pre-smashing-cars-into-trees Billy, and, for that matter, pre-not-starting-the-fire Billy, so I'm OK mentioning it to you.

July 24, 2008


Attention writers: Any time I come across "wait for it..." (as in: "Max ate an entire pizza and then... wait for it... six hamburgers!") in whatever it is I'm reading, I don't wait. I just keep moving right ahead. Maybe it's just me, but I don't find the ellipses really slow me down that much.

Just thought you'd want to know.

Leveling - and I mean LEVELING - the playing field

I thought the fact that the women's champion earns the same prize money as the men's champion at Wimbledon was a landmark achievement for gender equality in athletics.

But this might be a more definitive moment: the WNBA's first... are you ready?... bench-clearing brawl. Punches thrown, takedowns, suspensions, injuries - the works! Nasty rivalry, apparently, between the Los Angeles Sparks and the Detroit Shock. Who knew?

Speaking of shocks, pretty hard to believe this would take place at the Palace of Auburn Hills, isn't it? That kind of thing never happens in the Motor City.

July 23, 2008

What Lauren Graham can teach us about windshield wipers

In between whatever else I was just doing, I was wondering when we'd next see Lauren Graham on TV or at the cineplex. (Aside: Hard to imagine a time before IMDB, isn't it?)

Turns out she'll appear in the fall 2008 release "Flash of Genius," - trailer here - the BOATS (that's "based on a true story") starring Greg Kinnear as the dude who invents intermittent windshield wipers (aside: Hard to imagine people not being able to wipe their windshields intermittently, isn't it?), has the invention appropriated by Ford and almost every other automaker, then sues them all for patent infringement. This probably won't have massive box office appeal, but I'm totally into it. (Oh, Ms. Graham plays the inventor's wife, if you're still following my train of thought.)

The movie also is another chance for Greg Kinnear to wear bad polyester suits, which he's probably only worn in one or two movies, but seem to me to be his de facto moviemaking uniform.

Anyway, the story seemed pretty interesting, so I followed the link to the 1993 New Yorker article upon which the movie is based, which is here. I'd say something like "spoiler alert," but since there's a movie about it, you probably have a basic idea of how the story ends up.

July 21, 2008

Truth in cliches

One highlight of the weekend was getting on my bike - for the first time in about seven years - and pedaling down to Manhattan Beach. I don't know about you, but I think that sounds super neat. (OK, so it's not Lewis and Clark, but I only had one afternoon to work with. Cut me some slack.)

But it turns out they're right: Even after all those years, riding a bike really is like riding a bike. The only problem with that aphorism is that it doesn't mention how much your butt is going to hurt afterwards.

Other quick random thoughts until I think of something better to write:

1) It would be pretty impractical for me to
stay at this hotel, since we live about 10 miles away, but I'm already a big fan because (a) I like the description that it's like a W Hotel but with a sense of humor and (b) there's a 25 percent discount on parking if the car you're parking is a hybrid. Now we're getting the hang of it! I think all businesses that charge for parking - restaurant valets, sports stadiums, public lots - should do the same thing.

2) I'd submit that the end of
Dark Knight (warning: sound) is a little anticlimactic. But that's about my only complaint. Otherwise, I loved it - as good as advertised - especially Heath Ledger's performance. (Not an original observation, but whatever.) He was so creepy/entertaining, I actually would enjoy watching a cut of the movie comprised only of his scenes. And, I'll probably never look at a Ticonderoga No. 2 in the same way again.

July 18, 2008

Riding high continued, with a carbon fiber twist

I'm sure that no amount of training - or steroids, for that matter - could enable me to run 400 meters in less than 50 seconds. I'm also sure that if I lost both of my legs below the knees, I wouldn't even try.

Which is why Oscar Pistorius' quest to compete in the Olympic 400 meter race is so mind-blowing, so impressive, even if he came up short for the Beijing games. But in light of yesterday's post about the Tour de Lance, I thought I'd throw Oscar's story into the discussion.

I'm not saying that it'd be easier to sprint with carbon-fiber plates where your tibia and fibula are supposed to be. But if you don't think cyclists should get to take performance-enhancing substances, do you think runners should be allowed to compete with space-age manufactured materials in place of limbs against runners who have to use the tendons, ligaments, bones and muscles with which they were born?

July 17, 2008

Riding high

When the only time people pay attention to your sporting event is to read about which athlete -- or, now, which team -- dropped out because of drug test results, you're probably doing something wrong.

So, what, exactly is the Tour de Lance doing wrong? In my opinion, it's that they've banned performance-enhancing drugs.

At this point, they should really consider dropping any pretense of being drug-free and just allowing riders to take whatever substances they want. May the best man+steroid+blood thinner win. I'm a huge sports fan, and I think completing the Tour has to be one of the most incredible athletic feats. But unless there's an American in the top spot, I've never given a crap about the race. Make it more interesting - let 'em get geeked up and let's see some records fall.

(The first story I read about this today was an AP piece on Yahoo Sports, but the article was so poorly written as to be unintelligible. Maybe those wire reporters need performance-enhancing drugs. Like something that helps with punctuation and reliance on cliches.)

Anyway, every time the topic of steroids in sports comes up lately, I'm reminded of a late-'80s Saturday Night Live sketch in which Kevin Nealon is covering the action at the All-Drug Olympics. (It's short -- just watch it.) Favorite part is when he describes the list of pharmaceuticals that Sergei Akmudov (played by Phil Hartman) has taken prior to the competition.

July 14, 2008

Think they sent a memo?

The publisher of the L.A. Times and the editor of the Chicago Trib both resigned today, which I think is probably connected in some way. (Warning: link includes audio.)

Given all those exciting goings-on, it would be pretty crass for someone to wonder aloud - or on a blog, maybe - whether Tribune Company management specifically asked reporters in L.A. and Chicago to spend some time this weekend digging up some stories about disabled children who'd had things stolen from them.

But I'm kinda wondering: Could it be just a coincidence that I haven't seen any articles like this in recent memory, but ... this story (subhed describing earpiece as "special") spent most of the day as one of the featured articles on the Times home page ... and this one (headline and subhed describing bike as "special") was posted this afternoon as the top story on the Tribune's site?

As Stark might put it: I'm just sayin'.

July 11, 2008

Playing house

NEW: UPDATED BELOW at 2:45 PT Friday

I'm not sure whether elected officials have an out-of-control sense of entitlement that makes them believe they can flout the law just because they're elected officials.

Never mind. I'm sure now. New York congressman Charles Rangel just reminded me.

I'm all for the rent control in NYC, but, um ... four apartments? The New York Times coverage might help put an end to that pretty soon. Best part of the story? Rangel's ill-advised quote before hanging up on the reporter: “Why should I help you embarrass me?”

Note to people breaking the law: If you're going to hang up on a reporter, just hang up. Then say something stupid.

UPDATE: Rangel held a news conference outside his building this afternoon to talk about the Times article. Some of what he said would make sense if it proves to be true -- namely that two of the apartments were already combined into one before he moved in, but they still show up on the state rolls as two single apartments -- but he also apparently spouted off a few weird misdirected arguments -- like that people should let it go because he's old.

But the best line, I thought, was his response to a Times reporter who kept trying to ask about the fairness of a congressman having multiple rent-controlled apartments at a time when the city has a shortage of affordable housing. Said the cong: "I have decided unilaterally that you have asked more than your share."

I'm going to have to use that one sometime.

July 9, 2008

You may enter

If you're not busy at the end of July, this would kind of be a cool sweepstakes to win.

No more to write - I'm jumping over there to put my name in right now.

Other than this: With this rather lame installment, I've made it to 100 posts, exceeding my expectations by about, oh, 98. And somehow or another, you outrageously kind people have teamed up to generate - as of earlier this week - more than 2,500 hits on my blog. I know that's a minuscule number for a blog, but I think it's cool anyway.

Thanks. Now go enter to win that trip. Part of the prize is flying to LAX, which is approximately seven minutes from where I'm sitting right now.

Maybe there IS such a thing as bad press

Latest guilty pleasure - or maybe not even a guilty one - is reading hypercritical reviews of movies and restaurants. Sometimes, if the writer is on his or her game, there will be a sentence that's so damning yet so well-composed that I just can't help but smile.

That was true of a New York Times movie review I read a few weeks ago (I'll have to poke around and see if I can find it - will post link later if I do) that panned the movie so mercilessly I almost wanted to see it just to take in the monumental awfulness.

So this morning when I went to the L.A. Times web site, a link on the home page caught my eye. Tagged "Restaurants," it read: "What's lower than no stars? Oh well, at least there's a nice view."

Intrigued, I jumped to this review - more like a slaughter than a review, actually - of Gladstone's, an oceanside seafood restaurant in Pacific Palisades. Credit to the reviewer for this one pretty clever thought: "It's terrible to gaze out to the ocean and imagine the volume of precious seafood being pulled out and ruined every day by this restaurant."

Now, that's tasty.

Seen any well-written hatchet jobs lately that you'd like to share?

July 8, 2008

Hey, over here!

There's a New York Times article today reporting that the leaders of the G8 countries "endorsed... the idea" of cutting carbon emissions in half - by 2050. By which time approximately all of these guys will be dead. Cool how they managed not to actually commit to anything - they just like the idea. Way to be aggressive, kids.

Anyway, the article is illustrated with a class portrait, in which all of your assorted presidents and prime ministers (can a brother get a chancellor?) are looking forward, one guesses, toward where most of the press photographers are. Well, all of them were looking forward except for one. Which world leader was facing a totally different direction? I'll give you one guess - and no, it wasn't Sarkozy.

Well, here, see for yourself:

July 7, 2008

Throw me a line

It's been more than 20 years since I read Leon Uris' Exodus, but I remember it as being an all-time great novel.

Unfortunately, it has been just 20 hours since I finished watching the Otto Preminger movie version, and I remember it as being very very long. And extremely terrible.

Apparently, movie makers in the 1960s hadn't quite mastered the concepts of editing (three and a half hours!?!?) or sound engineering (I don't know where the microphones were positioned during all of the indoor scenes, but my best guess was near a vacuum cleaner).

Or special effects. In one scene, a bomb explodes outside a prison wall, and the resulting hole is a perfect rectangle.

Or dialogue, for that matter. I might be off by a word or two here, but I swear to Oprah H. Winfrey that Paul Newman, as Ari, actually said this to Eva Marie Saint, as Kitty: "A year is a long time in the life of a beautiful woman." Well, yeah, no wonder he swept her off her feet.

I really think I'm giving them a fair shot, but other than Chinatown and The Graduate, and maybe the Wizard of Oz, which was waaay ahead of its time, I have yet to see a movie from before 1976 that didn't absolutely stink on ice.

Correct me if I'm wrong.

July 2, 2008

Pain in the apse

Imagine, if you will, that the managers of dozens of McDonald's restaurants in cities across the U.S. were constantly getting in trouble -- and having to pay millions of dollars in settlements -- for sexually abusing children.

I'd hazard a guess that, after a while, people might stop going to those particular McDonald's locations. I'd even go out on a limb and predict that consumers -- even consumers in other cities -- might be outraged enough to, I don't know, stay home and cook their own crappy burgers.

Anyway, today's coverage on the Denver archdiocese having to shell out $5.5 mil doesn't even seem like news anymore -- just another episode in a tired old story. And it's really none of my business, but it did make me wonder again why people keep patronizing these places.

Advice I hope you won't have to use

If you're going to fake your own death, don't use the title of a classic TV theme song as the text of your suicide note.

Had I not read this article, I'm pretty sure that would never have occurred to me.

One other thought about this: If you've swindled money from a hedge fund, why are you driving a GMC Envoy? The Envoy is actually a pretty nice ride, but not "hedge fund swindler" nice.

July 1, 2008

Science you can taste

Finally, researchers are doing something useful in the field of genetics. Just goes to show you the good that can come from industry, government and farmers all working toward a common goal ... sustaining the chocolate supply!

Now, if they can sequence the genes for New York pizza and replicate it out in L.A., I'll be the happiest guy around.