Category Archives: Total trivia

Oscar the Grouch is in grave danger


I assume you’ve noted the disturbing pattern:

  1. (CNN) — Legendary fashion designer Oscar de la Renta, who spent half a century putting high society in haute couture, has died. He was 82…
  2. South African athlete Oscar Pistorius has been given five years in jail for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp….

On the chance there is some sort of twist on the Rule of Three in operation here, if you’re Oscar the Grouch, you’ve got to be worried…

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Is SC the ‘most patriotic’ state?


That’s the conclusion based on this survey:

 South Carolina is the most patriotic state in the nation, a real estate research firm has found.

The ranking is based on Movoto Real Estate’s measure of the number of people who Googled for American flags. The state also has the seventh highest veterans per capita, and 16th highest funding for veterans per capita….

Seems like a rather slim criterion to me. A state could top the list if, for instance, it was ordering flags in order to burn them or something.

Nevertheless, I don’t doubt that South Carolina is at least among the most patriotic states, whatever your criteria. We have definitely come a long way on that score since that time, so very long ago that it’s hardly worth mentioning, when we, you know, launched a war — the deadliest war in the nation’s history — against the United States.


Bee Gees tune makes my hypothetical band’s playlist

Last night, I was watching an episode of “The Americans” and it ended with a song in the background that was a pleasant-enough-sounding ballad, but for one thing: It seemed to be very close to something very familiar, and something that I wanted to hear, but it never got there. It was too busy being artsy, too free-form, too showy in its refusal to be anything like the original.

I now know it was Roberta Flack’s version of “To Love Somebody.” It was pleasant, but considered as a cover of that song, it was awful. It left out all the best bits, such as the change when it launches into “you don’t know what it’s like,” and then when it takes it down a notch, for “to love somebody.”

Everything that made the song special was missing, including the appealing rhythm of the verses, in between the aforementioned best bits.

Frankly, I hadn’t ever realized how special the song was, until it had been stripped of what made it that way.

So I’m unilaterally adding it to the playlist for my band, for when I have a band. I’m not consulting my bandmates on it, because I don’t have any, and it wouldn’t do to start having artistic differences before we even get together.

I’m even thinking of going out on a limb and adding “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You,” because I’ve always known that was great, even though it was by the Bee Gees. After all, the Brothers Gibb were pretty good before disco (he said defensively).

This is coming together well. Before long, I’ll have a complete playlist for my ultimate cover band, and that will give us a head start when I get around to actually putting the band together. Don’t you think?

Have fun storming the castle (a bit late)!

Click on this to blow it up.

Click on this to blow it up.

I missed this reunion of the cast of “The Princess Bride” when it happened a couple of years ago (to celebrate the film’s 25th anniversary), but since I just ran across it today, I thought I would share.

The photo, near as I can tell, came from Entertainment Weekly. Here are some close-ups from it.

So you want me to go back to politics and other serious stuff? As you wish…

Here’s how we used to find stuff out in the old days, kids

Since this post the other day, I’ve been listening more closely to the Christmas music to which I’ve been exposed.

This morning, I heard something really unusual. What got me was the very different rhythm part of this rendition of “O Come Emanuel.” I’d actually been listening a while before I realized what the song was — even though it’s my favorite Advent song. This was before coffee, you understand.

I wanted to know right then who it was. But I couldn’t do what I would normally do. I was driving the truck, which is straight-shift and takes two hands, and wearing my winter coat that zips up, and couldn’t get at my phone to get my SoundHound app to give it a listen and ID it for me. Frustrating (in any event, as I discovered when I got to work, I’d left my phone at home — again, the lack of coffee).

So I decided that I’d fall back on trying to find out who that was when I got to a keyboard. To my inexpert year, it sounded like Pearl Jam. So I hunted on Google, and on YouTube. I asked everybody on Twitter:

Heard a very offbeat rendition of “O Come Emanuel” on radio this a.m. Sounded like… Pearl Jam. Google couldn’t find that. So who was it?

Weirdly, no one answered. I asked again about six hours later. Still no takers. Which is unusual. Normally, someone at least guesses.

So you know what I did? I found out the old school way. Soon as I got a moment (late this afternoon, after a busy day) I called the request line at Magic 98.5. I asked who that was doing “O Come Emmanuel” between 7:45 and 8 this morning.

Turns out it was Third Day, a Christian rock band that formed back in the early ’90s. You know, when everybody was trying to sound like Eddie Vedder.

The fact that my crowd-sourcing efforts failed, I suppose, testifies to grunge-style Christian bands  occupying a lesser-known part of the pop music spectrum. Even Rob, Dick and Barry might have had trouble with it.

I’m just glad I solved the mystery. I’m sure you’re happy for me.

The resurgence of The Chicken Curse?


My friend Doug Nye is gone, and many think his great discovery, The Chicken Curse, is gone with him.

But it pops up now and then.

The Chicken Curse, properly understood, is not just about the Gamecocks football team losing. So the recent winning seasons by the home team don’t mean the Curse is dead. In fact, as I was introduced to the concept in the late 1980s, it’s more about people who otherwise have nothing to do with South Carolina being done in by an incidental association with our flagship university, particularly with anything bearing on its athletic programs.

Under this interpretation, for instance, we understand that Gary Hart missed his chance at the Democratic nomination for president in 1988 because of his relationship with a former USC cheerleader, Donna Rice.

Anyway, the thing that brings all this to mind is the fact that, just days before the BCS Championship game, The Wall Street Journal carelessly decided to run a lengthy interview with Lou Holtz talking about how great the Irish were this year, headlined, “Why Notre Dame Is Back on Top.”

Textbook case of the Curse, as I was taught to understand it…

Which is Rothko, and which is ADCO?

Three years ago, the staff of ADCO had our annual Christmas party at Hobby Lobby. After refreshments, each us was given a canvas and paints, and challenged to create something for the walls of our offices.

We were encouraged to paint in the style of Mark Rothko, and most of us cooperated. We were generally pleased with the results, which you can still see today adorning the walls of 1220 Pickens St.

Fast-forward to this year…

Last Thursday, our office Christmas party consisted of lunch at Hampton Street Vineyard, followed by a tour of the Rothko exhibit at Columbia Museum of Art.

Now, here’s a test of your artistic perspicacity: Above and below are images of two paintings. Can you tell which is by ADCO, and which is by Rothko himself?

No cheating! To check yourself, you may look it up on Google Images after you share your answer. You’re all on the honor system, and sure, you are all honorable men. And women.


What is the sound of no cookie crumbling?

Tom Priddy, former colleague at The State and the man who introduced me to Internet porn*, encountered a terrible omen last night:

Uh, oh. Not only did my fortune cookie not have a fortune in it tonight, but it didn’t even have a cookie. Yep. It was a package of air. Never opened. Just a bubble. I think maybe I’d better just stay home tomorrow . . .

The only explanation I could offer him was that maybe it was a Zen cookie. What is the sound of no cookie crumbling?

* Perhaps that calls for an explanation. Tom was an early computer guru at the paper, and by the late 80s or very early 90s had taken a job with Knight Ridder corporate doing something technical and mysterious, although his office was still at the paper in Columbia (he was maybe the first person I knew to have such a long-distance job enabled by technology). He was helping me on a project one day in his office, and somehow it came up that people were using computers and modems — not the Web, this was before common access to the Internet — to share dirty pictures. I said “Really? Show me.” Several minutes later — it took some time to identify a relevant server, dial up and establish a connection — a picture started gradually revealing itself on his screen, very slowly, one line of pixels at a time. We continued with the task I had come there for while it unfolded. It turned out to be a fairly unremarkable picture of a nude woman lying on a bed, with her head tilted back looking at the camera. Not really X-rated, more hard R or NC-17 at most. I made a note, and promptly assigned a reporter to do a story on this new form of high-tech porn, which ended up running on our features front.

This guy just makes me want to give up

As you know, I’m working on some mutton chops for “Pride and Prejudice.” I really didn’t start early enough to get them nice and bushy, a la Regency Period.

From my sideburn days, in college. They show up better when they're not white.

I know from experience that sideburns take time. To grow them really big would take close to a year. And even more maddeningly, the part of my beard I don’t want — the mustache and chin area — grows much more quickly and thickly.

All I can say is that by the time I shave the middle part, just before opening night (which is just over two weeks away!), they will be passable, although not nearly as good as Mr. Bennet’s in the 1995 TV series. Good thing I’m playing Sir William, eh?

This would be easier to accept if I hadn’t watched a movie with my wife the other night about Beatrix Potter, whose father was played by John Woodvine, below. That’s just totally unfair. I console myself by saying that they have to be fake. They do, right? No actor could take that much time out of his life to look like this for one role…

Shawarma: The lunch of superheroes

The above sign, spotted today at Al Amir on Main St., got me to thinking of “The Avengers.”

Tony Stark: You ever try shawarma?

SPOILER ALERT! OK, not really, because it reveals nothing about the plot, although it will ruin a tiny little fun surprise. It’s just one of those little lagniappe things at the end of the credits. Although, come to think of it, this does tell you that all the heroes survive the movie, so SPOILER ALERT!

At the end of the climactic battle, as he’s lying dazed among the rubble, Robert Downey Jr., who as Iron Man has 90 percent of the movie’s good lines, reassures his comrades that he is alive by saying offhandedly, “You ever try shawarma? There’s a shawarma joint about two blocks from here. I don’t know what it is, but I wanna try it.”

Then, the fun part: After all the credits — apparently, Joss Whedon needed the help of about 3.7 million people to make this flick — you see the exhausted heroes lounging, disheveled, around a table in the shawarma joint, slowly munching away in complete silence. This continues for more than 30 seconds, as a restaurant employee sweeps up in the background.

This sort of backhanded, non-branded little product placement has apparently launched a bit of a shawarma craze:

Those of you still reading will likely recall Tony Stark’s fascination with shawarma toward the end of the film. During the climactic battle, Stark suggests the team adjourn to a nearby restaurant to try the dish, which Wikipedia describes as “a pita bread sandwich or wrap” filled with spit-roasted meat (commonly lamb, goat, chicken or a mixture of various meats). At the very, very end of the film, after the credits have rolled, we witness the superhero team sitting at a table, silently eating their shawarma for a surprisingly long amount of time.

Now, based on that short in-joke, TMZ claims that the Los Angeles shawarma industry has seen a massive spike in popularity since the release of the film. “At Ro Ro’s Chicken — a famed Lebanese joint in Hollywood — the manager says shawarma sales jumped 80% in the days after the movie opened,” the gossip site claims, while saying that a number of other Lebanese restaurants offered similar results…

That’s fine. Just as long as they don’t start rebranding it the Super-Gyro…

Fifty years of summertime pop, rated

The sleeve of my "Honky Tonk Women" single.

Last week, I called into question the value of recent pop music. I was moved to do so by this feature on NPR, regarding “The Songs Of The Summer, 1962-2012,” which ran the gamut “from surf rock in the early 1960s through British then American rock ‘n’ roll, disco, power ballads, R&B, boy bands and hip-hop.”

I thought it particularly meaningful that it counted from what Gene Sculatti’s The Catalog of Cool described as “The Last Good Year.”

I listened to the Spotify mix that the story linked to (there’s also a version provided by NPR itself, but you don’t get to pick where you jump in — it’ more like conventional radio that way).

The list confirms me in my belief, that there hasn’t been a summer like that of 1966 since. As I said before:

Puts me in mind of the summer of ’66. I came back from the beach determined to go out and buy three singles: “Green Grass” by Gary Lewis and the Playboys, “I Am a Rock” by Simon and Garfunkel, and “Little Red Riding Hood” by Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs.

OK, so sue me. I was 12. At least “I Am a Rock” was cool.

But look at what else came out that summer:
WILD THING – The Troggs
PAINT IT, BLACK – The Rolling Stones (still my favorite Stones song)
SUMMER IN THE CITY – The Lovin’ Spoonful
HANKY PANKY – Tommy James & The Shondells
AIN’T TOO PROUD TO BEG – The Temptations
DIRTY WATER – The Standells
MONDAY, MONDAY – The Mamas & The Papas

Not to mention these forgettable items that I loved at the time:
SWEET PEA – Tommy Roe

That was all just one summer.

Come on — what will today’s 12-year-olds have to look back to in the future?

The answer to that question doesn’t appear to be very encouraging.

Gradually, over the past week, I listened to that mix while doing a lot of other things. Here’s how I rated what I heard, on a scale from zero stars to five:

2012: Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe”

2011: Adele, “Rolling In The Deep”

2011: LMFAO, “Party Rock Anthem”

2011: Nicki Minaj, “Super Bass”

2010: Eminem featuring Rihanna, “Love the Way You Lie”

2010: Katy Perry, “California Gurls”

2010: Taio Cruz, “Dynamite”

2009: Black Eyed Peas, “I Gotta Feeling”

2009: Taylor Swift, “You Belong With Me”

2008: Coldplay, “Viva La Vida”

2008: Katy Perry, “I Kissed A Girl”

2008: Lil Wayne featuring Static Major, “Lollipop” – Only gets a 1 because, if you only hear a second of it, it’s catchy. After 2 seconds, you hate it

0 2007: Rihanna featuring Jay-Z, “Umbrella”

0 2007: T-Pain featuring Yung Joc, “Buy U A Drank”

2006: Gnarls Barkley, “Crazy”

0 2006: Nelly Furtado featuring Timbaland, “Promiscuous”

2006: Shakira, “Hips Don’t Lie”

0 2005: Gwen Stefani, “Hollaback Girl”

0 2005: The Pussycat Dolls featuring Busta Rhymes, “Don’t Cha”

0 2004: Juvenile featuring Soulja Slim, “Slow Motion”

2004: Usher, “Confessions Part II”

2003: Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z, “Crazy In Love”

2003: Chingy, “Right Thurr”

2003: Sean Paul, “Get Busy” – This would get a 2, but for the monotony.

2002: Avril Lavigne, “Complicated” – Almost it to a three in the middle part, but not quite.

2002: Jimmy Eat World, “The Middle”

0 2002: Eminem, “Without Me”

0 2002: Nelly, “Hot In Herre”

0 2001: Destiny’s Child, “Bootylicious” – What did this in from the start was the ripped-off sample from Stevie Nicks’ highly irritating “Just Like the White-Winged Dove.” It only got worse from there.

2001: Eve featuring Gwen Stefani, “Let Me Blow Ya Mind”

1999: Christina Aguilera, “Genie In A Bottle”

1999: Jennifer Lopez, “If You Had My Love”

0 1999: Len, “Steal My Sunshine”

1999: Smash Mouth, “All Star”

0 1998: Next, “Too Close”

0 1998: Vengaboys, “We Like To Party”

1998: The Backstreet Boys, “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)”

1997: Hanson, “MMMBop” – Bubblegum, but not bad bubblegum. The chorus almost raises it to 3.

1997: Notorious B.I.G. featuring Puff Daddy & Ma$e, “Mo Money Mo Problems”

1997: Puff Daddy featuring Faith Evans & 112, “I’ll Be Missing You” – How much credit should a sample get? Because without that, this is nothing.

1996: Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, “Tha Crossroads”

1996: Los Del Rio, “Macarena” – Yes, the craze became a joke, but at least it has some musicality.

1996: Mariah Carey, “Always Be My Baby”

1995: Seal, “Kiss From A Rose”

1995: TLC, “Waterfalls”

1994: Ace of Base, “Don’t Turn Around”

1994: All-4-One, “I Swear”

1994: Lisa Loeb, “Stay” – Keeps threatening to sound good, but doesn’t get there.

1994: Warren G & Nate Dogg, “Regulate”

1993: Tag Team, “Whoomp! (There It Is)”

1993: UB40, “Can’t Help Falling In Love” – Too bad Elvis never heard this version.

1992: Boys II Men, “End of the Road”

1992: Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Under the Bridge”

1992: Sir Mix-A-Lot, “Baby Got Back” – I agree with the sentiment, at least.

1991: Bryan Adams, “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” – Not his best effort.

1991: DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, “Summertime”

1991: EMF, “Unbelievable”

1990: Mariah Carey, “Vision Of Love”

1990: New Kids on the Block, “Step By Step”

1989: Martika, “Toy Soldiers”

1989: Richard Marx, “Right Here Waiting” – Syrupy.

1988: Cheap Trick, “The Flame”

1988: Steve Winwood, “Roll With It” – Not as good as his work with Blind Faith, not by a long shot. But it’s catchy.

1987: Heart, “Alone”

1987: U2, “With Or Without You” – Perhaps their best song.

1987: Whitney Houston, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” – Excellent example of the genre, but I’m not a big fan of the genre.

1986: Madonna, “Papa Don’t Preach”

1986: Peter Cetera, “Glory Of Love”

1985: Huey Lewis & The News, “The Power of Love”

1985: Tears For Fears, “Shout” – One of the best of the 80s.

1984: Cyndi Lauper, “Time After Time” – Not as good as “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”

1984: Prince & The Revolution, “When Doves Cry” – Not as good as “1999”

1983: The Police, “Every Breath You Take”

1983: Irene Cara, “Flashdance…What a Feeling”

1982: Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder, “Ebony & Ivory” – Just chock full of good intentions, though.

1982: Human League, “Don’t You Want Me”

1982: Survivor, “Eye of the Tiger”

1981: Rick Springfield, “Jessie’s Girl”

1981: Kim Carnes, “Bette Davis Eyes”

1980: Lipps, Inc., “Funkytown”

1980: Billy Joel, “It’s Still Rock & Roll to Me”

1979: Donna Summer, “Bad Girls” – It would be a 1, but I don’t want Bud to hate me.

1979: Anita Ward, “Ring My Bell”

1978: Andy Gibb, “Shadow Dancing”

1978: Frankie Valli, “Grease” – Sorry, Frankie, but there were better songs in that show.

1977: Fleetwood Mac, “Dreams”

1976: Starland Vocal Band, “Afternoon Delight” – An oddball little hit.

1976: Elton John & Kiki Dee, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”

1976: Wings, “Silly Love Songs”

1975: The Captain & Tennille, “Love Will Keep Us Together” – Perhaps a better song, done by someone else.

1974: Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods, “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero”

1974: George McCrae, “Rock Your Baby”

1973: Diana Ross, “Touch Me In The Morning”

1973: Jim Croce, “Bad Bad Leroy Brown”

1972: Bill Withers, “Lean On Me” – This just gets better and better.

1972: Sammy Davis, Jr., “The Candy Man” – How did this get in there?

1971: Bee Gees, “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?” – I’m throwing the Bee Gees a bone here.

1971: Carole King, “It’s Too Late”

1970: The Carpenters, “(They Long To Be) Close To You”

1970: The Jackson 5, “The Love You Save”

1970: Edwin Starr, “War” – Good song, though it overstates its case (“absolutely nothing”).

1969: The Beatles, “Get Back”

1969: The Rolling Stones, “Honky Tonk Woman” – Not only a superlative summer song, it’s a great driving song, too.

1968: Simon & Garfunkel, “Mrs. Robinson”

1968: The Rascals, “People Got To Be Free”

1967: Aretha Franklin, “Respect” – Give her some.

1967: The Doors, “Light My Fire” – I probably would have rated this higher at the time.

1966: Tommy James & The Shondells, “Hanky Panky”

1966: The Troggs, “Wild Thing” — Elemental, proto-punk, garage band purity.

1966: The Lovin’ Spoonful, “Summer In The City”

1965: The Byrds, “Mr. Tambourine Man” — I’d have given the Dylan original another star.

1965: The Beatles, “Help!” — I feel bad that I didn’t give the Beatles five stars on anything, but none of their best songs were listed.

1965: The Rolling Stones, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”

1965: Sonny & Cher, “I Got You Babe”

1964: Dean Martin, “Everybody Loves Somebody”

1964: The Animals, “House of the Rising Sun”

1964: The Beach Boys, “I Get Around”

1963: Lesley Gore, “It’s My Party”

1963: Jan & Dean, “Surf City”

1962: Ray Charles, “I Can’t Stop Loving You”

1962: Neil Sedaka, “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”

1962: Little Eva, “The Loco-Motion” – Had trouble deciding on this one; may only be a 3.

Naked without a jacket

Some of y’all were advising me on a “look” for my band, once I start a band. That, of course, is a worthwhile consideration — yet another thing to settle before actually forming the band itself, along with the band name and playlist.

But y’all were a bit off with the platform shoes with goldfish in them and other suggestions. As I responded, my own concept of a “look” is somewhat different.

I tend to think back to when I saw Dylan with The Band in Memphis in 1974. Basically, they were casually dressed with dark sport coats over work shirts, and jeans or other casual pants. I seem to recall a scruffy old sofa on the stage. It was comfortable, homey, and vaguely old-fashioned. They were dressed sort of like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid, only without the guns and cowboy hats.

That’s the sort of look I’m comfortable with. It’s the way I dress. It’s more or less the way I’ve dressed since high school. There was once a sort of clearance/warehouse sale at the base exchange at Hickam Air Force Base back in 1970, and they were getting rid of all kinds of out-of-style items. I picked up a couple of sport coats for $5 each. One of them I really liked. It was wool, a sort of rough, tweedy wool. It was a dark, dark blue with other dark colors in it, vaguely seen, and a faint sort of reddish pinstripe running through the hard-to-see pattern. I wish I still had that jacket, even though it wouldn’t fit me now. It was very like what The Band would wear, or what a cowboy in a particularly cool western might wear, and have to pull out of the way to draw his sixgun.

Over the years, I got dressier than that, and took up such items as the bow tie. But nowadays, when I do wear a tie, I’m the only one at ADCO who does. And more and more often, I don’t wear one at all. So I’m drifting back more toward that look I had as a student. But part of that look is that I always, always wear a jacket.

How could I not? How would I get around? Where would I put my:

  • Car keys (right outside pocket)
  • Wallet (sorry, but I’m not going to deform my spine by sitting on a wallet in my hip pocket)
  • notebook (my Moleskine fits perfectly in my inside pocket on the right
  • flip-up shades (breast pocket)
  • pills, tissues, etc. (antihistamines and such that I always carry — left outside pocket)

Where would all that stuff go without a jacket? And then there’s my iPhone, which I wear clipped to my belt — you want me to go around with my phone exposed to the weather?

The other day, on NPR, I heard an interview with British actor Bill Nighy, who among other things said the following:

SIEGEL: You have a look and bearing that says, at least to my American eyes: British gentleman. Is it true that you feel naked if you’re not wearing a suit?

NIGHY: Yeah. In fact, a jacket, really. I’m a jacket man. And if I’m without one, I am kind of seriously disabled. I don’t know how to operate in shirt sleeves.

SIEGEL: You don’t?

NIGHY: It makes me anxious and uneasy.

SIEGEL: Even to a reading for a part or something very informal?

NIGHY: Yeah. It’s ludicrous. People sometimes inquire why there’s a lack of classical work on my CV with the emphasis on Shakespeare and I have joked in the past that it’s because I can’t operate in those kind of trousers. But, in fact, it’s true. I can really only operate in a decent lounge – what we used to call a lounge suit. It is kind of my muse and I am ludicrously attached to the idea.

I did a play on Broadway here in New York and the director desperately tried to get a jacket off me. He said, you’re in the garden. It’s summertime in England. What would you be doing wearing a jacket? I said, I always wear a jacket in the garden. Anyway, he did get the jacket off me and he actually made me appear without socks, which was deeply unsettling.

SIEGEL: This was very difficult for you.

NIGHY: Yeah…

Exactly! How indeed does one get along with a jacket? I can’t imagine. I gathered that this was supposed to be heard as an expression of the actor’s eccentricity, but I thought he made perfect sense. No wonder I like Nighy in pretty much anything I see him in (“Page Eight,” “I Capture the Castle,” “Love Actually“).

As for going about without socks? Totally beyond the pale. Let’s not even go into that.

Like Butch and Sundance, but without the guns and hats.

Who’s your fave Republican celeb?

How’d you like that Teen Beat-style headline?

I figured that was what a silly feature like this deserved. But after following a Wonkette link to this Zimbio feature, I must confess I clicked through all the lonely Hollywood conservatives to see who was on the list. Most are usual suspects: Ah-nold, Ted Nugent, Clint Eastwood…

One surprise was Vince Vaughn. I wonder if that’s accurate?

My biggest disappointment was that my favorite Hollywood conservative, avid Tweeter Adam Baldwin, was missing.

Something weird in the world of sports…

Apparently, someone out there has decreed that all football-related news this week involve someone named “Peyton,” whether spelled that way or with a slight variation, such as “Payton.”

I don’t know why. I don’t even know why we are subjected to any football-related news when this is so clearly not the season for it. The only sports we should be hearing about should be NCAA basketball, and the impending baseball season.

Maybe we could get a meme going about Jay Payton, left-fielder for the Rockies. It’s worth a try…

The flip-floppers of ‘Lost’

John Locke at his most obsessed. Trust him, or not?

If you’ve never watched “Lost,” and intend to someday, don’t read this, because I’m going to give some stuff away.

I didn’t watch it when it was on, maybe because I had seen bits of it, and it made no sense, or so I inferred.

Now, I have almost finished watching all six seasons on Netflix, and I know for sure — without having to infer — that it makes no sense. I would have finished watching all of it by now, except that I turn it off and look for something else when my wife enters the room. Not because I’m sensitive to what she wants to see, but because I don’t want to be scoffed at. Because I know it’s silly, but I’m determined to see it to the end. NOT because I have any expectation of the ending being satisfying, but because I can’t help myself.

I thought it was a flawed show before I watched it, and now I know just how flawed it is, in great detail. And the greatest flaw, the greatest sin against storytelling, is its inconsistency.

I’m reminded of this by something Kathryn shared with me via email. It’s this piece, on a subject I addressed last week (“Let’s hear it for the flip-floppers — compared to the rigid ideologues, they are a breath of fresh air,” Feb. 28). It from NPR, and it says in part:

But we have lots of brain circuits that are making predictions about all kinds of things, every second of every day. And the brain pays special attention to other people, Linden says.

“We’re extremely attuned to the veracity, and the predictability, and the group spirit and the motivations of those around us,” he says

That’s probably from thousands of years living in groups. To stay alive, we had to know if the person who helped us yesterday might hurt us tomorrow.

Prediction is so important that our brains actually give us a chemical reward when we do it well, Linden says.

“We are intrinsically wired to take pleasure from our predictions that come true,” he says.

Get it right and you get a burst of pleasure-inducing dopamine or a related brain chemical. Get it wrong and dopamine levels dip, Linden says.

All that training makes us extremely sensitive to the consistency and predictability of people we depend on, Linden says.

“If we have a sense that there is a mismatch between our prediction and their actions, that is something that sets off neural alarm bells,” he says. And if we think they have been inconsistent about something fundamental, he says, we will feel betrayed.

“When we feel deeply betrayed, either by a leader, or by someone in our social circle, or by our beloved, that pain really is similar to physical pain,” Linden says.

In other words, we’re hard-wired to suffer from the inconsistency of flip-floppers. No wonder we don’t like them.

Well, maybe. And that would help to explain why I don’t like the central flaw in “Lost:” You can’t rely on the characters to be consistent.

Take John Locke, for instance:

  • First, you like him. You’re cheering for him because you’re glad he can walk again. And you like that his knowledge of outdoor lore (which I guess he got from books or something) — tracking, knife-throwing, boar-killing, etc. — can be useful to the castaways. He’s a reassuring presence, an avuncular figure who befriends the boy with the dog and makes a cradle for Clair’s baby.
  • Then, you start to wonder about him, as he starts talking about what “the island” wants and demands, and obsessing about “the Hatch.”
  • Then, you’re SURE he’s nuts, as he makes a religion out of pushing the button.
  • Then, you find out he was RIGHT, because not pushing the button was what crashed their plane to begin with. And leads to a catastrophic mess when it happens again.
  • Then, you find out about his miserable life before the island, and you really sympathize with him.
  • Then, he dies.
  • Then, he turns up alive after his body is brought back to the island.
  • Then, it turns out he’s dead after all, and the “Locke” we see is really the Smoke Monster.
  • Then, character A trusts him anyway, and tries to do his bidding, while Character B fights him as hard as possible.
  • Then, Character B trusts him completely, and Character A strives to frustrate him.

And… well that’s as far as I’ve gotten.

There are a couple of character arcs that are a little more consistent, but still jarring. Such as the steady degradation of Jack from Boy Scout Everyone Can Rely On to nervous, neurotic wreck who might do anything. Meanwhile, Sawyer goes from the guy you can’t trust to a fairly heroic figure, more or less.

Other characters will switch back and forth, sometimes more than once in an episode, from bad to good, trustworthy to untrustworthy. Note how many times we are led to believe that it’s a good idea to trust Ben Linus, only to find out, yet again, that it is not?

Beyond the characters, there’s the fact that the Explanation of What is Going On keeps changing. Something is revealed, then we learn that that is an illusion, and it’s deeper than that, on and on down the rabbit hole. (Speaking of rabbits, the occasional allusion is fun. Such as when a lab rabbit is referred to by name as “Angstrom.” Or the characters named for philosophers.)

“Lost” isn’t the worst in this regard. The worst case of this I’ve ever seen in a TV series was another cultish series, “24.” Within the bounds of a single episode, a character who we are led to believe we can all trust our lives to turns out to be the incarnation of evil, and then switches back. Which is made even more outrageous when we consider that this is all supposedly happening within one hour’s time.

I felt so manipulated and abused by that series that I gave up after two seasons.

So why am I still watching “Lost”? I don’t know. Maybe it’s the scenery. In any case, I don’t have far to go now…

A totally useless, but fun, link to try

I can’t embed this, but I can link you to it. It was brought to my attention on Twitter by @HeardinLondon:

This bloke is a thief. When he stops running, try and click above his head via@RosieHighlight

Give it a try; it only takes a few seconds.

Grow up and put your clothes on

Two weeks ago, when I arrived back at CAE from my trip to Key West, I saw an unusual sight in the baggage claim area. A woman had brought two children to greet an arriving man — husband and father probably, but I have no way of knowing — and the kids were in their pajamas. Fine. Made sense, I suppose, being a little before 9 p.m.

But here’s the thing — the woman I took to be the Mom was in her bathrobe and slippers. Presumably, also pajama-clad beneath the robe.

This seemed a bit much. It’s not like the arrival was not scheduled, and/or was taking place at 3 a.m.

Then, I ran across this on the Web:

Pajamas are on the rise. Across the land, according to the Wall Street Journalteenagers have taken to wearing PJs all day, even in public—even to school! Apparel companies like Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle are cashing in on the trend, stocking their stores with leggings and sweatpants and other comfortable, flowy, elastic waistbanded apparel. Pajamas are even popping up in high fashion: Here’s Sofia Coppola happily, gorgeously stepping outside during the day in Louis Vuitton pajamas, and here’s designer Rachel Roy attending a movie premiere in her own brand of jammies. Last week, a women’s clothing site that tracks new “looks,” exhorted its customers to “get comfortable with pajama dressing.” Among its wares were several silk blouses selling for more than $200 each; a pair of silk drawstring plaid pants with elastic cuffs for $495; and these $845 (!) wide-leg print pants constructed out of sateen, a fabric that I think is mostly used to make bed sheets.

As you might expect, a whole lot of silly and just-plain-mean people aren’t happy about this nascent pajama craze. A number of school districts have banned sleeping clothes on the theory that they somehow inhibit students’ motivation. The idea, I guess, is that taking the time to dress up for school makes you ready to learn—which sounds plausible until you think about it for five seconds. Isn’t spending time worrying about what you’ll wear an even bigger distraction from academics?

Some people are so upset with pajamas they want to bring in the law. Michael Williams, a commissioner in Louisiana’s Caddo Parish, won national headlines a few weeks ago by calling for a ban on pajamas in public. Under Williams’ proposed ordinance, people caught wearing pajamas—which he defines as clothes sold in the sleepwear section of department stores—would be forced to perform community service. (I wonder if they would be required to wear orange jumpsuits—which look like very comfortable pajamas—while serving their sentences.) Williams told the Journal that the daytime pajama trend signaled America’s dwindling “moral fiber,” and then added a nutty slippery-slope argument to bolster his point: “It’s pajamas today; what is it going to be tomorrow? Walking around in your underwear?”

Precisely. And there’s nothing nutty about it, given that that’s precisely what I wear to bed, and I’m guessing a lot of guys are with me on that. I have only this to say about the PJ trend: I don’t hold with it. I mean, come on, people — make an effort. Count me among the “silly and just-plain-mean people.” Somebody’s gotta draw a line somewhere.

There are related phenomena which I will also decry. Saturday night, I saw an SNL rerun from just before Christmas. The musical guest was someone unfamiliar to me, a Michael Bublé. He is apparently a crooner who aspires to the Sinatra-to-Tony Bennett spectrum. Although I’m thinking Andy Williams-Wayne Newton is more like his speed.

Anyway, he was perched on a barstool with a microphone, dressed in black tie. Which was appropriate, this being well after 6 p.m. But here’s the thing: He hadn’t shaved in a day or two. And if his close-cropped hair had ever known a comb, it was not obvious. He kept smiling at the audience in this particularly smarmy manner, and all I could think was, Hey, you want to ingratiate yourself? Take a minute to shave. It’s not that freaking hard. It takes less time than putting on a tux. Give it a try.

I really don’t know what is supposed to be achieved with the “I can’t be bothered to shave” look. It wasn’t even careful, Sonny Crockett can’t be bothered to shave. It was actually like he got up that morning and looked in the mirror and said, Nah. Not gonna do it. I’m just going on live national TV, and my thing is to look like somebody from the 40s, when men were carefully barbered, but nah…

Back to the PJ thing. Ladies, if that’s what you want to do, go for it. But be advised — full-length PJs are not a good look, for anybody.

As for guys, I’ve gotta ask — how many guys even wear pajamas to sleep? I’m thinking, not that many. I mean, what’s underwear for? I know that nobody wants to see me in public in what I wear in the sack, and I respect that. So should everybody else.

Born to rule, that’s me (Can a quiz be wrong?)

First, I think this quiz is fixed. Wes Wolfe Tweeted out that he’d taken a “which Downton Abbey character are you” quiz, and turned out to be “Robert, Earl of Grantham.”

So I took it — there are only seven questions, all multiple choice — and sure enough, I, too, am the lord of the manor.

Of course, as I was taking it, I was deliberately (but honestly, except when the questions were too silly to have an honest answer) answering the questions that I knew would take me in that direction — with one or two exceptions. In response to the question, “I have a whole weekend to myself! I’m going to…,” I did not answer “Attend a jolly good foxhunt, followed by billiards and cigars.” That’s because I enjoyed the answer, “What’s a ‘weekend’?” so much. I knew that another character said that — the old lady who is clueless how the world works outside of Downton.

But even when I turned away from that path, I still ended up being the earl. For instance, on “My favorite movie is…,” the honest answer for me was “The Godfather.” So I said that, knowing that the best answer for the earl was “Henry V” — which would have been my second choice. I ended up being the earl anyway. And when I went back and tried it again, answering “Henry V” this time, I was still the earl.

I have a theory that the thing is rigged. Would anyone, taking this, end up being one of the downstairs characters? I doubt it, unless they were trying.

If you take it, let me know where you end up.