Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Simpsons Men Being Mad

I have few rules in life, but here's one: when one of my two favorite televisual programs pays homage to the other of my favorite shows in a way as awesome as what follows, that homage will get its own post. Here goes:

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The NBA and KIA Motors: Catch the Fever!

I'm eternally grateful to KIA Motors for their interesting partnerships with sports and cities. Maybe the coolest thing I did during my Europe-cation over the summer was watching the EuroCup Final (featuring Spain and Germany) with 65,000 of my closest Spanish, mulleted friends in Plaza de Colon. And those giant screens carrying the Spanish broadcast were made possible by none other than KIA Motors. I doubt they sponsored the scary Spanish beer or the fireworks/low-powered grenades which were continuously detonated throughout the match, but they may do things differently in Europe. The point is, KIA normally does good when it comes to these public plaza interactive sports events. It's not their fault that the NBA Tip-Off event I attended today in Union Square Park was too lame for words. (Note: this will not keep me from writing about this function using--yes--words.) Sometimes things are just lame.

The real problem afflicting this event was that there was no event. In Spain they showed the championship contest of an international competition. The NFL's Kickoff event on September 4th of this year featured musical performances by Keith Urban and Usher. The NBA Tip-Off, on the other hand, had like this elaborate collection of lines. There was a line to get on the raised platform basketball court to shoot a free throw in order to win a t-shirt. There was a line to spin a huge The Price is Right-style spinning wheel, which granted one of three prizes, all sponsored by and labeled with the T-Mobile logo: an orange, basketball-looking stressball; a small tin of mints; and a set of dog-tags depicting I'm not sure what. (I won the mints and left them in a coffeeshop around the block; my friend won the stressball and graciously gave it to me.) And there was a line in which some KIA employees at the end of the line handed out a credit-card shaped piece of plastic which I was to present to the KIA employee at the front of the line. The lady took my card and offered me a mousepad, a water bottle, a strangely shaped magnet, and a sports towel.

I'm fairly certain that the point of these lines was to allow these KIA folks to ask people if they'd be willing to take a short survey. I agreed because I'm somewhat of an idiot who doesn't like refusing people. Also, I was kinda interested in what they'd ask.

Sample Question: "Would you describe yourself as a casual NBA fan or an avid NBA fan?" ("Avid.")

Another Sample Question: "Does KIA's partnership with the NBA make you more likely to purchase KIA products?" ("No.")

Yet Another Sample Question: "Would you like your local KIA dealer to contact you regarding special offers and discounts?" ("Hell no.")

The main reason I attended is because I am unemployed and I already had watched two episodes of It's Always Sunny in... today. But the second most primary reason I attended is because I wanted to meet such NBA superstars as Scottie Pippen, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Walt "Clyde" Frazier, such NBA stars as John Starks and David Lee, and such NBA role players as Charles Smith, Kenny Walker, Malik Rose, Nate Robinson and Danilo Gallinari. I even brought this Free Darko-approved Lenin Closet t-shirt in an effort to get it signed by some of the names. (I'm not sure if getting this thing autographed would enhance or completely ruin the joke.) I stood in line in Union Square Park for about an hour and none of those people were to be seen. I'm sure all those guys were there at some point during the day, but it's super annoying to wait around a rainy park waiting for some guys to show up anytime during a tentative three-hour window of arrival.

It's hard to feel cheated by a totally free event. But this came close.

The one good thing that came out of this is my googling of Wilson Chandler, because I wanted to see if the tall guy in one of the pictures I took was him. (It turns out he wasn't scheduled to appear.) Google turned up this gem of a photo, of Chandler meeting "with Rabbi Grossman at the Migdal Ohr 'Family Carnival' held at the Madison Square Garden Training Center."

I wonder what they talked about.


Recently on:
  • In the spirit of "Not Quite What I Was Planning" (, my temporary six word memoir: I like to do cool things.
  • Light bulb shopping.
  • Light bulb shopping was delayed due to my FRONT DOOR NOT OPENING. As if I needed an excuse to go back upstairs and watch more TV.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Delirious to Donkey

On Sunday I watched Eddie Murphy's 1983 stand-up special Delirious. A whole bunch of it is pretty hilarious (hey wait...that sort of rhymes with delirious), even if Mr. Murphy's attire has dated considerably in the last 25 years.

More than anything, though, I was struck by how drastically Murphy's persona has changed since then. According to the blogger's desk reference, "The 70 minute show, released in 1983, showcases his most racy material - the word 'fuck' is used a total of 230 times, and 'shit' is used 171 times." And now, the dude's best known roles over the last ten years are pretty much restricted to Dr. Doolittle (parts 1 and 2) and the Shrek trilogy. (Soon to be, by the way, a quad-logy with Shrek Goes Fourth slated for a 2010 release according to Dreamgirls was big also, but Murphy wasn't the lead, and since I haven't ever seen that movie I have no idea how big his role actually was.

Point is, it's a weird little transition to go from this:

to this:

It's like the reverse Bob Saget scenario.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Recently on:
  • Automobile turn signals that blink too fast make me nervous.
  • I like Slaughterhouse 5 so much that I almost said I should have read it long ago. But I'm happy to be reading it now for the first time.
  • Oh goodness, "On Chesil Beach" is a damn good book. I read it in about twelve hours, at least seven of which were sleeping.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Innovative Blog Post Alert: Sometimes Sports Analysts Say Stupid Things

The last thing the internet needs right now is another blog criticizing the dumb things sports broadcasters say. But it seems like all the cool kids are doing it now.

I want to be cool.

Here's the game situation from last night's World Series contest: The Phillies (from Philadelphia) are leading the Rays (from Tampa Bay) by one run, in the bottom of the ninth. There are two outs. Carl Crawford is batting for the Tampas, facing Brad Lidge of the Philadelphias. I don't think I stressed this enough, but there are two outs. Out of three. That's like a major tenet of baseball. Tim McCarver, who holds the most prestigious analyst position in baseball, has this to say (quoting loosely):
It's really important that Crawford get on base in this situation, because with his good speed, he has a chance to steal second base, moving him into scoring position. Lidge has been relying heavily on his slider this inning, which is a good pitch to run on because--to be effective--the slider needs to be low in the strike zone, making it harder for the catcher to throw.
The end of this thought is somewhat enlightening (it's easier to steal against slider-heavy pitchers) even if it might be smarter to wait until, you know, Crawford reached base. But the beginning is really inexcusable: the important reason for Crawford to reach base is not so that he can get himself into scoring position. It's important because if he doesn't get on base somehow, that means he made an out, which would be the third one of the inning (and, remember, this was the ninth inning, the last in regulation play), and the GAME WOULD END if Crawford didn't get on base. He could have used his good speed to run all over the bases after he popped up in foul territory to make the third out and it wouldn't have mattered because the game would be over, and that fake run wouldn't have counted.

As Eric Walker, as quoted in Moneyball (pg. 58) put it:
Analyzing baseball yields many numbers of interest and value. Yet far and away--far, far and away--the most critical number in all of baseball is 3: the three outs that define an inning. Until the third out, anything is possible; after it, nothing is. Anything that increases the offense's chances of making an out is bad; anything that decreases it is good. And what is on-base percentage? Simply yet exactly put, it is the probability that the batter will not make an out. When we state it that way, it becomes, or should become, crystal clear that the most important isolated (one-dimensional) offensive statistic is the on-base percentage. It measures the probability that the batter will not be another step toward the end of the inning.
Walker happens to be a former aerospace engineer, but this concept isn't so difficult to understand that you need to be one to grasp it. Surely this country could produce one person to analyze baseball games on TV who is able to appreciate the value of outs.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What Would Nate Silver Think?

As I type these words, 25 baseball players, assorted managers and coaches, and maybe even a few security guards and cameramen are jumping on each other on a field in Tampa Bay, Florida. They are celebrating because their squad is going to play in the World Series for the first time. Soon, the players will break out the champagne and try to blind each other with it. In the first ten years of the Tampa Bay Rays's existence, the team had never won more than 70 games. They had finished in last place in their division in nine of those ten years. (The other year they finished second to last.) Now they are going to the World Series. Tonight's game featured an important performance by a rookie pitcher named David Price who is five months and thirteen days younger than I am. His first time pitching in the major leagues was September 14, a little more than a month ago. He recorded the last four out of the clinching contest against the defending champions, and three of those outs came via strikeout. The game-winning RBI (a dumb stat, sure, when trying to evaluate the effectiveness of ballplayers, but an important storyline) was struck by Rocco Baldelli, who has missed most of the last three seasons with injuries that may have been related to mitochondrial abnormalities which he is just now recovering from.

All this serves to remind me that sports--that last great unscripted bit of American entertainment--is way better when it seems as if it had been scripted.

I can't think of any feature of American life more diametrically opposed to this state of events than politics. Unlike entertainment, American life is seriously unscripted. Seriously unscripted, that is, except for political campaigning, which is the most overly managed, least spontaneous--in a sense--the least real aspect of America. I submit to you that the best moments of politics are (or, at least, feel) unscripted.

The most riveting facet of the third and most recent presidential debate was the physical proximity of the two candidates. I watched the debate on C-SPAN (cool, I know) which went with a split-screen view throughout the entire performance. Both candidates had ample time to prepare for the questions addressed directly to them. They were both very much on display when Bob Schieffer was addressing them. But they noticeably let their guard down when the other man was being addressed. And, thankfully, C-SPAN with their split-screen shots caught these scripted politicians when this occurred.

I think this compilation is somewhat unfair to McCain, and I think it was in poor-taste for Obama to use similar clips in a recent campaign ad, but I'm fascinated by this. The annoyance, frustration, and disbelief that McCain feels towards Obama is real and gripping. And it feels very much opposed to general political campaigning which consists mostly of speaking to and with people who already support you.

Politics is most interesting when it feels as it had not been scripted.


Recently on:
  • DFW: “I had a teacher I liked who used to say good fiction’s job was to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”
  • Just watched seven hours of The Godfather. I feel bad for Michael C.
  • Finally, a manager uses his closer in a high-leverage moment, even though it's not the ninth inning. Good job, Francona.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

That Buck Stops Here

Orthodox Jews don't do creative work on the sabbath, from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. Most noticeably this includes things like using electricity, and less noticeably (because of general American workweek habits) this includes work as in like vocation. This concept is celebrated in children's song form in a little ditty called "Ain't Gonna Work on Saturday." According to this barely functional website called, the chorus and first two stanzas go a little something like this:

Ain't gonna work on Saturday
Ain't gonna work on Saturday
Double, double, triple pay
Won't make me work on Saturday
Ain't gonna work on Saturday
It's Shabbos Kodesh

*******repeat chorus after each stanza*******
I'm big Gedalia Goomber, I'm not exactly small,
But really not so very big, just seventeen feet tall.
I'm really rigged for working, for that I'm very fit,
Six days a week I'm at it, and on the seventh day I quit.

I once helped raise a building, and on the 100th floor,
I was carrying a load of bricks, an easy ton or more.
And here it's late on Friday, I knew I'd have to stop,
So I yelled, "watch out below!", and let the whole thing drop.

This song is harmless enough as far as it goes, even though the most recent paragraph somewhat overstates the case for stopping all work. There is no Jewish legal authority who would ever condone dropping a ton of bricks from the 100th floor of a building just to avoid violating the laws of the sabbath: human life is one of the few things more sacred than the sabbath. The song implicitly recognizes this misstatement by avoiding all mention of a potential danger to others, even as Big Gedalia participates in dangerous activities.

I mention this song because I enacted my own sort of dangerous Ain't Gonna Work on Saturday stanza on Friday afternoon (which I guess would mean that my version of the song would be better described with a title incorporating the concept of not working on Friday after sundown, but that would render the chorus unwieldy and nearly unsingable). Through a somewhat complicated series of events, I picked up my friend from the South Orange station of the New Jersey Transit train line at around 1755h on a Friday afternoon, which left me just about enough time to drive home before sundown. But we would be cutting it close.

Somewhere along the way (I'm notoriously bad with directions, and was just following the prompts of my GPS, so I honestly don't know where, even close to exactly, along the way) I hit a deer with my automobile. Deer are somewhat common in my neck of the woods; the area is surprisingly close to the South Mountain Reservation, a nature reserve which "covers 2,047.14 acres in the central section of Essex County," that contains "various wildlife, including deer." I keep alert for deer whenever I drive through the Reservation. But despite its proximity to this local home of various wildlife including deer, the area through which I was driving was perfectly residential. A flash of brown ran down the slight decline of the front yard immediately to my left on this two-lane street, streaked into the roadway, and collided with my braking vehicle. At first I thought it was a dog. The deer would not continue its dash across the avenue; it flipped onto the lawn of the house to my immediate right. This most probably only occurred in my imagination, but it seemed as if the deer looked into my eyes as I drove away.

I do not know if the deer got up and walked away from the accident. I might have stayed in the area to check on the animal, but it was dangerously close to sundown. I knew immediately that the impact was indirect because my car remained in one piece, but it still seems shocking that I could hit a fairly small living creature with my car and not inflict some damage. I'm heartened by what I found on the helpful article titled "White-Tailed Deer vs. Your Car" on the website of the New Jersey Audubon Society:

Although they appear delicate, deer are remarkably tough animals, so do not be surprised if a car-grazed deer disappears into the woods. Such an animal may in fact recover from its injuries.

I doubt I'll ever find out what happened to that animal.

I returned home, jumped out of the driver's seat and inspected the front of the car. There was no noticeable damage, except that the license plate which was formerly affixed to the fore bumper is no longer affixed there. I don't even want to think about where that thin slice of aluminum ended up.


In an article dated 30 March 2007, Tom Chiarella describes for Esquire's readers what it was like to witness a car accident. The piece begins:

I watched a car accident three months ago. Since then, nothing has been as interesting. On a city street, in a Big Ten college town, an ancient Plymouth, having drifted across the center line of the road, clipped an oncoming Touareg and then curled hard directly into the side of a very old 15-passenger Chevy van. No one was going very fast--by my estimation, 25 miles per hour. But it was loud and sort of wet sounding, bringing to mind large, abstract collisions of ice. Every person in the area, and there were several, took a step back and then three giant steps forward, as if they were dancing. Each, including me at the farthest remove, called out the name of God. Then a woman jumped out of the Plymouth, placed both hands on top of her head. It looked like the dictionary definition of the word alarm. She ran to see if anyone was in the van. "That van is deserted," she shouted, as if that proved something. "That van hasn't moved in months!" Then her nose started bleeding, both sides at once. This made another woman faint.

And he continues:

I went home that night and watched a movie on television. The next morning, I watched sports highlights. Two days later, I paid to go to the movies. Everything I watched seemed to come out of a box somewhere. Meanwhile, I couldn't stop thinking about the accident.

This might be the crucial difference between watching a car crash and being in one, but I couldn't disagree more with Mr. Chiarella. The entire incident, like the deer itself, is a blur to me. The instant replay is running at triple speed, from a bad angle. And the video is grainy. This event is less real to me than almost everything else. And I wouldn't be surprised is this is a common sentiment among car-crash veterans.

Even when it comes to minor crashes like mine.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A guy who wonders both who will be the next president and what the heck is up with Miguel Tejada and Alex Gonzalez?

The man pictured at left is named Nate Silver. (You can tell he's smart because the newspaper or whatever that published this photo decided to have Silver sit near a computer.) Until a few months ago he was best known for his work at Baseball Prospectus, where he wrote articles with titles such as "Is David Ortiz a Clutch Hitter" and "Binomial Distribution (or What the Heck is Up with Miguel Tejada and Alex Gonzalez?" Also, he invented PECOTA, which the BP website defines thus:
Stands for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm. PECOTA is BP's proprietary system that projects player performance based on comparison with thousands of historical player-seasons. Analyzes similarities with past player-seasons based not only on rate statistics, but also height, weight, age, and many other factors.
This is pretty smart: there's just about nothing in baseball that hasn't already happened in it's 100+ year history, so let's let that mound of data help inform our conclusions. And it's pretty clear that PECOTA is just about the best thing out there for predicting what will happen in baseball.

Mr. Silver decided to bring his predictive genius to the world of politics, starting a blog called (named after the 538 electoral votes in the presidential election), with the confident byline of Electoral Projections Done Right. He wisely declines to divulge his exact methodology, but Silver does explain some of what goes into his projections:
Firstly, we assign each poll a weighting based on that pollster's historical track record, the poll's sample size, and the recentness of the poll. More reliable polls are weighted more heavily in our averages.

Secondly, we include a regression estimate based on the demographics in each state among our 'polls', which helps to account for outlier polls and to keep the polling in its proper context.

Thirdly, we use an inferential process to compute a rolling trendline that allows us to adjust results in states that have not been polled recently and make them ‘current’.

Fourthly, we simulate the election 10,000 times for each site update in order to provide a probabilistic assessment of electoral outcomes based on a historical analysis of polling data since 1952. The simulation further accounts for the fact that similar states are likely to move together, e.g. future polling movement in states like Michigan and Ohio, or North and South Carolina, is likely to be in the same direction.
Silver is becoming a big deal. Appearances like this don't hurt.

Silver's latest projection: a win percentage of 94.7% in favor of Obama, meaning that if this election was run 100 times, Obama would win nearly 95 of those times.

I'm happy that this dude who has produced amazing work in a somewhat limited field is getting the exposure he deserves. He's smarter than maybe all the people who get paid to sit on TV and talk about politics; it's time his talent is recognized. But I'll be satisfied as long he keeps writing about baseball.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Cyborg Manifesto

It's no secret that I'm fascinated by the boundaries of our humanness. I, for one, welcome our new cyborg overlords. Last month's Esquire had an interesting article about hooking electrodes into functional brains, circumventing faulty biological processes:

In the largest room of the dark, cluttered office, tables are stacked with computer monitors and electronics equipment, and a web of cables drapes between dislodged ceiling tiles. In the center of the room, Erik Ramsey is sitting in his wheelchair, wearing a blue sweat suit and slippers, with a bundle of wires coming out the back of his head. He's staring at a wall onto which Kennedy has projected a matrix of six words: heat, hid, hat, hut, hoot, and hot. They represent each of the major English vowel sounds. Kennedy, tall and stately at sixty, asks Erik to think about making the sound uh-ee. As he does, a green cursor jitters across the wall from hut to heat, and a booming vibrato pours out of the speaker: "uuuhahuuuuhaheeeeeeee." The sound is coming straight from Erik's brain.

It's time to get ready for stuff like this.

Take Back The Music Video

Apologies for the lack of posting over here lately. This is partly attributable to spending large swaths of time in synagogue, but maybe mainly attributable to my brain turning to mush from overexposure to what we in the industry like to refer to as TV. On Sunday I went to see the beautiful Coppola Restorations of The Godfather, Parts I and II, on the big screen down at the Film Forum. It was a pretty wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon, one which included more than six hours of film in practically one sitting. Then, yesterday rolled around, and I decided it would be a good idea to do almost nothing besides watching things. I watched two episodes of Mad Men, two episodes of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, four episodes of The Simpsons, and probably nine innings of baseball between the two contests which were held yesterday.

I think I've officially reached the sad portion of my unemployment cycle. It's getting cold out, all the fun city-wide summer-tivities are no longer happening, and I haven't left my apartment in a while. A deeply emotional blog, detailing the valleys and peaks of unemployment would make for some great reading. Sorry that you're stuck with this one, instead.

One thing which is certainly not sad is this literal music video. The concept is simple: take an old music video, and recreate the music to match what's being portrayed in the video. I love mashups.