popular thinking

hopelessly devoted to deconstructing popular culture and conventional wisdom, one blog at a time

EVERYTHING BAD IS GOOD FOR YOU: Or so Steven Johnson would have you believe. His book of the same name -- subtitled "How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter" -- has generated much press and buzz, and as such, might wind up on many people's summer reading lists. Case in point, a relatively long and easy-going profile earlier this month in the Washington Post.

Johnson's premise can be debated ad nauseum.

But my problem isn't with his premise so much as some of the leaps in logic he makes to back up his claims. Johnson defends himself with the argument: "Today's popular culture may not be showing us the righteous path. But it is making us smarter." Possibly. But smarter than whom? Our parents or grandparents? Senior citizens stereotypically may have a more difficult time programming the VCR, much less the DVR, cell phone and e-mail. But does that prove that consumers of pop culture are smarter, or does it reinforce the idea that children can pick up new technologies as easily as they can pick up new languages?

Are increased IQ scores a result of complex video games and TV plotlines, as Johnson suggests? Or are the higher IQs simply a reflection of evolution and the Darwinian notion of survival of the fittest (and smartest)?

The technologies that drive movies, TV shows, video games and our electronic accessories certainly have advanced and have become more complex. Whether that makes the acutal content better for us is another matter. The intricate story arcs of 24 and Alias may test our cognitive abilities, as Johnson suggests, although anyone who actually stops to process the plotlines figures out that these shows make no sense. And despite Johnson's statement to the contrary, 24 in fact took about two minutes at the beginning of each hour "explaining the back story" to viewers.

A few other quibbles that need sorting out...

Johnson argued that we watch "reality" TV not to see people humiliated but to watch them "find their bearings" in social chess. Yet two pages after making that case, he decides "the thrill of watching TV is seeing their face at the moment they get the news" -- the very climactic and most humiliating moment.

Johnson also argued that "the Oprahization of politics" is a good thing, despite the fact that television has weeded out politicians strictly based on looks. That's a good thing?

His arguments for better TV also choose out deliberately specific shows that might support his premise. For every Seinfeld or The Sopranos, though, we have Britney and Kevin's Chaotic.

Johnson doesn't address the proliferation of celebrity magazines and entertainment news programs on TV, and how our obssession with them might undermine our societal intelligence.

And, well, Johnson even argued that the movies have gotten better. Really? The special effects are better, but really?

Related: See the book on Amazon.com

SPEAKING OF REMAKES: Patrick Goldstein of the L.A. Times weighs in on the everything old is new again "fresh idea" vacuum in Hollywood. Funny quotes, and by funny, I mean terrifying.

WAR OF THE WORLDS: Early thoughts from a Monday night preview screening...if you're sitting between your paper's film critic and a woman who used to co-host a nationally syndicated movie review show, you're bound to get opinions and questions fired at you. That said, Dixie Whatley, why are you testing out your wit on me right when the space monkeys start vaporizing the humans? Trying to concentrate. Some of us actually don't talk during a movie...but many of us laugh when Steven Spielberg throws us a major league knuckleball near the end...funny that all of the pre-movie talk was about how crazy Tom Cruise is, and yet, Spielberg's visual effects (with nods to the cinematographer and ILM, natch) are quite stunning and make you forget about all that tabloid fodder for a couple of hours...for a fun game, if you've already read the book or seen the movie and just want to play film student, keep track of all the previous movie references Spielberg drops (spaceship sounds not quite as rhythmic as Close Encounters, a hide-and-seek reminds you of the velociraptors in the Jurassic Park kitchen, when in doubt, make the vulnerability come from Independence Day/Star Wars, and so on and so on). But hours later, thinking about what I'd seen, one idea kept coming back to haunt me, and for that, you must wait until Friday's paper when my story runs. So go see the movie before then, and you'll be up to speed. Just don't pay $10. And hope that the inane no cell phones, no handbags rule was only for preview screenings. What was the studio worried about exactly? It's not as if people wouldn't have some idea of the plot of an 1898 novel turned into an infamous 1938 radio broadcast turned 1950s movie beforehand...psst: Not all aliens are like E.T. Pass it on.

WHAT TOOK SO LONG? Some might say better late than never. I say better now than later for Apple to join the podcasting revolution -- especially since the term comes from an Apple product. Anyhoo. The new 4.9 version of iTunes incorporates podcasts as a basic function, subscription option and publishing avenue which makes it easy for everyone (and by everyone, I mean even sometimes lazy folk like me) to join the fold. More on this later.

NOT YOUR AVERAGE JOE: Had an amusing lunch last week with Brian Worth, the runner-up from NBC's Average Joe: Hawaii. One of my favorite pop culture topics to explore is how television inherently changes the way people live -- whether by simply watching more of it, or by becoming part of it. So we revisit Mr. Worth today...

Nobody would accuse Brian Worth of being average.
After finishing as runner-up last year in NBC's dating tragicomedy Average Joe: Hawaii, the 33-year-old Eastie resident returns to TV tonight (Ch. 7, 8 p.m.) in the debut of Average Joe 4: The Joes Strike Back.
Worth leads boot camp for the guys vying for this season's beauty. In tonight's episode, he rallies the new Joes by telling them: "There is honor in being called an Average Joe.''
And Worth means it. He introduces himself on the phone as "the consummate Average Joe.''
The federal auditor who met and dated a beauty queen on national TV, only to lose her to a pretty boy, Brian Worth has returned to Boston and still works for the Treasury Department.
"I'm used to being Average Joe now,'' Worth said over a beer and lunch at the Office Bar and Grill.
And yet, he ain't quite as average as he used to be.
The show led to appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Wayne Brady Show and movie premieres such as last year's comedy Dodgeball. Worth has those clips on a Web site he launched (www.brianworth.com) to get feedback from the show. He has gotten that, along with plenty of new female fans.
A Swedish woman named Johanna flew over to spend Memorial Day weekend with him. "We had a blast,'' is all he'd say.
Worth, who began reality show life with messy hair, now visits the Sizzlin salon in East Boston and even had his eyebrows waxed. "These beautiful women talked me into it,'' he said.
He also got talked into becoming a reality TV star.
"This whole thing happened just from drinking beers,'' Worth said. "Don't let anybody tell you nothing good comes from going out drinking.''
He had never even seen a reality show when NBC casting agents approached him one night at The Place.
Watching Average Joe: Hawaii unfold last year made Worth uncomfortable, not only because he knew what happened but also because he didn't enjoy seeing himself on TV. He has become much more at ease with his fame, getting recognized by his face and his wicked pissah accent.
"People say, 'I'm sure you've heard this a million times,' and I have. But I don't mind going through the whole deal,'' he said.
"I joke that my job is getting in the way of being a celebrity.''
But he wouldn't mind making a second career out of jokes. He has begun taking bookings for public speaking appearances and tried his hand at stand-up comedy. "I've learned I want to make people laugh on a wide scale,'' he said.
Worth certainly has accomplished that already through Average Joe. He'll be on hand at The Rack tonight with other local Average Joes for a viewing party.
He also has more reality show opportunities in his future, including Bravo's Battle of the Network Reality Stars.
"I was looking at it as a vacation,'' Worth said. "Basically, what happened was a fairy tale.''

Read today's Boston Herald: On `Average,' a good life

MY OWN KICKBALL MEMORIES: As an "anonymous" comment points out below, I failed to mention "32 to 2, 32 to 2, we're beating you right out of your shoe." Somehow, that always brings a smile back to the face.
But that was kickball on an official kickball field, with painted lines on the blacktop playground of our elementary school in Simsbury, Conn. (the school long since closed and became Town Hall and the police station, which means going to detention gets a new meaning for anyone still hanging around town).
Yes, the memorable game in question happened one Latch Key afternoon in the 1970s. 32-2.
We also played some kickball in the Stubbs' backyard, but that wasn't usually as formal as the games on the Belden playground. Even after all of these years, I have not forgotten.
Good times.

ADULT KICKBALL: Two words you didn't think you'd see together. And yet, adult kickball has become more popular over the past few years, with thousands more 20- and 30-somethings joining the craze. My story today only includes one of the pictures online but you can get more info from the World Adult Kickball Association site.

Some people relive their childhood by visiting the sites of their youth.
For 25-year-old Dan Fink, it's kickball.
Fink, a Southie resident who works at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., heads up the new Massachusetts Minuteman Division of the World Adult Kickball Association.
"We were at work one day,'' Fink recalled. "Someone said, 'How come no one plays kickball anymore?' '' Turns out thousands of otherwise normal adults in their 20s and 30s across the country have gone back to playing the elementary school playground sport that combines the basics of baseball with a big red rubber ball and a hint of Dodgeball. WAKA, as the World Adult Kickball Association is called, counts divisions in 32 states and D.C., with the nation's capital sporting 25 divisions (each division can hold 16 teams of 26 people).
"I was amazed when I went online,'' Fink said.
Boston's Ironsides Division began play last year. Fink and his team, Balls Deep, joined the new Somerville Minutemen Division this year. The Boston league's 16 teams play Sunday afternoons at Roberto Clemente Field in the Back Bay Fens; the Somerville league's initial eight teams play Wednesday or Thursday nights at Nunziato Field near Union Square.
A registration fee of $60-$70 covers team T-shirts, equipment (balls, bases, cones, scorebooks, first-aid kits, pumps and needles), league insurance and other items.
WAKA players must be 21 or older - each division has a sponsoring bar, such as The Independent or An Tua Nua, where everyone goes after games - and most players, Simons said, range from 21 to 45.
Many teams sport names with double entendres or inside jokes.
I Bent My Wookie and Last Ones Picked play in the Boston league.
Division play is ultra casual.
On opening night two weeks ago in Somerville, the volunteer umps had to review the rules for many of the players, who hadn't even seen a kickball game since fifth grade.
But most players are there to have fun. Some say they joined kickball to meet people, either socially or scoping out prospective dates.
"I like sports, but I don't like playing anything super-competitively. So kickball is perfect for me,'' said Liz Lynch, who plays for Runs With Scissors with co-workers, friends and friends of friends. "It's social. It's fun. It's quasi-competitive.''
In a game Wednesday between Big Red Rubber Balls and Freeballers, both the players and the umps even lost track of the outs and the score at different points.
Michelle Cooney, a 29-year-old bartender at Stadium Bar and Grill in Southie, recruited both friends and customers to join her on the Big Red Rubber Balls team.
"It is a spreading word of mouth epidemic,'' said Freeballers captain Sara Hills.
Hills, 27, got a few of her Reebok co-workers to join her team. One of those women got a sister and her co-workers from another company to join. The rest of the team consists of friends and individuals who registered later and were assigned a team.
"I played last year in San Francisco,'' Hills said. "I moved here at Christmastime. This is such a great way to meet people, so I figured I'd sign up.''
Fink's answer to a co-worker's question - does anyone play kickball - has led him to captain a team and lead a new divison. But he and his friends are having a blast.
"The games are a lot lower scoring than I was expecting,'' Fink said. "A little more structure than in elementary school. Same amount of fun.''

Related: Get your kicks (Boston Herald)

IT'S A SURREAL WORLD: The Los Angeles Times weighs in on the nature of celebrities seeking "just 15 minutes more" and how we let them. How dare you, VH1.

AS P.T. BARNUM SAYS: "There is a sucker born every minute." Or something like that. The remake of H.G. Wells' The War of The Worlds got us thinking about Orson Welles and his legendary 1938 radio broadcast and resulted in the following newsroom question: What would it take to scare us today? What I enjoy most about journalism is the ability to not only ask such questions, but also let that initial query get modified based on debate and discussion. Part of the problem with media credibility results from the public believing the media has bias -- in other words, that journalists already feel they know the answer to the question. Me not like that. Me like letting the story evolve. Me like talking to Jeff Jarvis (he lives in New Jersey, so he'd know about alien invasions -- although I must say, I spent four glorious years in the Garden State, so it's not all bad. Unless you count Seaside Heights fashion.) Me stop now.

Here is my story from Sunday's Boston Herald. Enjoy the director's cut below.

Aliens are invading New Jersey!
Time to panic?
When Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre troupe adapted The War of the Worlds into an October 1938 radio broadcast, some frightened listeners who didn't hear the disclaimers actually took to the streets to flee or fightthe fictitious Martian invaders.
But when Steven Spielberg brings H.G. Wells' sci-fi tale to the big screen Wednesday, the only thing left to fear is a close encounter with Tom Cruise.
Since the 9/11 attacks, Americans have faced threats both real and imagined - from anthrax scares to SARS, bird flu, West Nile virus, bogus terrorist attacks on tourist spots and shopping malls, identity theft, even earthquake-triggered tsunamis. Aside from those few trusting folks who duct-taped their homes during an "orange alert,'' many Americans have become comfortably numb to the latest screaming headline or government warning.
"You could say we're more skeptical and smarter,'' said Jeff Jarvis.
Jarvis, who created Entertainment Weekly and writes an online media blog called Buzz Machine, doesn't believe anyone could fool us like Welles did 67 years ago. "A hoax can be shot down in no time online,'' Jarvis said. "The hoax can live only until the debunkers rise to the top of a Google search.''
David Mikkelson, who runs the urban legends site Snopes.com with his wife in California, said he could debunk it immediately, "if we're home that day.''
In 1938, you would have had a hard time verifying Welles' Martian landing - unless you lived in Grovers Mill, N.J.
In contrast, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks unfolded live on every TV network and every radio station. Today, people can call friends on cellphones, turn on the TV or check the Internet.
"The technology changes, but human nature stays the same,'' Mikkelson said. "I don't know if I'd call it gullible, but people do still respect authoritative sources or figures. So if they see something on the news, they don't necessarily question the source.''
TV newscasts are guilty of similar scare tactics, said media psychologist Stuart Fischoff.
Fischoff, professor emeritus at California State University, Los Angeles, has said that television amplifies and in some cases feeds crises with "breaking news'' graphics, attention-getting logos, menacing music and ominous voice-overs.
("Is the water at your children's school safe to drink? Tune in tonight to find out.'')
"Then they'll offer you something to calm you down,'' Fischoff said. "They do that all the time. But some people are still susceptible to that.''
Fischoff suggested something closer to home might trigger real fears - a prison break with a mad killer on the loose, or "something that cannot be easily confirmed.''
"I heard the Big Dig is collapsing,'' Fischoff said.
He's joking . . . right?

NEWS FROM THE LEFT COAST: Another perspective on competition and the future of the newspaper industry, from an editor in the Bay Area. Papers have to change, but change to what? That is the burning question.

BIG SCREEN OR SMALL SCREEN: As everyone in the media debates the recent 17-week stretch of "declining" box-office figures, our TV and film critics weigh in with a smackdown of sorts, moderated by me.

And here we go...

Why is the cineplex emptier this year?
Are the films simply awful? Are ticket prices too high? Would people rather watch movies at home on DVD, cable or pay-per-view?
Whatever the excuse, the nation's box office slump has entered its fifth month.

Movies:All the cool kids go to the theater.

Television: All the smart people watch at home.

Box-office receipts from cinemas nationwide have fallen for 17 straight weeks, or since late February when the Academy Awards season ended. Overall attendance is down, too, with 8.57 percent fewer tickets sold this year, according to Exhibitor Relations Co.
Ticket sales during last year's record box-office run actually declined, as well, down 1.1 percent from 2003. But that was offset by higher ticket prices, on average up from $6.03 in 2003 to $6.25 last year.
DVD sales, meanwhile, continue to soar, up 33 percent from 2003 to 2004 to $15.5 billion. Add $5.7 billion in DVD rentals last year and another $3.2 billion in VHS sales and rentals and consumers accounted for $24.5 billion in home-video revenues in 2004.
Last year's box-office revenues of $9.42 billion pale in comparison.
Is home video overtaking the cinema as the dominant venue for movies?
In a poll last week, Ipsos Public Affairs found that almost three of every four adults prefer to watch movies at home. Only 22 percent of respondents said they'd rather see films in the theater with the masses.
And 25 percent of respondents said they haven't even been to a cinema in the past year.
By comparison, 37 percent said they had ordered a pay-per-view movie at home, while 5 percent had downloaded a feature-length film from the Internet.
But other advances and innovations also have made it easier for moviegoers to stay home. Several million consumers in the past couple of years have joined services such as Netflix that rent DVDs through the mail and don't charge late fees.
Sales of high-definition digital TVs continue to rise. The Consumer Electronics Association expects this year's sales to double the 7.3 million sets sold in 2004.
Another factor to consider: The dwindling wait time for first-run films to reach DVD.
Hitch, which earned $179 million at the cineplex, arrived on DVD last week only a month after its final weekend in cinemas.
2929 Entertainment, run by Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner, aims to eliminate that big-screen/small-screen boundary entirely. It helps that it owns the Landmark Theatre chain as well as the HDNet channel on DirectTV.
Earlier this year, it released the documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, simultaneously in its cinemas and on HDNet. The film was still on 91 screens last weekend, earning $3.4 million to date.

THE DIG DIGS ME: In this week's alt-alt-weekly, The Dig has fun recounting my Batman story from last week. I think they kinda sorta liked the story, though. Read what they wrote and tell me what you think.

COLLEAGUE SHOUT-OUT: Columnist Beth Teitell asked the question on my mind -- why all the Diet Cokes?

STOP TURNING MY FAVORITE TV SHOWS INTO CRAPTACULAR MOVIES: Maybe I should tone that down a bit. Then again, no. Really, how many times do you think I'm going to fall for that logic -- the trailer for Dukes of Hazzard says it's the most anticipated film of the summer. C'mon. Even in jest, it's not in jest. You know it'll be horrible. So anyhows, I wrote up a list of some memorable TV shows from the 1970s and 1980s that haven't yet been adapted to the big screen. Some colleagues in the newsroom suggested The Love Boat would make a great movie. Um, no. That's a TV-movie. Not even in the same league as Cannonball Run. I didn't have room for all of the possibilities, so here is some of what made the cut in print.

Fantasy Island - Ramp up the thriller/horror aspects from this surreal be-careful-what-you-wish-for show. For Mr. Roarke, go with Armand Assante, Antonio Banderas or heck, even Ricardo Montalban, still working at 84 (which would add an extra dose of creepiness). For Tattoo, how about Peter Dinklage? No, wait. Make it Tom Cruise, now that he's extra jumpy.

Scarecrow and Mrs. King - Talk about made for the big screen. A bored suburban divorcee house wife falls in league with a secret-agent man. Calling Teri Hatcher. For fun, reunite her with Dean Cain. For campy fun, reunite her with Howie Long.

The Greatest American Hero - Believe it or not, nobody has tried adapting this superhero spoof that finds teacher Ralph Hinkley handed a costume with special powers he cannot control. Unless you count Jackie Chan's The Tuxedo. Oh, well. This was the superhero flick Ben Affleck should have made.

Read my other suggestions in today's Boston Herald: Screen gems: It's prime time for film directors to raid TV's finest

Or make your own suggestions by leaving a comment.

ODDS AND ENDS: Work keeps me busy lately, so no time til now to review some of the more interesting tidbits from the past couple of days. Let's review...

Jack Shafer notes in Slate how TomKat hasn't only stumped you, but also the tabloids!

Speaking of TomKat, Roger Friedman from Fox News weighs in on the so-called "missing days" between when we saw Katie Holmes pre-Cruise and when we saw her reappear as Cruise's love interest. I'll just note that while 16 days seem quick, and while everything about TomKat smells fishy, personal experience taught me that you can go from meeting a person to being crazy in love within 16 days. Of course, TomKat -- still crazy.

Something about the massive continuing TV coverage of both the missing Utah boy scout and the runaway bride doesn't seem right, either. Conventional wisdom would lead you to believe that the TV nets still cover these things because of "slow news days." But there are no such thing as slow news days. Plenty to talk about. But the media, and particularly the TV ilk, are lazy and tend toward the easy gets that hold promise for lots of camera time. Least interesting thing I learned about the boy scout tonight: He didn't talk much. Most interesting thing I learned about the boy scout: He hid from searchers. I didn't grow up scouting, but is playing hide-and-go-seek with search and rescue folk part of the program?

The "writers" of "reality" TV shows want union wages. So do video-game voice actors. SAG's reply? Tough luck for the latter.

Nicole Kidman joins the iTunes celebrity playlist chorus. Her kid likes the top 40. She likes when beaus write songs for her. I knew I should've learned to play guitar...

The Thighmaster is one of several, I suspect, who can easily quote better lines than some listed in AFI's Top 100 Movie Quotes. From the parts of the show I caught the other night, it seemed as though some of the selections weren't really about the line in question, but about the entire scene surrounding the line. Prime example: A line from When Harry Met Sally in which the director's mother (yes, that's correct) says "I'll have what she's having." That line gets a laugh, but only because it follows Meg Ryan faking an orgasm. Here is an old-time quote that should've made the list: "What's up, Doc?" Yes, it was animated. But the Looney Tunes were films first and foremost. Better Off Dead and Fletch, full of great long-lasting quotes. How about this: "Your son, Ferris, was absent nine times this semester. Nine times." Real Genius is packed with memorable lines that only the proud few will own up to remembering. Sir Thighs was especially on point with "Shall we play a game?" and "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya." Then again, AFI is just like so many listmakers, making their lists and not really caring so much about accuracy so long as the list gets us all talking. Which I've clearly proven. You gots me.

MORE FUN WITH WEBSITES: Panties with GPS tracking? Video clips of random people crying while eating? A magazine about bloggers?
Too funny to be true.
But these were a few of the most outrageously contagious Internet sites to appear in the past month, all designed to win a contest proving how the World Wide Web can rapidly spread any information.
Forget Me Not Panties, Crying While Eating and Blogebrity won the Contagious Media Showdown awards over the weekend from Eyebeam, a New York City nonprofit center for art and technology. The contest ran from May 19 through June 9. All 60-odd sites receive free hosting from Datagram through July 15.
Forget Me Not Panties won the $2,000 grand prize with 615,562 unique visitors and more than 20 million hits to the site in 22 days.
The site reputedly offered panties to track your unsuspecting girlfriend or wife, boasting: ``These panties can give you her location, and even her temperature and heart rate, and she will never even know it's there!''
Crying While Eating won two $1,000 prizes while gaining 386,638 unique visitors and more than 13 million viewings of 30-second video clips with, well, people crying while eating.
It began with staged clips, accompanied by helpful one-liner descriptions of the food and the source of the subject's sadness.
Reader submissions have boosted the site to 46 clips. Readers also can vote for their favorites. Yesterday's favorite, Spencer, gnawed on ribs while allegedly bawling because ``his conjoined twin didn't make it.'' Dan, eating pork roast and mashed potatoes while sitting on the toilet, cries because he ``failed to plan ahead.''
Blogebrity preyed upon the egos of bloggers by not only promising a magazine about the online journalists but also ranking them as A-, B- or C-listers. That site won $1,000 for having the most blog links (490).
Other sites featured a masked Ringtone Dancer, a movie about brain freeze and a breakup letter generator. Showdown.contagiousmedia.org lists all the sites.

MINIKISS LINKS: Too funny. Here are a couple of links if you want to know more about MiniKISS, who rocked and air guitared their way through Boston on June 11.

Booking: http://www.rock-l.com/bio.php?artist=minikiss
The band: http://www.littlemanentertainment.com/

Spotted this pic earlier today. This is me with MiniKISS from a couple of weekends ago at The Roxy. Notice how Mini-Paul seriously wants me. So bizarre. And yet so true. Thank you, 6one7productions, for documenting this moment. Posted by Hello

This is the kind of ticket you can get if you show up early enough before a game and stand in line for hours. And if it's the Pirates. For a Yankee game, expect to camp overnight. Just warning you. Posted by Hello

TWO DAYS AT FENWAY: Well, what can you say about spending Father's Day with your father at Fenway Park when the Sox win 8-0, Clement pitches a gem, Alan Embree emerges unscathed, and the sun even appears (even if it's after the 7th inning)? Good times. Even if Matt Damon scored better seats. He probably has an in. As for me, I had to show up at 10:30 that morning to test out the "day of game" ticket release program along Lansdowne Street. I can report that it works, so long as you show up early enough. For our game Sunday, the first pitch was at 2:05 p.m., which meant the ticket window opened about two hours earlier, which meant I had to show up about two hours before that. But everything turned out well. Dad didn't want to play catch on the field afterward -- the Sox did open up Fenway to any dads who wanted to play catch with the kids, and several thousand took part (including Matt Damon with his nephew). Instead, Dad wanted to hit Nieman Marcus and catch the end of the U.S. Open. How about Tiger getting close but getting all yippy on the 16th and 17th greens? Reminded you how crazy wonderful the game of golf is, didn't it?
I did say two days.
That's because tonight, I returned to Fenway as a Princeton alum for the local association's annual meeting with special guest keynote speaker/Red Sox prez Larry Lucchino '67. That .406 club is nice. Wonder who sits there on regular game days. Wonder how many special events they hold there. Wonder what it'll be like next year when they remove the glass.
Yes, my world is filled with wonder.
More on Larry later.

A FIELD GUIDE TO TWEETERS: Tweeter Center concertgoers, that is. My publisher is a big fan of the Jimmy Buffett. That said, I provided a mocking tribute to Parrotheads and bird-watching field guides with my story today. You have to see the whole thing to appreciate its, well, audaciousness. The illustrations make it much more than any words I provide. So click on the link, why dontcha?

Note: In some print editions, my A Flock of Seagulls reference got replaced by a Black Crowes reference. In case you care.

Related: A guide to Tweeter's tailfeather shakers (Boston Herald)


Caine, Freeman, Oldman
great talents all misdirected
on batty trifles

WENTZLE RUML: Where are you now? Cape Cod. Next question. So, what's up? You want to see Lords of Dogtown?

"Personally, I didn't want anything to do with the Hollywood version of the movie,'' Ruml, now 46, said from his Wellfleet home. "And I was actually surprised when I heard they had cast somebody to play me.''

Read the rest of my interview with Ruml: Skateboard pioneer clams up on movie (Boston Herald)

DOES BOSTON NEED BATMAN? Why do you ask such silly questions? Because I can answer them.

Batman might begin again today on the big screen, but here in Beantown, the caped crusader would more likely be relegated to the cast of Cold Case.
Not that we don't need another hero.
But Batman, the most famous superhero without any superpowers, wouldn't have many reasons to bust out the Batmobile in Boston. Most of the Hub's colorful villians are, like the so-called Dark Knight, vestiges of a bygone era.
Where was Batman when we needed him?
In 1939, DC's Detective Comics introduced Bruce Wayne, an orphaned billionaire who becomes a playboy philanthropist by day, a crime-fighting vigilante by night.
Boston has never seen any real-life imitators, despite the contention of Batman Begins screenwriter David S. Goyer, who said he modeled the young Bruce Wayne after John F. Kennedy Jr.
John-John as Batman?

Read the rest of the story: Batman's here, but does Hub need a vigilante? (Boston Herald)

SECRET LOVER CARDS: One of my habits, bad or not-so bad, is to start a sentence only to complete it by breaking into song. No wonder I cover pop culture. Thus, I had to include the chorus from Atlantic Starr's Top 3 hit of 1986, Secret Lovers, into my story on the new Secret Lover Collection of greeting cards. Say what you will about the business idea of marketing greeting cards for adulterers, but you cannot deny the crazy chorus from Atlantic Starr. It's oh, so real.

Secret lovers, yeah, that's what we are
Trying so hard to hide the way we feel
Cause we both belong to someone else
But we can't let go
Cause what we feel is oh, so real
So real, so real

- Atlantic Starr, "Secret Lovers,'' Billboard No. 3 hit, 1986

When President Bill Clinton strayed from his first lady, he famously gave several presents to second-fiddle Monica Lewinsky.
But would he ever have considered sending a greeting card?
Yes, if Cathy Gallagher had anything to say about it.
Gallagher, of Bethesda, Md., has launched a new Secret Lover Collection specifically designed for customers engaged in extramarital affairs. She debuted the line at last month's National Stationery Show.
"It's an untapped market,'' Gallagher said last week.

Read the rest of my story here: Cheating's in the cards: New greetings celebrate special moments in adultery (Boston Herald)

OUT WITH THE OLD: A couple of headlines from Monday that shouldn't pass by without a closer read.

1) Clear Channel seeks to replace Arbitron for radio ratings.

2) VHS is heading toward extinction, if Wal-Mart and others have anything to say about it.

THE CLICK FIVE LIVE: Almost forgot to post this, seeing as the concert was Friday night. But I thought the boys from Allston (actually now Watertown-based band) known as The Click Five were goofy fun. If I had paid closer attention to my MTV in the past year, I would've known that the cute blonde girl singing all of the lyrics to all of the songs, then hanging around after the show away from the groupies, was one Lucy Walsh. Ms. Lucy is the keyboardist and "backup" vocalist for Ashlee Simpson, so she had toured with The Click Five earlier this year. But Ms. Lucy also is keen on the boy band's lead singer, Eric Dill. At any rate, it'll be interesting to see how the band's career trajectory curves once the debut disc comes out Aug. 16. They'll be opening for the Backstreet Boys by then. Reminds me of how N Sync went out on tour several years ago with an opening act named Britney Spears. Stay tuned.

ROBERT PARKER TALKS TO ME: I had the pleasure of visiting the Spenser author -- whose new book, Appaloosa, showed up in stores last week -- at his home for a chat. Parker had some nice things to say about the Herald, which he remembered his father reading when it was still a broadsheet paper. But enough about my job. Let's hear more about his job.

In a way, novelist Robert B. Parker has mimicked the characters in his new western, Appaloosa.
Much as Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch ride into the titular town to save it from outlaws, so too did the 72-year-old Parker decide to rescue his book idea from the dustbins of Hollywood.
"Several years ago, I did a treatment for a western movie that didn't go anywhere,'' Parker said.
That treatment about "town tamers'' - men called in to restore law and order in the wild West - eventually evolved into the story of Cole, Hitch and Appaloosa. Parker maintains a fast pace and manages to adapt his hard-boiled detective work into the old-fashioned western genre.
Relaxing in his Cambridge study, however, neither Parker nor his favorite German shorthaired pointer, Pearl, are in a hurry.
This Pearl (actually his third dog of that name and breed) is sprawled on the sofa while Parker kicks back in front of his Apple computer, the "electronic typewriter'' that produces books with manic efficiency. Parker already has his next four books in the can - two Spenser novels, one Sunny Randall and one Jesse Stone.
But to paraphrase his newest protagonist, Cole, quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, "What he must do concerns him, not what people think.''
So no big book tour for Appaloosa, despite the fact that it's quite a departure from detective writing.
In Parker's first western, he tackled the famous historical figure of Wyatt Earp. For Appaloosa, Parker deliberately kept the setting and people a mystery.
"This is the mythic West,'' Parker said. "I didn't know where it was. I didn't want to know. I wanted to keep it mythic.''
Likewise, Cole emerges as a mythical hero, his legend told through the eyes of his loyal deputy, Hitch. "It's like 'Great Gatsby' in a way,'' Parker said. "Nick Carraway tells us about Gatsby. Carraway had to tell the story.''
Despite its western setting, Appaloosa manages to reference New England throughout, from the Boston House Saloon to Emerson to the novel's first character, a bartender named Willis McDonough after the late sportswriter and friend of Parker's. The novel has a classic western ending with a twist.
"I have a sequel in mind, but that is essentially a question of business, not art,'' he said.
Hollywood will produce two more Jesse Stone movies with Tom Selleck portraying the police chief. Parker said he won't be actively involved in any more adaptations of his books, except for possible cameos, as he did in TV versions of Walking Shadow and Thin Air.
"I've been in the infantry in Korea and in the movie business - and Korea looks good to me,'' Parker said.

Parker rides to rescue of his `Appaloosa' (Boston Herald)

SPEAKING OF WACKO: Katie Holmes moves one step closer to crazy. As if you thought her appearance on David Letterman's show last week wasn't crazy enough, now she drops the bombshell on us with word she is converting to Scientology. TomKat must be stopped.

MICHAEL JACKSON NOT GUILTY: What, you were surprised? Not me. It's one thing to prove a guy is a little freaky deaky, but quite another to prove he was freaky with a particular young laddie, especially when the boy's mama got her own credibility issues.

MORE ABOUT THE BAD MATH IN THE SCIENTIST SURVEY: My mother told me she read that posting from last week a few times and still had trouble figuring it out. Perhaps she is not alone. So let me try to explain with an example.

Say the survey asked only 9 scientists to check any of 10 boxes owning up to misdeeds.
Only one scientist checks any boxes.
But he checks three boxes.
The survey results would say 11 percent owned up to misdeed A, 11 percent owned up to misdeed D and 11 percent owned up to misdeed F.

The researchers -- and the Globe's reporter and headline writer -- could not accurately add up those percentages and say that one-third of the scientists have fudged their reports, could they? No.

THE GLOBE ON THE HERALD: Mark Jurkowitz, who himself is soon to depart his own daily newspaper gig (to go back to the Phoenix, which is another intriguing notion to blog about), wrote about the very current turmoil at my very current employer in Saturday's Globe. Interesting to read someone else's take on the situation, especially since said someone else is writing for the opposition and about to leave them for a weekly paper that itself is in transition. You follow all that? Good. That said, I remain optimistic about where the Herald is heading. We have a chance to lead the newspaper industry into the 21st century. The media landscape is changing all around us. If we don't get ahead of that curve, we'll fall by the wayside. And who wants to see that happen?

I MISS AC: Sitting here at 11:30 on a Sunday night that followed 90 degree haziness (the dew point was in the 70s, people!), I'm reminded that the past four summers of my life were spent in the Arizona desert. What they say about the "dry heat" -- all true. What they say about the beauty of central air conditioning -- also true. I miss living in the comfortable world of a/c. Didn't realize how much until now. And more hazy humid heat to come tomorrow. Oh joy.

GLOBE, DO THE MATH: Finally got around to reading today's Boston Globe, and something about this page 1 story makes no sense.

Surveyed scientists admit misconduct(By Gareth Cook, Globe Staff)
A third of American biomedical scientists have engaged in questionable research practices, according to survey results released yesterday that raise questions about the integrity of the nation's multibillion-dollar quest to undersand the human body and cure diseases.

The story then goes on to describe the survey, which had scientists anonymously confess to any of 33 actions. Problem is, mad scientists aren't necessarily going to limit themselves to one fault. The actions overlap and allow multiple answers. And yet -- the survey, and the Globe both do the seemingly easy thing of adding up the responses, giving them and you the impression that 33 percent of scientists had done wrong.

Percentage of federally funded US scientists who...

Yeah. Don't think so.

CLICK FIVE CLARIFICATIONS: In my story yesterday, I believe a date got the ol' switcheroo treatment during the editing process. The band's debut disc is available Aug. 16. The Click Five opens for the Backstreet Boys at Mansfield's Tweeter Center on Aug. 14. So mark your calendars accordingly.

MEET THE CLICK FIVE: Sometimes not all of my stories make it online. This is one feature I'm sure the kids will enjoy. It's a series of mini-profiles of each of the Fab Five members of the Boston-based band, The Click Five. They're performing in Boston on Friday, June 10, and heading out this summer with The Backstreet Boys. Without further ado, as they say....

Meet The Click Five!

Joey Zehr
Drums, backing vocals
Hometown: Indianapolis
Birthday: May 10
Height: 6'
Favorite Boston eatery: Bisuteki
Allston in three words or less: Fun, young, diverse
Turn-ons: Brunettes, sense of humor, shyness, humility
Turnoffs: Laziness, rudeness, obnoxiousness
In five years I'll be: "on the moon."
In five years, The Click Five will: "own Disneyland."

Ethan Mentzer
Bass guitar, backing vocals
Hometown: Hershey, Penn.
Birthday: March 15
Height: 6'
Favorite Boston eatery: Sushi Express
Allston in three words or less: Trashy, indie, collegiate
Turn-ons: A nice smile, older women, troublemakers
Turnoffs: Clinginess, unmotivated people, talking too much
In five years I'll be: "done with my college loans."
In five years, The Click Five will: "be the biggest band in the world."

Eric Dill
Lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Hometown: Indianapolis
Birthday: Feb. 10
Favorite Boston eatery: Sushi 21
Allston in three words or less: Not very clean
Turn-ons: Sweetness, strength, talent, beauty
Turnoffs: Jadedness, boring, lack of character and identity
In five years, I'll be: "better."
In five years, The Click Five will: "dominate the world of rock."

Joe Guese
Lead guitar, backing vocals
Hometown: Denver
Birthday: Jan. 14
Height: 5'10"
Favorite Boston eatery: Uncle Pete's BBQ
Allston in three words or less: Rats
Turn-ons: Red Sox winning, the Denver Broncos, great barbecue
Turnoffs: Yankees winning
In five years I'll be: "playing golf."
In five years, The Click Five will: "be playing golf professionally."

Ben Romans
Keyboards, backing vocals
Hometown: Salina, Kan.
Birthday: Feb. 10
Height: 5'11"
Favorite Boston eatery: Stephanie's on Newbury
Allston in three words or less: Decadent, rocking, tragic
Turn-ons: Swedish girls, Southern accents, wit, charm
Turnoffs: "Lots of them, but I don't want to be mean so I won't say."
In five years, I'll be: "in the biggest band in the world. I might be married with a child named Rocky, surfing in my back yard and driving a vintage lime-green VW surf wagon."
In five years, The Click Five will: "be dominating and touring the world and making a kick-ass action film during our offseason."

It's shaping up to be one hot summer for The Click Five.
Teen People lists the boys from Allston, who play Friday at Axis, as must-see, must-hear, must-haves. KISS guitarist Paul Stanley compares them to "the early Beatles'' on MTV's "You Hear It First'' promos.
Boston's WXKS-FM (Kiss-108) continues to push The Click Five as the next big thing with on-air interviews and promotional concert appearances.
And you can't even hear their music on the radio yet.

Read the rest of my story: Click track: `Can't miss' Boston boy band readies for takeoff(Boston Herald)
Band's site: The Click Five

WFNX BEST MUSIC CONCERT: Sometimes it is good to be single and unattached. Because sometimes, a friend will call you up during lunch and say he has been looking on eBay at concert tickets for tonight's FNX bash featuring The Killers, Interpol, Louis XIV and Robbers on High Street, and hey, would you like to go if he gets tickets? Because then, you can say, sure, why not? And a few hours later, you find yourself alongside Boston Harbor at the Bank of America Pavilion, listening to some great rock music. My friend, Brian, came up with some rules for bands if they want to become superstar showmen. His rules: Talk to the crowd several times so they get to know you, introduce your mates at some point during the show, and throw in at least a partial cover song, if not a full cover. None of the acts did that tonight. And yet, I came away from the show loving The Killers even more than when I came in. They were that good. The other bands rocked, too, but The Killers clearly felt comfortable headlining for 5,000 fans. Good times. Let the "Summer O Fun" begin...

The Killers
Louis XIV
Robbers on High Street

HOW NOT TO GAG ON DEEP THROAT COVERAGE: Almost a week after the initial bombshell revelation into W. Mark Felt (Spoiler alert! He was Deep Throat!) and the press still cannot get out of its own way to criticize him, the WaPo, the FBI and themselves, whether it's backtracking to what Felt shoulda coulda woulda done or how he couldn't, shouldn't, wouldn't have done likewise now. In all of this mess, one of the few insightful pieces came, not surprisingly, from Hank Stuever. His "appreciation" of Deep Throat told us something about ourselves. Poynter interviewed Stuever the day his piece ran in the paper. It only reminded me of my own encounter with Sir Hank, many moons ago at a Poynter Writers Workshop in Bellevue, Wash., when I was still finding my own voice with The Sun across the pond in Bremerton. His informal talk about how his beat wasn't a beat at all was enlightening, but more importantly, for me, anyhow, was the sudden realization that the rules and conventions of modern newspapers were bunk -- and why the heck don't I just go ahead and spin the good yarn the best way I know how? So that's what I set out to do. Still working on it. Thanks, Hank!

BRANGELINA ATTEMPTS TO SAVE MOVIE FROM THEMSELVES: When I went to see Revenge of the Sith a weekend or two ago (was it that long ago?), the audience audibly groaned and booed the trailer for Mr. and Mrs. Smith. In today's paper, I offer up a possible explanation. To wit...

They call acting make-believe.
But actors sometimes fall in love for real while paired on a movie set.
That onscreen chemistry can work wonders at the box office - unless, of course, the leading man and leading lady have cheated on their real-life loves in the process. Then they desperately hope viewers make believe that the adultery didn't happen.
So Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie deny their dangerous liasions at every turn. You might think they're trying to spare Jennifer Aniston, Brad's soon-to-be ex, further heartache. You'd be wrong.
Brangelina just doesn't want a scarlet letter attached to their new film, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, which opens nationwide on Friday.
If Hollywood's A-listers have learned anything over the years, it is this: Adultery plus tabloid hype does not always equal box-office magic.

Gigli (2003)
Couple: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez
Ah yes, the heady days of Bennifer, version 1.0. Note to Cris Judd: When an actor pays for full-page ads in the trade magazines declaring how wonderful your wife is, she might not remain your wife much longer.
Here, Affleck plays a thug who falls for a lesbian assassin during a kidnapping mission. Chasing J. Lo. turned out to be not quite as hee-haw-hilarious as Chasing Amy.
Gigli was the first film in Razzie Award history to sweep in all of the worst-film categories.
In its third week, the movie dropped from 2,215 locations to 73. It earned $6 million, nowhere close to its estimated budget of $54 million.

Proof of Life (2000)
Couple: Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan
In the plot, Ryan's husband is kidnapped while on the job in South America. Crowe comes to save the day, but Ryan isn't so happy about that.
Ryan and Crowe found ``life'' offscreen, and she and hubby Dennis Quaid split up. Audiences had a difficult time separating the reality from the cinematic fantasy.
The movie bombed, earning $32.6 million versus an estimated budget of $65 million.

Dumb & Dumber (1994)
Couple: Jim Carrey and Lauren Holly
In one of many memorable scenes, Carrey's character finds out the odds of hooking up with Holly are "more like one in a million.'' His onscreen reply: "So you're telling me there's a chance?''
His offscreen reply: What if I'm earning $20 million per movie?
Carrey divorced wife Melissa Womer within a year, married Holly in 1996, then divorced her in 1997. Messy? Certainly. But the movie was a $127 million hit.

Made in America (1993)
Couple: Ted Danson and Whoopi Goldberg
How do you follow up a long-running megahit sitcom like Cheers? One way is to divorce your wife of 16 years to make whoopie with Whoopi. But that whole blackface routine went over about as well as the couple's movie, a supposed comedy that had Danson playing a car dealer and unwitting sperm donor parent to Goldberg's teen daughter.
Sorry. We forgot to laugh.
The movie still managed to earn $44.9 million.

Cleopatra (1963)
Couple: Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor
The granddaddy of all adulterous affairs captured on the big screen. It helps that at the time, this was the most expensive movie ever, with an estimated budget of $44 million that translates to more than $250 million in today's dollars. Add in more than four years of production, two other directors, a handful of screenwriters, a $1 million paycheck for Liz and note that Liz almost died during filming and that the movie flopped with $26 million from the box office (subsequently earning up to $57 in later re-releases) - and you still remember that Liz and Dick's affair trumped everything.

Related: If loving you is wrong...this film will be a bomb (Boston Herald)

TELEVISED TRAIN WRECK TRIFECTA: We've had five years to watch how a Survivor outwits the competition and 13 years to see how college students react to The Real World.
Haven't we learned anything yet?
This summer's crop of new shows proves that no shame, no fame is still the name of the "reality'' TV game. Tonight's trifecta of televised train wrecks may share a basic odd couple motif, but they'll also share a basic fault - the failure to teach viewers anything they don't already know.

Read the rest of my story: All aboard? On these train wrecks? No thanks! (Boston Herald)

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