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Monday, February 29, 2016

AN EXTREME MAKEOVER FOR OSCAR

The 88th Academy Awards ceremony was held last night with 200 countries watching for 3 hours and 35 minutes.  In 2014 the Oscars viewership hit a 10-year high. with 43 million tuning in.  But the tally was 46 million in 2000 and 57 million in 1998.  A third of a century ago, 1983, 53 million watched.  Last year?  37 million.  With the diversity issue and boycotts, the 88th show will only do worse.  It's really not a membership nor race issue.  It's time for an extreme makeover.
Let me first provide some history, going back to 1929, with host Douglas Fairbanks, Senior, and 15 statuettes (but their were not yet called Oscars) at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel with an audience of 270 people.  To the left, Fairbanks handing award to Janet Gaynor for Best Actress.  Entrance could be had for $5 (actually, worth $69 today).  The total length of the formalities:  15 minutes.

This was a momentous year, for the talkies, led by The Jazz Singer were released, but they were barred from competing.  Also, 1929 began the Great Depression.  The ceremony in Year Two began to be covered on radio, with television being utilized in 1953.   Here is a clip of this 25th Oscars, with Bob Hope's opening monologue.  The 38th in 1966 was the initial colorcast (again, watch Bob Hope--he hosted 19 times but never actually won an Oscar--he did get an honorary gold medal in 1966).

A total of just about 3000 Oscars have been bestowed. The consensus pick for most memorable moment in Oscar history occurred in 1973 when Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather rejected Marlon Brando's Oscar.  Since then, acceptance by proxy has been forbidden.  Sacheen went on to, among other things, work for Mother Theresa in India.

Oscar (amorphous history of why, but name officially selected in 1939) is 13.5 inches tall, weighing in at 8.5 pounds, and is bronze (britannia alloy was used until last year), electroplated in 24-karat gold.  Since 1950 winners had to sign a declaration not to sell, but Michael Jackson in 1999 bought the Oscar for Best 1939 Picture, Gone with the Wind, for $1.54 million, and Orson Welles' heirs got  $861,542 in 2011.

Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences do the voting.  There are 6,000 of them, 94% Caucasian and 77% male.  The president is Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who, to the right, is obviously black.        
Here were the two biggest surprises and one expected loss:

1.  Mark Rylance of Bridge of Spies upset Rocky for supporting actor.
2.  Spotlight won only two statuettes, but the most important one, for Best Picture.
3.  I picked Til It Happens To You by Diane Warren and Lady Gaga to win the Original Song Oscar.  Wrong.  Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith got it for Writing's On the Wall from Spetre.  If I had known that Diane Warren had already not won after seven nominations, I would have avoided this guess.

For the entire list of winners and losers, click on this.

Here are my recommendations for an extreme makeover of Oscar:
  • Reduce the 3.5 hours to 2 hours.
  • With a membership 94% Caucasian, what happened the past two years will occur again, not because of racial prejudice, for that's the reality of having a membership almost all white.  Live with the results or, and I can't recommend this, invoke some affirmative action opportunities.
  • Do something about improving the hosting system.  Maybe ABC can sponsor an  Oscar survival series for comedians.  The top three get the Academy Award gig, perhaps with a seasoned mentor, who should be famous and popular.
  • Seriously develop a mechanism for getting better music.
  • Serve drinks, even alcoholic, using the kind of cup holders found in movie theaters.  A few winners might need to be assisted to the stage.
  • Winnow down the live TV list to the major categories, cutting out (they will, of course, get their limelight opportunity at a special dinner):
    • Sound Editing
    • Sound Mixing
    • Production Design
    • One Short Film (there are two)
    • One Documentary (there are two)
    • One writing award (there are two)
    • One music (combine original score and original song)
    • Film Editing
    • Costume Design
    • Makeup and Hairstyling
  • Here is the whopper.  Eliminate early voting, firing PricewaterhouseCoopers.
    • For each of the categories, after all the hoopla, use the latest electronics for the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science to vote.  They can do this from wherever they are or from their Dolby seat.  There are 6000 members and 3400 seats.
    • For each category they will have two minutes through the commercial, where the numbers for each nominee will be shown scrolling at the bottom of the commercial.  This should make these ads very popular and expensive, for viewers can see how the votes change.
    • At the end of the ad, spend a few minutes heightening the tension. Bring all the nominees to the stage.  HERE IS ALSO SOMETHING SIGNIFICANT:  as they are all standing before the audience anyway, like in the Olympics, confer Gold, Silver and Bronze Oscars.  However, only the Gold winner(s) can speak, for a whole minute, and the background sounds then get really loud...unless the overall director deems that something truly important is being said.  Leonardo DiCaprio, for example, when picking up his Oscar for Best Actor, made a case for the seriousness of global warming, and the orchestra was awfully quiet.
    • Use the worldwide box office gross revenues to award Oscars to the top three.  The people count, and they voted with their bucks.  For the 88th, that would have been (and, by the way, the domestic portions were all less than 50%, in billions):
I would not be surprised if the viewership by the third year increases to 75 million.  If all the above fail, return to the old way of doing this.  


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Sunday, February 28, 2016

WATCH THE OSCARS TONIGHT

For the past few years I have seen around 100 films/year, two-thirds in theaters, the rest mostly at home on TV.  An incredibly idiotic statistic is that I've now been subscribed to Netflix for four years at around $9/month, and, at most, watched a total of ten films.  It's mostly that I had so much difficulty linking that I don't want to go through the process again.  And I keep telling myself that I will someday soon watch more movies.  Almost the same for Amazon Premium, for which I pay the same amount to catch, at most, 10 flicks/year.  But at least I do order stuff from Amazon.

Now that I have established my self as a dumb authority on this subject, let me proceed to the Academy Award ceremony.  First the Oscars are popular, but nothing close to the Super Bowl:  around 40 million viewers compared to more than 100 million.  The Big Bang Theory reaches 21 million /week, while American Idol hit a high of 38 million with its second year finale, but now has difficulty exceeding 10 million/week.  A Super Bowl ad costs $5 million for 30 seconds, while the Academy Awards might be up to $2.2 million this year for a 30-second spot.  Thus, the $/viewer reached is about the same.

The big three entertainment awards shows come within weeks of each other, and Oscar dominates:


Note from the top line that you don't get that many ads during the Academy Awards, with the top sponsors being:


The 88th Academy Awards ceremony tonight will be hosted by Chris Rock at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, and you know racial equality will keep coming up.  There is an assortment of pre-show options, but the real ABC Red Carpet program begins at 7PM (2PM Hawaii time) on ABC, with the ceremony starting at 8:30PM (3:30PM Hawaii).  If you wish to view on smartphones, tablets and the like, click on this.  Not in the USA?  Try this.  If you have five different TV systems in your room, you can go to four alternative channels to view something called Oscars Backstage being screened in parallel with the main stage.  Here are some options if you got this far, but want to boycott the 88th.  

I won't be summarizing everything here.  For the full list of nominees, go to The Oscars, but here are my highlights:  
  • I somehow missed two of the eight films up for consideration.  
  • The Revenant has 12 nominations, with Mad Max 10.
  • I'lll be shocked if Leonardo DiCaprio does not get the Best Award Oscar.
  • If I did this right, you can click on any film and get the details, including the trailer (but you'll need to agonize through the commercial)
BEST PICTURE
Not one of the ten music nominations means anything to me.  A few selections from the past:


I knew every song, still do, and those were from six decades ago.  Some recent winners:
Actually, the selections have recently been improving, with Adele's Skyfall in 2012 okay and Let It Go from Frozen in 2013 at least somewhat recognizable.  Well, to many much younger than me, anyway.  

The clear favorite this year is Till It Happens to You by Lady Gaga from The Hunting Ground.  She will perform this song tonight.  Chances are she will look almost normal.  The film earned 93% reviewers' and 80% audiences' ratings from Rotten Tomatoes.  One of the few movies I missed this year.

Still want more?  From 8:30PM in Hawaii there will be the 11th annual Jimmy Kimmel After the Oscars show with Ben Afleck.  Can you believe Jimmy will be 50 next year, has had his own show now for 13 years and was with Ben Stein almost 30 years ago?

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Saturday, February 27, 2016

MEAT AND WARS

Yesterday I posted on Ruth's Chris Steakhouse.  Save for tomorrow, when I will provide my annual Oscar edition, over the next few days I will focus on beef:
  • Beef has been vilified in the media for causing heart and cancer problems.  Medical studies generally do not confirm this reputation.
  • Does beef production overuse resources?  What about grass-fed beef?  Fiber is highly touted in your diet, but to honor animal rights and better care for Planet Earth should you skip the cattle and eat grass?
  • Sure, processed meats and organs are terrible for you, but red meat probably had a lot to do with the physiological and mental development of our species.  Red meat could well be better for you than white meat.
Clearly, I'm a red meat fan, but only as part of a balanced diet.  I'll spend some time on A5 Japanese Wagyu Beef, which in gourmet land is right up there with foie gras, caviar and truffles.  These animals in Japan are pampered, while geese largely undergo a cruel process and sturgeons are approaching extinction.  Yes, we do commit the ultimate crime by eating them, however, there is something almost similarly morbid about consuming carrots while they remain largely alive.  Truffles, a type of mushroom, are the most expensive of this lot, but even most Vegans eat mushrooms.  The kingdom of fungi includes mushrooms, and, interestingly enough, this living form is genetically closer to animals than plants.

Let me conclude on this quarter-century anniversary by mentioning that President George H.W. Bush (now 91) declared that Kuwait was liberated and the Iraq army has been defeated.  Also known as the Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm began on 17 January 1991 and was concluded in five weeks.  Interestingly enough, 146 American military were killed, with about half them being accidental or by friendly fire.  Around 25,000 Iraqis died.

A little more than a dozen years later, H.W.'s son, George W. Bush (69), began the Iraq War.  Depending on who you ask and type of death, anywhere from 87,215 to 1,033,000 died.


War deaths are controversial.  The Vietnam War Memorial shows 58,195 names as war casualties.  Official government records indicate that 4267 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq.  Read this report indicating that there were 73,846 U.S. Military Gulf War deaths.  Thus, more Americans  died in the Gulf than in Vietnam.  Further, 36% of combat troops in the Gulf War filed a disability claim, amounting to 1,620,906 personnel.

Kind of a surprise to me, but Donald Trump (69) was born a month before George W. Bush.  Hillary Clinton (68) is a year younger than them, while Bernie Sanders is 74.  Any chance any of these current candidates lasting for two terms?

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Friday, February 26, 2016

15 CRAIGSIDE GOES TO RUTH'S CHRIS STEAKHOUSE

Chris Steakhouse in New Orleans had a checkered life.   First founded in 1927 by Chris Matulich, during his 38-year management of the restaurant, he sold it six times, they failed each time, and he subsequently bought it back more cheaply.  

In 1965 Ruth Fertel, ignoring the advice of her banker, lawyer and friends, became the eighth owner.  She used family recipes to change the offerings, and only hired single mothers (she was also one) as staff.  At 5'2" and 110-pounds, she daily sawed by hand 30-pound short loins.  Local celebrities like Fats Domino, important politicians and famous athletes became regulars.  

When a fire in 1976 destroyed her Chris Steakhouse (name stayed the same), Ruth (here to the right when younger) built a larger one, and as she legally couldn't call it Chris Steakhouse, named the new one Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, a name, it turned out, she always hated.  She became the Empress of Steak.  In 1999, at the age of 72, she came down with lung cancer and sold 79.3% interest to Madison Dearborn Partners of Chicago.  She passed away in 2002.


USDA prime steaks (not as marbled as the best Japanese wagyu, A5, above) are seared at 1800 F and served on ceramic plates at 500 F.  One teaspoon of butter is added just before the dish leaves the kitchen.  This sizzle and smell combination worked.    One steak meal is enough for two people.  Many of the sides continue to have a Louisiana flavor.  Creme brûlée is their signature dessert.

So off 15 Craigside diners went to the best (Hale 'Aina Gold--Hy's was rated #2) steak restaurant in Hawaii.


We went to the first Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Hawaii, the one on Restaurant Row.  I had a gin martini with olives, followed by a Caesar Salad, one escargot from Pepper and half a ribeye steak with mashed potatoes, plus a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.  I asked Keola, our waiter, if I could take the other half raw to grill and eat later at home.  To my surprise, he said, okay.



My meal ended with a Creme Brûlée and cappuccino:


I might add that Keola was superb:


On departure, I had a photo taken with Sue, for she made that rainbow lei I'm wearing:


Everyone who selected some form of steak, and I think this was everyone, took home a major portion of what could not be consumed. The group truly enjoyed our dining experience, thanks to Marc, Dining Services Manager at 15 Craigside, who arranged a special room for our group and alerted the restaurant to our coming.

Yesterday, before 25,000 surrounding Waimea Bay and who knows how many watching various media forms, 23-year old (Eddie's brother, Clyde, is 66) John John Florence of Hawaii won an epic Quicksilver Eddie on this final ride with almost no time left:


Florence earned $75,000.  Waves were said to have up to 60-foot surfaces.  All 29 surfers survived.

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

BREXIT: Will the United Kingdom Exit the European Union?

First, if you are awed by gigantic waves:

... if you happen to be in Honolulu, you will be able to view, live, the whole thing on Oceanic Time Warner Cable channels 250 and 1250HD (the pre-surf program began at 7:30 AM HT).  Othewise, go to:

     http://Quiksilver.com/Eddie
or
     http://WorldSurLeague.com



The Eddie is On (this link takes you straight to the event), and the wipeouts at Waimer Bay have been spectacular.  Best as I can tell, the Quicksilver Eddie, which began at 8AM (HST) with 50 foot (face) waves, will continue until 4PM (9PM EST).

There will be two rounds of four heats (each with seven surfers--thus, 28 total competitors), and after just two heats in round one, Ross Clarke Jones leads with 166 points and #2 is Kelly Slater with 97.  To a man (where are the women, anyway?), each says just being invited is an incredible honor.

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BREXIT is a portmanteau (linguistic blend f words) of British EXIT from the European Union.  For the record, this term is obsolete, for Great Britain only includes England, Scotland and Wales.  The United Kingdom, which also includes Northern Ireland, is the correct term, so UKEXIT is more accurate.  Ah, but you say a better categorization would be the British Isles leaving the UK.  Nope, for the BI includes the Isle of Man, which not part of the UK, nor the EU, but UK is limiting, too, for Gibraltar is also involved.

Now that you are sufficiently confused, let me add a larger term, Commonwealth Nations.  How many are there?  Sure, Canada, Australia, India, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Africa.  But you'll be surprised to learn that there are 51 entities in all, including the UK.  Add Tonga, Tanzania, Samoa, Mauritius, Kenya, Belize, and...

OH, OH, ONE THING WE HAVE IN 15 CRAIGSIDE IS A VERY LOUD AUDIO WARNING SYSTEM IN EACH APARTMENT.  THERE IS A FIRE ON THE THIRD FLOOR AND EVERYONE ON THAT LEVEL HAS BEEN WARNED TO EVACUATE!!!  I SMELL NO SMOKE AT THIS POINT.

Back to Brexit, for that is the operative term today, a referendum will be held on 23 June 2016 to decide if the 46 years of EU membership should be terminated.  Why there is even a vote is that in 2013 David Cameron promised that, should the Conservatives win the General Election in 2015, his government would negotiate more favorable terms for continuing UK membership in the EU, and should that be unsatisfactory, a vote to depart will be held.  A few public polls in France and Germany, irritated by this attitude, apparently indicated a good riddance majority.   Officially, the USA is against UK departure.  No member EU state has ever left.

WHEW, THE BUILDING EMERGENCY HAS BEEN CLEARED.  15 CRAIGSIDE WILL EXIST FOR AT LEAST NOW.  BEST AS I CAN TELL, THAT WAS A FIRE DRILL, WHICH MUST HAVE CAUSED A FEW STROKES AND HEART ATTACKS FOR THOSE ON THE 3RD FLOOR, FOR THERE WAS NO ADVANCED INDICATION THAT THIS WAS A DRILL.

Every wonder what happened to the Tory Party?  It became the Conservative Party nearly two centuries ago.  Their logo was somewhat a symbol of the national tree, Oak, representing strength and endurance.  But the green squiggly tree was replaced by a Union Jack.  

Note the imagined link to the American Republican Party.

The Labour Party uses a rose, the national flower of England.  The Rose was a symbol of anti-authority from the Middle Ages, and has been associated with socialism.  This only came their logo in 1980.

And, by the way, there is a so-called third party, the Liberal Democrats, formed in 1988 through a merger of the Liberal and Social Democrat Parties.  However, they only have 8 of 650 seats in the Parliament today.  Even the Scottish National Part has 54 members.  There are members from 13 parties, with 330 Conservatives and 230 Labour.

The Conservative Party, which was largely responsible for the UK initially joining the EU, until this past week had no position on this vote.  In some reversal, the Labour Party in 1973 was  not totally happy with the entrance, but is now strongly committed to remaining in the EU. Confusingly, the Labour Party campaigned in 1983 to withdraw from the then European Community, but was thrashed by the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher.  Again, all this is somewhat befuddling.  

Leaving the EU will negatively impact the UK:


While I guess it is too late to cancel the vote, last week Prime Minister Cameron did announce that he did gain some concessions:

The prime minister had negotiated reforms in areas including migration, protection for the City of London and an opt-out from “ever closer union” in tense talks which ended late on Friday night. Having secured the deal, he will now seek to convince the public to stay in the EU ahead of the referendum scheduled for Thursday 23 June.

Here is the latest (today) review of what is happening.  All in all, there is uncertainty, even though most surveys show that the UK will remain in the EU.  Brexit referendum betting odds also show the UK staying, with 54%.  Betfair indicates the stay in the mid'60's, but declining:


So to the question to the title above, no, all signs point to the UK remaining in the EU.

After Round One, the Eddie leaders are:

     #1  John John Florence of Hawaii    170 points (left)
    #2  Ross-Clark Jones of Australia     166 points
    #3  Koa Rothman of Hawaii             110 points

Tomorrow, 15 Craigside goes to the Restaurant Row Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, the largest luxury steakhouse chain with 100 restaurants.

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