Friday, August 25, 2006

The Lightning Round:
Star Treatments, Poker Bits, And Divinity To Go

Phoenix is phlooded. Tucson trailers are tossed about by thunderstorms. And my private nightmare has Flagstaff turning into Loch Ness this weekend as throw myself full kilt into Highland revelry -- not that it would hurt, mind you, releasing my brain cells from the following items:

CRUISE CONTROL. All you really need to understand about Tom Cruise's firing from Paramount is that it's less about a star behaving badly than a studio behaving broke.

Paramount doesn't want to admit it's on the financial ropes. The studio, which has a reputation for being risk-adverse, has been struggling for some time. Studio chief Brad Grey was brought in to fix this, but hasn't yet. Roger Friedman, like many others, wonders why Par greenlighted Mission: Impossible 3 if Viacom topper Sumner Redstone was really that upset by Tom's couch-jumping, Scientology-spouting episodes.

War Of The Worlds grossed nearly $600 million worldwide on a $132 million budget, according to Box Office Mojo. This picture opened right after the couch incident. So far, M:I:3 has grossed nearly $400 million worldwide on a $150 million investment. That's hardly a flop.

The real story here -- one that will take time to unfold -- is what happens to all the projects Cruise's production shingle had in development with Paramount. If they get shipped elsewhere, Par could be sinking a liner full of cash, crazy Cruise money or not.

WHEN WILL I BE LOVED? Is Tucson native Linda Ronstadt singing to herself, "You're No Good?" She returned to the Old Pubelo this week for surgery and cancelled the rest of her concert dates for this year while she recovers.

From the AP:
Ronstadt’s agent, Shelly Schultz, would not provide details on the surgery the longtime performer underwent Tuesday in Tucson, Ariz., but said it wasn’t cancer.

“It wasn’t an emergency, but it came about rather quickly, so she decided to do it sooner rather than later,” Schultz said. “It’s surgery, it’s completed, and she’s fine.”
We at The Lightning Round find two curiosities in this: one, what is Ronstadt's agent trying to hide, and two, why was the singer willing to come back to Tucson from San Francisco?

The Golden Gate's leading daily claims she skipped town a year ago because of Arizona's "strip-mall culture and right-wing mentality." Apparently the hospitals here don't stink, and she still has a pad in midtown.

But why the blackout on her surgery? You can hear the rumor machine cranking up. My favorite wild speculative guess is she's unloading some ballast through either liposuction or... gasp... gastric bypass. We politely notice her figure has inflated over the years, yet the theory doesn't fit very well. Scottsdale is the place to go for gastric bypass, and liposuction shouldn't sideline you for five months.

If this is some embarrassing, late-night-joke-fodder condition, we understand. But Shelly, you know better than to gas up the machine. Too many people are willing to ride it.

I KNOW HE'S BLUFFING WHEN THE MOUSE POINTER SHAKES. Scientists say poker may be a better test of artificial intelligence than chess -- especially No-Limit Hold 'Em.

The Canadian Press quoted Michael Bowling, head of the research group that created a poker-playing computer:
"The nice thing about chess as a property of the game is what we call perfect information. You look at the board, you know where all the pieces are, you know whose turn it is - you have complete knowledge of the game," he said.

"But in the real world, knowing everything is just so rare. Everything we do all day long is all about partial information. So poker's much more representative of what the real world's like, and in that sense it becomes a much harder problem."
Especially hard: teaching a computer how to play with the chips. No, the other chips.

GRADED X. Get caught cheating at the College of Charleston (S.C.), and you'll get an "XF" on your grade card. So far, nobody's complained.

From The State:
The XF grade will remain on a student's transcript at least two years. After two years, if there are no additional violations, the student can petition to have the grade removed.

"It's our position that as long as you have a clear record, the X will come off," [Dean of Students Jeri] Cabot said, "but the F stays."
One educator blames easily available Internet term papers, rife for cutting and pasting.
Timothy Dodd, the executive director of the Center for Academic Integrity, said many high school students are no longer learning to write clear and insightful papers.

"Instead of writing, students are learning to compile," he said. Their writing "tends to be strands of regurgitation."
Hey Tim, I felt the same way about most of the essay tests I took in college. And I studied for those. I crammed facts into my head, spilled them out, and left them there on the page. It's not fair. Many things I learned in university aren't in my brain anymore -- especially my freshman American History class. I sweated through two "blue book" exams, two research papers, several quizzes, and tons of reading, fighting to earn an "A," and I did. But now, when I long to recall much of those facts, I have to go back to the books and notes... or Google.

"You're going to be damn proud of that degree when you get it," a psychology professor once said in class, referring to the work ahead of us first-years.

So I have no sympathy for cheaters. 'Tis better to have learned and lost than never learned at all.

DRIVEN TO GOD. We know countless prayers have been said behind steering wheels, especially on the L.A. freeways. But a church in Fresno is offering drive-through devotionals.

According to information supplied by KFSN-TV (no story link available, sorry), "God's Family Church in northwest Fresno has decided since many people don't like to go to church, they'll take to church to them."

A drive-thru sign hangs outside the church. People pull up to the prayer booth in their ride for blessings in the driver's seat.

Says Pastor Alex Maldonado: "End of the work week, people seem to unwind. We've found that, as you may know, people are fired more so on a Friday afternoon."

Soon the church plans to offer sides of coffee during rush hour. Will we then call the people manning the booth "Prayeristas?"

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