Thursday, July 31, 2008

We got Manny!

We got Manny! We got Manny! We got Manny!
We got Manny! We got Manny! We got Manny!
We got Manny! We got Manny! We got Manny!
We got Manny! We got Manny! We got Manny!
We got Manny! We got Manny! We got Manny!
We got Manny! We got Manny! We got Manny!
We got Manny! We got Manny! We got Manny!

*gasps for breath*

Today was the trading deadline for Major League Baseball. My team, the Dodgers, is the type of team that will usually make some horrible trade for an aging veteran in a vain attempt at winning their sorry division prior to being swept out the playoffs yet again. So naturally we did just that today, except this time we actually got a real superstar still in the (sort of) prime of his career. What did it cost us: Andy Laroche, a backup third baseman. Well, on our team he's a backup third baseman. Given his minor league numbers and apparent talent, he should probably have been our starting third baseman. But since we were wasting his cheap, abundant talent on the bench anyway we might as well trade him for 3 months of an aging superstar. Which is what happened, and so WE GOT MANNY!

My mother skeptically asked me about the trade, wondering why the Red Sox would want to trade Manny if he's so great. Answer: Because the Red Sox decided they don't want to win the World Series this year. Its that simple. Trade Manny = No Win. Sadly, Dodgers Trade for Manny does not automatically = Win, but whatever. We got Manny!

Unlike a lot of people, I happen to love Manny Ramirez. Sure, he's a total goofball and a bum, but who cares: dude can hit. I mean really, really hit. This is baseball: either you hit, you pitch, or you are useless. Plus, he's one of the best characters on The Dugout. Personally I can't wait to see what their response is to this trade. (UPDATE: The Dugout has chimed in on Manny's big move, and honestly it got a little dusty in here)

Given the Dodgers typical MO towards acquiring talent, I figured Manny might eventually be wearing the blue. Except I predicted it would be in maybe 5 more years when he was well past his prime and they decided to shower him with a free agent contract which was worth roughly 300% of his fair market value. That's how the Dodgers have done things for roughly 10 years: spend spend spend on players who used to be superstars but are now only a year or two from collecting Social Security. So its extra sweet to get Manny for basically nothing (in money terms) and know he's still doing it as well as ever.

As an added bonus, this trade will hurt the Red Sox in more ways than one. Besides losing Manny, they'll be paying his salary for the rest of the year, meaning the Dodgers won't have to jack up the price on the all you can eat tickets in the Right Field Pavilion. Sweet.

The only thing I don't like about this trade is that now the Dodgers have 5 outfielders: Manny, Either, Kemp, Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre. And of course, since Kemp and Either are young, good and cheap, and Pierre and Jones are old, bad and expensive, more than likely the Dodgers will have a Manny-Jones-Pierre, which will ensure either an exciting but failed run at the NL West or another first round playoff exit. But whatever, we got Manny!

Does this makes us World Series contenders? Probably not. Hell, I still think we're only 50/50 to win the shittiest division in baseball, the NL West. But who cares! We got Manny!

Wall*e Reloaded

I saw Wall*e again yesterday. I'm visiting home and was invited by my dear old grandmother and younger cousin to join them. It was approximately 2544 degrees (Fahrenheit) outside, so I thought "what the hell" and took in a second viewing. I have to say I liked it even more this time than my first viewing. Knowing the story and major details already, I was able to focus on smaller things which were so deliberately put into the movie.

A handful of crazy conservatives have gone nuts about Wall*e, as they are prone to do about anything interesting or fun which is at all outside their comfort zone. Basically there have been claims by these wackjobs that Wall*e is leftist pro-environment propaganda, meant to brainwash kids about the importance of bullshit like recycling or giving a shit about the future of the human race. Of course, they failed to notice that future Earth was full of wind and solar power, the evil "green" sources of energy which those damn commie hippie leftists are trying to push on us good Red blooded oil pissing Americans, and these technologies were apparently unable to save us from destruction.

While there is an environment message in the movie, I really think the big message in the film is about the importance of free thinking and being your own person. Its a more subtle message than the environmentalism, but its there if you can find it, and there are clear similarities with classics such as Brave New World, 1984, and Plato's Allegory of the Cave.

For example, all the humans in the movie are totally dependent on an all knowing, all powerful nanny state. Its basically like the humans in The Matrix, but I'd argue even worse: while Matrix humans serve a purpose in their existence, by "Powering" the machines with their bio-electricity (Scientifically impossible but whatever), the humans in Wall*e have no purpose. They don't grow as people, they don't think, they don't even walk. Choice does not exist for these people, except in the most superficial of ways, and its all their fault. The humans stuck in the Matrix don't know whats going on because they are kept ignorant by the machines, but the people in Wall*e are ignorant simply because they couldn't be bothered to see beyond their own view screens.

Its not just the humans though: all the robots in the movie are strictly regimented. This is plainly obvious from the first moments on the Axiom, when the little cleaning robots refuse to go anywhere except on their designated line paths. No lines= no movement. Its only with the greatest reluctance and even fear that they break this rule, only to find out that they don't really need lines and order, that they are free to go where they will.

The notable exceptions to this regimentation are Wall*e, the true free thinker, and, to a lesser extent, EVE. While EVE is certainly a career minded gal, focusing on her directive above all else, there's a short but powerful scene which belies her inner rebel. As she's dropped off on Earth, she dutifully performs her scanning until her ship leaves. After the "boss" is out of sight, she joyfully flies around and plays, enjoying her temporary freedom.

Now that I've ruined the whole movie, I encourage everyone to go see it with an open mind. At the very least you'll get to enjoy a wonderful piece of film making, and hopefully you'll appreciate the various important messages presented in the story.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Let it out...

Glenn Beck is an idiotic, childish Fuckface.

That's it. That's all I wanted to say.

We'll soon return to our regularly scheduled blogging.

Badvertising: Dox Equis

Time for another edition of Badvertising. This time we look at an ad campaign from Dos Equis which has been running for a few weeks. The Campaign is a short mockumentary about a globetrotting, Hemmingwayesque playboy who happens to enjoy Dos Equis. Words don't really do it justice so lets go to the tape:



And here's another, which I don't think is as good as the first.


At first I hated these ads. My initial reaction was to view this as a lame, cheesy imitation of Chuck Norris style Internet humor, yet another desperate attempt by corporate ad hacks create coolness by lame imitation. The style of the commercial made me think of an especially overblown Will Ferrell movie, the kind enjoyed way too much by too many people which inevitably lead to more overblown Will Ferrell Movies which are essentially the same movie with a slightly different setting. Which pretty much means all Will Ferrell Movies made in the last 10 years (Stranger than Fiction being perhaps the only exception).

Even so, the commercial just seemed boring to me, another desperate attempt to shill cheap beer. I quickly wrote them off and forgot about them, until my opinion took a 180 degree turn after a hops and yeast fueled epiphany.

Recently I was at a Mexican restaurant, craving a burrito and a cerveza to wash it down. After looking down the selection of Domestic and Mexican Beers available, it suddenly hit me: I also prefer Dos Equis. That is, from the modest variety of beers available, Dos stood out as the clear winner. Downing one bottle quickly and working on the second, my mind flashed back to these ridiculous commercials. And suddenly I realized they weren't so bad. My original objections about hyperbole seemed silly: its a beer commercial for Godsake! And it actually isn't even that crazy in its endorsement of the beer in question, at least compared to the majority of other beer commercials. The character says that he doesn't always drink beer, but he prefers Dos Equis. Ok, fine. Compare that to claims made in the average Bud Light, Miller Light, Coors Light or other shitty domestic beer commercials, and the message is positively subtle.

Bud Light pays billions to run wave after wave of commercials hawking their swill. They imply that people will jump out of planes, fight wild animals, lie, cheat, steal and pretty much do anything short of murder (or maybe even that) to get their hands on that sweet, sweet diet rice water. The worst part is that Bud Light is clearly the worst of the major Bud products, inferior to both Budweiser and Bud Select (neither of which is even that great), and yet Bud Light is pimped the hardest of perhaps any beer in America. Maybe thats the point. I'm sure there's a Nobel Prize awaiting whoever can codify the relationship between the shittiness of beer and the amount of money and energy spent hawking it.

Miller claims that "Beer Heaven" is a bar which serves only Miller Lite. Gag. Actually, this commercial is even more flawed than that. The phrase "Beer Heaven" implies a place where Good little Catholic Beers go when they die, which to me suggests that the only beers which are actually drunk in beer heaven are the sinner beers, meant to suffer the indignity of being chugged down and pissed out by idiots for all eternity. And since Miller Lite is the only beer there being consumed, I can only infer that Miller Lite sucks even in the afterlife.

Coors Light may be worst of all commercials wise. The whole "Love Train" thing has been done for like 3 straight years and wasn't any good to begin with. Besides that, all they have is the "brewed cold" or "coldest beer on earth" bullshit, which is bascially an admission that their beer sucks and so they resort to appealling to the lowest of the low on the stumpy intellectual totem poll of beer drinkers. And the "Let's Vent" thing with the vented can? Jesus Christ that's lame.

Besides the (relative) subtly of the Dos Equis ad, I must admit its actually well shot and kind of fun once I got past my inititial reaction. I also like the fact that it doesn't air an average of 54 times an hour like typical beer ads, instead going for a quality over quanity approach, which has the added bonus of not pissing people off with numbing repitition.

But I guess the real reason I changed my mind is the hope that, since I realized that I too prefer Dos Equis, maybe I'm in line to be the next "Most Interesting Man in the World". Or at least to steal some of his cache of coolness. I'm already the most interesting writer on this blog, so maybe the addition of a sweet beard is the next step in my evolution into a walking bag of awesome. Stay Thirsty my Friends!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Badvertising: Megabus

I'm gonna try and ease into this Badvertising feature. My first ad comes from the side of a bus. Not a typical bus side billboard, but from a long distance bus company, Megabus. Megabus is one of many bus companies which offer services between the major cities of the Northeast corridor, especially between New York and D.C. This has become a booming industry in recent years and for good reason: the low fares, around $20 one way, are a steal compared to the Amtrak rates which start at $65 per direction and usually are over $100. You don't have to be an Econ major to figure this one out. And since I am an Econ major it made things even simpler.

On the side of the actual Megabus is a painted ad for the company, which reads:

D.C. to New York From $1*
*plus .50 rate booking fee"

I think this is actually a pretty good ad: short, effective, gets the point across. What kills it, however, is that bit of scrupulous honesty at the end. I appreciate the attempt at putting it all out there for the customer, but its unnecessary and distracting. The fact is that many people, including yours truly, hate fine print and legalese. By deliberately inserting it, Megabus is throwing cold water on the fantasy of a $1 bus fare, which is the basic crux of the add.

Most people are also smart enough to figure out that the $1 fare advertised is probably not really going to come true for them, and even if it does they'll be so happy they won't give a damn about a lousy $.50 processing fee. Plus the fact that the ad says "From $1" is a clear indication that you're likely actually going to pay more than advertised, further making the $.50 thing redundant. Internet consumers are largely desensitized to such fees. Sure they suck, but its just how things are are by the time they come up you've usually already made your purchase and don't care anymore.


My recommendation: can the fine print. It doesn't improve your ad, and it certainly could hurt it. Besides that, keep up the good work, and I must say that your corporate mascot is a fine looking fellow.




Your Results May Vary

Life is full of necessary evils, things which are often annoying (or worse) but which are vital to the continuation of our way of life. As our way of life is the pinnacle of human experience we tolerate these things for the most part, often because we're distracted by something shiny. The list of such evils is a long one. Government. Taxes. Trips to the Dentist. Condoms. Babies.

To this list I'd like to add advertising. Advertising is everywhere in our society: TV, radio, magazines, NASCAR, billboards, flyers, the Internet, urinals, trash cans, those guys who spin signs on street corners and much much more. And product placement. Lord, the product placement. Its everywhere, invading entertainment in all its forms. Most advertising is stupid, insulting, patronizing, unentertaining, ineffective or a combination of these things. Yet as much as we all hate it, it serves a vital purpose in its own way. Besides being a trillion dollar industry, advertising relays information crucial to our happiness, including which new shiny things we can now buy and where I might procure a footlong sandwich for a mere $5.

Most importantly, advertising pays for and advances much of what we love. I know that without advertising professional sports might not exist or at least would be vastly different from their current incarnation. In game ads pay for broadcasting of games around the world and pro sports could not survive without them. From a purist standpoint eliminating ads might actually be good for sports, as it would put more emphasis on the game itself rather than the business aspects of sport. But as a realist, one who loves being able to watch sports from around the world broadcast in HD from the comfort of my couch, I'm sure this change would drive me to drugs. Hard drugs.

The point of all this blabbering is the introduction of what I hope will be a running feature on this blog. Basically I'll be looking at ads I see in my life and critiquing them. How is this idea any different from the dozens of much better and funnier blogs which already do this? Shut up, that's how. To be clear, my goal isn't just to angrily rip into an ad every post. There will be plenty of that, but the truth is that some advertising is only mildly bad and could be improved with a sutble tweak or two. And, on rare occasion, some is even... good. So they'll be bile a plenty in this feature, but I'll try to include some actual analysis as well. Also, I have a great original name for this feature: Badvertising!

Hey, if I was really so clever I'd be the one getting paid big bucks to write stupid jingles for erection pills. Viva Badava!

Domo Arigato, Hideo Nomo

Sports is a huge part of my life. Besides giving me countless hours of entertainment, frustration, jubilation and even the rare bit of exercise, sports also help me mark the time. As in "Damn, so-and-so is retiring? I remember him as rookie. Damn I'm old". Recently the "so-and-so" was filled in with the name Hideo Nomo, who announced his retirement this week after 12 seasons pitching in the Major Leagues.


Hideo Nomo was a paradoxical player in many ways. His distinctive tornado style windup is unforgettable, and his forkball, when working properly, was one of the nastiest pitches in all of baseball. Strikeouts were his specialty, and he averaged 203 Ks per 162 game season. Besides his talent for making batters whiff, however, Nomo was in many ways an average or worse pitcher. He walked a lot of batters, gave up a high number of home runs, and was always among the league leaders in wild pitches. His slow delivery, so effective at confusing batters, made him easy pickings for base stealers, who often ran wild if they reached base.

Nomo had one of the most up and down careers of any athlete in my memory. His first season was clearly his best, as he was NL Rookie of the Year and the starting pitcher for the NL All-Star Game. That year he was 13-6 with an era of 2.36, era+ of 150, 3 shutouts, and struck out an amazing 236 batters in just 191 innings. He never equaled this success, but for the next two years he continued to be productive, fanning at least 200 batters each year. He had a poor 1998, being traded midseason to the Mets. He bounced around, playing for three teams in three years before making his way back to the Dodgers. He actually had a few more good years with the Blue before injuries and age caught up again. His 2003 season was his worst, in which he went 4-11 with an 8.25 era. This is the worst era in baseball history for a pitcher with at least 15 decisions. Nomo was eventually cut loose again, joined the lowly Devil Rays for another poor season, sat out two more with injuries before attempting a short lived comeback with the also lowly Royals. Which brings us to today, when I saw the announcement of his retirement scrolling across the bottom of the ESPN ticker.

Nomo's high points include his ROY, All-Star start, a 17 strikeout game, a one-hitter and two no hitters, including the only no hitter thrown at the incredibly hitter friendly Coors field. I still remember watching that game and being in awe, as I so often was by his performance. Nomo was a huge fan favorite in Los Angeles. I was an 11 year old Dodger fanatic in 1995 I embraced "NomoMania" as strongly as anyone. He was our secret weapon, our whirling dervish who mystified batters with his amazing stuff, a perfect sequel to the "FernandoMania" of the 1980s.

His fame spanned the mighty Pacific, as he became a national hero in Japan as well as a sensation here in the States. Throngs of Japanese nationals would fly to Los Angeles on tours booked especially around attending one of Nomo's starts. We always got a kick when they would jump to their feet with a mighty cry of "Bonzai" or something like it whenever he sent another hitter packing. The previously low key Dodger Stadium added sushi vendors to the ranks of their peanut and beer hawkers. Mike Piazza became a celebrity in Japan simply for being Nomo's catcher. It was more than just baseball, it was a big wasabi infused party and we all loved it.

My favorite memory of Nomo was a game I attented in early 1997. It was the Dodgers' home opener against the powerhouse Atlanta Braves. Hideo was matched against Hall of Famer Tom Glavine, and it was a true pitchers duel. Glavine was great, giving up only 5 hits and a single run on a slash single, but that's all the help Nomo would need. He was masterful, throwing a 3 hit shutout which was secured by an acrobatic catch in the outfield, and for a teenage Dodger fan playing hooky from school it was a great day.

One of the interesting things about Nomo is the counterfactual his career presents. Nomo came to America at the age of 26 after pitching five great years in the Japanese professional leagues. As I said before, most of his career stats are fairly mediocre. His OPS+ is a slightly below average 97, and he had an ok but not great .530 winning percentage in the Major Leagues. However, he still managed almost 2000 strikeouts despite a career significantly shortened by injury and his late arrival in America. I can only wonder how his career composite might look had he played those extra seasons here in America.

Supposing he had played 4 of those seasons here and performed at his youthful levels, he would likely have added 800 or more Ks to his career totals. His era and win totals would certainly have been much more impressive. Perhaps with a little better injury luck combined with those lost, youthful years, we'd be looking at a 200+ game winner with 3000+ strikeouts. At this point there are probably a lot of baseball fans who think I'm nuts for proposing that Hideo Nomo could have had a borderline HOF career. Again, its just a counterfactual, and dammit this is one of my childhood heroes, so cut me some slack.

Whatever his stats, Nomo's real legacy is how he opened the door for Japanese and other Asian baseball stars to come to the states and play in the Major Leagues. While he wasn't the first Japanese pro to come over to the states, he was the first several generations and his success made the idea of signing Japanese players intriguing to Major League teams. Ichiro, Fukudome, Kaz, Dice K and several others owe a debt of gratitude to Nomo for paving the way, as do we fans who so enjoy watching the best players play in our leagues. So Arigato to you Nomo-san, my next Sake Bomb will be dedicated to your honor.

Update: apparently I'm not the only one with a tribute to Nomo-san. Except theirs is funnier.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

It comes with a slice of canteloupe at the end...

Brunch and I have had a long and rocky relationship. As is common with many such relationships, the root of our problems has been differences in expectations and a failure to properly communicate about them. Its easy to see where problems may arise. The very name of the meal, "brunch", leaves too much open to interpretation, both in terms of quantity and composition. Is it supposed to be half breakfast and half lunch? Maybe its actually a full breakfast and full lunch served together. Or is it simply a meal served at a time too early for one and too late for the other, irregardless of its makeup?

I have a vague memory of what I think was my first "Brunch", which involves my grandparents, white folded napkins and orange slices. Besides that no details stand out, but for some reason this image is implanted in my memory. It was a brief flirtation.

Brunch and I really took off as a pair during my preteen and teenage years. "Brunch" became synonymous with "buffet". But not just any buffet. A sort of hybrid super buffet, made by putting a breakfast buffet and a lunch buffet together. And not one of those lame continental breakfast buffets either, this was the real deal. Hot items. Omelettes! Waffles! MEAT! BACON!!! Sometimes several kinds of bacon! And the lunch buffet often included bonuses like carved Prime Rib and all the fresh seafood you could shovel onto your plate without losing your dignity. More than one fine hotel has had their seafood brunch buffet depleted of shrimp by my efforts. And the El Torrito Sunday Brunch became a favorite of mine, combining the finest in gringo breakfast with the lunch comida de Mexico. Excellente!

Add to this culinary treasure trove the fact that Brunch was usually served as the only meal of the day prior to dinner, giving you license to indulge and literally eat two meals worth of food in one sitting. Plus Brunch was usually used to mark a special occasion, giving you even more excuse to pig out. Times were good, and Brunch and I were a happy pair.

Then suddenly and without warning, Brunch changed. Drastically and not for the better. I still remember the event: A get together at the Cheesecake Factory. Normally I enjoy TCF, and when I was told that we'd be attending brunch there the anticipation was palatable. My imagination went wild with the assortment of wonderful treats this buffet was bound to offer up. And then my hopes were dashed with the cold reality of being handed a menu. A menu with bland, uninteresting breakfast fare on it. It was 11:30 in the morning, and I was being asked to pick between assorted unsatisfying egg based dishes. No carved Prime Rib. No mountains of fresh shrimp. Just one plate and whatever came on it. Under normal circumstances the meal would have been fine, but the problem of failed expectations soured the experience. I've never had a cheating lover (that I know of), but if the discovery of infidelity feels anything like that I hope I never do. Brunch and I were in the midst of a full blown spat, and for a time I doubted the rift would ever be healed. Certainly our relationship hasn't been the same since.

Since moving to New York, my idea of what brunch really is has been shifted dramatically. Here, brunch is a weekend meal served from around 10 to 4. Usually it comes prix fix with a choice of beverage included. Standard fare include omelets, hash, salads and burgers. Prices can vary greatly, from the best value available at a fine restaurant to an overpriced breakfast. You really can't avoid it if you are seeking a non-dinner meal at most sit down restaurants. As such, I've gradually let down my guard and welcomed Brunch back into my life. Slowly but surely we've become reacquainted and my trust has been restored.

After all this, Brunch and I have come to an understanding. We'll never be as close as we once were, but with proper planning and tempering of expectations on my part, we've gotten along recently. I'm resigned to only brunch at places where I pre-approve the menu options, and I save the giddy thrill of high expectations for those truly special brunches where I know the champagne will flow, the shellfish remains will be piled high, and there's silver serving trays far as the eye can see.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Grading the Geeks

Best Buy is a chain loved by many and probably loathed by even more. Its a typically American type of place, where the great masses can go to be wowed by shiny lights and their vast selection of crap and in turn shell out their hard earned cash for overpriced electronics and other temporary amusements. This is not to say that deals can't be found at BB, but for every bargain their are three Blue Ray DVDS of 27 Dresses marked at $35 a pop. Most techies or bargain shoppers I know avoid Best Buy if at all possible. But there's a lot more non-techies in the world, a fact Best Buy figured out long ago and has exploited ever since.

One of Best Buy's secrets is their advertising, which has somehow convinced millions of us that the average Best Buy employee is some kind of electronics savant who only works their as a hobby when not using old subwoofer parts to build high tech supercomputers or working for the Q branch of MI6 building gadgets for James Bond. Its kinda like if a high powered partner in a big city law firm did pro bono work for Legal Aid. In my experience, a handful of BB employees are truly knowledgeable about their work and the rest are merely adequately knowledgeable to do their job as salesman.

The pinnacle of this advertising effort is the Geek Squad. The name says it all: these guys are the smart, useful nerds which for too long have been trampled upon in our jock first society, and now their valuable knowledge has been harnessed for the good of us normal, computer loving folk. They even go so far as to not employee any women (that I know of) on the Geek Squad, lest the illusion of geekiness be ruined. Its this cache which allows them to take suckers for $49 "diagnostics" and $99 "computer check ups". Of course, the Geek Squad is not so invisible in their computer prowess. A friend of mine once fixed a computer problem in 3 minutes which had stumped an entire gaggle of geeks for 2 hours in the store. So it was with apprehension that I turned to the Geeks for help with a recent problem.

Recently my beloved laptop had its LCD screen damaged to the point of uselessness. The computer was a gift from a relative who had purchased the extended warranty, which is actually a pretty good idea for something like a laptop. In fact, this computer was a free replacement for an earlier model which had also been under warranty. Given the rough treatment we give laptops, its one item which warrants the extra protection. Had it not been under warranty I would have purchased the replacement part and affected the repair myself. However, since it was under warranty, I decided to save the $150-200 the part would have cost and put my trust in the Geeks.

I was disappointed at first when I realized the repair wasn't to be handled right there at Best Buy. I figured for such as simple repair it was just a matter of getting the part and swapping it out. I even went so far as to tell them which exact part they needed, but the store Geeks seemed uninterested in the diagnosis. Apparently the actual Geek Squad which does computer repairs is kept locked up in a secured location, lest the real geeks get out and steal our womenfolk with their nerdly charms. This being the case, my computer had to make an arduous journey via UPS ground to get to this secret Shrine of Geeks.

I was quoted a pick up date of 7/10, but this was delayed by the use of UPS ground. Two extra business days, and 4 extra days total, were added on without warning. However, I'm happy to say that my computer is back to full strength and appears none the worse for the trip.

All told, the Geek Squad came through as promised. Granted, they did come through 2 business days late, but results were delivered. Overall I'd give the Geeks an A- for this effort. No doubt that will bring down their collective GPA, but if you want full credit you gotta turn your work in on time.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

What if the best never ever was because...

My homepage when I fire up the old Internet is MSN.com. I should probably switch to Google or something else more interesting, but for some reason I don't. The answer is probably a kind of personal inertia, having MSN implanted on my mind as the natural starting point for my Internet adventures. As a result, every time I jump on the interwebs I get hit with this:

"Still going strong: Vegas stripper at 80"
" 'Controversy' over Obama statement"
"Something something stupid something"
"2 week old story we're just now getting around to"
"Horribly inaccurate and inflammatory headline"
"Is your husband secretly gay?"

And my personal favorite:

"What if gas was $_____ a gallon?" With every increasing crazy numbers filling in the blank. Usually this is shortened even more to "$__ a gallon gas?!?!?"

We're a society of short attention spans. TV is probably mostly to blame, but there's no doubt the Internet contributes to our mental de-evolution. A portal site like MSN needs to quickly generate clicks in order to survive, so it comes as no surprise at all that they short punchy headlines all over their page. So I don't really blame them for doing what they feel they must in order to stay in business.

But man do they suck. If I had to guess I'd say that 50% of the "hot stories" are at least a week old. Probably 90% are grossly inaccurate, inflammatory, and lacking in any journalistic value. And of course they all lead directly to an MSN created story by some hack writer who either gives completely bland and obvious "coverage" of the subject matter or is totally off base and manipulative with the whole thing.

The gas one always cracks me up. As we all know, we're having a little bit of a gas price problem. Of course, its the exact same fucking gas price problem that happens every single damn year in the summer that no one ever seems to realize is coming because we're a nation of spoiled idiots. Since the start of this most recent annual price jump, I've opened my browser to see that blank in the headline be filled in with ever increasing numbers. They started at 4, then 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, and I think I even saw 15 once. I think its finally leveled off where they go with $10, because its a price that seems both realistically close and scary to everyone. Of course, gas will eventually get to $10 a gallon, probably within the next 15 years, so the whole concept of this being some doomsday scenario is laughable.

This whole rant is pointless, I know, since it won't change anything and I accept that their are reasons (not good reasons, but reasons) that all this is the way it is. In fact, the only reason I even took the time to write it was the most recent headline I saw today:

"Is 2008 the best sports year ever?" accompanied by pictures of Elisha Manning, Raffie Nadal, and Tiger Woods. I admit, its been a fun year to be a sports fan. But my distaste for subjective rankings and hyperbole are both strong, and the premise of this article is full of both. Whether or not a sports year is great depends an awful lot on whether or not your team (or the team you bet on) managed to pull it out.

I actually read the article, and it makes a fair number of good points. Of course, it completely neglects the exciting Euro 08 tourney, much to the chagrin of 50% of the idiot commentors and the pleasure of the other 50% . No mention at all is made of Jason Giambi's awesome mustache. It also ignores the very basic problem that the year's only halfway over. We have no clue about the pennant races. The World Series. Half the golf and tennis majors. The ENTIRE NFL and NCAA seasons. That's right: the most important months of the national pastime, and the ENTIRE season for the country's favorite sport have yet to be played.

But biggest problem is that the very idea of a "best sports year ever" is horribly awfully crazily absurd, since we can't even agree upon which of our beloved leisure activities even constitutes a sport. (That's an upcoming rant for another time, but its true). And the implication that, since there was a mostly boring Super Bowl upset, one great tennis match and a great US Open final somehow makes this the best "ever" is equally all those things I just said. Guess what? Someone won Wimbledon last year too. And the year before. The same is true for the Super Bowl and the US Open and and the US tiddly winks championships. Lets look at the things that actually sucked about this year in sports:

1)Pretty much the whole BCS, including the fact that LSU won it all in a lame title game.
2)Tiger Woods is now hurt and unable to play the rest of the year.
3)Brett Favre retires... then doesn't... then does... then MAKE UP YOUR MIND ALREADY YOU DRAMA QUEEN!!!!
4) LT and Phillip Rivers get hurt at a critical time, all but handing the AFC title game to the Patriots.

5)My Lakers choked royally in the Finals and now Boston has 2 of the 3 major sports titles, with the Pats all but set to win the Super Bowl again.

6) The Mitchell Report and its aftermath. Granted it was a fun day when it came out, but in reality it was a huge downer, the final nail in the coffin for baseball's resurgence. Plus it vindicated Jose Canseco, which is awful in itself.

7-10)The Olympics will probably suck too, between Beijing having the air quality of London circa 1860 and NBC's horrible practice of tape delaying everything and then trying to spoon feed us 5 minutes of edited action at a time interlaced with 25 minutes of sappy stupid human interest stories. Meanwhile, if a fan has even the smallest interest in an event they'll just go look up the results a full 18 hours before they might possibly broadcast, if they are at all. Good to know we wait 4 years and spend billions for these games so we can learn about the results in a box score. Plus I know we're gonna get screwed over at least a few times by judges friendly to the host country who are trying to inflate China's medal count. Just like we do when we host the Olympics.

11-20) NASCAR still exists.

Of course the great thing about being a hack writer for FOXSPORTS.com or ESPN.com is you can write total BS like this, and if it turns out to be not true no one will ever ever remember and call you out on it. And then next year when 3 or 4 exciting things happen in sports and you're facing a deadline, you can basically write the same article. And these guys get paid for this. Life is so unfair.

That was pretty long. Maybe I should just switch my homepage.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

PinkBlech!

I'm not hip. I'm anti-hip. Not in that intentional "I'm so not cool that I'm cool for being not cool" way. I'm just white, boring and clueless about anything resembling hipness. I was worried that if Hip and I were to be in the same place at the same time it may just destroy the universe. As of tonight, I know that's not necessarily the case, but the results were unpleasant nonetheless. As an unhip fellow, until recently I had only a peripheral knowledge of the existence of the Frozen Yogurt dispensary Pinkberry. Apparently its quite the rage amongst the beautiful people, who love it so much that some call it "crackberry". Nice.

Tonight I went for a walk around my neighborhood, with the dual goals of getting some fresh air and indulging with an ice cream cone or some frozen yogurt. My original destination, Haagen Daaz, was badly in need of a re-supply. The yogurt was all gone, as were some choice ice cream flavors. Remembering the Ben and Jerry's location in the neighborhood, I exited and headed south. After a few blocks I came upon the local Pinkberry. Feeling adventurous and curious about how the other half live, I entered in search of deliciousness.

The decor of Pinkberry is typically silly, with a whole wall filled with random crap that barely warrants a second look. Not that the setting really mattered, I was here for Frogurt. Scanning the menu I noticed several size and topping options, but no flavors. Closer to the register I saw the three flavors listed on a stand, with pictures and a full run down of the nutritional information. The idea of anyone standing there, holding up the line while they mentally calculate just how much frozen yogurt they can have without wrecking their diet is laughable, but whatever, at least the info is there.

The flavor selection was narrow and poor: Coffee, Green Tea, and "Original", a white flavor which I erroneously assumed was vanilla or something like it. No chocolate to be found anywhere on the menu, and no "swirl" that I could see, though why you would swirl this grab bag of rejects is beyond me. Coffee is an ok yogurt flavor, I guess, but Green Tea? Really? People, if you want antioxidants and all that healthy stuff, you need to actually drink green tea, not shovel down frogurt which is vaguely flavored like it. That's like trying to get the antioxidant power of cranberries by downing a Cosmo. They have a lot of toppings to choose from, including a variety of fruit, chocolate chips, sprinkles, and various other crumbly things. Also Cap'n Crunch for some reason.

I stepped up and ordered, aiming to keep things simple given the poor selection: an "original" with chocolate chips. "Vanilla" yogurt with chocolate chips, a classic combo which seemed like the sure winner in this field. I paid, took my order, and dug in. Ugh.

Instantly it was obvious that "original" is not vanilla. Or Cream. Or Custard. Best I could tell, the flavor was "Pinkberry". Except there's no such thing as a Pinkberry. It was some kind super-tart citrus style flavor. Suffice to say, it did not mix well with my precious chocolate chips, which I quickly rescued from its horrible clutches. Even without the chocolate topping, this stuff was borderline nasty, nothing like what good yogurt, frogurt, sherbet, sorbet, gelato or ice cream should be. Why a supposedly hip, organic, healthy, all-natural place would have a signature flavor that's so blatantly artificial and unlikeable is beyond the understanding of my tragically unhip mind.

Is this really the legendary "crackberry"? This is what led to 58 stores in just 3 years? Three mediocre to bad flavors, only one of which can really be mixed with any of the good toppings on the menu (chocolate chips, cocoa puffs, sprinkles, etc). I noticed they have smoothies and shaved ice as well, and I guess that with enough fruit topping you could make the "Original" or Green tea palatable enough to pass for dessert, but damned if I'm gonna try. Life's too short for that nonsense, and next time I'll skip this disaster and head straight for some Half-Baked or Phish Food.

Talking Softball... Where are they now?

My love of the Simpsons is no secret. I've seen every episode multiple times. I can quote it like a preacher quotes the St. James Bible. I'm convinced that I could, and maybe even should, write a dissertation on the topic. For several years my dinner plans have coincided with whenever the local Fox affiliate schedules their daily Simpsons rerun. I'll literally plan my time out so that whatever I am preparing that evening is ready and on the plate just as the intro rolls.

Last night was a classic episode familiar to any Simpsons fan, "Homer at the Bat", which debuted in February 1992. It was a big episode for the series, featuring several high profile guest stars and marking the first time that the Simpsons beat out the reigning Sitcom king, The Cosby Show, in viewer share. In the episode Homer's company softball team is taken over by Mr. Burns, who replaces Homer and his coworkers with Major League ringers. Of course, prior to the big championship game the majority fall prey to various comic mishaps, forcing our blue collar heroes to pick up the slack.
A Championship Team for the Ages
Burns's lineup is impressive, featuring 9 MLB all-stars who each took the time to lend their voices to the project. Sixteen years have passed since the episode first aired. Looking over the talent picked for the show, which was meant to be a representation of the best in the game at the time (the best who would agree to show up to record their voices, at least), I was interested in what become of that fabled lineup in the intervening years. So here's a rundown of each ringer's history before, during, and after that classic episode. For the sake of this analysis, everything prior to the 1992 season is considered prior and the period from 1992 on is considered to be after the episode. The ringers never actually played a game, meaning their potential batting order is a mystery, so I'll run them down in position number order.

1) Roger Clemens, P
Prior to Episode: 8 seasons with the Red Sox. 4 time all-star, 3 time AL Cy-Young winner. Had a monster 1986 season, winning the Cy Young, MVP, All-star MVP and Player of the Year (duh!). Tied an MLB record with a 20 strikeout game in 1986.
Episode: Broke Homer's Wonderbat with blazing fastball. Hypnotized into believing he's a Chicken. Clemens did his own chicken sounds during recording.
Since: Opened a Chicken Restaurant. Honestly. Baseball-wise, "The Rocket" had a successful 24 year career which ended just last season. Clemens won 4 more Cy Young awards and his 7 total Cys are the most ever. Finished his career with an incredible 4672Ks, 354 wins, and 2 World Series rings. Widely despised by Red Sox fans for turning traitor and joining the hated Yankees, and by many others for his willingness to throw at batters' heads and generally being a jerk. Despite this, should have been a sure fire, no-doubt lock for the Hall of Fame. That is, until he was outed as the number 1 name in the Mitchell report, which accused him of extensive steroid use leading to his incredible longevity as a top pitcher. Since then there's been denials, drama, lawsuits, drama, gossip, drama, "evidence", drama, and a general consensus that he's not getting anywhere near Cooperstown anytime soon. He also had an alleged affair with then 15 year old country music star Mindy Mcready. Sometimes being a chicken doesn't seem like such a bad option.

2) Mike Scioscia, C
Prior:
Definitely the weak link on this squad. A 2 time all-star in 13 seasons, batting .259 with only 68 career HRs and a perfectly mediocre OPS+ of 99. Sosh was known for his defense, sacrificing his body protecting the plate from wild pitches and barreling baserunners alike. These skills aren't as valuable in slow pitch softball, but I'm sure he would have done a fine job whatever the situation.
During: "I'm here to run the Solid Contaminant Encapsulator." Scioscia doesn't get the whole "ringer" concept. His real interest is working at the Nuclear Plant, which he regards as a relaxing break from the pressures of Big League ball. Its a perfect reflection of Scioscia's enthusiasm for both baseball and the Simpsons. According to production notes, the writer's first choice for catcher was Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk. After he declined they turned to Sosh, who eagerly jumped at the opportunity. Sadly, he works a little too hard at the nuclear plant and comes down with what appears to be a fatal case of acute radiation poisoning.
After: The radiation didn't kill him, but it may have killed his waning career. He played only 1 more year in the Majors, batting a miserable .221 before injuries forced him to hang em up. You can't keep a good man down, and Sosh found a second career as a coach. He's managed the Anaheim Angels of nowhere near Los Angeles for the last 9 seasons, leading them to 4 AL west titles, 1 World Series crown, and winning the 2002 AL Manager of the Year Award for his efforts.

3) Don Mattingly, 1B
Prior:
"Donnie Baseball" was a six time all star, six time gold glove winner, and 1985 AL MVP, the second MVP to grace Mr. Burns's roster.
During: Runs afoul of the strict Manager Burns, repeatedly disobeying his orders to "trim those sideburns". Is cut from team as a result, and as he leaves delivers perhaps the finest line in the entire episode, saying of Mr. Burns: "I still like him better than Steinbrenner".


The choice is obvious


After: Life imitates art. Yankee owner George Steinbrenner benched Mattingly for refusing to get a haircut. Many people think that since the real life incident took place in late 1991 and the episode aired in early 1992, the episode was poking fun at the real life benching. According the the writers the opposite is true, as the writing and recording of Mattingly's part took place prior to Steinbrenner's disciplining of his star player. Spooky. Eventually Mattingly saw the field again, playing 4 more years. His All-Star days were over but he won 3 more gold gloves and retired with a .307 lifetime average. A marginal HOF candidate, he's so far failed to get close to the necessary vote share for induction.

4) Steve Sax, 2b
Prior: A ten year veteran and winner of the 1982 NL Rookie of the Year. Was a 5 time all-star and 2 time World Series champ. In 1983 developed "Steve Blass Disease", which was later renamed "Steve Sax Disease" in his honor, making him and Lou Gehrig the only Major League players to have a disease named after them. Fortunately for Sax, instead of slowly destroying his body like LGD, SSD merely made him incapable of the simplest of defensive moves, throwing from second base to first. Eventually recovered in time to be selected for Burns's wonder squad.
During: Like Scioscia, Sax was the second choice of the Simpsons writers, who were first turned down by Hall of Famer Ryan Sandberg. Leaves his gig in "The Steve Sax Trio", a jazz ensemble, to join the softball team. Raises the suspicions of the Springfield Police Department due to his being from New York. The boys in blue quickly pin every unsolved case in town on the stranger from the big city, who faces 6 consecutive life sentences and was therefore unavailable to play softball.
After: Released from prison after a successful appeal, but life on the outside was different than before. Played only 1 more full season, batting a career worst .236, and retired after two more partial seasons. Is not considered Hall of Fame worthy. Apparently learned financial planning while incarcerated, as he now works as a financial consultant to other professional athletes, helping them to avoid squandering their riches and plan for retirement. His Steve Sax Disease is in remission, but apparently is still contagious, as he managed to infect Yankee second baseman Chuck Knoblauch with it later on.


5) Wade Boggs, 3b
Prior:
A 7 time All-star in 10 seasons with the Red Sox. Led the AL in Batting 5 times in the 1980s, including 4 years in a row. Known for his superstitious behavior, including eating chicken for dinner every day before a game.
During: Makes the mistake of discussing British politics with local drunk Barney Gumble. His insistence that England's greatest Prime Minister was Pitt the Elder enrages Barney, and their dispute soon escalates into fisticuffs. Barney's spirited argument for Lord Palmerston's preeminence, finished off with a devastating right cross, leaves Boggs literally speechless, minus a few teeth, and knocked out cold. He apparently does not recover in time to make the softball game.
After: Like his teammate Clemens, Boggs would soon leave the Red Sox for the hated Yankees. He appeared in 5 more All-star games and eventually won a World Series in Pinstripes. Held on for 2 years with lowly Tampa Bay in pursuit of his 3000th hit in the big leagues. Retired after 1999 with a .328 lifetime average and a healthy respect for the accomplishments of Lord Palmerson. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005. No word on what he thought of Clemens's chicken restaurant.
Distant Future: According to Futurama, Wade Boggs will survive as a venerated celebrity into the 3000s, with his head kept alive in a jar alongside fellow Hall of Famer "Hammering" Hank Aaron.

6) Ozzie Smith, SS
Prior: "The Wizard of Oz" is known as perhaps the best defensive shortstop in Major League History. Before his softball days he earned Major League All Star honors 11 times, won 12 consecutive gold gloves, and was a World Series Champion with the Cards.
During: Ozzie's love of tourist traps leads him to the Springfield Mystery Spot. This is one trap that lives up to its name, as he literally falls into another dimension and is unable to escape in time to play softball.
After: After remembering he was a Wizard and using his magic to escape the Mystery Spot, Ozzie rejoined the Cardinals and finished his career in St. Louis. In his 5 remaining years he was 4 times an All-star and won another Gold Glove. Despite having mediocre batting numbers, his defensive mastery and general awesomeness made him a HOF lock, and he accepted his spot in Cooperstown in 2002.

7) Jose Canseco, LF
Prior: Seven seasons with the Oakland A's. Canseco was one half of the famous "Bash Brothers" who led the A's to 4 World Series, including 2 victories. 1986 AL ROY, 1988 AL MVP, and a 4 time all star. During his MVP year he led the AL in Home runs and became the first player ever to hit 40 dingers and steal 40 bases in a season, a remarkable achievement which gives an indication of his incredible athletic talent. One of the biggest superstars in baseball at the time, his inclusion on this team was a no-brainer.
During: Baseball fans may notice that the animated Canseco doesn't seem to look, sound, or act anything like his real life counterpart. It turns out the writers had to make some script changes at Canseco's insistence.
According to the production notes, Canseco was originally supposed to have overslept the softball game after a tryst with Ms. Krabappel, Bart's 4th grade teacher. The real Canseco (and Mrs. Canseco) didn't like this and insisted on a more heroic writing for his character. Apparently a real life tryst with Madonna was ok, but animated infidelity crossed the line. Instead, Jose spends hours saving a woman's baby, cat, player piano and large appliances from a raging house fire. Noble indeed, and probably the last good thing anyone can remember Canseco doing.
After: It was mostly downhill after his Simpsons cameo. Traded in 1992 to the Rangers, Canseco famously let a home run bounce off his head, and later blew out his arm when he tried to pitch a single inning in a runaway loss. He had a few productive seasons later on but injuries limited his playing time and effectiveness. Bouncing around with half a dozen teams, Canseco became sort of a living joke among baseball fans. He finished with 462 home runs but got only 1.1% of the vote when he became eligible for the Hall of Fame. While his playing days were over, Canseco wasn't done with baseball. He wrote a best selling tell all book, Juiced, admitting to extensive steroid use and naming names of other alleged users in the big leagues. Lots and lots and lots of names. Dismissed at first as the wild ramblings of an attention whore, eventually some evidence came to light proving Canseco wasn't a total liar. His book led to a full Congressional inquiry, the Mitchell Report, and has probably destroyed the Hall of Fame chances of at least five former players. Canseco himself is now something of a cross between Bob Woodward and Benedict Arnold. Except flat broke. Not content to bask in simple "I told ya so's", and desperate for money after blowing his considerable fortune, Canseco will soon release another book, Vindicated, in which he supposedly names every other baseball player that he didn't name in Juiced, including several who died long before steroids were even discovered. He also has become a boxer and is so desperate for cash that he'll soon fight an exhibition match for $5,000 in Atlantic City. In the Simpsons episode, there's a joke about $50,000 to play one game for Burns being a "Pay cut" for Canseco. Clearly his portfolio has seen better days.

8) Ken Griffy Jr., CF
Prior: By far the youngest of the ringers, "The Kid" had played just 3 major league seasons prior to 1992. However, he was a 2 time All star and gold glove winner, and his fame was due to his image as a sort of baseball prodigy, a young player who could do it all. Junior had the rare honor of being teammates with his own father, and the pair even managed to hit back-to-back home runs in a Major League Game.
During: Suffers a terrible case of "gigantism" after consuming large amounts of Brain and Nerve Tonic.
After: Recovered enough to play baseball again, but the lingering effects of "gigantism" apparently made his bones, joints, tendons and muscles extra susceptible to injuries. Griffey is famous for his trips to the disabled list, missing large parts of 7 seasons and bringing frustration to millions of fantasy baseball owners. Nevertheless, his career when healthy has been incredible and continues to this day. Since weening himself from the tonic Griffey has been chosen for 11 All-star games, won 8 gold gloves, the 1997 AL MVP, and led the AL in homers 4 times. Recently hit his 600th home run, a feat accomplished by only a handful of major leaguers in history. Many think that without his injury woes he would have been a serious threat to the all time home run mark, but instead he'll have to settle for a run of the mill, Hall of Fame worthy career.


9) Daryl Strawberry
Prior: A nine year veteran and 1983 NL Rookie of the Year. "The Straw" was an 8 time all star who scared pitchers around the league with his powerful hitting. Led the NL in home runs in 1988, finishing second in the MVP race only because of the magical year of Dodger Kirk Gibson. Won a world series in 1986 with the Mets, and in 1991 signed as a free agent with his hometown Dodgers. By age 29 he had almost 300 career home runs, meaning that a good second half of his career would secure a bid to Cooperstown. Despite all his success, some regarded him as an underachiever, and Strawberry had a host of off the field problems, including legal troubles and rumors of substance abuse (he was an 86 Met for God sakes, those guys used cocaine to sweeten their coffee). However, he was still a beloved superstar to many baseball fans.
During: Sober. A team first kind of player with a great attitude. Of all the guest stars, Strawberry was the most promiently featured in the episode, a result of his real world fame and his taking over of Homer's position in right field. He's the only ringer who actually plays in the big game. His 9 home runs keep Springfield in it, but in the crucial spot Mr. Burns pitch hits Homer for Strawberry, a move which proves brilliant and secures the win.
After: Apparently devestated by Bart and Lisa's cruel taunting, or from the shock of being removed in favor of Homer, his career began a sharp slide. He never again made an All-star team. 1991 was his last full season, and after that injuries and cocaine combined to limit his playing time. After a stint at the Betty Ford Clinic he landed with the Yankees, where he contributed as a part time player for several years, winning 2 more World Series in the process. He was diagnosed with cancer in the 1998 but underwent treatment and recovered enough to return for 24 games in 1999 before calling it quits. His legal problems continued and in 2002 he was forced to serve 22 months in prison on a drug charge. Happily, indications are that Straw is now drug and cancer free and otherwise keeping out of trouble.

Its clear that the Burns All-Stars have had a mixed legacy. At the time of the episode 7 of the 9 players, excluding Sax and Scoicia, were good bets to make the Hall of Fame at the conclusion of their careers. Sixteen years later, two have made it, and one (Griffey) is a lock barring any new dirt coming to light that would take the shine off his career. Had Clemens retired earlier he might have already had his plaque in Cooperstown, but his longevity turned out to be his undoing in more ways than one. Two others, Strawberry and Canseco, flushed away potentially HOF worthy careers with their off field problems. Mattingly didn't quite have HOF credentials at the time of his retirement, but he remains dear in the hearts of Baseball fans and has enjoyed a career in coaching. Sax and Sosh have had plenty of post-baseball success of their own.

Of course, there was one other guest star in that classic episode, singer Terry Cashman, who reworked his famous song "Talking Baseball" for the closing credits. It wouldn't be right to end this post without mentioning that classic tune. Apparently you can't find the actual clip from the episode (damn lawyers), but here's the song itself in its entirety.

Personal Foul: Ignorance

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love football. I consider myself pretty knowledgeable on the subject, whether discussing history, teams, players, strategy or rules. Apparently I need some more study of the latter.

Today I took the USA Football NCAA official's qualifying test. Its 100 questions, multiple choice, and apparently all NCAA refs need to pass it each year. About half the questions have only 2 answers, and the remainder have 3-4 possible answers. This means that by guessing randomly you would expect a score below 50 but you would still get a handful correct. Thinking I was pretty sharp on the rules of my favorite game, I confidently clicked the link and took this challenge head on.

55. Out of 100. Thats 45 incorrect. Keep in mind that during a real game, the officials don't have the answers in front of them but must go from memory. Knowing that they have to pass this thing almost gives me respect for officials.

In my defense, the test is a monster. Not just the mind numbing length, but the questions are really complicated and they bring up a lot of crazy situations which I'm pretty sure have never happened in a game. A sample question might read:

Team A has the ball on Team B's 47 yard line, 2nd & 8. Its the 3rd quarter of a non-conference game between teams who each covered the spread last week. Team A is ranked # 15 in the AP and #17 in the ESPN/Coaches poll. Team B is unranked. Both teams have animal mascots and bands with less than 300 members. Team A's quarterback throws a complete pass to the tight end at B's 21 yard line, and then he fumbles. The ball is recovered by B's linebacker and advanced to A's 6 yard line where he is tackled by A's running back, who made the tackle by grabbing and twisting the facemask. Prior to the fumble team B's defensive back hit team A's wide reciever above the waist at Team B's 44 yard line. During the return Team B's defensive end committed a block in the back at A's 27 yard line, and B's cheerleaders performed a flying basket toss. Ruling? Clock?

A) A's ball on B's 44, 2/15, Clock starts on ready for play whistle.
B) B's ball on A's 49, 1/10, clock starts on snap.
C) How hot are the cheerleaders?

And then the next three questions will be all variations of the same setup with a small but very important difference added.

I take a little solace in the fact that I'm apparently not alone in my ignorance of the minutia of football rules. Orson Swindle, the writer of EDSBS, a wonderful college football blog where I first learned of the test, scored a 55 himself. And several other bloggers and journalists have also taken the test and none have reported a score higher than that. So maybe I'm the smartest of the college football loving bloggers, which you could probably equate to being the tallest munchkin in OZ.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Cathouse 2: The Shedding

I'm on day 5 of cat sitting for my friend. My allergies are pretty much under control thanks to limited exposure and a bunch of pink pills. Having never had a cat I hate to generalize to much, but if this cat is at all representative of the species at large then I can say this: cats are boring. I've tried balls, string, yarn and other things and it doesn't have any interest in playing with anything. Its only goal seems to be seeing how much hair it can shed onto me at a time, or occasionally going nuts and trying to claw a nearby chair to ribbons, with little success. Maybe other cats are more interesting, but I'm sticking to dogs for the time being.

FightOn@Awesome.usc

I have a man-crush on Pete Carroll. The revival of USC football this decade has been a lot of fun for me as college football fan native to SoCal. Coach Carroll, with his infectious energy and constant optimism, is the catalyst behind the whole thing, and without his personality it wouldn't have been as fun. General Patton said that "America Loves a Winner", and that statement is perhaps truest in the fickle sports climate of Los Angeles. Give them victories and they'll love you, and I'm almost certain Coach Carroll could become Mayor Carroll without breaking too much of a sweat. I know I would vote for him, especially if he promised to make Rey Maualuga Sheriff.

You gotta ask yourself one question:
Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk?
Slobbering aside, Coach Carroll is well known for his hipness. Despite the fact he's been out of college for roughly 35 years and is not (yet) a presidential candidate, he has his own facebook page with probably 327482393 friends. He's know for hanging with celebrities and playing elaborate practical jokes on his team. And now he's proven his coolness once again with his new email address. Per EDSBS, Coach Carroll's new email is: alwayscompetecaroll@usc.edu. Let this be exhibit 843 in the Pete Carroll Museum of Awesome.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Through the lips and passed the gums...

I love competition, and I love eating, but for some reason I don't like the combination of the two. To me, the world of Competitive Eating varies from boring to revolting. A lot of the events are just nasty, like Hard Boiled Eggs or String Beans. Congrats, you just won the world championship by stuffing a barrel of creamed spinach down your throat. Ugh.

The one exception I make is for the annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating contest, held every 4th of July at High Noon at Coney Island, New York. It's considered by many to be the Super Bowl of Competitive eating, which is appropriate since it gets the most hype and even non-fans like myself are sure to tune in. If there's a more appropriate American tradition for our Nation's Birthday I haven't seen it. The contest has really taken off in recent years, getting broadcast live by ESPN. For 6 years Kobayashi held the world championship, blowing away the competition and setting record after record. But last year, just when hope seemed lost for America, Joey Chestnut emerged and stole the title away in a very entertaining match between the two. This act made Chestnut a true American Hero, on par perhaps with John Wayne or Daniel Boone, but to cement his place in history he needed to defend his title.

Today he and Kobayashi went at it again and it was truly exciting. They tied at 59 dogs after the 10 minute regulation, and so for the first time ever they was a "Dog-off", a sudden death finish where the first to eat 5 dogs wins. It was very close but Joey Chestnut, no doubt remembering the inspirational works of JFK's inaugural address, edged out his opponent and claimed the victory for America! USA! USA! USA!

To top it all off, ESPN uses not one but two of the most over-the-top announcers you'll ever hear to cover the Nathan's contest. The hyperbole they use in in the play-by-play is incredible. Its like they try to pack a year's worth of nuttiness into ten furious minutes. Normally I hate stupid sport announcers but I love these guys. It seems totally appropriate that this celebration of excess should extend to the commentary as well. Here's a sampling of this year's craziness :

"This is the height of patriotism"
"The fans here at Coney Island are louder than any fans anywhere"
"In the next few minutes our world will be changed forever"
"Some things in sport are certain: Tiger will win another Masters, Brady will win another Super Bowl, Lance Armstrong will... er... date Jennifer Aniston probably. And Kobayashi will win another Nathan's contest. Will that be today?!?!?!"

And one of the guys loves to compare the eaters to other famous athletes. When discussing a female competitor and comparing her to one of the guys, he said something like: "She's Anika to his Tiger, Madonna to his A-Rod. She likes to box out like Danica Patrick". Um, ok, those comparisons make no sense at all.

All in all its a totally pointless but surprisingly fun event. Tune in next year, when Kobayashi and Chestnut go for round 3!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Wall*e

I went and saw Wall*e today, prompted by rave reviews and the knowledge that Pixar can usually be counted on to put out an entertaining film. After seeing the film I think the outpouring of praise is a bit much (one critic went so far as to call it "perfect"), but its definitely a good watch and well worth a trip to the theatre.

First off, Wall*e is truly a visual treat. This is about the 12th time around the block for Pixar. You might think that this fact, combined with the incredibly high amounts of CGI present in films, television and video games these days, would make another CGI film unimpressive. Yet despite the saturation of computer animation in our culture, Wall*e still has a fresh look, in both the big shots and the minute details.

There's been a lot of talk about how Wall*e isn't really a kids movie, and that kids may be bored or confused by the storytelling. I think this was true for the first 30-40 minutes or so, but after that the film was a pretty standard Pixar style kids tale, with a simple plot jazzed up with high speed chase sequences, close calls and well done physical comedy. Getting to that part will surely strain the attention of the younger set, but I bet if I were a kid today I could have handled it. Most kids just aren't that bright, which is too bad because that opening half of the movie is a great piece of film making.

During the first half of the movie its just Wall*e, his bug friend, and later another robot named EVE. Words are minimal and so most of the story has to be inferred from actions and reactions of these characters. Wall*e is clearly channelling the spirit of Kenny Baker, who brought R2-D2 to life using only beeps and movements. Both of them can still act circles around Hayden Christensen.

Hollywood has presented us with many theories about the future of mankind. Many are bleak, involving apocalypses brought on by plague, war, aliens, zombies or some environmental disaster. A fair number present a distopic vision, where people become slaves or drones in a totalitarian type state. A few theories are positive, showing mankind getting its collective ass in gear and exploring the stars while making it with hot green alien coeds. And Demolition Man is stupid and lame. The theory of the future presented by Wall*e is very believable. If Vegas took bets on the future of Mankind (and I'm not sure that they don't) I would put some money down on a Wall*e style outcome for our race.

One thing that bugged me was that, while every other human in the movie is CGI, they show multiple videos staring a live action Fred Willard, who plays the apparently long dead CEO of the BuyNLarge Corporation. Several times they show a CGI human watching these live action videos. I understand why they would pick Willard, he's the perfect actor to play the part, but the inconsistency of the humans was a little creepy. Shouldn't they have animated him as well?

As always for a Pixar project, the movie was preceded by a funny short film, this one involving a Magician and a hungry rabbit. Don't show up too late or you'll miss it.

I just realized that this is my 4th movie review in just 12 posts. Yikes.

The Cash is as high as an elephant's eye

Its been announced that the Seattle Sonics will be leaving their perpetually rainy, latte loving home city of Seattle and moving to Oooooooooooooklahoma... City. This is quite a change in enviroment in almost every way: climate, industry, geography, politics. This move has long been predicted, but it still raises some questions. I haven't followed the politics of the decision very closely, so I don't know exactly who is responsible for this move. I'm guessing its the usual culprit, the owner, who decided he couldn't squeeze enough blood out of Seattle. But I have to wonder how bad things are when picking up the pieces and moving to Oklahoma City is considered a good business move. But then again, this is a franchise that choose to change its name from the Supersonics to the plain old Sonics, so maybe they don't have the right businesspeople calling the shots.

Seattle and OKC have basically the same metro population, but in terms of state population, which makes up a big part of the TV watching and jersey buying fan base, Washington doubles up on Oklahoma. The population of Washington also makes more money on average than the people in Oklahoma. Even if they could pull in fans from Kansas, Arkansas and northern Texas, I doubt it makes up for the difference. But maybe that doesn't quite matter, since the people in OK have only the OU Sooners and OSU Cowboys currently, and no professional teams of any sort, while the people of Seattle still have an NFL, MLB, and WNBA franchise. Plus its my understanding that the people of OK are so eager to have a pro franchise of their own that they will be shelling out big bucks for facilities, tickets and merchandise. Its a classic case of big fish, small pond.

The Sonics say they'll no longer be the Sonics, and will be changing both their name and team colors. So what should the new name be? The old OU mascot was the "roughriders", which I think is a great name but maybe more suited for a football team than a basketball team. Having been (briefly) through Oklahoma, I have a few other suggestions: the oil derricks, the gushers, the tornadoes, the corn bushels, and the Garth Brookses. Boomers and Sooners are probably out as names in light of the OU connection, but if they really wanted to be historically accurate and generate some buzz they could pick the Indians, in honor of all the tribes which we so generously relocated to Oklahoma. Of course none of these names will be chosen. Instead we'll get some focused grouped name picked by a marketing committee. They'll probably try to make it sound hip and give the team some jazzy new unis that are sure to be hideous.

Maybe there's a little hope. Alliteration is big nowadays in selecting team names (see Wizards, Washington or Titans, Tennessee etc). Alliteration is catchy and hip, which marketing types love. So here's my final suggestion: The Oklahoma Orgasm. Its perfect: people love orgasms, plus you can shorten it easily to Orgy to use as a nickname. Think of all the fun the NBA beat writers could have: "Lakers top Orgy" "Orgy too hot for Suns to handle" or "Orgasm gets best of Knickerbockers". As an added bonus, all those generic slogans which pro teams come up with like "Catch the Fever" or "Get Some" would take on a whole new meaning.