Thursday, January 13, 2005

NFL - Fountains

just posted up the CBS-v-Super Bowl rant that ended in a Fountains of
Wayne endorsement. And I'll jsut say that almost a year after the
fact, FoW hasn't done anything to disuade my opinion of them with the
Mexican Wine video. Check it out at if you
haven't. Brilliant.


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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Music/TV - One Boob, One Band and Maybe I'm Just Paranoid

“Is that supposed to be your poker face, or did someone get run over by a train.” – that’s the opening line of a great song by a great band that I want to tell you about before the Grammy’s makes them famous and ruins it.
But first, I need to say a few words about the Grammys and quite a few more about its network, CBS, because I haven’t heard anyone else say them.
So bear with me:

As a Grammy’s ad, this year’s Super Bowl halftime succeeded beyond CBS’s wildest dreams. They must be starring at their laptops, combing their production notes, asking over and over, like Max Bealistock, Where Did We Go Right?
In one hideous show, CBS managed to pull off one of the most sexually cynical and racially hateful moments in recent broadcast history – and came out of it as the victim AND is going to end up rich for it.
Follow me through it:
CBS, owned by the same company that owns MTV, got two of MTV’s biggest black talents, Nelly and Puff, to do what they do (rap about getting laid, grab their crotch – if you know me, you know I’m a fan) for the Super Bowl halftime. Every 12 year old in Omaha knew what was coming, so I will not entertain suggestions that CBS/NFL officials did not. Still, Nel’ and Diddy would have been enough to set off the 700 Club crowd, which is why they were up there to start with.
But CBS knew they couldn’t send JUST those two up there because any useful outrage they might generate would instantly be negated by a Racism Scare. CBS certainly didn’t want to send its white-suburban Super Bowl audience to bed wondering if its THEIR FAULT they were offended by two black rappers that their 12 year old daughter loves. Easier for Middle America to ignore it all together – and CBS didn’t want their Super Bowl ignored.
Which is why Puff and Nelly were really there just to prime the WhiteFear-pump for MTV’s Justin Timberlake, an even bigger star because he is white but trades on black identity. So when he goes up there and behaves similarly, if tamer, than Nelly and Puff, the Fly-over states can get in a good, healthy huff without feeling like they’re facing any unpleasant gaps in their own sensitivity.
Here’s the thinking CBS was spoon-feeding us: Blacks are blacks, but HE shouldn’t be behaving like that!
You can send most of the Central timezone to work on Monday in a right pissy mood on that vibe, and they’ll talk about it all week – which, to CBS, means they’re talking about CBS.
Am I reading too much in? Seeing conspiracy and racial boogiemen where there was only incompetence? Well, that would be a LOT of incompetence. In fact, it would be the Mt. Everest of incompetence during the most-valuable broadcast of the year – or it could be a thoroughly plotted, detail-oriented plan, ie the kind of plan you’d expect to find at a Super Bowl. Which seems more likely?
Consider: when CBS (and the NFL) hired MTV to put on that show, what did they THINK they were going to get? If I’m wrong, then CBS wrote a giant check to MTV without bothering to listen to a single Nelly song (I LOVE Nelly, but his oervre has laser-like message displine: bitches, cars, cash, repeat)… OR a major American TV network exploited vague racial resentment in its Super Bowl audience to sell beer.
Which seems more likely?
I suppose if the show had only been those 3 – Nelly, Puff and ‘Lake – the evidence would be inconclusive.

And then came Janet. Case closed.

Let’s back up a bit: just two months ago (so soon we forget….), CBS ran a Michael Jackson musical show in primetime in return for him granting 60 Minutes an interview after he was arrested for child molestation. Read that again.
Actually, CBS says it was all a coincidence. Again – which seems more likely?
Still, CBS was due the benefit of doubt on that affair – until his sister, with no discernable current following, showed up on the Super Bowl halftime show with, arguably, America’s top 3 male musical talents. I mean, who said ‘no’ to that venue that they had to turn to Janet? Or was an 80s-era pop star with a known-pedophile brother the first choice?
So let’s connect the dots:
In one halftime, CBS managed to leverage white people’s fear of black music AND the leering specter of the network’s own approved child molester/music talent into one big ball of dripping offensiveness – and got the entire nation talking about it all week.
You gotta hand it to them.
And then came the tit-flash (at least, I think it did – in the actual, undoctored replay, can you see anything? I don’t think I can and I know I didn’t see anything live), and things only got better. Way more talk. Way more outrage. White Guy-Black Girl-Look Out! And an actual investigation by the FCC – the surest ratings booster this side of a suicide.
It’s hard to imagine anything better for CBS.
In fact, the ONLY thing that could be better for CBS would be if they could – and here we’re talking pie in the sky – somehow trot the same cast back out for an encore a week later. I mean, wouldn’t THAT be something, but what are the odds?

Ladies and Gentlemen, this Sunday on CBS… the Grammys.

ANOTHER coincidence goes CBS’s way! Somebody buy them a lottery ticket!
Let’s see… scheduled to perform: Puff, Nelly, Lake and… Janet? She WAS on the list but now there is some DOUBT! Whoo – the suspense is KILLING ME!
So, with the outrage so high and the grammy’s so close, CBS has spent this week trumpeting that it will have a FIVE MINUTE delay (because they were shocked – Shocked!) so everything will be “appropriate” – and among all the people I know in the universe, only my mom would fail to see that what that actually means is, ‘we’ve been planning something REALLY inappropriate, so tune in to see if we catch it.’
No, actually, even Trish would catch on to that.
What she would miss – because she has goodness in her heart and CBS doesn’t – is that what CBS is REALLY saying is: ‘we’ve been planning to let Nelly and Puff and other black people act even MORE black, so tune in to see if we catch them.’
It’s so sickening, I suspect the involvement of Karl Rove, but I’m out of dots to connect.

Phew. I feel better. I’ll leave the entire despicable event behind me by saying this – like Dubya, CBS needs an Exit Strategy. Unlike Dubya, I think they have one:

Ladies and Gentlemen… Fountains of Wayne.

CBS needs a wholesome, feel-good (ie, utterly white) act to seize the Grammy’s by the throat and pull everybody’s collective ass out of the fire. A Bonnie Raitt/Nora Jones-type of night.
It’s going to be Fountains of Wayne. CBS is going to hand them statues until people stop asking about Janet. In one of those quaint hiccups that make the Grammys so adorably vile, they’re up for best ‘new’ artist with their 3rd album (against 50 Cent) and for ‘best song by a duo’(?) for their sort-of-hit “Stacey’s Mom.”
They’re normal, even harmless looking (unlike the moaning freaks in Evanescence), dress responsibly, don’t curse much on their albums (sorry, White Stripes), play their own instruments (‘Lake, Beyonce, etc) and unless CBS wants 50 telling the home audience “there’s no bidness like ‘Ho bidness!” Fountains of Wayne is going to run away with things.
And the really, really sad part is: they totally deserve it.

If you’re cool enough to have found them already or have known about them for years - as I know at least three or four of my friends are – then sorry. But I can’t seem to stop running into people who’ve never heard of them. And CBS is going to put a stop to their anonymity, and, with it, their cool.
So at least let me stick up for them before the bubble bursts.

Fountains of Wayne is probably – no, definetly – the first great pop act of the decade. Of course, who was the last? Sugar Ray? No Doubt? Smashmouth? Beck? I’m not exactly smashing received truths to state that Hip Hop has been the Western Conference to Pop’s East since at LEAST Biggie got shot. If you don’t like hip hop – Eminem, Jay-Z, Destiny’s Child, whatever – what have you been listening to for 5 years? Basicly, teen pop, Creed-rock or rap-metal.
But things have been looking up for a year or so. Somewhere between “The ‘The’ Movement” (The Hives, The Strokes, The Vines, The White Stripes, etc), Tenacious D and some new blood in fringe-metal (Disturbed, etc), actual Rock music has rebounded. With Fountains, Pop may be back, too.
Digression: What is “pop” music, exactly? It was pretty obvious in the 80s - Hall and Oates, yes. Quiet Riot, no. Scandal – yip. Springsteen – nope. The Cars (major Fountains influence)? You betcha. Pet Shop Boys – New Wave! Run!
But the last time there was anything resembling decent pop was the mid-90s, before Puff’s “I’ll Be Missing You” launched the revolution. If you got clear of the Pearl Jam and Metalica, you could hear Dave Matthews, the Wallflowers, Hootie and Garbage (and Dishwalla and the Refreshments and countless others who added one song to our brain and fell off the earth – sing with me!: “all I wanna DO is to thank you, even though I don’t know who you are/you let me change lanes while I was driving in my caaarrrr/ whoever you are…”? YEAH!!) Not interesting, or groundbreaking or even memorable, but fun.
But somewhere around the Thong Song, that all changed. “Top 40” suddenly meant ‘edited rap’ or Marilyn Manson or, lately, Linkin Park.
But nothing lasts forever – Britney got married (goodbye, credibility), Jessica married Nick but never heard of Ringo Starr (hello, over-exposure), and even Dr. Dre is talking about getting out (moment of silence…).
Into the void rushes Fountains of Wayne, just in time to stand Aragorn-astride-the-gates-of-Mordor-like against the scurge of John Mayer. Seriously: name a band you’d like to see at a bar right now, besides Tenacious D and Jack Johnson. Cuz if you took your girl to see a John Mayer set, you couldn’t go to the bathroom or he’d slip her a hotel key. Classic poacher. And what’s with all that moaning? Its rock music, for f’s sake. Nobody died. Lighten Up, body-is-a-wonderland-Boy .

So go get Wayne’s ‘Welcome Interstate Managers’, the best pure pop album since Sugar Ray’s ‘14:59 ‘ (you know… “Every Morning” etc). It’s got “Mexican Wine,” the best post-college-funk rock song since Ben Folds Five’s “Army,” which will have you singing about how you got fired by United Airlines for weeks; “Bright Future In Sales” is 3 minutes of clever lyrics and 2-chord jamming; “Hey Julie” is probably the strongest named-for-a-girl song since – bold statement ahead – All-Time champ Barbara Ann.
Even the inevitable ‘serious’ songs don’t drag (except for the dreary She’s Got A Problem - yuck) – Hackensack is fun and No Better Place is a great lyrics exhibition (it always comes back to lyrics with these bands, huh?), opening with the “poker face/run over by a train” line.

But of course the crowning effort is “Stacy’s Mom,” which is just a terrific, addictive, fun tune even if, musically, it’s very close to a direct lift of the Cars’ Just What I Needed. Or anything Rick Springfield ever put out – seriously, there are some VERY shallow echoes of Jesse’s Girl there.
And have you seen the video? The song is about Stacy’s hot mom – and I was originally told that Christy Brinkley was in the title role, which would have been one of the all-time great cameos – right there with Chuck Yeagar as the barfly in the Right Stuff. But its not her. It’s Racheal Hunter, who is an actual mom and runs about mid-30s and looks 23 and could out-Hot a solid 80-percent of Playboy’s offerings of the last 10 years.
There’s NOTHING weak about Rachael Hunter. She’s almost too hot for the song. But she used to bang Rod Stewart, which kinda ruins it.
And in the end, she’s not Christy Brinkley – and when you’re expecting Christy Brinkley, is there even such a thing as a substitute?


USC thoughts

So they just did a little video complilation of USC stories - Leinart
and hiring Tim Floyd.

First thought: what is that tape of Floyd going absulte ape shit
towards a ref? The clip they just showed shows him going
Pitt-next-to-the-burning-'Caravan' crazy trying to get to a ref. his
players are pulling his coat off him to hold him back. awesome.

Second: best Leinart tape by far is the one where, at home, from a
fieldlevel camera, he rolls left and throws an unseen touchdown - the
camera stays on him but you can tell the guy catches a touchdown
because, perfectly framed behind him as he follows through the song
girls spontaneously all throw their arms up and jiggle in unison at the
unseen TD. they fill screen, edge to edge. just a classic piece of

third: just read today a stat i can't believe i didn't know.
Leinart's first-ever pass was for a TD - the only college Qb in
history to do that. can that be true?

fourth: if *I* was Leinart, and i was coming back, I would do it with
a montage of that first-pass-TD clip and say, "Things started so great
here..." and then show his last snap, where he dropped the ball for a
safety and go: "but i can't leave like that."

fifth: just watched the Leinart announcement. for SC, i'm way more
pumped that the punter is back. THAT guy is a stud. i think i'd
rather watch SC develop the next QB with some veterans to help him
rather than rebuild the entire ship - line, Qb, recievers, TBs, even
punter - in 06.

sixth: what was with that background - Lexus is now the title sponsor
of SC football?

seventh: i think Cedric should send Matt a cut of his


NFL - Peyton and thems

I watched the Colts-Ravens game last night, which makes the second year in a row that the only non-Raiders-v-Broncos NFL game I’ve seen start to finish involved the Colts (last year’s comical comeback against Tampa Bay was the other – was that last year? Let’s not dwell).
Hell of a thing. There were two, maybe three, really amazing parts of the game, one of which was the obvious: You may have heard that Payton Manning was 2 Tds away from Dan Marino’s record of 48 in a season. Having thrown at least 2 Tds in something like 15 straight games, this seemed like the night he would at least tie it.
He did not, and the story of how the Ravens held was quite a thing.
So that was one thing.
The second thing was AJ Freeney, the Colts defensive end and the NFL’s sack leader, taking on Jonathan Ogden, the NFL’s premier current (maybe ever) left tackle. Or rather, it was watching Freeney abuse and embarrass Ogden as badly as you are ever likely to see a first-tier athlete get abused in his native element. I’m struggling for a comparable example – maybe Jordan abusing Ewing, or Ty Detmer’s run-in with Texas A&M.
And the third thing is: no WAY the Colts are a serious contender. No shot. I’ll get to that.
So Manning – first drive, he comes out firing, mixing pass and run (the Ravens, playing against the pass, let Edge James get loose for two 10+ runs on the drive) and goes 65 effortless yards down the field. Or at least most of those were effortless. His final two passes near the endzone go through the hands of defenders, and the Colts get the field goal.
And that about did it for Payton Manning’s easy night.
From that point on, the same thing happened on each play of the Colts’ ensuing possessions – Manning would bring the Colts out of the huddle and, as he famously does, call the line at the play. You could hear his voice check off over and over (keep that in mind). He’d point, move his players around, make hand signals, etc. His adjustments and constant check-offs were so prevalent he could easily have been accused of having no idea what the hell he was doing.
And as he would do so, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed (safety) would do the same, sliding in and out of position, barking orders to their guys, moving dudes around. On top of that, the Ravens probably didn’t take 2 snaps all night in the same defensive look. One play they’d have 3 guys down with everybody else floating, the next snap they’d bring 8 or 9 – and on at least one snap 10 – guys onto the line to show, and often bring, a blitz. Guys popped on and off the line like they were setting screens at the top of the key.
Again, if you didn’t know better, you might look at their alignments from snap to snap – the only consistency between them being general chaos – and think they had no idea what the hell they were doing.
And of course, in both cases, they did.
Manning never really solved it in the first half – after the 65 yard field-goal drive, he got 68 yards in the next 4 drives. They had some ridiculous punter stat, like he kicked more in that half than in any two previous games or something.
Edge James, fast as he is, wasn’t much of a challenge. The Ravens game plan seemed to be, sensibly, “We’ll stop Manning, Ray’ll handle Edge.” Hand-off to Edge middle, Ray Lewis with the stop. Hand-off Edge student body right, Lewis blows up the blocking. Screen pass to Edge – Lewis stayed home and makes the hit.
Which left Manning-v-Ravens for everything else.
I don’t think there’s anything dumber in all of sports entertainment than describing a football game as a ‘chess match’ (a Thiesman favorite) and I won’t. But since neither the Colts O or the Ravens D benefited at any point in that half from the other team simply screwing up (ie bad pass for a pick, corner falls down, etc), I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the outcome of every play was decided in the seconds before the ball was snapped. And it was pretty cool to watch.
Then, of course, Manning came out in the second half and found a rhythm, started hitting tight-ends on the exact knuckle to beat double coverage and never saw a third down until he hit Marvin Harrison on 3rd-and-1 with a 20+ yard TD pass. And on that play Harrison threw one of the absolute sickest out-and-in moves of all-time – yip, all-time – at corner Chris McAlister. Harrison cut towards the outside and the instant McAlister turned his hips outside to run with him, Harrison cut back in. With one step Harrison had 5-yards of seperation but way more important he had McAlister literally running the wrong way. He was open by, conservatively, 15 yards when he caught the TD – which was, needless to say, delivered by Manning about 1.5 inches off his cheek.
That made it 13-3, and the Ravens clearly weren’t going to overcome that.
It’s worth nothing, though, that Jamal Lewis, chronic chronic user, put up a terrific effort. At one point, the Rs faced a 3rd-and-15. Kyle Boller (Kyle Boller?) threw over the middle, tipped at the line, ball tumbles toward turf, Lewis running underneath scoops it up for a silly 5-yard, lucky completion surrounded by Colts – and promptly turns upfield and bull-runs for the next 10 and the unlikeliest first down of the game. Unbelievable play. And I’m pretty sure the only reason he was able to get that far was because AJ Freely was too busy hitting Boller. Again. After beating Ogden. Again.
I think Ogden – who even ON AN NFL TELECAST – looks inhumanly huge is playing hurt. They said something about bad ankle or something. But seriously – I don’t think he stopped Freely even once. Not once. It got to the point where it wasn’t even fun to watch – you knew Freely was about to embaress the guy again and then, wham, he would. Ogden wouldn’t even stand in the huddle by the end of the game cuz he was so pissed at himself. In one sequence, Freely (rushing from the right end everytime) slammed into Ogden then spun inside on him, using Ogden as his own personal pick and roll to slam Boller. Next play Freely ran right past him outside for the sack. Next play Freely went outside him again so nakedly that Ogden literally left his feet to leap and tackle – aka hold – Freely as he blew by.
They’d do those ABC-perfected super-slo-mo replays, the kind where you can see Emmit Smith’s quad muscles slowly jiggle as he plants his feet for a juke, and even at that speed – I swear – Freely would be out of his stance and into his rush in a single frame. Nobody else on either side of the ball would so much as lift their hand off the turf and he’d be a step and half into the backfield. As the booth team said, “how is he not off-sides?’ To be honest, Ogden never had a prayer.
So I’ll just say it. Considering that everybody on that field is, by definition, among the top-point-zero-one-percent of the world’s fastest people, NOBODY is that fast. Or rather, nobody is that much FASTER. Not naturally at least.
For what it’s worth.
Also, in the fourth, up 20-10, Payton had the Colts rolling downfield, the ravens finally deflated and faced a 4th-and-1. They go for it and get it. 4 plays later, 4th-and-5.
Tony Dungy elects to kick the fieldgoal. Easy, easy call, right.
Manning comes off the field visibly livid. He wanted to go for it again. Interesting moment and begs a question – was Manning simply in his groove, believing he had the D on the run? Or was he gunning for a shot at the record? The mood of the moment (and common sense) says Manning was just being competitive. Fine. But he was PISSED coming off (particularly when ol’ boy missed the FG – ha ha).
But that set up the final minute with the Ravens driving with the possible-but-doubtful thought of overcoming a 20-10 score (Payton wisely let Edge run in another in the 4th). Boller threw a brutal interception which the Colt guy returned 70+ yards for an evident TD and, clearly, the ballgame.
Only they said the guy, all alone, stepped out of bounds inside his own 10 (think about that). Fine.
So Payton retakes the field for the last 50-odd seconds, 10 yards from the endzone. Kneel down, kneel down, ballgame.
Only, as Payton took those knees, the Indy fans BOOED. They wanted Payton to take that final opportunity – handed to him on a RIDICULOUS fluke/botched int-runback – and go for the record with the game utterly decided (and in fact at the non-zero risk of giving the game back).
What was cool was the immediate smiles and comraderie that erupted between the R’s D and the Colts O – they had fiercly battled for the last few hours and you could tell they each had loved it. The Colts won the game, and scored a lot of points, but P didn’t get his record. Jump ball.

Which brings us to the final analysis. Baltimore clearly took Payton’s quest for 47 personally. And they held, and it wasn’t close. He never really got close to that second TD. In fact, the Ravens nearly picked him more times than he threatened to score. So the Payton machine, with focus and willpower, can be stopped.
And all that ‘chess match’ stuff was conducted in the near-silence of Payton’s homefield. It was eerie how quiet it was. That’s how you could hear the P’s voice and the D’s counters so clearly. The crowd let Payton set up in silence.
Which will NOT be possible on a hostile field, in hostile non-dome weather.
Plus, Freeney CAN’T be that fast on grass. It’s not possible. And nothing else about the Colts defense looks convincing. Jamal Lewis shredded them, just plundered his way downfield. And Kyle Boller (Kyle Boller?) got some decent yardage on them, had a TD dropped late and was driving to stay close late. Kyle Boller.

No way the Colts win big later. But it was a hell of a game.

VidGame - Greatest Game Ever: The Sequel

Probably not the week to ask if y’all caught the
latest – and best – episode of Lost last night? I'll
just say it: the 8th and 9th innings were during the
Alaska broadcast of Lost – and I didn’t even swith
over during the commercials. Sorry. Best show to hit
TV since - what? - early Moonlighting?

Ya know, I’d love to send my congrats to Harman and
thems but I can’t until Foulke finally underhands the
ball over to first for the final out. Hey, pitcher,
like 9 states waiting!!!! Frankly, he’s nearing the
24 hour mark of his “oh, don’t mess this up” pre-toss
pause and we’re getting bored. I think Renteria
finally collapsed this morning halfway down the
firstbase line from dehydration. Maybe by the end of
the week he’ll finally horseshoe-lob it over to
Mientkiewicz (whose painfully deliberate ‘shoe on bag
until AFTER you catch it’ routine is threatening to
sweep the nation’s white dance clubs) and the Red Sox
will actually, finally have gotten the final out.

Until then, I’ll be locked up here, in the recliner,
toes shoved up against the TV, playing Grand Theft
Auto San Andreas.

I mean, the Red Sox win the World Series every 84
years (yeah, I know, pretty obscure but Elias dug it
up for Sportscenter– how about that, 84 years?! Dang.
You’d think it would be a bigger deal), but the
sequel to the greatest video game of all time only
comes out the same week I’m stuck alone in a hotel
room once.

So some thoughts after, oh, 10 hours of GTA5.
It’s giant, it’s artful, it’s bottomlessly deep. In
those respects, it builds and improves on its prequels
It is also dark and mean and uncomfortably racist,
often in a ‘reverse’ sense.
I wrote and never sent an essay about 3 months ago
expressing my concern that GTA5’s announced setting –
90s gangland LA – was going to be a problem. With
Vice City, set pretty much in the middle of Miami
Vice’s 3rd season, there was a built-in layer of
fantasy and comedy. I mean, Miami Vice, the show, was
a wild parody and comedy based entirely in myth - so
adopting it to the absurdist world of video game
violence made it only funnier and sillier. Not only
was GTA4 technically the most impressive video game
ever, it was also the fall-down funniest.
GTA5, though, is set in the “Colors”/“Boyz in the
Hood”/etc setting of LA. And those movies – unlike
the campy Vice – were not funny. Or even fun. They
were movies intended and designed to illustrate
desperate poverty and the savage culture it breeds.
Which is exactly the vibe GTA5 emits – desperate
The violence, from literally the first moments, is
much more prevalent. In both GTA3 and 4, you could
roam the city for hours looking at things, pretty much
left alone – here, you are very likely to get shot
very quickly if you stray far.
The “pedestrian” characters are, as I feared, the
worst of ghetto-stereotypes – the crack addict, the
single mom, the wino, the would-be rapper/burger king
worker (OK, that’s funny). And, of course, the swarms
and swarms of gang members.
The only white people so far are the cops you shoot
and the sluttiest of the female extras (in fact, the
better the bodies on the chicks, the whiter they are
drawn as).
It is an obvious nod to these stereotypes that the
leader of the corrupt cops (who are pushing the
narrative) is black, played by Samuel L Jackson (“see,
if we were racist, the cop would be white!”)
It is fair to say that no black/ghetto cliché every
invented is not part of this game. In some sense,
that’s a credit to the gamemakers – they didn’t water
anything down. But I doubt the Mike Powells of the
world will take that view.

Now… the caveats. The game is gigantic. I have
only seen one section – the ghetto – of one city in
the game’s 3 cities. There is a rural farming area, a
Vegas-like Casino/glitz based city, and some sort of
high-end Laguna Beach-like rich person island, too.

But the sly, don’cha-get-it? Humor of Vice City is

Two technical complaints.
First, you can’t drive with the buttons, only with
the stick. I always drove with the buttons, so that
But more than that, they’ve ‘upgraded’ the way you
control the main character – and, in doing so, I
think, made it more complicated than necessary. The
only thing that kept me hooked on GTA4 for the first
few hours was the ease of playing – push the stick,
the guy moves. Push the button, he shoots his gun or
punches somebody. No triple-combo ‘special attacks’
to memorize, no “stealth modes” to activate, no
unsymmetrical look-with this button/aim with this
nonsense. It was just moving a cartoonish little guy
around the screen (which also added to the unreality
of it). Such complex controls have made me almost
immediately quit playing some of GTA’s competitors.
Here’, they’ve added several dimensions of movement
and control – which, as you play, just gets in the
way. You can ‘sneak’ around, the camera angle can be
twisted in 360, but the play doesn’t turn – so you see
something behind you, instinctively push towards it
and end up running or aiming the wrong way. Or your
camera gets stuck in an akward angle trying to drive.
Just added, unnecessary complexity. Never a problem
in GTA3 and 4.
And they’ve made an effort make the guy’s movement
more ‘lifelike.’ Of course, it looks akward. Why not
leave him as a cartoon.
Also they’ve added ‘action’ where you don’t need or
want it– I don’t need animation to change clothes or
eat. In fact, it’s annoying, slow and – as
illustrated by earlier GTAs – totally unneeded. Very
So, be advised – the initial 10 or so missions are
incredibly story-intensive. Five or more minutes of
‘video’ accompany most missions, building up the
backstory. The dialogue is ripped straight from a rap
song – every other words is MF, bitch or shit, casual
drug use is everywhere, and the gangster-as-hero-vibe

Finally – it is an amazing world they’ve built.
Shockingly detailed replicas of almost any Southern
California landmark you can think of, from the
Hollywood sign to the Santa Monica pier and Venice
beach to the Watts towers to the LA Convention center.
The dry flood channels (best mission of the early
ones is a long chase through them, with you playing
tailgunner on the back of a motorcycle). Even the
Forum in Englewood. Obviously, a familiarity with LA
helps here, but there is LOTS to see.
And, probably coolest of all – freeways. Huge, wide,
smooth, swooping freeways that connect all the cities.
On ramps, cloverleafs, carpool lanes. And, like the
real things, almost SURE to send you the wrong

Of course you’re going to go get it. So do. But
just my early thoughts.

VidGame - Blaine 05

NCAA Football 2005: No doubt about it - they went
As much as I loved Blaine on the cover of last
year's game, I felt it was so slight an improvement
over the 2003 version that is was a bit of a letdown.
All the "new features" were forced and poorly done,
the animation was largely unchanged and the
improvement in gameplay - which is 90-percent of it -
was so slight as to not matter.
On the upside, the 2004 game never froze up the way
2003 did once every 5 or so games.
This year the improvements are almost invisible, the
"new features" are esoteric and uninteresting, and the
gameplay is absolutely identical (possibly a little
The best example is the "pulse meter" which
apparently is meant to simulate home field advantage.
So depending on where you are (say, the Swamp versus
Toledo), there is a meter onscreen that shows the
crowd's intensity, and if it gets real high, a new
algorithm kicks in and some of the visiting players
start to play worse (poise, or something similiar, is
actually a new rating, like speed and agility, built
into each player).
Well... OK. that was already part of the game in
previous years, but it was transparent - the crowd got
loud (and you could pump them up on D) and if they
did, sometimes somebody jumped offsides or the QB
choked or something. Does it have to be a major
feature of the gameplay?
Another silly add-on: during timeouts, you're
allowed to 'coach' one of your units - secondary,
linebackers or line (or the O equivs). You are shown
a little green bar for eachthat represents poise or
something, and by coaching that unit, it goes up for
the next play.
Huh? That's ridiculous - the whole point of this
series of games is the gameplay - hit the circle
button and you can see the runner spin, see the corner
miss the tackle and it's fun. It's not very cerebral,
but should it be? All the new features - reacting to
crowd noise, 'coaching' boosts - are like they've
thrown some sort of Magical Hit Points into the mix.
Did I buy "NCAA Football & Dragons"? They've lost
sight of the fact that 90-percent of gameday coaching
is communication with your players - making them do
what you want. And since, with a video game, that
entire concept is void, why try to simulate it? If I
add Magical Coaching Points to my 'rattled' QB, is he
more likely to see the tight-end come open? In a real
game, sure... and you can add some wierd subroutine in
the code to vaguely simulate that. But did you just
make things better? No - it's a friggin' video game.
The guy who has to see the tight-end come open is not
the QB - it's me, the guy with the controller.
Whether or not the QB has magical green bars at Full
Spirit Level shouldn't be the point.
there is also a very esoteric addition mid-play.
You can zoom back and see how your match-ups are -
O-line vs D--line, etc. Apparently, those ratings and
your matchups vary a lot with the Pulse Meter, and
with how you're playing in that game.
Look... it's video football. come up with a more
elegant pass-and-catch system (I vote for
automatically zooming in on the reciever as the ball
gets close, which would make catching the ball much
more interactive). If you want linemen to jump
offsides because of the crowd, fine - in fact, great.
But let's have some perspective.
And, worst of all for 2005, the freeze is back.

So I've played 3 games since I got the game
yesterday - opened up with #1 ranked USC (thankee)
against Ft. Worth Bowl Champion Boise State. It was
fun, sort of: 3 and out as i fumbled to remember how
to play offense, Boise marched down and planted one
for seven before i also remembered that my best
defense is to not touch the controller, and then the
skills (and SC's built in talent) took over and we
pretty much dominated the rest of the way on the
ground. Ithink i completed one pass. Devon Bush,
USC's halfback, is, as expected, off the charts (and
that tracks: I thought he was the fastest guy in the
nation last year), but a nice little treat was to find
that QB leinhart (94 overall rating) is actually
pretty fast too. Funny to watch Norm Chow's carefully
constructed West Coast offense option its way down the
field, but the Broncos were going to get back to Boise
before they got tothe corner against my Oline and away
we go!
Then I played William and Mary vs Delaware, a game
which, when i covered it in 1997, was arguably between
the two best I-AA teams in the nation. Not this time
- me and the Tribe turned Zabel Stadium into
Williamsburg International and it was 35-0. The game
added the tribe (and most of I-AA) last year, and its
good to see them still there, but they still play in a
generic stadium. Might be too much to ask to get the
IAA schools home fields built in, but they've had a
year to do it.
Finally, late last night, I fired up Dynasty Mode
and played the SC-Va Tech season opener. Two errors
you can't blame the game for: Marcus Vick was there
and Mike Williams wasn't (OK, so that's one error and
PLEASE let it be two). Good thing, too, cause Vick's
arm and Williams absense was all that kept it to 35-6.
That one goes out to all you Big East party people!
Still - the animation occasionally stutters when it
shouldnt, which wasn't true last year. It looks like
they've tried to ramp up the light-vs-dark shading (a
guy turns his head, and it gets darker, etc). But i
think they're programming beyond the chips specs.

New Stuff:
- to win the commander-in-chief's trophy, you now have
to play as a service academy and beat both of the
others - in the past, it was Army-Navy and Air Force
was out of the mix.
- relatively lame "crowd shots" after big plays,
where you get a sideline camera-view looking back up
to the first row of the stands, where 3 or 4
appropriately dressed dudes celebrate. The game brags
that they hold up 'individualized" signs (like "Hokie
Hokie Hi" and "V is for Victory Go Trojans!" etc - you
can even customize the signs) but so what? Who really
watches that stuff? I pretty much always click right
through it to get to the next play.
- they added a bunch more user-initiated post-play
celebrations. if you like that stuff.
- a few new defensive sets (3-3-5, 4-2-5), which are
kinda fun.
- the cheerleaders are a little hotter, and
thankfully, the male cheerleaders are GONE. That
alone is worth the purchase price.

- all the pre-game, post game and most of the
during-game animation is unchanged - ie they run out
from the tunnel, they stretch out, the RB does a
little dance, the coach paces. After the game, they
shake hands, they walk off the field - All 100-percent
the same. In fact, all that animation dates tothe
2003 game. How hard would it be to update that stuff?
- Worst part: last year they introduced "Classic
Games" which puts you into key moments of key games in
football history (you are Flute lining up for the Hail
Mary, you are Cal recieving the kickoff prior to the
Play). Last year I bitterly complained that the games
they picked were either really stupid, deeply biased
to the east coast (one Pac 10 game?) or - worst of all
- put you on the historically wrong side.
This year, the feature is not just back, but it's
THE SAME GAMES!!!! They couldn't think of 15 or 20
OTHER good games in the whole history of college ball?
Not one more Pac 10 game, ever? So you AGAIN are
saddles with:
- only 1 Pac 10 game (The Play - whose only future
star, Elway, was watching from the sidelines) and 1
Rose Bowl.
Compared to....
- 5 Miami games
- 5 Notre Dame games
- 4 Ohio State games
- 4 Florida State games (including 95 FSU-UVA - a
terrific, fun game, but an all-time Top 20?)
- 2 Penn State games
- 2 BYU games (?), including...
- 1982 BYU-SMU. So a collision of BYU and SMU offered
more drama and historical significance than any game
ever played by a Pac-10 team, save The Play?
- the 1990 Colorado-Notre Dame game, which drops you
into the game as Rocket, prior to his punt return that
put ND ahead - a play that was CALLED BACK FOR HOLDING
in the real thing. yet the game wants you to recreate
that event.
- 1998 Va Tech-Syracuse - what? Who remembers that
game? And, to kick the horse some more, that gives
the Ishmael family one more game than 90 years of Pac
10 history.
- 1993 FSU-ND - 1-vs-2. A good (not great) game, but
inexplicable here since it asks you to be FSU and
mount a comeback - which didn't happen. What they
COULD have done is skipped ahead just one week on the
scedule, still been at Notre Dame, but let you be
Boston College, trailing by 1 (or 2?) and fighting to
get David Gordon in range. I mean, if we're talking
memorable games in South Bend in 1993, which one
really matters?
Other non-history:
- the 1997 Rose Bowl. You are Jake the Snake trailing
14-10 late. ESPN Classic plays this game a lot for
the very good reason that it was, pound for pound, the
best bowl game of the 90s... but Jake LOST. He did
retake the lead, 17-14, but Ohio State cameback and
beat them. So the game wants you to re-write history
here (and for Rocket and for FSU), but for Flutie and
Cal and most of the others, you're supposed to
recreate it.
It was a poorly executed idea last year. That it's
back unchanged is ridiculous.

Summary: I stumbled across this franchise in 2003
(which is to say, in '02, but the 2003 edition). That
was the one with the picture of Joey Harrington on the
cover, his arm cocked mid-throw and his eyes coming
right off the box at you. A terrific cover for a
groundbreaking game. I mean, if you put an Oregon guy
on the cover - who just happened to be the best player
in the land the previous year- you're obviously making
a product for people who know the game.
As i've said before, i was a lifetime anti-video
game pundit until i saw that game, and I probably
spent 200 or 300 hours playing it over the next year.
Since then, the gameplay - the only important part -
is unchanged and they've only added peripheral
features that are either so esoteric as to detract, or
so dumb they must have been installed by someone who
never watches football (or went to BYU - about the
same thing).
The cameos that open the game ("If it's in the game,
it's in the game") clearly peaked in 2003, too. Those
were free-wheeling fans yelling at the camera, with
lots of cute girls mixed in, including the 7 smoking
ASU chicks. 2004 cameos were staged acts or a bunch
of senior bowl clips of players and the occasional fat
Purdue guy thrown in - only the two SDSU sluts
encouraged the occasional gratuitious reset and they
almost never showed up.
So far, the 2005 clips are, again, heavy on Senior
Bowl players.
Even the covers have disappointed - the Blaine cover
looked like a free-with-a-happy meal-action figure and
the Larry Fitzgerald cover this year is... Larry
(by the way, i'm VERY concerned that this
best-days-behind-it-trend is going to hit Grand Theft
Auto. More on that later)
With only 364 days 'til NCAA Football 2006, I hope
they burn it down and start again. or at least come
up with a better cover.


Final insult: after I got done pounding Va Tech -
which was the first game of a season I intended to
save and continue - the game froze. Right on the
final score screen.

Olympics - Wrap-up

It's not that most sports are boring, because I can deal with that. You know going in that if you're watching, say, sailing, you're getting the sports version of a David Schwimmer movie - a mortal lock for unwatchable. If you hear, "next, Women's mountain biking" immediately you have to think, "is it worth watching in case they eat it?" and then you think, "No" and see what's on CNBC. Or Fox News. Anything.
Race walking. Rhythmic gymnastics. Even Kayaking, which you might perk up for expecting whitewarer rapids, turns out to be a straight line dash on flat, open water, ie track with oars.
On down the line through the list of sports which, through no fun- err, fault - of their own, are way, WAY too dull to watch and you know it going in.
So I don't feel cheated by those events.
I feel cheated - robbed - by Tae Kwon Doh. Because it dresses itself up like a mix of wrestling(maybe the Olympics' best sport), boxing and Bruce Lee. The competitors take the floor with more armor on than a 1st Cav patrol in Baghdad - big helmets, flak jackets that surround the entire torso, huge gloves, all over traditional white marital arts robes
It is, to be sure, the equipment of a sport designed to hurt somebody.
And for 10 minutes, they face each other, bounce endlessly in place, take turns throwing a foot in the air, fall over like bad ballerinas, run out of bounds, bounce a whole lot more, draw mystifying penalties and then the clock runs out and the winning American, Steve Lopez, starts in with his best Crash Stephenson impression.
Huh? In 10 minutes of Gold-medal deciding Tae Kwon Doh, very nearly nothing happened.
The only bright spot was the announcer, who grabbed the title of worst honk of the games from boxing's Teddy Atlas. When Lopez bounced his Turkish opponent into a corner of the mat and landed a leg to the umpire-chest plate, the announcer let loose with a "Bang! Take that home with ya!"
Evidently, a similar kick landed in an earlier bout by Lopez had "kicked his opponent down the ramp" leading to the mat. That would have been cool. But all I saw was one akward leg-slap, endless stalling and a lot of bouncing.
If I ran the Olympics, I would take a page from Jackie Chan and force one of the competitors to compete with skis on his feet while the other must complete the match without waking up a mat-side, light-sleeping panther.
On a crashing blimp.

During diving, which the Americans tanked in, they showed a Chinese guy and said, "This is his third Olympics and this is a special one because today is his 25th birthday."
I took that at face value, but Mandy almost immediately said, "Wouldn't the last two Olympics have been on his birthday, too?"
She may not know how to pronouce "Iverson" but Mandy brings some heat to any telecast.

"How will he meet his God when he has slaughtered so many people," - an Iraqi soccer player when asked about the Bush campaign's use of his country's Olympics success in a campaign ad. Same guy went on to say - echoing several teammates - that he would be fighting with the resistance if not playing soccer.
And all that aside, even if everything was a roaring success over in Tigris-Euphrates land, doesn't it strike anyone as deeply disturbing that the President of the United States wanted - maybe still wants - to go to the Olympics to watch a) a soccer game that b) wasn't the US?
I mean, even if you LOVE dubya, a Texan watching soccer?
I haven't seen any other heads of state show up for any event of their OWN athletes - and yet dubya wanted to go watch the Iraqis play soccer.
If he said, "I wanna go meet Amanda Beard," son, let me get my hat, I'll come wit'chee. But to watch some other country's soccer team? A land we currently, violently occupy?
Just put on a toga, call yourself Caesar and be done with it.

Anybody see a better moment than that Moroccon win the 1500 meters? Apparently the guy was the absolute international Hammer of the last 10 years in the 1500. Best ever at the distance (which is as close to the Mile as they get nowadays).
Only, he'd tripped and fallen in Atlanta and got out-touched down the stretch by a Kenyan in Sydney. He owned every title and record available except The Big One.
So as the race started, his teammate, who was supposed to go out as a rabbit, got boxed in and was nowhere to be seen. That was bad, cuz apparently this Morrocan wins by going out fast and holding on. But for 3 laps, he had to pick off the Kenyans at the front, work his way through the pack and finally took over the lead with a lap to go.
And with a fast-looking Kenyan right on his heels. Around the back stretch, the two of them pull away and on the last turn up comes the Kenyan. Down the last 100, the Kenya comes out, edges his shoulders ahead, pushes past the Moroccon and then...
Incredibly, the Moroccon re-surges forward, the Kenyan goes slack in defeat and the Moroccon wins by a stride.
One of sports rarest things - to be caught from behind in the stretch and then to retake the lead.
Finally, called to the Main Stage. Just awesome.

Are you kidding about the basketball uniforms? Are you SERIOUS? If you didn't see it live, the US Basketball team showed up with the wrong uniforms for the Bronze game. Now, by late afternoon, NBC and the officials were spinning at as "bad information for both teams" - yet, when it happened, they pointed out that Lithuania was the designated home team, and should wear white. The Americans, designated as visitors, had brought white uniforms to the game.
So when it happened, it was clear, and clearly reported, who had screwed up.
The hours-later rewrite that it was some inevitable glitch was just that - a rewrite.
Just another bright moment.

Let's see - to the list that now includes LeBron James, the Olson Twins and Lindsay Lohan, we can now add Michael Phelps. I've always said I believe the children are the future.

If you missed the Trampoline event, boy... you missed it.
Probably the highlight of the event was, when the studio host said, "let's go to the trampoline competition," Mandy immediatly said, "Whatever sportsbra they're using, I want that one."
So the stage was set.
What then occurred was just a clinic in jaw-dropping failure. Either trampoline jumping is really hard (my limited experience, and a few viewings of slamball, suggests otherwise), or these girls were just terrible.
In essencse, it's all back at the gymnastics facility, but this is clearly not even the JV of that world. The little girls run out on the middle of this HUGE trampoline and start bouncing straight up and down and are getting circus-crazy heights. Their feet are like 20 or 25 feet off the ground on every bounce. Then they start flipping around through a series of moves and then...
They crash.
I don't know if that's required, but I think so. I only watched - which is to say, i could only bring myself to watch - 3 competitors, but it was the same - they'd be in the middle of the tramp, do a giant 4X double twist flip 30 feet in the air, land slightly off-center, careen back up on obviously a bad trajectory, realize they were heading for disaster, flap their arms for balance in the air and WHAM - right on the side.
Absolutely awesome.

Living in Russia must be like living in the South. You only get two flavors of women: Drop dead knockouts and run-and-hide beasts. Check out their 4X400 team. Or the volleyball team. Or the gymnastics team, not counting Big Bird, the anorexic blonde.
Same with the Greeks. Check out the 4X400 tonight. All or nothing.

Loved the pole vault. Loved "Crash" Stephenson. Loved his helmet. All Olympians should be like that. Brash, loud, fearless (except for the helmet, I guess) and, in the end, joyfull. Of course, if I was anywhere close to the Olympics I'd be exactly like Crash's teammate (who, in the end, won Gold) - eyes ahead, count to 10, both hands on the wheel. It would be the only way to keep from mentally disintegrating.
In fact, that's like my job now - watch anytime I do a freefall jump. There will always be one or two guys jumping around, "whoo, here we go baby!" and I'll be on the ramp with that "It'll be over in 2 minutes - either way"-look on my face.
No doubt - I'd be a boring Olympian.

All obvious problems, and comic mistakes, aside, Allen Iverson has been terrific. On court, he hustled after loose balls, created shots, never quit (arguably, none of the US players did - they just got beat) and, most important, showed great sportsmanship. Off court, he was respectful but proud, didn't complain or make excuses and appeared genuinely invested in trying to win. After winning the Bronze game, he gave one of the most dignified post-game interviews imaginable. Called the entire experience an "honor." Good for him.
You can probably say the same for all of the American players, but he's the public face. In fact, I think he gets the Gold in "Public Relations Nightmares That Didn't Materialize," barely edging the Greek government and Athens' infrastructure.
(I personally never considered "terror attack" a reasonable threat, so it's not eligible).

Once again I'm reminded that traditional volleyball remains the best game on earth. Beach volleyball is a pale shadow - and really, shouldn't it be called "sand volleyball?" Cuz that didn't look like a beach, and I KNOW there isn't one in Bejing for 08. Anyway, the real thing remains one of the best things to watch. Sure, it's the California rich-kid version of basketball, with freakish height being a prerequisite, but no other sport puts teamwork on such obvious display. Soaring talents always fall to the better team. You can know NOTHING about VB, and yet in 2 minutes you can easily figure out whether a team works well together or not.
And on that note, is it a fair corollary to say that if a sports is a) fun to watch and b) features a women's version with slutty outfits, Brazil will be a world power?
And on the beach volleyball front, Mandy on the women's outfits: "fucking ridiculous" (and seriously, where else is there a larger discrepancy between men's and women's dress? Maybe rap videos).

Speaking of Dubya, if he wins this year, can he AT LEAST throw an amendment onto "No Child Left Behind" so that among all the unfunded requirements laid on our public schools, every classroom in the country has to spend 5 minutes a day on "baton passing?" What other skill can we just surrender to the world? First math, then telemarketing, now this. It's getting ridiculous.

Why isn't India good at anything? That occured to me last night when i saw the Indian women actually qualify for the final in the 4X400. It struck me that this was the first time I'd even noticed an Indian Olympian.
The more I consider it, the less it makes sense. India has the second-largest population on earth. Yet while Jamaica and the Bahamas are track powers, the Aussies are so good in the pool, Cuba and Iran dominant in wrestling and boxing and Iraq in the top 4 for Soccer, India remains invisible.
I've thought of several reasons, but none hold up:
If you take the cynical, but evident, view that almost every Olympian in every sport from every country is, in some way, a million-to-one genetic freak, then India should have 1,200 Olympic-caliber athletes, three times as many as the US.
Now, certainly, the gene pool of middle-Asia is not the genetic reservoir of size and speed that, say, Brazil is. You could probably select any three square miles in Rio and extract from it an Olympic team better than, say, Ukraine's. But that clearly doesn't matter: look at China, Korea and Japan, countries without particularly well-suited genetics. They post accomplishments roughly commensurate with their populations (Korea and Japan, arguably, do more with less than any country on earth).
Geographically, India has advantages unmatched in the world - thousands of miles of coastline (like swimming-power Australia) and some of the highest population centers, in the Himalayas, of any nation on earth, which should produce excellent endurance athletes. On top of that, almost none of India has a 'winter' climate - so none of its athletic talent gets drained away into, say, hockey or skiing.
Other sports? Too much emphasis on Cricket? Please... In America, what football doesn't weed out, weed, Playstation and pregnancy does. Nobody comes to more forks in the road than American Olympians.
How about economics? Do you need a thick middle class and decent health care to produce a sports power? Well, India is a democracy and has enough money to start a nuclear war. Money isn't the problem. And consider China, where the majority of the population lives in pre-Industrial countryside, yet still produces specimens like Yao Ming. Just today, the Chinese are in the gold medal game for women's volleyball and last night one of the men won the 110M hurdles by DAYLIGHT (tying a world record that's stood since 1993). Daylight? In a 110M? A Chinese guy? He was probably 2 full meters ahead of the American in second place. That has to rank on the short list of all-time amazing track accomplishments, right there with the last guy I know of to win a short sprint by daylight, Jesse Owens.
If a Chinese guy can win the Olympic hurdles by 2 strides, India should be good at SOMETHING. It is politically stable, socially liberal and has large centers of wealth. And, of course, it has the second largest population on earth. There's GOT to be a Michael Phelps in there somewhere.
Every other country with even half of those advantages is a major power. The Chinese are good at EVERYTHING. The Russians are good at everything (which extends to the Winter Games). The Brazilians are good at everything. And, yes, even WE are good at everything, as long as you don't count basketball and baseball. And that about covers it for the world's population centers - except for India.
So where are they? I just don't see any plausible excuse.

Fun facts: This very month, the city of Montreal, Canada paid off the last dime on it's last debt stemming from the 1976 Olympics - 28 years later. Thanks for the show, Athens, and good luck with your school system!

Among your top 10 or so US athletes has to be Cael Sanderson, the only undefeated college wrestler in American history (question: is that record a reflection of Sanderson's skill or the deflated state of college wrestling - I need you REACTION!!!). This is his first Olympics, in freestyle wrestling. Apparently, he couldn't go to the '01 world championships because of 9/11 and couldn't go to the '02 worlds because they were in Iran and the Bush administration wouldn't let us send a team (one Olympic email, 3 shots at Dubya - thankee). Last year at the '03 Worlds, he got silver, to a Cuban - his second loss to that Cuban.
In other words: Every College Wrestler in America 0, One Cuba 2.
Cael beat the same guy in the semis today, though. I'll be rooting for him because - well, because no sport reliably produces epic Olympic moments like wrestling - Americans versus Iranians in 84, Kurt Angle in 96, Rulon Gardner '00.
I've said it before, but no sport demands more than wrestling, and hence, no athletes come more emotionally unglued, in either direction, when they win or lose.
But I really like Cael cuz back when he was closing in on the undefeated career at Iowa State, I read a profile of him that talked about the time the ISU sports info people asked him what song he wanted played over the PA when he took the mat.
The Greatest Wrestler That Ever Lived chose "Believe" by Cher.
After a few matches, the staff changed it to AC/DC or something, but in the profile he stood by it: "I don't care. That's a good song."
Cael, I Believe, too! Get some!

My beef with Israeli politics certainly does not extend to their Olympic team. In fact, as a population, no one deserves a national shot of feel-good Olympic drama more than the Israeli people. I sincerely wish they had the athletic successes that we do. Or even that India does.
But if your nation is going to win it's first-ever Gold of any kind, can you really look yourself in the mirror if it's for wind surfing?

And finally - 45 mintues to kickoff in Blacksburg! Goodbye Olympics, hello AP Poll! Last year was fun, and a final nod of respect to LSU. But as another proud USC product, who I like to call George Lucas, once put it:
"They'll be no one to stop us this time!"

Monday, January 10, 2005

Book Review

We learn in the first paragraph of
Christopher Buckley's latest book
, just released in paperback, that his fictional President of the United States refers to sessions of sex with one of his many mistresses not as such, but instead as when "congress is in session."

Such plays on words, along with crisp innuendos, ionispheric hieghts of hyperbole and direct, vicious stabs at Dan Rather, are just a few of the countless gifts Buckley gives his reader in "No Way To Treat A First Lady." It's thin and gratutiously margined, and I read the whole thing on a 5 hour flight (my first of two of that length today - and if you've got an empty hour and would like to have it filled with a frothing tirade against the "system" that alledgedly "secures" our grossly undeserving airlines, call me at any hour of the night or day and I'll hook you right up. Back to Buckley)

The book opens with the President, a more or less Clinton-like occupant, sawing away at a Hollywood bimbo in the Lincoln bedroom. Once done, he returns to the First Lady, just down the hall, and She Knows. They fight. The next morning, the President wakes up dead.
And soon enough, the First Lady is charged not just with murder, but assassination.
She then calls the nation's best trial lawyer, who she has a Past with, and whose nickname is "Shameless."
And off it goes.

If you know of Buckley - and I hope you do through at least his masterpiece, Thank You For Smoking - than suffice to say you're in for more of the same. You might also recognize him from his Shouts and Murmurs pieces in the New Yorker (if that rings a bell, are you familiar a piece whose name I've forgotten but might have been called "Kim Il Jung: Stand Up Comic"? Was that not the funniest collection of cognitive thoughts ever put to paper?).
If you don't know Buckley, then what he offers better than anyone else in the world is two skills: one, an unbelievable eye for the Inside Baseball world of Washington DC and the media around it (he has some stellar political credentials and I don't know them but he thanks "George '41' Bush" in the notes for helping him with the White House research, so there's some evidence for ya); two, though it looks like Washington DC, the actual canvas Buckley is working on are characters possessed of hyper-egos - everyone from the dead Pres to the repellent TV people (including Dan Rather) is a seething, horrible egomaniac. The women are unprincipled scheming slut-bitches, the men blind zealots to one cause or another, usually their own ambition. But that's Buckley's Deal. Afterall, the heroes of Thank You For Smoking were Public Relations directors for the Tobacco, Alcohol and Firearms industries.
Buckley's hyper-jaded world is not funny because, after the slut actress is humiliated on the witness stand, the press corps follows her to her hotel hoping for pictures or an interview. No, his world is funny because they follow her there hoping she'll swandive off her seventh floor balcony.

He offers hilariously overheated court exchanges and even more vapid commentary from TV's talking heads. The 'action' sequences of the book are about evenly divided between vicious swipes at either the OJ trial or all-things-Monica.

The book has 2 flaws, neither of which are really Buckley's fault and neither of which matter much. First, its too funny: by, say, chapter 3, Buckley has hit you with so many great jokes so rapidly that you've grown immune. You're aware the entire previous paragraph was hilarious, you just can't laugh anymore.
Second, though the book is no more a "murder mystery" than was, say, Steve Martin's Dead Men Don’t' Wear Plaid, it DOES suffer from the Achilles Heel of that genre: the endings always - ALWAYS - stretch fiction past its tensile strength. It was true for Raymond Chandler's hard nosed gumshoes, it's true for Buckley's raving lunatics of parody: to begin a mystery novel is to know you're going to end it knee deep in "oh-gimme-a-break"s.
Oh well - buy your ticket, take your ride, I guess.

NFL - Peyton's Arrival

(Reprinted from '03)

not to overstate it, but the Monday Night Game that
just got done about 30 seconds ago has to be one of
the most startling television shows in history. i'm
not sure what on earth to think. it featured:
- depending on your definition of 'comeback,' the
greatest comeback in NFL history (more later on why),
culminating in OT, won by a drive that started at the
opponents 3 yardline.
- a referee decision so poor that it almost defies any
explaination besides a blatant fix.
- consumate, top of the industry pro Al Michaels
coming absolutely apart on the air.

So the onfield stuff:
Super Bowl champs Tampa Bay, with the best NFL defense
in a decade, led the Colts 35-14, at home, with 4
minutes to play. Read that again, just to be clear
how wrapped up this game was.
Led by Payton Manning - and coach Tony Dungy, who
the Bucs fired 2 years ago - the Colts came all the
way back to tie. According to ABC, no team in NFL
history had EVER comeback from 21 points down in 4
minutes - considering the opponent, a solid case for
greatest comeback ever.
Almost as a sidenote, we can fairly say that Payton
Manning has Arrived.
In the overtime, after a TB punt, Manning started
at the 3 yard line, and drove the Colts downfield,
converting three third-downs with passes over the
middle. From the 20-yardline, they trotted out their
kicker, who statistically never misses.
And he shanked it.
And then - NOW GET THIS - a flag came in for
UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT on Tampa Bay's Simeon Rice on
the play. The replay showed rice lined up 5 yards
behind the line, running forward, leaping to block the
kick (missing by a mile), landing more or less on the
line of scrimage among his teammates. End of play.

He was not aided in his leap, did not affect the play,
and when he landed his "contact" was with his own
teammates and consisted of just a small bump against a
lineman to keep from falling over. An utterly,
totally unremarkable and typical play.
And he got flagged for it.
The rulebook, as Madden read it a few seconds
later, says if you run forward and jump for a block,
you can't make "contact" with other players when you
land. Now, I don't watch the line of scrimmage on
field goals too often, but there was nothing about the
play even remotely beligerent, unfair, unsafe or
unusual about what Rice did. He jumped up, landed on
his feet in the middle of his teammates, arms out and
draping over the linemen - and, NONE of it affected
the kick, which the guy just flat missed. I have to
believe that, if enforced, that rule would invalidate
at least 70 percent of all field goals ever kicked.
If ANYBODY thinks the NFL is fixed, you now have as
close to a smoking gun as you'll ever get.

Rekick and - here it comes - the guy HITS THE
the greatest comeback of all time capped by the
cheapest win i ever saw.

Finally, in the midst of this, Al Michaels - the
definitive calm professional in an industry of heavy
breathers - goes nuts. "ARE YOU KIDDING? WHAT WAS
THAT?! THIS IS UNBELIEVABLE?!?!??!" Comes apart
pleading the Bucs case the way, oh, say, I would if I
was rooting for the Bucs.
i've never heard Michaels get seriously flustered,
but he was in a rage on this one. He was so incensde,
he pretty much ignored the winning kick.

just an all-around staggering spectacle.

And for what it's worth: manning can play.