Saturday, August 9, 2008

THERE'S SOMETHING YOU SHOULD KNOW. I AM NOT LEFT-HANDED: Hurrah to the United States Women's Fencing team who swept the medal stand in individual sabre. In a threat below, commenter CW notes her own experience at Notre Dame with back-to-back gold medalist Mariel Zagunis.
YOU KNOW THE RULES, AND SO DO I: A message from Barack Obama.
"MAD SOLID": Via frequent commenter Russ, please note that The Office has released 4 webisodes, which you can find here. Check out (on the same page) the short one about Angela's disappointment about being excluded from the webisodes and one summarizing Jim and Pam's relationship.

I'll confess that the episodes did not really seem all that funny to me. In particular, the final chapter sort of peters out in the end.

Another drawback (true of everything on the NBC website) is that you have to sit through a short commercial before every clip.

YOUNG HEARTS RUN FREE: In light of the enthusiastic response to Isaac’s recent post about fear among parents letting their children just run outside and play and mine about the Pan-Mass Challenge, I thought I would share two related stories that I would normally not share in this forum.

Since the end of the school year, a friend named Paul and I have been organizing a weekly informal pickup baseball game for boys and girls aged 8 to 12. Anyone who shows up gets to play. Each of these games has been loads of fun. We have had many children who have never played before and a few children who may well catch the eye of college scouts one day.

I just reserve a field, split the kids into reasonably equal teams, and pitch (to keep the game moving quickly). The kids do almost everything else by themselves. We usually get about 20-24 kids to show up, although the cast varies from week to week. We all have a wicked good time.

While there is obviously a little more structure to this than the “spontaneous” pickup baseball games of my youth, this is about as unstructured a game as you will find these days. One other “freedom” related theme I have noticed as the summer has progressed is that at the start of the summer nearly all of the kids were driven to the field by their parents, who would stay and watch the games, as is common here for Little League games. Now, about half the children walk or bike on their own to the field (I do stick around after the games to make sure everyone has a way to get home). I guess what I am trying to say is that these games have turned out to be sort of liberating for both the kids and their parents.

At this week’s game, I saw D. and R., twins who had played on one of my baseball teams this spring. They had missed many of the pickup games recently. They ran over to me at the start of the game and gave me hugs. Then they handed me an envelope.

Puzzled, I opened it and read the card inside. It turns out that the twins had heard about my ride in the Pan-Mass Challenge and had decided to raise money by selling lemonade for 25 cents a cup. They had managed to raise $50, which they donated to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute on my behalf. Their mother’s best friend (whom I don’t even know) had matched the $50 donation. I am searching the thesaurus for a word to describe my reaction, but the best I can do is to say that I was simply awestruck by their kind and generous gesture.

GLORY DAYS: Mrs. Earthling lettered in badminton in high school. This morning, we are reliving the glory days. Right now, a fine match in Women's, between Indonesia and Germany.

Friday, August 8, 2008

OH LOOK, THERE'S THAT HARMONY SYMBOL AGAIN. SEE? WE ARE A HARMONIOUS PEOPLE! I've been kind of half-watching the Opening Ceremonies so far tonight (meaning that I had them on with closed-captioning while I was at the gym). My main reaction so far is awe at the fact that thousands of years of Chinese cultural history have come together at this moment to show the world the grandeur of one of those Sharper Image desk gizmos where you push your face into a bed of nails whilst on the other side the pushed nails form the image on your face. I liked when the people underneath the blocky things popped up and waved to the crowd -- look, Ma, no nails!

Now that I am home and preparing to fast-forward up to the fireworks (which, from the photos I saw today, looked to be pretty spectacular) and then the parade of nations, I would like to share with all of you the question I will be asking myself throughout the triumphant entrance of thousands of athletes representing a couple hundred nations into the Birds' Nest: will a single one of these countries have chosen to outfit its female athletes in either a Wonder Woman sans the Wonder cocktail dress or a Mairzy Doats big floppy hat for the grand cavalcade?

edited to add: I'm sorry, did an announcer just say that China has plans to put a man on the moon by 2024? They can make 2007 lime green costumes in a week, but it's going to take them another 16 years to get to the moon?
THIS! IS! THE O-LYM-PIC THEME SONG! YOU! ARE! WATCHING THE GAMES ON NBC! (See, folks, it does have words.) We're going to pretend like the Olympic opening ceremonies didn't actually start twelve hours ago, and we're all set to liveblog this mofo. As I wrote four years ago:
Opening ceremonies are one of those ridiculously self-important and over-the-top things that, well, I'm glad we do them every couple of years. Because if you had an unlimited budget to tell the story of your country, how would you tell it?
Tonight, let's see how China presents itself to a skeptical world.


From occasional commentor Finch:

You wouldn't know it to look at me - although you might have guessed it 35 pounds ago - but I'm a big fan of good food and drink. When I go on vacation, I could give a damn about sightseeing or the pool, I just want to know where the good restaurants are. I was the guy at the office who had dining recommendations for every city where the company did business. I got into wine at 23, scotch at 24, and had a brief fling with three-martini lunches at 26 (it ended quickly - I kept passing out after lunch).
When I moved to South Carolina three years ago, I started throwing myself into the local cuisine. I learned to make biscuits and gravy, chicken-fried steak, cobblers, grits, and any number of things containing okra. But I didn't get into Southern drinks. This was mainly a function of laziness; one can buy beer and wine at the grocery store in SC, but the liquor store requires an additional stop. If you want a store with a decent selection, well, that's a forty-minute drive from where I live. Add to that my grad-student budget and the fact that my girlfriend that first year wouldn't drink anything besides beer (and didn't like many beers besides Natty Light, but that's a story for another time), and I was an unhappy gourmand, beverage-wise.

Last summer, my then-girlfriend (and now-fiancee) and I had spent the day in Greenville, and decided to splurge on dinner at one of the nicer places downtown. We sat at the bar, and when the bartender came to take our drink order, I asked for a "good Summer drink." "A mint julep it is!" he responded. Halfway through my first, I was hooked. My kitchen has had a bottle of bourbon ever since.

Now, there are a lot of ways to make a mint julep. Some folks like to use seltzer water, some folks like plain tap. Some folks muddle the mint leaves until they're paste, others barely bruise the leaves. Auric Goldfinger, apparently, liked his with sour mash. Personally, I like to get my mint and sugar into the water beforehand - it may not be a "Proper Mint Julep," but I get a sweet, minty syrup that I can mix with bourbon for a julep, or with rum and lime for a mojito.

An Improper Mint Julep
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, plus extra sprigs for garnish
1 cup water
bourbon to taste

Put the sugar and mint in a small saucepan. Stir the ingredients briefly - this will get more of the oil out of the mint, and mix it witht the sugar. Add the water, and heat the mixture over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Pour the mint syrup into another container, straining out the mint leaves, and chill for at least an hour.

Fill an Old-Fashioned glass with ice (preferably crushed, but this is, after all, an "improper" julep). Pour bourbon over the ice, followed by the mint syrup (I use roughly a 2:1 proportion of bourbon to syrup). Add a sprig of mint, and stir. For best results (on non-Derby days, anyway), sip slowly whilst sitting on your veranda just as the sun is setting.

Makes enough syrup for eight good-sized juleps
"IF WE HAVE A NAME, I THINK WE WANT TO BE CALLED THE SUPER SIX": Just as figure skating is the marquee attraction in the Winter Games, gymnastics is the main event for the summer games. Commenter Taylor (catchphrase: "deal with it! ") has us covered:
The chances of USA Gymnastics winning big are only matched by their personalities this year - great fodder for melodramatic hometown hero introductions and Magnificent Seven comparisons. Even more ready-for-primetime: for both the men and women's teams, it's a showdown between the US and China.

Things are a shaken up on both sides of Team USA. Paul Hamm took himself out of the running after his hand injury continued to plague him. Too bad, as Hamm could have used the opportunity to win gold without the scoring controversy.

Enter eternal alternate Raj Bhavsar, who after being denied the trip to Athens four years ago, started his own intense training schedule and zen regimen worthy of Bruce Wayne. When he was named alternate (yet again), Raj talked a lot about the intrinsic reward of working hard. It's a nice sentiment, but he deserved to be named in the first place. When you see what Raj Bhavsar can do on rings, you too will want one of the iconic t-shirts his cheering section wears (Go Team Raj!). Former world champ and US secret weapon Chellsie Memmel [spelling property of SYTYCD -- ed.] injured her ankle on Sunday, but she's not out, especially considering her strongest event is uneven bars. If necessary, her likely replacement is Jana Bieger. "Bieger bars" are big and powerful, but maybe not enough.

Once the team match is over, the rest of the women's team will all but disappear under a barrage of Shawn vs. Nastia, middle American firecracker vs. Russian Olympic champ DNA, power vs. grace, etc., etc. I want to scorn the the effervescent, baby-faced Shawn Johnson for already being deemed America's next sweetheart, her face plastered on Coke cans. I can't bring myself to do it, the girl's got supernatural talent. In every event, she is either alone in her difficulty or tied with the world's best. Her giants on the uneven bars are somehow twice as tall as she is. She hits every routine, every single time.

But Nastia Liukin, the daughter of an gold medal Soviet gymnast (who is also her coach), is far more entertaining to watch. She's not as perfectly consistent and her mistakes are often caused when she pushes herself to perform beyond her technical skills. Nastia has a stage actor's presence on floor, and rarely sacrifices form in any of the apparati. Plus her difficulty value on uneven bars is a full point and fourth tenths above Shawn's - she's a curve wrecker.

I can't not mention Alicia Sacramone [please join me in nicknaming her "Ginny" – ed.], who strikes me as a person fully enjoying being wiser, self-possessed, and totally over the bullshit after a Raj-like disappointment in 2004. She's unofficial team big sis and has the most exciting floor routine and beam dismount of the whole team.

Then there's the very real international threats of Romanian Steliana Nistor, Jade Barbosa from Brazil, and the entire Chinese team. China's specialists (Yang Yilin on bars, already Olympian Cheng Fei on vault, Jiang in the all-around) may not catch up to Johnson or Lukin, but the tiny even-for-gymnastics crew with a hometurf advantage could sweep the team match. Expect soul-searching but pointless narratives from NBC about the harshness of the Chinese gymnastics machine, especially after reports of possible fudging of half the team's ages.

On the commentary side, Bela Karolyi will again be joining Bob Costas on the floor for intros. Watch as Costas' face slides into panic and amusement as he tries to interpret Karoyli's verbal and literal jazz hands. And sending millions of people to their mute buttons during the meets will be Al Trautwig, who wins my personal Fred Willard Prize for most inane sports commentary. (Some of my favorites Al quips from the trials: "It's amazing that the US can send a man of Chinese descent to the Beijing Olympics!" and "Lives are changing here tonight in Philadelphia: some with fate, some with destiny." "She is a super-competitive young lady!" No shit, Al.)

Team prelims are on Saturday and Sunday, with the finals on Monday and Tuesday. After that, the all-around and event competitions begin. In a move of staggering but probably correct assumption about their demographic, Oxygen is hosting an daily roundup of gymnastic competition in the evenings.
(ETA by Taylor: [After press time], Morgan Hamm injured his ankle and is out as well. Raj can't even save the men's chances now.)
SYNTAX STRANGE USES HE: Inspired by many comments on this blog and in private e-mail messages after I referred to Yoda's famous aphorism in my recent piece about the Pan-Mass Challenge, it struck me that some of you might want to weigh in on what Yoda really meant when he said:
"Do or do not. There is no try."
To me, the words echo the spirit of people like Lance Armstrong, Larry Bird at his prime, or Dave Roberts at a key moment in 2004, people who simply get the job done no matter what. I don't think that mine is necessarily the consensus view, but rather than trying to paraphrase the thoughts of others, I'll hereby open up the comments section for all of you.
I CANNOT THINK OF A CLEVER TITLE FOR THIS ONE: What songs inspire the good in you? Is it more the case that you happen to hear them and then are inspired or do you actually seek them out as inspiration?

I'm not really thinking specifically of "psych up" songs such as music you might play before an athletic event, although I am by no means meaning to exclude such songs. Instead, I'm thinking of songs that guide and encourage you in connection with your long-term approach to life.

The five songs that come to mind in this regard for me are (in no particular order):
Interesting that all five came out around the same time. Perhaps it was because they arrived at a time when I was trying in my ham-handed adolescent way to figure out a personal philosophy?

To answer the second question I posed above, I rarely seek them out specifically. Yesterday, for example, I played "Harvest for the World" when I learned that a friend of a friend had passed away. "Harvest for the World" is a favorite song of that friend.

But each time I hear these songs I feel inspired.
DON'T TELL ME WHAT I CAN'T DO! No major surprises in last night's SYTYCD finale in terms of either content or outcome, but that's not really the point. It was fun. Fun to see:
  • Judges dancing! I got a huge kick out of all the other judges falling all over themselves demanding to dance on the show next season.
  • Debbie Allen making fun of Lil C's don't-you-dare-call-me-articulate speaking style.
  • A reprisal of the "Five Guys Named Moe" dance -- which I had kind of forgotten about but which was definitely one of the best routines of the season. (Twitch as "Four-Eyed Moe" makes me giggle every time.) And, of course, the pas de deux sans whatever-the-French-word-is-for-minor-fuckup-on-the-turn.
  • I know that people around here differ as to their views on the Twitch/Katee door dance (which I love), but can we all agree that the Sonja/Mark/Courtney "The Garden" dance is one of the undeniable highlights of this season? For me, that was the moment that solidified the facts that (a) Mark deserved to make it as far as he did and (b) Courtney was more than a Knicks City Dancer.
  • Speaking of Courtney -- does Cat not know the difference between New Jersey and Long Island? I mean, it's a subtle distinction, but still.
  • Total fun to see all the dancers from the prior seasons, but where's Sabra? And what did Nick and Melody do to Nigel such that their names have been erased from the book of life?
  • And even though it was a fait accompli that our final two would be our final two and thus there was no real surprise, it was nice to see a final two (and a final four, and a final six, and so forth) that was so supportive of each others' efforts. And Joshua? A class act, as always.

I will confess that between four hours of SYTYCD and three hours of AI tour this week, I am a little burned out on all things 19E related. And so without further comment, I say toodle-loo to another dance-filled summer -- see ya next year.

SOON TO COME: "I AM WEALTHY," "I AM LOADED," AND "I AM ROLLING IN IT" : Apparently, 8 people purchased a nearly featureless iPhone app called "I Am Rich" for the princely sum of $999 before Apple shut it down.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

SHE'S STILL NO EDDIE FEIGNER: As part of our blog's mission to bring you a constant variety of sport, regular commenter KarenNM brings us up to speed on the Olympic softball competition:
The USA Softball team has pretty much crushed every opponent over the last 15 years, and are the favorites for their fourth straight gold medal. That’s the good news. The bad news is that another dominating run may be a death sentence for the sport. In 2005 the IOC voted softball out of the Olympics, starting in 2012, saying it doesn’t have a true global following. Many suspect that some IOC members confused the sport with baseball, who was also voted out because major league players don’t participate in the games (the steroid thing didn’t help either). Others think that both baseball and softball were voted out because of anti-American feelings on the part of individual IOC members. Regardless, this may be the last time around for the sport on the international stage.

Now, you may be asking, can the US really lose? It’s a possibility – other countries are catching up, and the most likely cases for an upset are Canada and Japan, and they are feeling the pressure to take advantage of a last chance for a gold. Japan has two silvers, and they won the 2005 World Cup, beating the US 3-1 in that gold medal game. Canada has also taken down the US a couple times, though the US beat them 9-5 in their only preview game this summer. (Canadian trivia - their #1 pitcher, Lauren Bay Regula is the sister of new Red Sox outfielder Jason Bay.) If you’re looking for lots of home runs, watch the US play Venezuela, The Netherlands, or Chinese Taipei. Those three teams were the last qualifiers into the Olympics, and probably won’t put up much of a fight for the US offense.

Softball is all about the pitching, so the one person you won’t be able to avoid over the next two weeks is Jennie Finch. She’s tall! She’s blond! She was ESPNs “hottest female athlete” in 2003! She turned down Playboy! She is the face of USA Softball, but luckily she’s also a pretty good athlete. She consistency throws in the high 60s-low 70s (miles per hour), which roughly equates to a 90 mph fastball, and her ball moves. Watch for her rise ball – it really does go UP.

The voice of conscience on the team belongs to Jessica Mendoza. She’s the starting left-fielder, has the prettiest swing in softball, two degrees from Stanford, is president-elect of the Women’s Sports Foundation and an outspoken member of Team Darfur. She’s one of those people that makes me feel like a total slacker for not doing more with my life. But instead of going out and improving the world over the next two weeks, I will probably be plunked down in front of my couch, watching softball. The US will be on each night on CNBC (prime-time on the west coast!), so you can always flip over during breaks in gymnastics or beach volleyball to catch a little of the game.
THAT'S A DEBATE I'D WATCH: EW talks to Barack Obama and John McCain about the issues that matter to this blog--popcultural ones. Find out who Obama's girls and McCain's wife allegedly supported for Idol, what Michelle Obama's favorite cable channel is, John McCain's forbidden love for ABBA and the "Yes We Can" video, and which one has seen a movie in the theatre more recently.
TWO MINUTES OF DANCING THAT WILL MAKE YOU FEEL HAPPY: Check out this video! I want to learn to dance like these guys.
YOU'RE THE BIGGEST BLUBBERER ON THIS SHOW! The highlights of last night's final competitive SYTYCD show are as follows.
  1. The long overdue return of Wade Robson. I was relieved to discover that he hadn't had some sort of falling out with Nigel, but rather was simply trapped in Las Vegas choreographing something or another.
  2. Cat's breezy rapport with all four finalists during the interview segments. (Heidi Klum. Grr.)
  3. Joshua's oh-my-God-does-he-have-springs-in-his-shoes leaps in the air during the Russian dance. (Not to mention the fact that when he and Twitch started trying to prove who could jump higher, I'm pretty sure that Joshua jumped higher than Twitch's head.)
  4. Seeing the total and unmaskable exhaustion on the faces and bodies of the final four when the show wrapped up, a mere five dances-per-person later.

And, well, that's kind of it. Not that the rest of the show wasn't enjoyable -- I liked most of the routines well enough, everyone danced them well, and so forth -- but these weren't best-ofs. The foxtrot wasn't the best foxtrot of the season (choreography or performance), the jive wasn't the best jive of the season, and so forth. (Ok, fine, this was the best Russian trepak we have ever seen on SYTYCD, I'll give them that one.)

Seems to me that this is a contest between the boys -- my money is on Joshua, just for overall versatility and personality. But the only outcome that would genuinely surprise me would be a Courtney win. Katee's the most technically accomplished, and Twitch is, well, Twitch.

A brief plug for tonight's results show: for those who have not watched a SYTYCD finale before, I highly recommend it. Unlike AI finales, which tend to be mostly filler with some results towards the end, the SYTYCD folks usually put on a great show, chock full of every great performance from the entire season. I understand that giving Joshua and Twitch a joint hip-hop routine would have been stacking the deck just a smidge last night, but I'm hoping that maybe they'll sneak something in tonight. (And, for the YDA fans who have been sneaking in and lambasting us lately, let me point out that the Jonas Brothers are apparently performing tonight. ooooh. ahhhh.)

'SCUSE ME WHILE I FLUB THIS SONG: From time to time, I hear what I will call anomalies in pop songs. Flubbed lyrics, seemingly incorrect notes being played on instruments, and odd noises in the background. This site offers a nice overview of many such anomalies, as does this one. Fans of the Beatles will want to check out this mind-numbingly complete list of errors in songs of the Beatles.

My favorite? During the instrumental break of the song "Wendy" by the Beach Boys, at the 1:19 mark, there is an unmistakable cough in the background. Let's just say that I listened to that song many, many times as a lad.

I'd normally provide links to many of these songs, but it's often very hard to hear many of the errors unless you are listening to a CD either with headphones or with high quality speakers.
HOW MANY POTS HAVE YOU SMOKEN? So Carrie invited me to see a preview of The Pineapple Express two weeks ago, and while I get what they were trying to do, it's not upper echelon of the Apatovian universe.

Basically, the movie plays as though Seth Rogen and his friends saw every action-slash-comedy of the mid to late 80s -- films like Beverly Hills Cop, Fletch and Stakeout that mixed laughs with violence-filled climaxes -- and fantasized about starring in one themselves. So, yes, some of the stuff early on is really funny, especially James Franco waxing on about his bubbe ... and then it collapses towards the end because the all-action finale isn't quite over-the-top enough to be funny, and instead hits some misogynistic notes that are a bit uncomfortable.

In re Rogen: as I said last summer with Superbad, I might have been a lot cooler growing up had there been movie stars back then who looked like Jonah Hill and Seth Rogen. So I'm certainly rooting for his success. But it's time to see what else he can do other than play himself.

So, should you see it? If you were looking forward to it, then go. It's fun enough for most of its length. But it's not something I'd go out of my way to see.
HI, BRETT, LET'S GET DINNER. NO ... HEY, BRETT, FANCY RUNNING INTO YOU HERE -- WANNA HANG OUT? NO. UM, BRETT, WANNA COME OVER AND HELP ME WRITE MONDAY MORNING QB? IT'S GOING TO BE SO GREAT THAT YOU LIVE HERE TOO! I THINK I WET MYSELF: Favre to the Jets. This isn't going to work out well for either of them. The difference between the Favre you want and the Favre you don't is Greg Jennings's yards-after-catch.

What I really want to say, though, is the person who should be both happiest and most irritated is Jeff Garcia. He played well in an impossible situation in San Francisco -- following two Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks -- but never got any respect, getting shitcanned for a succession of truly awful QBs. He stepped into a tough situation in Philadelphia -- replacing an injured franchise player midway through the year -- and did nothing but save the season. He saved Jon Gruden's job in Tampa Bay with his Pro Bowl play and got rewarded with a training-camp attempt to acquire one of the most ill-fitting QBs imaginable for Tampa Bay's playbook. He even married a Playboy centerfold and still has to hear people say he's gay. That dude gets no respect.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

I WANT TO BE THE ONE TO WALK IN THE SUN: Sad news today from the music world, and particularly for the Philadelphians among us. Singer/songwriter Robert Hazard, he of "and the Heroes" fame and the minor new wave hit "Escalator of Life," has passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 59.

Hazard got his break back in September 1981 because he was playing at J.C. Dobbs on South Street the same night the Rolling Stones were in town to open the Tattoo You tour at JFK Stadium, and Kurt Loder (remember him?) decided to crash at Dobbs for post-concert refreshments. A rave article in Rolling Stone followed, then a record deal with RCA.

For the non-locals among us, Hazard should nevertheless be remembered because back in 1979, a fifteen-minute stretch of songwriting in a Delaware motel resulted in "Girls Just Want To Have Fun," which of course became one of the biggest hits in the world for Cyndi Lauper a few years later. Here's a 2007 performance of his with the Paul Green School of Rock of "Escalator of Life".
GUSHY FANGIRL THOUGH I MAY BE, I WILL CONTINUE TO LAVISH SNARK UPON THE DANCING POP TART: Having attended the SYTYCD tour last season, I considered myself to be something of an expert on 19 Entertainment's modus operandi for follow-on events. So I was a little surprised last night to find that the American Idol tour is a very different beast. Maybe it's a difference in mission -- the SYTYCD tour is pretty clearly just an opportunity to see your favorite dancers do all the good dances live on stage before they all return to whatever dancers do when they're not hugging Cat Deeley on live TV. And so this is what I expected from last night's AI event -- sort of a live greatest hits compilation from the season.

Instead, we watched ten mini-sets from each of the top ten performers -- three songs each (except that YDA got four and David Cook got five) -- with no additional structure except for an AI Gives Back performance from #5-10 right before intermission and a brief, seriously cheesy group sing at the end. Variety sees the AI tour as a post-show audition -- one last chance for the top ten to convince the fans that they should want to buy whatever albums they might subsequently release. As someone whose frequency of music purchases falls somewhere between "rarely" and "never," this notion was kind of lost on me. I don't care what kind of artist Syesha Mercado hopes to become -- I do want to see the performances I enjoyed on the show.

And so, the highlights, midlights, and nolights. (Here is a set list, if you care.)

Ouch: (1) In a class by herself, Ramiele Malubay. Perfunctory choreography, songs she'd never performed on the show, and a voice that cannot penetrate the background noise of fifteen thousand screaming David Archuleta fans. (2) The "Don't Stop the Music" group performance ending the show. Eek. I will never speak of this again. (3) Five or more (I lost count) of the performers announcing that their second number would be a slow song by saying "let's slow it down a little." What is this, a giant Purple Haze-DJ'ed record hop? Patter, people, patter!

Meh: Kristy Lee Cook. No one has trained her out of that swaying-kind-of-like-she's-on-her-beloved-ex-horse stance that characterized her performances throughout the show. And hm, she sings God Bless the USA second, but she's sitting down throughout . . . I wonder why . . . oh, wait, of course, she stands up on the "stand up!" line! Minus-ten for the choreographers, all of whom must be working on that other 19 Entertainment show.

Fine if not inspiring: (1) Brooke White. Wisely, she has chosen three songs involving instruments, so we don't need to see Brookie try to dance. Two pianos, a guitar, and no shoes. Bonus points for having Brooke at the piano rise from the floor -- clearly the Nassau Coliseum knows how to make a piano rise from the floor, as the Billy Joel "9 sold out shows -- 1998" banner hanging from the ceiling proves beyond a doubt. (2) Clifford the Crunchy Muppet. Has Leonard Cohen suddenly decided that people are no longer permitted to cover his songs? Inexplicably, there was no "Hallelujah" in the muppet's set. There was, however, a ukulele (give you one guess which song), as well as two guitar performances -- another wise choice not to fly solo without an instrument to hide behind. (3) Syesha Mercado. She hit her stride on the show as a Broadway performer, and now she's back to lower rent Whitney. (4) Chikezie. I think I'm not giving him full credit here, as I think he did a nice job, but as the #10 finisher, he led off the show and so I was confused as to what the format was supposed to be. Sometimes real life needs TiVo.

Solid: Carly Smithson. For some reason, the live arena setting highlighted the quality of her voice -- especially the upper part of her range -- in a way that televison didn't. (Oh, and by the way, arena rock is called arena rock because it definitely sounds better in arenas than other music does.) I still don't think that her #6 finish was a travesty of justice -- anything in the 4-6 range is more or less the same thing -- given that while her voice is great, her charisma is somewhat less so. This is as good a place as any to note that one of the unexpected aspects of the show was the display of cleavage. Apparently the tour takes a more generous view of decolletage than Fox does, and both Carly and Syesha took full advantage of the situation.

Wuz Robbed: Michael Johns. Did he really only finish eighth? Those who view the tour as a chance to see what the singers will do as artists probably disagree with me, but Michael Johns was one of the highlights of the show. He was one of the very few performers who really knew how to work the arena; he chose songs that the crowd was excited to hear; and he sang them well -- including the big Steven Tyler notes at the end of "Dream On" that were lopped off from his TV performance. Johns also gets the notion of patter, bless his heart -- unlike most of his fellow performers, who swallowed most of whatever they were trying to say between songs, Johns was comfortable and entertaining on stage. While Johns did get a nice showy bit during the AI Gives Back group sing, I wish there had been room in this format for a reprise of the fantastic bluesy Johns/Smithson "The Letter" from the season finale.

And then there were Davids. Walking around before the show, you couldn't take three steps without tripping over some 8-12 year old girl wearing either a tour shirt from the night before or a hand-made t-shirt saying something like "U Rock D. Cook!!!!!" And when the smoke machine got cranked up after Syesha introduced YDA (he's the only person who got to use the smoke machine - wonder if it's in his contract?), the screeches from that 8-12 crowd were positively deafening. Pre-teen girls can shriek at a pitch that no other segment of the human population can achieve. Ow.

So anyway, YDA got the full piano-ascending-from-the-depths treatment plus bonus smoke machine, and when the smoke cleared and the music started, guess what? Yep, he's still got those dead, dead eyes. Not that this bothered the the Nassau County elementary school crowd, which was going positively apeshit by the time YDA got to his third song ("Stand By Me," which even I must admit he sang really well). Somewhere in the middle of YDA's set, Mr. Cosmo poked me and said "hey, look at all the screens." From our vantage point way up in the nosebleeds, we had a great view of the hundreds of people filming the performance from their cell phones and digital cameras -- the glow of all of those LCD screens in the darkness is apparently the lighter for a new millennium of concertgoers.

Now doesn't this seem like an awfully long post without any mention of David Cook? That's because it was an awfully long stretch of time between Chikezie's opening number a couple of hours earlier and the moment at which David Cook finally appeared on the stage. (Which was the core ridiculousness of this format -- fortunately, the fact that Michael Johns and Carly Smithson got booted relatively early saved the first act from a serious case of the monotonies.) But I wanted to come to this concert solely because David Cook proved that all was right with the universe when he triumphed over YDA and his dead, dead eyes, and the fact that it took two hours to get the guy on stage is the most serious flaw of this production.

(A lesser flaw was the fact that when he finally did get onto the stage, it was clear that the makeup artist had gone a little heavy on the eyeliner --or else the makeup had been applied back when Kristy Lee was working her Stand Up! choreography and then he'd taken an extended nap without reapplying his makeup upon awakening.)

The performance, though? Really, really good. I can (and just did!) nit-pick with the best of them, but there is a core sincerity and joy to David Cook that makes him a pleasure to watch. Unlike, say, a YDA, who has spent his short life being groomed to perform with a cadre of Mousekedancers behind him, Cook comes across like someone who never thought anything like this could possibly happen to him and who is grateful for every moment of it. Not to mention the fact that the guy can sing his ass off. Mr. Cosmo and I have often discussed the fact that AI winners seem to develop a certain star quality after winning the show (see, e.g., Carrie Underwood, and that incredible performance of "Last Name" last season on the show), and Cook is no exception. Taken as a whole, the show felt like a David Cook concert (which, incidentally, included the non-truncated versions of both "Hello" and "Billie Jean") with nine opening acts.

I know we like to be snarky around here, but let me just say this: for the first time in seven seasons, I have cared about who won American Idol, and so I feel comfortable being a little bit gushy about the fact that I am happy to have seen David Cook perform on stage as a part of this tour. America totally got this one right.

(Oh, and yes, I have bought my tickets for the SYTYCD tour this fall at -- guess where -- the Nassau Coliseum. Stay tuned.)
FROM THE ALOTT5MA REPRESSIVE REGIMES ENABLER DESK: The US Olympic Committee designed some pollution filter masks to help the athletes deal with Beijing smog, and it distributed 200 of them to U.S. athletes. How dare the athletes actually wear them. And then the USOC made the athletes apologize. For, I guess, offending the sensibilities of a region that had air so bad that in order to put on a two-week show it had to shut down industry and ban traffic for a month.
LOSES 2-0 TO "STOPPED CLOCK" EVERY DAY: Is there a less-accurate popular source of information than As an example, today it lists an 8-point difference in the high-temperature forecast for zip codes in Oakland, California that are two miles apart, distinguished by no significant geographic features.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

OMITTED, HOWEVER, WAS THE HUMPTY-HUMP COMPETITION: In all our outrage past, present and future regarding the Beijing Olympics, it's worth keeping in mind that it could be worse. How much worse?, you may ask, and no I'm not going to talk about Berlin 1936.

In 1904, St. Louis hosted the Olympics as an adjunct to the World's Fair already scheduled to take place there, with the events spreading out over a four-and-a-half month period. Boxing, dumbbells, freestyle wrestling and the decathlon made their Olympic debuts, and gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded for the first time in sports including roque, lacrosse, tug-of-war and the "plunge for distance" diving competition. It was the first Olympics held in the New World, and served as something of a coming-out party for America as a global power, having recently seized the Philippines, Puerto Rico, etc., during the Spanish-American War.

Oh. And on August 12-13, 1904, the Olympics hosted "Anthropology Days," organized by America's leading anthropologists and sports figures, in which ~2000 "native peoples" from around the world were gathered together to compete in contests of speed, skill and endurance in order to determine which were the most "civilized". Via the Indian School Journal:
There were wild-eyed Ainus, heavy-bearded and gorgeously clad; great, tall lumbering Patagonians; stockily built Moros; slender, tawny-skinned Syrians; long-haired Cocopas, wild and savage of aspect; and last but by no means least, pupils of the Indian School, clad in the conventional athletic habiliments of the white man.
Events included spear throwing, archery, mud fighting and pole climbing. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch covered the events under the headline, "Pygmies Outdo Savage Athletes; Little Black Men From The African Jungles Excel In Tribesmen's Games."

Baron de Coubertin, the founder of the Modern Olympics, believed this was only a temporary setback: Such events, he said, "will, of course, lose their appeal when black men, red men and yellow men learn to run, jump and throw, and leave the white men behind them."

The St. Louis Public Library has more pictures, and the Post-Dispatch has more on the anthropology exhibitions at the Fair.

China revokes activist Cheek's visa | Olympics blog | Los Angeles Times

FROM THE ALOTT5MA REPRESSIVE REGIMES DESK: The Chinese government has revoked the tourist visa of Olympian/activist Joey Cheek. The 2006 speedskating gold & silver medalist had planned to attend the Games to promote his Team Darfur organization and join with dozens of 2008 Olympians committed to ending the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Says Cheek:
I am saddened not to be able to attend the Games. The Olympic Games represent something powerful: that people can come together from around the world and do things that no one thought were possible. However, the denial of my visa is a part of a systemic effort by the Chinese government to coerce and threaten athletes who are speaking out on behalf of the innocent people of Darfur. Team Darfur’s main efforts have been to advocate for an Olympic Truce for Darfur, and to raise awareness about the crisis and ask for lasting peace on behalf of the children of Darfur.

The Olympic Truce captures the spirit of the Olympics: around the Games, the world should come together to work for peace and speak out against conflict. The Chinese government’s efforts to suppress athletes, even those who are competing in the Olympic and Paralympic Games, who speak about essential human rights issues, is a violation of that core Olympic spirit.
AND REASON AND FREEDOM IS A WASTE: Following up on my alleged highway hijinks, I was in traffic court this morning. The state police officer in attendance called me to the front, asked if I was willing to plead guilty and accept a penalty of a slightly lesser fine and no points on my record. While recognizing the injustice of it all, in the interests of finality (and the points) I accepted the offer and have taken responsibility for my, um, actions. (But seriously: you can't go 75 mph on I-95 in Philadelphia anymore? For reals?)
MAD HOPS, WHEELS, GUNS: Because the official schedule for the Olympics (which, did you know, start this week?) is written in Chinese Olympico-speak, I thought I'd translate the sport titles into plain English for you:
Athletics: Track, field, Oakland baseball
Rowing: Euphemistic boxing
Badminton: Hamptons yard-tennis
Baseball: Popular game as played by Cubans and people not among the remaining 5,000 best players in the world
Basketball: Popular game as played by best players in the world while not caring
Boxing: Violence-diluted fixery
Canoe-Kayak Flatwater: Evian
Canoe-Kayak Slalom: Perrier
Cycling-Track: Danger spin class
Cycling-Road: Commuting
Cycling-Mountain Bike: Rocky Mountain commuting
Cycling-BMX: X-Games consolation prize
Equestrian-Jumping: Jumping over horses
Equestrian-Dressage: S&M
Equestrian-Eventing: This is not a verb
Fencing: Border protection (advantage: China)
Football: Soccer
Artistic Gymnastics: Regular gymnastics
Gymnastics - Trampoline: Awesome gymnastics
Rhythmic Gymnastics: Lame gymnastics
Weightlifting: Advanced pharmacology
Handball: Russian mafia badminton
Hockey: Obviously not hockey
Judo: Hebraic activity
Wrestling - Greco-Roman: Soccer-style wrestling
Wrestling - Freestyle: Rhyme-grappling
Aquatics - Swimming: Submersible Sisyphea
Aquatics - Synchronized Swimming: Extraordinary athleticism marred by junior beauty-pageant makeup and costuming
Aquatics - Diving: One-way gymnastics
Aquatics - Water Polo: Warm hockey
Modern Pentathalon: Antisocial survivalism
Softball: Corporate retreat baseball
Taekwondo: Floor-bound gymkata
Tennis: Russian mafia girlfriend badminton
Table tennis: Mormon beer pong
Shooting: China 2008 Olympic Internet filter (modern)
Archery: China 2008 Olympic Internet filter (archaic)
Triathalon: Quadrathalon minus 3000K log-roll
Sailing: Competitive benefactory
Volleyball: Adult hot potato
Beach Volleyball: Softcore adult hot potato
"NOT FOREVER BUT FOR REAL": Once again, I would like to offer my profound thanks to all of you who have helped to fight cancer by donating to the Pan-Mass Challenge. The story of my ride this year is available here (best viewed using Internet Explorer).

I believe that Matt's incredibly kind offer to match donations by our readers has not quite been fully subscribed yet. Please do consider making a gift. It's for a good cause and over 99% of the money raised goes straight to cancer researchers.

Monday, August 4, 2008

DON'T CRY FOR ME, ARGENTINA: Or so the Mole players might sing. As usual for a finale, there was one dynamite challenge (this one involving a giant clock and time zones that led the players to clues that enabled them to defuse a bomb), though the second challenge was rather pointless--if the first place player has sole control over the outcome, why would anyone other than that first place player care? Shouldn't it have been a choice between the dossier and $25K for each player who completed their part of the mission in a set period of time? My money's on Mark as the Mole, though I'm not ruling out Craig. Nicole's behavior seems too obviously "moleish" for her to be the sensible pick, and Craig's gotten an underdog/hero edit from the beginning. Jon Kelley's still no Anderson Cooper, but this has been an adequate summer diversion.
THE BIG KID: We now know why Eagles two-time Pro Bowl right guard Shawn Andrews has been absent from training camp -- he's battling depression. It's my hope that the team consider this illness like any physical injury Andrews might suffer, and treat his absence from camp as excused and rescind all the fines assessed to date. It takes a lot of courage in the macho universe of football for Andrews to admit this, and I certainly hope he is given the time to make a full recovery. The sports world doesn't need another Dimitrius Underwood. Says Andrews:
"After finally deciding to get professional help, I felt like maybe talking about my situation could be a blessing to someone else going through the same things," Andrews said today from his home in Arkansas. "Regardless of whether you're a celebrity or you play for the Philadelphia Eagles and you're in the limelight, you still go through problems."

"When I got into the [NFL], I wanted to be man enough to admit that, but I tried to use material things to say who I was. I know now that some of the happiest times in my life were when I didn't have a pot to piss in. I'm hoping this is just part of my growing process."

Andrews said he is scheduled to see a psychiatrist Thursday in Philadelphia and that he recently started taking medication for his depression. He admitted, however, that he resisted initial offers of help.

"I've actually just started to take a little medication," he said. "I've never been a big fan of medication, but at this point in my life I feel like every little bit helps. I was at the end of the road ... My pride got in the way. I didn't want anybody to see me walking into a psych clinic. Professionals aren't always the answer. Sometimes, just talking things out helps. And now with all the rumors coming out, it has only made things worse. Some of the comments really got to me. You always hear guys say that they don't care what people think and sometimes I don't about certain things. But in the grand scheme, I want people to think positive about me."
I am afraid to listen to local sports talk radio to hear the fans' reaction.
DON'T YOU GET YOUR HOPES UP HIGH -- THE KID'S ALL RIGHT: In the comments in the processed-meat-ban thread, calliek ("Callie K."? "Kal-E-Yek"?) said:
My two cents? I think there is too much fear among parents to let their kids just run outside and play, or even walk to school. Instead, kids have organized playdates where they sit inside, and are forbidden from doing anything physical. When I was growing up, we ran free all over the neighborhood all summer, rode bikes all over town, and absolutely walked to school- all of which would be considered child endangerment now.
When I was in the first grade, the neighborhood kids and I routinely climbed down the side of a steep wooded gully across the street from our school, at the bottom of which there was floor of pungent muddy sludge and the greatest toy a kid could ever want: an abandoned railroad car. It sat at maybe a 20-degree angle to plumb; was coated top-to-bottom in rust that would flake off and powder your hands, clothes, face, and hair; in many places had corroded entirely through (leaving jagged holes); had cool ladder rungs so that you could go all the way to the top and then jump off; and for reasons at which we could only then guess was furnished with an anachronistic floral-print mattress. I can count pretty high -- several numbers past the fingers and toes I have, not to brag or anything -- but I cannot count the number of horrors my friends and I could have suffered during an afternoon playing on the abandoned rusty disintegrating razor-edged train car/mattress at the bottom of the steep muddy dark secluded gully. And this is to say nothing of our adventures with beehives, with sledding hills that emptied into main streets, or with two-mile walks to school. I turned out okay (so, I assume, did my friends), but like hell I'm going to send the Spaceboys into the gully for an unsupervised afternoon with the death train of hobo sex.

I don't really have a point here; just thought I'd mention that.

ETA: While we're on the topic, do you have any favorite childhood safety hazards?
DANCING ON EMPTY: Attention all dancers -- drink some water, please.
EASY READER, SPEEDY RECOVERY: Of all the actors whose work I know and like, the one with whom I have had the longest relationship is Morgan Freeman, who strode into my life in the early 1970s in a catastrophe of denim, headbands, dashikis, jive, and cocksure literacy (that video, by the way, is Oscar winner Morgan Freeman dueting with Oscar, Grammy, Tony, and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Rita Moreno). I can't say I've loved each and every thing he's done, but Freeman has done an amazing job putting together a cohesive body of work. I can't think of another actor other than Jimmy Stewart (in a slightly different way) whose appearance in a film brings a character such a ready-made dignity, humanity, and practicality before even the first line reading. There's something for everyone in that body of work, though I'd probably buck the trend and cite his (ultimately) melancholy Unforgiven instead of his wise and bemused Shawshank Redemption as my own favorite. But enough -- this is not a eulogy.

Freeman was in a bad automobile accident last night in Mississippi, and reportedly is in serious condition. We wish him a full and speedy recovery.
TOUGH KIDS, SISSY KIDS, EVEN KIDS WITH CHICKEN POX: In an effort to get processed meats out of school cafeterias, a group calling itself The Cancer Project is running this tough new PSA.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The real reality | My Super Sweet 16 | Television News | TV | Entertainment Weekly

MONTECORE'S REVENGE: Given how completely in thrall with The Joe Schmo Show this blog was, back in the day, considerations of equal time suggest that I link to this EW interview with Matt Kennedy Gould, Evan Marriott and other former reality tv participants as they answer the question, was it worth it? Gould:
If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't do the show at all. Honestly, the show really made me feel dumb. And I never felt like that before. I did it because I needed the money. I lived with my parents. I had just dropped out of law school. I was a regular pot smoker. I didn't want to work. And after the show I got $100,000 and signed a development deal with Spike. I went to California, and I was supposed to do all this stuff, and I just didn't do it. I was so embarrassed about the whole premise of the show that I never wanted people to think, ''Oh, here's this guy who didn't even know the show was about him. It's a big joke, and now he's some reality star trying to be a TV host.'' So I holed up in an apartment in Santa Monica, and spent a lot of the money on marijuana and alcohol. I lived there with a girl who broke up with me. The next day I flushed a half ounce of pot down the toilet, packed my car, came home to Pittsburgh, and I got help. I haven't done drugs or alcohol for four years. Now I'm married with a new baby and a stepson. I work at a logistics company. Were things different, I would much rather be working in the entertainment business. I just went about it the wrong way.
(Classic Schmo on YouTube: Wiig's talent show; The Reveal. And, yes, I know Montecore didn't show up until Schmo 2.) The other question occasioned by this week's cover package: other than giving me more pages of Us Weekly to read, is there a reason to watch The Hills?

The Chips Are Down in Vegas. But Steve Wynn Is Betting Big. -

IT'S CHIHULY-RIFIC! A tale of two gaming moguls -- the NYT talks to the eternally successful Steve Wynn today about his reinvesting in Las Vegas during a down market, while the New Yorker's recent piece on Sheldon Adelson makes me wonder on whether I will ever set foot in the Venetian again.

As always, your current Vegas recommendations are welcome.
HIGH SCHOOL, NO MUSICAL: I join ALOTT5MA Friend Carrie Rickey in enthusiastically praising Nanette Burstein's new documentary American Teen, which may well be the best film I've seen this year. By turns funny, tender, scary, and heartbreaking, the film follows five very different teenagers in a small town in Indiana through their senior year of high school--the "queen bee," the star jock, the heartthrob jock, a band geek, and an outsider. Unsurprisingly, the studio's tried to draw connections to The Breakfast Club, most notably with a poster, but this is different--there's no artificial "lessons learned" at the end of the day and, indeed, several of the teens don't directly interact with one another during the course of the film. And, yes, as EW indicates, I think anyone who sees the film can't help but get a little crush on Hannah Bailey, the "misfit" of the group.
BUT WHERE'S WOOGIE? Brett Favre worship is apparently not limited to sportswriters, as one person now asserts that Favre should run for Senate in Mississippi, as "he is one of the greatest people to walk on this earth. He's up there with Jesus, Gandhi, and Russ Feingold."
SUMMER COCKTAIL SERIES: Hey, folks. Unless I want ALOTT5MA to be evidence for my insurance company to deny me a liver transplant, I can't do the cocktail series without your contributions. I have a couple of short ones sitting around in the queue, but I need your input to keep it going.