Saturday, February 25, 2006

I WALKED THROUGH BEDFORD-STUY ALONE TO GET A PLATE OF DELICIOUS RIBLETS: Manhattan has already been infiltrated by Applebee's, which are usually 3/4 empty (save the one on 42nd, which is a zoo because tour groups get vouchers from it), but apparently, Brooklyn is crazy for Applebee's.

(Link courtesy of the fine folks at Curbed, which serves all your Manhattan real estate gossip needs.)
GOLLY! TV's Don Knotts, a man who turned bumbling and reluctance into comedic art forms, has passed away at the age of 81. Depending on your age, you either remember him best as Deputy Barney Fife, landlord Ralph Furley, star of a series of amiable Disney movies or as frequent guest star on The New Adventures of Scooby Doo. But you do remember him.
YOU ARE WHAT YOU LIKE: According to a study to be published in the journal Psychological Science, people use musical taste as a means to determine other people's personalities and to reveal their own.

Among various other tests, the researchers had a group of students compile a list of their ten favorite CDs. After listening to the compilations, the judges (also students) evaluated those who chose the CDs using standard personality profiles. The ratings turned out to be amazingly accurate. As an artcile that orginally appeared in the NYT summarizes:

The top 10 lists were particularly good in revealing the authors’ taste for variety, intellectual appetite for abstract ideas and willingness to experiment with alternative points of view, a quality psychologists call openness. And a high volume of lyrics in a person’s list seemed to roughly reflect sociability, or extroversion, Rentfrow said.

The top 10 lists revealed little, however, about people’s levels of conscientiousness — how neat, responsible and organized they were. "This makes some sense," Rentfrow said. "You can tell more about these kinds of qualities by looking at a picture."

Nick Hornby would approve. For a brief analysis of what your own taste for certain artists means, check out this.

So ... here is my list (in alphabetical order by artist):

Gordon -- Barenaked Ladies
The Pretender -- Jackson Browne
London Calling -- The Clash
Can You Dig It? -- Compilation (of funk and soul songs from the 1970's)
88 Basie Street -- Count Basie
Blood on the Tracks -- Bob Dylan
Amplified Heart -- Everything But the Girl
The Man from Ipanema -- Antonio Carlos Jobim
Hejira -- Joni Mitchell
Songs in the Key of Life -- Stevie Wonder

Feel free to analyze what that list says. Or post your own list and let us analyze it.
NO PERFORMANCE BY ANTONIO BANDERAS THIS YEAR: Most of this year's Oscars are boring as all get out, with most of the high-tier races being virtual locks (Brokeback, Ang Lee, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Reese Witherspoon, Crash and Brokeback for the two screenplay awards), though the supporting races are interesting. However, one category (ironically, one that's been shrunk), may be the most competitive, and that's Best Original Song, which really runs the gamut this year. Your nominees are (links are to iTunes or Amazon):

"Travelin' Thru," Dolly Parton, from Transamerica: Parton is a prior Oscar nominee (for "9 to 5"), and a prior Razzie winner (for "Drinkenstein" from Rhinestone), which may give her an edge (well, at least the former). The song's a nice little loping bluegrass ballad (at least the part that's a sample on iTunes is), but I'm not sure how integral it is to the movie and its themes.

"It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp," DJay (Terrence Howard), from Hustle and Flow: Plusses? It's the most integral to the movie of the nominees, and is the only one that could even concievably be a radio hit on pop radio. Also, that Howard performs the song may be seen as a way to reward his performance, since he's not winning the Best Actor award. The downside? It's a rap song titled "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp." "Lose Yourself" may have won, but I just can't see this one.

"In The Deep," (Kathleen) Bird York, from Crash: Plusses? The song has drawn a lot of press for York and gotten her a major label deal. York's also an esteemed actress (probably best known to folks around here for playing Toby Ziegler's ex-wife Andie on TWW). It's also the only nominee from a Best Picture nominee. The downside? It's only over the closing credits, barely in the movie, and its lounge-y electronic sound may not resonate with older voters.

Voting purely on the song, I'd say that "In The Deep" ought to win, but really, this is a toss-up that could go to just about any of the nominees. What's your preference?
"SHE'S GOT A PISTOL" IS THE BEST I CAN DO: I am apparently of the wrong race and gender to comprehend it, but your challenge for this weekend is to explain the allure of Tyler Perry. An accompanying question--why on earth have the movie releases of late been an utter doldrum, with nothing interesting in theatres, and nothing really exciting until March 17, with She's The One (Amanda Bynes does Twelfth Night), Thank You For Smoking, and V for Vendetta.
REMAINDER BIN: Having returned from an almost entirely pop-cultural free week of vacation to the West Coast followed by a trip on a big boat down to Baja California. A few observations and catch-up:
  • This year's "worst movie tagline" competition already has two strong competitors in The Shaggy Dog's "Raise The Woof" and Curious George's "Show Me The Monkey."
  • My favorite sight in L.A. may well be the rather bizarre collection of Seward Johnson sculptures on Bill Cosby's lawn, visible from Sunset Blvd.
  • Also fun in L.A. was the continuous "winter storm" coverage last weekend, with the "winter storm" amounting to a few rain flurries and some high winds. It's not a "winter storm" unless you've got snow.
  • You might have read about the copyright lawsuits against a couple of cruise lines. While the Grease copyright was not infringed on my trip, the copyrights to Chicago and The Wiz certainly were.
  • Yes, you should be smart enough to know that The Daily Show is a comedy, not real news, if you're the governor of Illinois.
  • While the figure skaters, with their costumes that expose (ideally) exactly the right amount of tootie, get the most attention in the "attractive athletes" competition at these games, I think the U.S. Women's Curling Team (unsuccessful though they have been) might be a dark horse.
  • I finally got around to seeing Pride and Prejudice on the plane, and is it just me, or is Keira Knightley nominated for an Oscar far less because her performance was great (though it was certainly fine) and far more because she was playing a beloved literary heroine? I can think of several folks in that allegedly thin category (Joan Allen, Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette) whose performances were richer and more layered than Knightley's "cute, spunky Brit" bit.

Friday, February 24, 2006

THE PLUSHY SEX-BOMB: If you have not yet seen Evgeni Plushenko's Tom Jones routine, you really, really (REALLY!) must. Immediately. Go now. (Now.)
WE CAN BE HEROES (JUST FOR ONE DAY): Screw the Olympics -- Jason McElwain is your Athlete of the Week/Month/Year. Wow.
NO WORD AS TO WHETHER VONDA SHEPARD WILL BE MAKING WEEKLY APPEARANCES: Calista Flockhart will be making her return to TV this fall -- she's joining Rachel Griffiths, Ron Rifkin, and Balthazar Getty in an ABC pilot entitled Brothers and Sisters.

I think it's safe to say that this cast does not suck.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

COULD LIFE EVER BE SANE AGAIN? Is former Smiths frontman Morrissey being investigated by the FBI as a threat to the government? Heaven knows, he's miserable now.
IT'S EITHER THIS OR WE DISCUSS BOBBY MASON '95'S USE OF THE EXPRESSION "DROP A DEUCE" ON SURVIVOR TONIGHT: Figure skating aside, the other burning questions of these Games were as follows: does Monaco's ruler miss the bobsleigh? is the food in the Olympic Village up to His Serene standards? and will Prince Albert ever curtail Monaco's notorious greenhouse gas emissions and engage in a PR stunt highlighting same? We've got answers.
THE ONLY THING THAT'LL STOP JOHNNY WEIR FROM SHOPPING: Women's figure skating long program. Gretchen, break it down:

As a result of herculean effort (okay, and because I spent most of the afternoon sitting in traffic on the Tappan Zee), I am totally unspoiled for this competition. Hurray! I’m so excited. I just got here and went straight to the TV.

Silvia Fontana looks great, as usual. I think her dress is really classy and beautiful, and she’s one of the few women who can carry off the gold color. I love the expression on her face before she goes into her jumps; that is one determined woman. Her spins aren’t very fast and her extension isn’t great. This music is absolutely lovely; Puccini makes for amazing skating performances. Oh, her final sequence—a jump into a triple and a spin, culminating in footwork, was just perfect! You can see the joy and emotion on her face (Fiance: you can actually feel her emotion.) How triumphant for Silvia. She has tears in her eyes and that performance, though technically inadequate, was so moving.

Commentator: It’s been an emotional week for Silvia; during her practices, the arena would fill up and her countrymen just love to watch her.

Fiance: I bet her countrymen love to watch her. I love to watch her and I’m not even Italian!

Miki Ando: The Japanese press has been stalking her; I’ve seen articles where her classmates at school bitch about how she’s allowed to dye her hair even when it’s against the rules because she’s a skater. But that’s mild compared to the insults she’s gotten for gaining some weight; in Japan, the press calls her Lard Lady. Which is, obviously, ridiculous.

Tugba Karademir: Pretty costume; it’s a black halter dress with minimal sequining and a cream-colored underskirt that creates some visual interest (I mean, aside from the visual interest of all those leg lifts). She doubled her first two triple attempts. I think her music could have been better-selected; it would be nice to see her skate to something with more drama and intensity. But she is a lovely skater and it was so gratifying to see her happiness with a personal best. Figure skating is such a US-dominated sport that her story—moving from Turkey to Canada to pursue her dream—is really exceptional. Some of the great figure skaters—Michelle Kwan, Sasha Cohen, Kristi Yamaguchi—have been first-or-second generation immigrants. I wonder if that’s significant?

Visa is still running commercials featuring Michelle Kwan, which is intriguing. I wonder how much longer she’ll be the face of US figure skating?

* * *

Blonde Finnish Skater: Love her hair, not so crazy about the blue bows in a diagonal pattern across the dress. She really telegraphs her jumps, which means that she takes forever to set up her jumps and you can see them coming in her program. Her music is sort of sprightly, but really, really boring. She did a pretty sultry spiral, with one hand running over her body. Finland is hot. Her footwork, though, is totally uninspiring. She looks thrilled with her program, even though I wasn’t equally thrilled.

Elena Sokolova (Russia). I love her outfit; it’s totally scandalous. The whole back of the costume is totally open. Like Johnny Weir, she’s wearing a single glove. Unlike Johnny Weir, the glove does not have a name. I thought her spirals were wobbly. I really like this program; it’s fast and there is a great footwork sequence. But she’s not in shape and the performance looked sloppy.

Dick Button: “I’m sorry to be so negative.”
Gretchen: “You’re not sorry! You live for this! Embrace the snark, Uncle Dick!”

Liu Yan (China): Really pretty spins with an innovative catchfoot position. Dick Button wants her to do a better job tying her shoelaces. What a ridiculous critique! I mean, I’m allowed to make those sorts of comments, but I’m typing from my living room couch, not broadcasting to millions. Oh no, now Sandra Bezic is piling on. This wasn’t a bad program. It was just boring. Thank God for Silvia Fontana; she’s been the only really fabulous skate of the evening.

Sasha Cohen looks like an elf; she’s got huge features, a tiny face, and her ears stick out. I never figured it out until now.

Susanna Poykio: She’s using the same music as Sasha Cohen will, but with less oomph. You know, I like her skating, but she strikes some incredibly unattractive, undoubtedly high point-value positions, including my all time least favorite, the spiral with the leg in front, which I think looks like preparation for an uncomfortable gynocological procedure. She missed the end of the music by at least 10 seconds.

* * *

Miki Ando, on the ice, not looking particularly lardy. Apparently, the Japanese press also calls her Mikitty as a nickname, so when she gained the weight, they began referring to her as Fat Cat. They said that she was eating too much American food, too. I can’t believe I’m repeating all of this stuff. But you know, her costuming choices are not doing her any favors; she chooses fabrics that are too heavy and that add too much volume to her hips and thighs. Miki keeps brushing just by the boards; I get the feeling that she doesn’t have a strong sense of her position on the rink. She fell on her quad attempt, but you know, good for her for making the attempt. She didn’t have a medal shot and it would have made history to have landed it.

This is an unbelievably bad performance. Also, she has a wedgie. I don’t think Miki was well-trained going into this performance; she looks out of shape, her elements are terrible, and there’s virtually no artistry. That was terrible. Oh, the Japanese press is going to massacre her. And I cannot believe that she pulled down a score of 85, when she’s clearly been the worst skater we’ve seen on TV thus far. I’ll have to go back and look at the detailed scoring breakdowns, but intuitively, this doesn’t make sense to me.

Emily Hughes (USA!): Hughes The Younger was so spunky on Tuesday night that she earned a ton of good will, at least from me. But I still predict she falls. She clearly loves blue, since this costume is basically her short program costume but without sleeves. Wow, she nailed her first three jumping passes, including a three-jump combination. Oh, so disappointing for her to fall on that easy jump, not even in combination. Emily has a really nice spread eagle position; her Ina Bauer is not so good. I do like her (THREE) Biellman positions and nice, low sit spin. She is so feisty. This wasn’t the skate of her life, but it was an amazing performance for her first senior international ladies’ competition. Well done, Emily. I predict that she is the next Irina Slutskaya—the energy, the attack remind me of Irina.These scores are huge compared to the rest of the field thus far. Of course the good skaters are yet to compete, but she should be proud of her scores.

Apple should pay the skaters for all of the shots of them warming up with their iPods planted firmly in their ears. Those white cords dangle from every skater’s head. Anybody want to guess what Sasha was listening to?

NBC Promo for tomorrow night’s Exhibition: “No rules: just elegance, style, passion.” I think NBC is clearly acknowledging that the new COP has driven some of that out of the competitive performances.

Sarah Meier (Switzerland) wins the award for sexiest wearing of a bodysuit. Her spins look much better tonight than they did during her short program. Fiance thinks that her costume look like she’s wearing a Russian eagle across her chest. She landed a great combination.

* * *

One quick observation: skaters are judged on what they do, not what they planned to do. So if a skater hits a double instead of a triple, she gets the lower point value, but is not penalized for “missing” a planned element.

Elene Gedevanishvili (Georgia): Her starting jumps are high and lovely. Her costume, however, is hideous. She’s entirely in black, which is very conservative and makes her look old. And I think she just falters; maybe she’s nervous, or maybe she just is young, but she can’t keep the focus through the entire program. I think her footwork is really indicative of her inexperience; I’m not an expert (obviously) but I’d be surprised if her footwork was more than a level 2. Scott Hamilton keeps calling her a star on the rise—but while I like Elene, I don’t see what makes her so much better than, for example, Joannie Rochette or even Emily Hughes.

Sasha Cohen (USA!): There’s a HUGE amount of crowd support. She doesn’t look good on the ice—in fact, she looks terrified. She’s going to choke. I can feel it. It’s so nervewracking to watch her skate. And she falls on her first triple lutz. That’s it. God, this is so tragic. Poor Sasha. And oh my God, she falls on her triple flip. Finally, she lands a triple loop. This music is still so lovely and her choreography is beautiful; I love the way she uses her hands. There’s a great smile as she moves into the B-theme of her music. Sasha’s doing a beautiful job of communicating the joy in this circular footwork sequence. She is the only one in the world who can do a spiral the way it’s meant to be done, even though her edges were shaky tonight. But who cares about shaky edges when her extension is so exquisite. Her jumps are improving dramatically as the program goes on—it’s almost like she just needed the first minute to shake off the nerves. It’s such a tragedy, because the last three minutes were incredibly beautiful. Dick Button is suggesting that it was the injury, but I think that it was pretty clearly the nerves. She just couldn’t focus until Minute 2. The minute that she sees her scores, she knows that it’s virtually over.

Shizuka (Japan) looks beautiful. She’s skating to Turandot, proving my theory that Puccini makes Gorgeous Programs. She has the only beautiful Ina Bauer in the competition. Shizuka has remarkably gorgeous lines; she’s lovely and graceful, and this is a magical performance for her; artistic and with extraordinary athleticism. That was the program I’ve been waiting all night to see. And I love watching the delight in her face.

Fumie Suguri (Japan): Fumie’s jumps just fly. Fumie doesn’t have as much to her programs in terms of transitions, which makes it look a little old-fashioned. In some ways, though, I like it; there’s more flow, and she has wonderful expression to her skating that reminds me of Michelle Kwan. I think I’ve said this ad nauseum, but I’m a total sucker for big footwork sequences at the end of a program. When they’re well-timed with music, they can inspire the crowd and spark a huge finale. Fumie had more of that quality than any of the other skaters I’ve seen, and her final spin was just fast and gorgeous.

Kimmie Meissner was one of the few skaters to make it to her practice sessions on Wednesday, and apparently, her effort paid off; the crowd was very enthusiastic and she got a ton of applause. I hope it improved her mood; when the camera caught Kimmie watching the rest of the short programs on Tuesday night, she looked really irked. (Did she think that she should have had higher scores? Probably.)

How ironic was it that Scott Hamilton was blathering about her complete ability to carry out the jumps just as Kimmie was tumbling on her first jumping pass? Good thing her subsequent jump was absolutely perfect. I think that this is a better program than Fumie’s, even though Fumie stayed more upright. The choreography is better and the positions are better. It would have been great for her to add a second jump to any of these late jumps; she could have turned one into a combination and added extra points. I just don’t think she’s a sufficiently mature skater to do that kind of improvisation. One other note about maturity; this choreography seems a little sexier and a little more adult than Kimmie actually is. Kimmie had a good performance, but I’m quite sure that it wasn’t the performance she wanted.

Irina Slutskaya: Irina is shaking her head, as if to ward off the negative energy in the rink. If she wins, it will be a Russian sweep—first time in history, I think. But holy cow, Irina just took a huge tumble. I don’t know how that happened—it hardly ever does. And Irina looks confused, more than anything. You know, I really, really tried to focus on Irina’s program to see if it could move me the way that Shizuka did. But regardless of how impressive her technical elements are (and tonight, they weren’t even that great), her programs do not sing.

It’s very clear to me that Shizuka deserved that gold medal; her performance was just beautiful. I’m more surprised that Sasha took silver; that’s clearly a victory for flexibility and artistry. Earlier today, I posted an article from quoting skaters on what it feels like to fall. Sasha said that when you fall, it throws off your entire program; you lose not just the jump, but the components and transitions that help build up your score. Tonight, she didn’t let the falls limit her program at all. That’s impressive.

Both Irina and Sasha will be devastated; Irina reportedly thought that this medal was hers, and Sasha has so many silver medals that I’m sure that anything other than gold is disappointing. But this is a wonderful triumph for the beautiful skaters coming out of Japan, and I’m glad that Japan managed to pull one medal out of these Olympics. (If you can only get one, this is clearly the one to win.)

So here’s the question: was tonight a vindication for the COP or not? I think that artistically, it was a low point in ladies’ figure skating. But at the end of the day, the right skaters were on the podium in the right order, and that counts for a great deal. Shizuka was ninth in the world this year while Irina was first; those are hard odds to overcome if you’re skating on reputation as well as on performance. It’s impossible to say, but I think the COP may have really helped Shizuka to get the marks she deserved.

And thanks so much to all of you for letting me throw figure skating commentary at the internet. It’s been a joy. I’ll post tomorrow if there’s anything interesting in the gala, but for now, I’m signing out. As they say in Torino, ciao!

WHAT I'M NOT I HAVE LEARNED: Were the worst four singers eliminated from American Idol 5 tonight? No. But were they people who were going to win it all? No. Two crappy singers gone, and two unmemorable ones. That's life.
LATVERIA PLACED A DISTANT FIFTH: Iran now tops the list of America's Greatest Enemies, the first time the country has had the honor. Iran took 31% of the vote on Gallup's World Affairs Survey, followed by Iraq (don't we run that country?) with 22%, North Korea with 15%, and China at 10%.
BECAUSE, REALLY, I KNOW, THERE'S NOT ENOUGH FOR YOU TO WATCH ON TELEVISION AS IT IS: Season nine of The Amazing Race starts on Tuesday, and Dan Gross has uncovered a tidbit about one guy from that weird hippie-looking team trying to take advantage of pre-9/11 security rules, so to speak. Via the Harvard Crimson:
[B.J.] Averell ['02] arrived at Logan International Airport Wednesday night and cleared the security checkpoints with a ticket he purchased for a 6:15 p.m. flight from Boston to Philadelphia.

When he reached the airport's Terminal C, however, Averell was denied access to the plane. Airline officials informed him that he had not arrived in time and forfeited his seat to a passenger flying standby.

Determined to spend Thanksgiving Day with his family in their Philadelphia suburb, Averell passed by flight attendants at Logan Airport's Gate 14. He then vaulted a wall near the terminal to join passengers as they crossed the tarmac.

Upon boarding the plane, Averell found his seat occupied. He decided to spend the flight in the airplane's bathroom, where he remained until a fellow passenger informed a steward about his presence, Averell said.

The plane had not taken off yet, and airport security officials led the luckless Averell off the plane and arrested him on charges of disorderly conduct and trespassing.

I don't believe even Colin & Christie tried that one.

More on BJ here.
PEANUT BUTTER AND BANANA SANDWICHES? The WaPo's Sally Jenkins visits the women's figure skating practice.

[edited to add] Our figure skating commentator Gretchen adds these thoughts:
Tonight, when Sasha Cohen skates, she’ll have more on her mind than just the gold medal.

She’ll be thinking about her reputation; is this the year that she cements her image as an unreliable skater, a diva who never delivers, a choker? Or is this the year for her to put those demons behind her, to move past the innuendo and prove that she deserves to be at the Olympics not just for her God-given talent, but also for her hard work?

And since Team USA has fallen apart, she’ll be thinking about her country. If she takes gold, she redeems the nastiness, the failures, the egos of these Olympics. If she takes silver, or bronze, or falls off the podium, she’s the quintessential example of another athlete failing America.

She might be thinking about her groin, where she has reportedly had stiffness and soreness. Is she hiding an injury and skating through pain, or is the skating just taking a toll on her body?

And since Sasha is a glamour girl, she’ll be thinking about the media exposure that’s sure to follow. Will she make it onto the Wheaties box? Will she sign the endorsements that will make her a very rich woman? Will she become America’s Sweetheart? I don’t know if Sasha wants that title; I’m not sure she’d be a very good America’s Sweetheart. She’s been spared that title for the last five years, always skating in the shadow of Michelle. But if she wins, like it or not, that title will be thrust upon her. Will she get caught on camera, like Nancy Kerrigan did, murmuring that this is “so cheesy” while waving to crowds from a float in a Disneyland parade? Or will she handle her title with grace?

And finally, Sasha may be thinking about the new skating system. What happens tonight could make or break the new scoring system. On the Michelle Kwan fan forums, there was a fond daydream that Michelle would come to the Olympics, skate a beautiful, gorgeous performance—the best in the competition, and lose. The outrage would take the COP down with her. This was a long shot with Michelle, but if Sasha skates the technically savvy, artistic program that she’s capable of skating and Irina wins anyway, I predict that the COP will soon get tweaked—or perhaps even fall.

But despite all these distractions, all Sasha needs to think about is her music, the score from the 1960s version of Romeo and Juliet, and her program--perhaps the most beautiful long program in the competition. She needs to think about her extension and creating a gorgeous line. She needs to find the fire to dig her edges deep into the ice, to hurtle herself into the air, to spin faster than any woman ever has—while at the same time, finding the tenderness and tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. If she can do this—if Sasha can tell a story through all of the Biellmans and technical elements and triple jumps—then she will not only be a consummate athlete, but she will also be a gold medalist.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

YOU'RE NOT PERFECT, BUT YOU'VE GOT WHAT YOU'VE GOT: Tonight, the gentlemen take to the Idol stage. You're probably watching.
I'M ASKING AMERICA: Last night brought back some memories, so name -- for better or for worse -- your favorite American Idol semifinalists from years past who didn't make it to the round of twelve.

For me, favorite-good includes Briana Ramirez-Rial, Lisa Leuschner and Matthew Metzger, and favorite-bad has to be Juanita Barber ("What about the children?"), Jennifer Fuentes ("Dance!")

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

AS CHENEY SAYS, 'MAJOR LEAGUE': Warning: spoiler in the link. It's not often that you get a quick answer to the great debates of our time. Nonetheless, for my money, the parties' conduct after the 1,500 conclusively demonstrates that however much of a jerk you think Shani Davis is (and I happen not to agree), Chad Hedrick is a bigger jerk.

And with that, I'm out of the long-track feud business.
POWERFUL WOMEN. SHORT PROGRAM: Gretchen takes some time away from one of the better law schools in Connecticut to offer these thoughts:

Tugba Karademir looks just like Jamie Silverstein of ice dancing fame. She’s from Turkey, here they apparently have only two ice rinks in the entire country. Her family moved to Canada to help her skating career. Skating is not a cheap sport, and even though the commentators said that her family was well off in Turkey, I’m sure it was a struggle for her to skate in Canada. It’s a heart-warming story, but I also wonder what it means for a family to move solely for their child. That has to seriously throw off the balance of power in the family structure.

And now, Kimmie Meissner! She’s a jumping bean, but she’s been working on her artistry. Kimmie’s spiral sequence is slow and not particularly straight; she’s got some work to do on her body positions and her lines. Also, her dress bugs me; the illusion fabric on the bodice is a different color than her tights, so she looks kind of lopsided. She nailed all of her jumps and her spins looked great—well done. She’s in first and her technical scores are enormous. Kimmie’s technical score was around 35 and her Program Component Scores were around 25. Tracy Wilson walked us through the scoring for her program; Kimmie got a 9.86 on her triple-triple pass.

The ladies’ singles skaters are required to wear tights on the ice; no bare legs allowed. Sasha Cohen says on her website that “at Salt Lake City I lost my tights going through all the security checkpoints and had to borrow some at the last minute.” Apparently, she borrowed them from Fumie Suguri, a Japanese skater.

Susanna Poykio of Finland opens with a triple double combination. It’s definitely not as high as Kimmie’s combination, but she fully rotates and lands it. She leans out a bit from her triple flip on the landing. Susanna’s spiral sequence is a little shaky to me. Oh, and now we’re seeing our first full-fledged Biellman of the night.

For those of you who are just tuning in to women’s skating for the first time, a Biellman position is when a skater reaches over her head and pulls her leg up behind her. They’re beautiful, and the new point system gives you lots of points for this position (as well as for any position where a skater catches her skate in her hand). However, unlike other elements (particularly jumping passes) that are restricted to a certain maximum number per program, the code system does not limit the number of Biellmans or catch-foots that you can do. As a result, we’ll see skaters do lots and lots of these positions. You’ll get thoroughly sick of them by the end of the night (and so will Dick Button!)

I mentioned in my comments on the men’s skating that Irina Slutskaya, like Plushy, was notorious for code-whoring—a nasty term for a skater who has learned to game the system. The most egregious example, in my view, is Irina’s use of the Biellman position. At the Europeans, it seemed like she spent half of her program with her foot over her head.

If I have to hear Dick Button say that another skater is “nothing special, but very pleasant to watch” one more time, I might need to throw something at my television.

Joannie Rochette is a darling Canadian figure skater, but I question the wisdom of skating a short program to the orchestral version of Like A Prayer. It somehow seems like a karaoke score, rather than a figure skating program. And her choreography is a little trite; she spends chunks of the programs with her hands folded in prayer position. Joannie’s spiral sequence is much cleaner than the other girls. You can tell by looking at the skate that’s on the ice; it’s tempting to just scope out the extension on the free leg, but you have to look at the quality of the skate and the leg that’s anchoring the position.

One of my pet peeves about the new code of points is that changes those lovely long spirals into these rapid-fire changing spirals. Skaters have to hold each spiral position for three seconds to get the points. One of the positions that scores highly is a spiral with the free leg lifted in front of the body. I think it’s a hideous position; it’s all crotch and isn’t at all elegant. It’s a shame that the spiral sequences have to get tainted with some of these ridiculous positions to load up
on points.

One interesting aspect about the scoring is that the system calls a base value for each element and then judges either give extra points or subtract points for grades of execution. On the computer screens that they show us, it looks like the judges can add or subtract one, two, or three points. However, those big numbers aren’t actually points; they’re grades of execution. So for example, Kimmie had a negative grade of execution on her big triple-triple combo, but it didn’t even cost her one point; she lost a mere .14 points.

* * *
Elena Sokolova is the Russian national champion, a victory won, much like Sasha Cohen’s, in the absence of the dominant skater (Slutskaya, in Russia, was out with the flu; Kwan was out with a groin injury in the US.) She’s using beautiful music and is a gifted skater (she was second at the European Championships) but this evening is not working for her; she fell out of her jump combination and popped her second jump. Oh, there’s that hideous forward leg lift spiral again. Poor Elena; I think she was so thrown by her first fall that the rest of the program just fell apart.

Elene Gedevanishvili is Georgian and did a great job at the European Championships and was a crowd favorite. She’s a fiery skater and her jumps tonight were high and fierce, even though it looked slightly tilted in the air. She did a great triple triple combination, though I don’t think the technical difficulty was quite as high as it was on Kimmie Meissner’s combination. It’s notoriously difficult to tell how fast the skaters are moving on television, but she looks to me like she’s skating really fast. She’s fun to watch and has all the technical elements, I think, but she really could use some help with musical choice and choreography; the program doesn’t really sing and her footwork, which is fun, never really takes off.

Miki Ando, the quad-lander. The Japanese women are excellent; they have a very strong program. But their strongest lady isn’t even at these Olympics; Mao Asada, the only woman to beat Irina Slutskaya this year and the winner of the Grand Prix Final, was too young by a few months to qualify for Torino. The Japanese federation petitioned for her to attend, but they were denied. Dick Button was aghast at the quality of Miki's spiral, and it was clearly the worst so far; her edges were shaky, her legs were bent at unattractive angles, her back was contorted to get more lift, and she ran into the boards! Not a good showing.

Emily Hughes. I was firmly in the Michelle Kwan camp; I think Michelle was right to petition, I think she was right to go to Torino, and I think she was right to pull out. But having said all of that, I’m rooting for Emily. She is ferocious in this program; both here and at the US Nationals, she really attacks every element. She hits the ice with so much force. And when she jumps, she holds on to those landings, even if her body seems determined to crash. It’s not entirely elegant—she doesn’t make it look easy—but it’s exciting. Emily’s spiral moving into a Biellman is lovely; the rest of the sequence is less so, but it’s great to see a strong spiral from someone who isn’t as preternaturally flexible as Sasha Cohen. Emily does the real world version of a beautiful spiral. And I just loved her final spin; she manages to move through the different positions to rack up points without losing speed or passion. It was really fun to see Sarah Hughes screaming her head off for her sister while Emily took her bows.

Sarah Meier is wearing yellow, which looks surprisingly good on her. Sarah travels a little on her spins; Scott Hamilton says that the Swiss are known for their spins, but I thought her first was decidedly off tonight. I like this program and she’s an appealing skater, but she lost so much momentum at the end of the program that it fizzled out a little.

Irina Slutskaya, the dominant gold medal favorite. She’s obviously a gifted skater and she has an amazing backstory. I really like her choice to do a bodysuit instead of a skating dress; it makes her stand out from the crowd. (But I could do without the star sequins glittering across her rear end.) Irina is 27, which is older than Michelle; it always made me irritated when commentators said that Michelle was too old to skate while simultaneously praising the strength of Irina’s skating. The music is, intriguingly, the same music that Michelle Kwan had planned to use in her short program; I would have loved to have seen Michelle’s take on this music. I bet Michelle would have made it artistic, as opposed to Irina, who is literally just flying through this program, moving from element to element, with virtually no transitions. Irina skates faster than any other woman on the ice and just muscles through her program. The program is exciting, but not inspiring.

I counted four Biellman positions. Arghh.

Irina is incredibly assertive about her strengths; she famously thought that she, not Sarah Hughes, should have taken gold in Salt Lake City and was reportedly furious when she fell to the silver medal position at the Grand Prix Final this year.

Irina’s scores are interesting; her technical scores are only a few points higher than Kimmie’s. This tells me that the door is wide open tonight—and also that Kimmie Meissner could be a huge threat over the next few years.

Silvia Fontana is beautiful and is married to former US Pairs Skater John Zimmerman. Check out their wedding photos.

She, like the Italian ice-dancers, came back from retirement to skate in Italy. Silvia has been a staple of the ice shows and professional skating world, and I think her showmanship reflects that experience. The jumps, however, also reflect her professional experience. Silvia is fun to watch because she looks like a woman, not a girl, and sells her program with maturity and a little bit of sex appeal.

Shizuka Arakawa. I don’t worry about Shuzuka when she skates. For Emily, I hold my breath; for Silvia, I sigh. But for Shuzuka, I’m totally confident. She is stoic. She is one of the taller skaters, at 5’6, and her line is lovely. Shizuka, in her bio on NBC, says that while she has learned to do a Biellman spin, it is painful.

Sasha Cohen’s costume is great. It looks terrible off the ice, but when she’s moving, the costume works beautifully and the effect is of a scarf tied around her waist. Sasha has talked about how she, for years, relied on her innate talent to get her through competitions. This year, Sasha has practiced and conditioned and is reportedly in the best physical shape of her life, even though she had a bad flu at the US Nationals and still looks thin.

Robin Wagner: “Athletes have to trust coaches.” It’s widely rumored that there was some bad blood between Robin Wagner and Sasha Cohen from Sasha’s brief tenure under Robin’s coaching. Based on that quote, I think there must be something to that.

Fumie Suguri’s costume is, I think, designed to show off her lovely spirals. The wide neckline emphasizes her long clean lines and makes her look open to the audience. {Michelle Kwan had this mastered. I miss Michelle.} Fumie is skating to a flamenco rhythm, much like Belbin and Agosto did last night. The choreography is terrific for Fumie; this is one of the few short programs I’ve seen tonight that really feels like a story has been told. Her final spin slowed down quite a bit, but overall, I think this was a great program and she did a beautiful job.

Carolina Kostner, ex-girlfriend of Stephane Lambiel (the men’s silver medalist) and the Italian flag-bearer. As a former world bronze medalist, she bears all of the Italian figure skating medal hopes. She’s famous for cracking under pressure. I hope that, for her country, she holds it together tonight. She’s skating to the Mission soundtrack, which means that this music has been used by at least one skater in every discipline (and I totally understand why; it’s gorgeous, passionate music). And oh, she just fell on her first jump. It’s inspiring to hear the Italians applaud to support her, but it’s very disappointing for Carolina. Carolina is a great skater, but she’s not performing up to her potential.

Back to Sasha Cohen, to close out the ladies’ short. Sasha really lucked out in the draw; the last slot is historically the best, and even under the new system, I think it will help Sasha’s program component scores to be skating at the end.

Sasha is skating to Russian folk music, which uses human voices (as an instrument, though, not singing lyrics.) Sasha is obviously more flexible than any of the other competitors; it almost seems unfair to compare them, because she’s just clearly blessed by the skate gods. She doesn’t have the same warmth or heart as some of the other skaters (or her arch-nemesis of days of yore, Michelle Kwan) but she’s exquisite to watch.

I love this program; it’s brilliantly choreographed and Sasha is really selling this, from her footwork to her music to her costume. It allows Sasha to really showcase what she does best and helps her bring the audience into the performance. She did a spectacular job tonight and you can see it on her face.

We’ll still have to see if she can string together two programs in a row, but if tonight was any indication, this may be her year.

Wow, Sasha’s in first place! I think she really deserves it. So we’ve got Sasha, Irina, and Shizuka battling it out for the podium, with Kimmie Meissner in fifth and Emily Hughes, really shockingly, in seventh. I might have reversed the standings of Arakawa and Suguri, and I think that Kimmie Meissner’s program component scores may have been a bit high—but overall, this was a really good night for both Japan and the US, and it will be very interesting to see how Irina handles being in second (albeit by .03 points) going into the long.

PREEMPTIVE AMERICAN IDOL DISCUSSION THREAD: Because the night belongs to singers. Because the night belongs to Fox.

Put yr comments here. Over/under on Randy's use of "pitchiness" as a critique is at 5.5.
"TERRELL OWENS IS OFFICIALLY ONE OF SHAQ'S WEED CARRIERS": If you don't know what the heck that means, please check out Straight Bangin's report on All-Star Weekend for more amusing and well-observed cultural cryptography. Other than Adam's quick Shaq-redux the All-Stars got short shrift here among all the Olympic coverage.

Oh, and since Joey linked it over there, here's The Human Resource on Shani Davis.
YOU CAN DANCE IF YOU WANT TO: This is certainly unexpected. Remember that show from last summer, So You Think You Can Dance, which I dutifully blogged about even though no one except me was watching? Well, apparently I am the show's target audience: auditions for the second season are taking place next month. Apparently the prego Lauren Sanchez of "See Ya" fame is being replaced by the not-prego Cat Deeley as host. (It's awfully hard to find a site with pictures of Deeley that doesn't trigger my workplace porn defuser.)
PARENTS ACTING IN LOCO PARENTIS: Houston parents will shortly be able to dictate what their kids eat for lunch at school. My guess: a black market in desserts will crop up as the kids with parents who don't care about such things earn a vig for buying Tastykakes for their friends.
McSEXY? McYUMMY? NO, McSTEAMY: We interrupt this Olympics for a couple of quick notes on Battle of the Network Inhumanly Gorgeous Doctors and the Jack Bauer Power Hour (my thanks to whomever coined the latter term, which I have now co-opted as my own).

24: I understand that enjoying 24 is all about the suspension of disbelief. I really do. And I am one of the most eager suspenders of disbelief that has ever been born. But seriously: in what world does a president have but a single advisor? Terrorism running rampant? Talk to Mike. Marital problems? Talk to Mike. Need to decide whether to throw significant heads of state to the wolves? Talk to Mike. To quote one of the most acerbic foreign relations scholars of our time, GOB Bluth: "Come on!"

Grey's Anatomy: Except for the last 90 seconds, I adored this week's episode. (But for the fortuitous happenstance of one of our loyal readers calling me at 10:03 pm to discuss last week's Lost, which she'd finally gotten around to watching, I would have been watching it in real time. This is the mark of a show's having gotten under my skin.) I can't think of another current show that depicts relationships with such subtlety and complexity week after week. And the beauty of it is that you don't have to buy into each individual relationship -- there's something for everyone.

A couple of examples: I personally don't get the George love that so many people have expressed. I think he's had some great moments lately (the old but not "old" woman who didn't want to go to the nursing home, his role in W. George Bailey's birth, the nurses' strike), but his whole Meredith thing, to me, is just a big snooze. He's just whiny. And while I get the appeal of the Christina/Burke relationship and enjoy watching it (go iPod dancing!), it's not a driving force in my appreciation of the show. I am, however, very caught up in the Ellis/Webber story and anything having to do with Izzie. (I'm sure there are plenty of people who hate the Ellis story and love George, or are anti-Izzie pro Burketina-- that's all fine. I'm not advocating my view of the relationships as the correct one, just noting that there is an abundance of finely wrought plotlines from which to choose your own favorites.)

To me, the heartbeat of GA is Derek's Dilemma. Not "who will he choose?", but how does one reconcile the past with the future? How do you close the door on something that has brought you great joy in order to honor the vows you took so long ago with a person who has betrayed you? I only started watching the show after Addison's appearance (damn Amazon for not yet getting my DVDs to my mailbox!), so I'm curious how I'll react to the pre-oops forgot-to-mention-that-I'm-married episodes.

Oh, and one other thing: the opening sequence of this week's episode (the one culminating with the punch) was laugh-out-loud-and-rewind-three-times funny.
I CAN ONLY SEE MYSELF SKATING AROUND THE TRUTH WHO I AM, BUT I KNOW, DAD, THE ICE IS GETTING THIN: Tonight, all the waiting ends, as this talented group of beautiful ladies finally hits the spotlight. Years of training and coaching went into this moment, but one false step, one bad decision could ruin it all. And after this brief performance is over, their fate is in the hands of a group of ornery, untouchable judges, whose reasoning can often be hard to decipher. Will the crowd's applause sway them? Or are they doomed to finish out of the running on Thursday?

I am referring, of course, to the conflict between the Olympic women's figure skating short program and the American Idol women's semifinals, both of which air tonight. What are you going to do about it?

This is my solution: as it happens, we're going to be out for dinner tonight, and I know that there's just no way I'll be able to avoid the results all day long anyway. So we'll TiVo and watch Idol tonight, then TiVo the skating during the overnight (NBC reairs its primetime coverage in the wee small hours of the morning) and watch it tomorrow. But I'm annoyed at Fox -- they could've postponed this week of performances to do profiles of the twenty-four semifinalists, and saved this round until next week. Oh well.

Predictions for both competitions are, of course, welcome.
I HEAR THE ICE TINKLE, SEE THE LIGHTS TWINKLE: Here's Gretchen's take on the ice dancing finals:

Loved the Lithuanians program to Phantom of the Opera. Super, super cheesy, but really engaging nonetheless.

Fusar-Poli spent the entire warm-up ignoring Margaglio. But after they skated, she dramatically kissed Margaglio on the forehead, apparently restoring him to her good graces. She seems like a piece of work. She has a child; that poor thing will need therapy for years. As for their program, he was literally trembling during at least one or the lifts. I bet she Knows People Who Know People.

The Israeli skaters’ Bolero program has gotten a lot of slack—how dare anyone use the same music as the legendary Torville and Dean! You know, if you want a bolero, why not use a new version, like the one that played over the closing credits in Moulin Rouge? Why deliberately invite the comparison? They did a nice job, but you wouldn’t know it from the commentators, who spent the entire performance comparing them to T&D.

I hate Grushina and Goncharov’s program. What is up with her costume? It’s like she’s channeling Pocohantas as a stripper princess. There is more fabric in her headband than on her entire torso. Their music never really moves and I think they’re really boring to watch. I can’t believe they were on the medal stand.

Navka and Kostamarov skated to Carmen, but instead of a tragic, dramatic program, they did a playful rendition. It reminds me of Debi Thomas’s bronze medal performance in Calgary in 1988; she and Katarina Witt both skated to Carmen, but while Katarina’s Carmen died tragically on the ice, Debi’s triumphed. I don’t think it makes for a particularly compelling program—and I particularly hate the way she “dies” at the end in that really rigid, jerky way, with her skates pointing in the air—but they were solid enough tonight to retain their lead. It wasn’t inspiring, but they did the job. I cringed on that last lift when she grabbed her skate; she cut her hand quite badly doing that at the European Championships.

Denkova and Staviski: They moved so fast and threw themselves into the moves with such energy that I kept worrying they would fling themselves onto the ice. But they stayed upright, and skated what I thought was an energetic and passionate, if not particularly beautiful, program.

Tanith and Ben looked HOTT and skated well. I think her costumes are really well designed; they’re flamboyant without being hideously ugly (I’m talking to you, Stripper Pocohantas.) Their music choice is inspired, with the rhythmic beat moving into the more lushly melodic middle section. They have nice spins, I think, and a fabulous connection with each other. Tanith didn’t seem quite as on as she normally does; their last rotational lift looked slightly uneven and she slid a bit on a twizzle. Wonder if nerves got to her? Interestingly, they are one of the few couples in ice dance who aren’t sleeping with each other; G&G are married. Navka is actually married to former ice dancing champion Sasha Zhulin, who now coaches them. I thought B&A were great and infinitely more entertaining than Navka/Kostamarov, but Tanith did make that tiny mistake. I’m disappointed, but I can see why the standings ended up the way that they did.

Delobel and Schoenfeld have a very interesting and artsy program. Their lifts are elegant and I adore the way that they create masks with their gloves. I've seen this program before and I like it so much better the second time around; they have a lot of intensity and depth and really cast a spell with their music and their choreography. But honestly, this program doesn't connect with a crowd, and Belbin and Agosto are a hard act to follow. I think they should have won bronze; they're so much more complex and artistic than G&G. I'm really disappointed for them.

Also, loved Tanith's shout-out to both winning a medal for the United States AND to her support for the Canadian ice-dancer who seriously injured herself and skipped the free skate. Way to be a dual citizen! Also, I love that Ben just thanked their amazing legal team. Go lawyers!

What do you all think? Which was the ugliest outfit of the evening? Did Tanith and
Ben deserve silver, or should they have been on top of the podium? And were the French robbed?

Monday, February 20, 2006

I WANT TO FUG YOU LIKE AN ANIMAL (AND/OR ICE DANCER): I think that someone here at ALLOT5MA (perhaps in one of the posts that was eaten by the server earlier this week) recently linked to the Dancing Brave explanation for why Go Fug Yourself would not, repeat not, be fugging the skating costumes for us.
"Fugging the skating costumes would be like intentionally fugging a drag queen for wearing crazy wigs and false eyelashes. Can't do it."

Fortunately, the matter won't simply fall through the cracks or get left in the hands of rank amateurs like myself, since Tim Gunn apparently has no similar reservations.
I GOT A SHELF LIFE OF TEN YEARS, TOPS: Cuba Gooding Jr. wants his 'quan' back.

I NEVER HAVE DINNER WITH THE PRESIDENT. I NEVER HAVE DINNER WITH THE PRESIDENT: There are so many topical questions I can ask on this day that I'm bound to screw it up and ask one that no one cares about, so here's two, to reduce the margin of error:

  • What will history remember as the major accomplishments of the Josiah Bartlet administration?
  • Tell us something about a non-major president that you think we'd find interesting.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

THE THINGS THAT KEEP ME UP AT NIGHT: Can anyone provide insight or refer me to a resource that will provide insight on the following issue: what is the difference in necessary skill sets between bobsled, luge, and skeleton? From what I can ascertain, (a) bobsledding requires the abilities to run fast, jump into a roller coaster car, and be as frictionless as possible; (b) luge necessitates strong arms, the willingness to slide feetfirst, and the aforementioned frictionlessness; and (c) skeleton brings back the running fast thing from bobsled minus the rollercoaster car, adds the willingness to lead with one's head while flying along at 70 mph, and, of course, the de rigueur lack of bodily friction. Am I missing anything?

And how did these three separate sports come into being? Did it all start out as luge, and then there was some Scandinavian Schism of 1704, dividing the world into the feeties and the headies, followed by a big surge of industrialism in the early 20th century that made part of each camp desire something with a little more in the way of machinery?
COME DANCING: While I'm watching the NBA All-Star Game, with the most gleefully overdone introductions since the Creed-Drago fight in Rocky IV (and where I'm still processing the fact that ALOTT5MA fave the Master Shaq Daddy Diesel Fu-Shnick is a 13-time All Star), Gretchen is watching the Olympic ice dancing, and files this report:

The original dance is really fun, I think. It’s more organically connected to the ballroom roots of ice dance, but still has more flair and style than the compulsories (which, after twelve rounds of the Ravensburger waltz, could make a girl lose her mind!) Traditionally, in the Latin OD, you see two fast tempos connected by the rumba; it gives skaters a chance to relax and helps to distinguish the fast tempos from each other (the fast ones look a whole lot alike.)

The compulsory dance standings were a really good example of the potential problems with the scoring mechanism, as I talked about a few days ago. The top six skaters were separated by just 1.42 points—and my guess is that if you had different randomly-selected judging panels, any team could have ended up anywhere in the top six.

The twizzle is the side-by-side turns, first in one direction, then on the other foot in the other direction. They talk about them a lot because it’s one of the few consistent elements in all of the programs that the regular viewer can identify. Another important thing to look for in ice dancing is the unison between the two partners, the moving on the lifts---namely, is the male moving or spinning while lifting his partner?-- and the fluidity of their movement (one key indicator is to watch the knees and hips of the skaters. Judges look for “soft knees”, which demonstrates fluidity and makes the entire body look like one smooth line.)

Jamie Silverstein and Ryan O’Meara are so cute. She looks so happy to be skating. In a recent article in the Times, she talked about her struggle with anorexia. Ever since Joan Ryan's book Little Girls in Pretty Boxes, figure skating has gotten blamed for a repressive environment that fosters eating disorders. But one of the really interesting things about Jamie is that she clearly still loves skating and loves the sport. She said, in the New York Times, “It was really hard for me for a long time, and it still is," she said. "On a day-to-day basis, I don't feel beautiful, but skating has always made me feel beautiful. It's just that now I've learned you can be beautiful without being perfect.”

Gregory and Petukhov seemed to stumble a little on their twizzles. There’s been gossip for a long time about their relationship; he is a Russian citizen and she was without a partner when they hooked up on the internet, had a try-out, and became partners. Shortly thereafter, they married in Vegas. International love story or mail-order skating-partner-Olympian? Who knows. But given how hard they’ve worked to get to the Olympics, I’m not sure it matters. (See, e.g., this link)

NBC, suffering from low ratings and a drought of Olympic moments, is clearly turning to the ladies’ figure skating competition to fix their problems, with extended early profiles of the skaters and comments from Sandra, Scott, and Dick on the training sessions.

You know, the pairs skating competition in 2002 was the straw that broke the camel’s back on the judging system, but ice dance was just as implicated—and was, if anything, far more
corrupt as a discipline than the others. Ice dance judges notoriously made couples prove themselves for years before granting them a medal. In fact, in 2002, "[w]hen [Peizerat and Anissina] . . . went out to receive their gold medal, Gwendal looked at me and said, 'Did we really win?' " said U.S. ice dance judge Charlie Cyr, who has been instrumental in the development of the new system. "That's pretty sad."

Ice dancing seems fundamentally, somehow, un-judgeable. Without the muscular quads and triples of singles skating, without the throws of the pairs, the ice dancing competition relies on footwork, close lifts, unison, and that beast, musicality. It’s a challenge to understand how it can possibly be fairly judged. And perhaps it can’t.

But there are a few signs of success so far. First, Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto have a lot working against them—namely, they are young and Americans. Yet they’ve skyrocketed to the top of the podium, and have been medal contenders in every international event that they’ve entered for the last two years. Second, at least one ice dance team—Drobiazko and Vanagas, of Lithuania, have come out of retirement to compete in Torino, in part because the new system gave them hope that they could be judged fairly. (At the Nagano world championships, the Israeli team of Chait and Sakhnovsky won the bronze, despite the superior performance of the Lithuanians; most of the skaters, some coaches, and some judges signed a letter demanding an explanation. It was widely understood to be yet another corrupt ice dancing scandal.)

Both of these developments are good indicators that something is going right in ice dancing. If we see an upset tomorrow night—if Belbin and Agosto make it onto the podium, and particularly if Navka and Kostamarov lose the gold—then we may be able to say with some confidence that the new points system is really working.

* * *

It’s always curious to me when skate teams are siblings, like Kerr and Kerr from Great Britain. So much of ice dancing is about sex; much of the drama and narrative of the ice dancing comes from the sexual tension and romantic engagement between the partners. How do you redirect that obvious source of energy when you’re siblings? Or do you just pretend to be in love? And does anyone else find that sort of icky?

So far the costumes have been appropriately ugly, but we haven’t approached the true heights of fabulous garishness that I associate with ice dancing. I wait with bated breath.

Oh, thank goodness—Chait and Sakhnovsky are finally stepping up to the costume challenge. She’s wearing a feathered tutu and a white leotard bodice that opens in the back and exposes her sides. There’s a collar on her dress that reminds me of Malificent in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. He’s one of the best partners in the world—he’s really expressive and so fun to watch. They are so much better than their predecessors (a Japanese team)—despite what I said earlier about the unjudgeability of ice dance, they’re obviously superior to the teams we’ve seen so far. Dick and Tracy suggest that the dance is frantic, rather than romantic, but I think that the energy and speed are a refreshing change. Though I do agree with Dick that her dress is perhaps the biggest powder puff in the sport.

Drobiazko and Vanagas: He’s a great skater, she’s very very pretty. I love her hair and the costume is pretty, even though it’s mostly a red ace bandage swathed around her chest. Oh my god, they fell! That hardly ever happens in ice dancing! Wow. That was amazing. And it’s really sad for them, because they are really fun to watch. Her lines are so elegant and that split lift at the end is beautiful. Their free skate is fantastic (and it’s to an awful mix of Phantom of the Opera, which may be part of why I love it so.) This is really unusual. In the replay, you can see that she basically let her foot splay out and run into his skate; he tumbled into her and they both hit the ground. They looked absolutely stunned. Compare their reaction to a fall to, say, the men singles skaters, who look freaked out UNLESS they fall at least once.

The commentators are fabulously discussing the importance of the toe pick. Having just watched the Greatest Olympic Movie Ever, The Cutting Edge, all I can hear is Moira Kelly looking at D.B. Sweeney as he falls on the ice, chanting, “toe pick!”

Despite their fall, they still move ahead of Chait and Sahknovsky.

Grushina and Goncharov. Another Ace Bandage dress. I’m not a big fan of this program. Too much flailing around. Not enough of an actual dance pattern.

Delobel and Schoenfelder. I really can’t stand his yellow headband. It’s so ugly! Their performance was nice; they had a great set of lifts. For those of you who watched the episode of Project Runway where the designers created a figure skating costume for Sasha Cohen, you may recall the judges slamming Kara for her use of fringe on the costumes. Well, Delobel used fringe and I thought it looked great. Alas, poor Kara Janx!

Denkova and Staviski are gorgeous, athletic skaters, with great edges and lots of force. Their music choices were really accessible this year, which was smart (in case you didn’t get that their footwork was a cha-cha, the lyrics in their music yelled out “One, two, cha cha cha!”). Their rumba was great until they just kind of fell out of a spin. It was strange—no one hit the ice, but as she kicked her leg towards him, he didn’t make the catch and it fizzled out.


Dubreuil and Lauzon: These Canadians are charming, but I’m mostly intrigued by the straps on her skating costume. At one point during the dance, she thrust her hands through the straps, converting them from a halter to two straps on her back.

Oh my god, he just DROPPED her in the rotational lift. She literally slammed into the ice onto her side. That looked like it hurt and she’s not standing up and bowing, instead crouching in pain. There are tears in her eyes and he’s carrying her to the kiss and cry.

Faiella and Scali: They have wonderful music opening their program. However, their opening footwork looks a little sloppy to me. They had lots of expression but it was mostly in their arms, not in their feet. And that sloppiness just resulted in a pretty nasty tumble, where they both landed on their butts on the ice. This couple is interesting because they’re so similar in size—she’s almost as big as he is, and may be taller than him, too.

When they fell, Tracy Wilson said “That is the difficulty of ice dance.” Translation: “Okay, all you people who say that ice dance isn’t a sport, watch these injuries! Watch this! We can fall just as well as the pairs skaters!”

Navka and Kostomarov are the favorites. Navka is dressed like an exotic bird, with a turquoise blue tail. It’s great to see a program without one of those nasty falls (I can’t believe I just wrote this about ICE DANCING!). They did a nice job.

Fusar-Poli and Margaglio, the Italians who are in the lead after the compulsory dance, notoriously HATE each other. They have gone to see at least two psychologists to help them get along. They came out of retirement to skate for the Italians in Italy, and the judges certainly rewarded them for that on Friday night in the compulsories. Their twizzles seemed a little slow. And my god, they also fell! She just fell out of a rotational lift and her smile, which had lit up the arena before, instantly went dark. They look incredibly angry with each other, glaring at each other in the center of the ice before moving to the center to take their bows. It’s really surprising to see them fall; their program is not one of the most difficult in the competition and they should have been able to do that without a problem. It’s not like they can blame the system for forcing them to do a more technically rigorous program.

Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto: They are absolutely darling. Keep an eye on her knees, though—they’re notoriously not “soft” enough. Ben is a great skater and is really brilliant with rhythms. Tanith is gorgeous, especially in that dress—check out the red clamshells and the fake thong straps. By the way, that dress doesn’t use any illusion fabric. That’s all Tanith, baby. And she has fabulous expression. Ben loves the Latin rhythms and really throws himself into the dance. This program is perfectly timed to their music. Their rumba depicts a certain level of ardor that I don’t think we’ve seen in the earlier teams. And the last rhythm, to “Let’s Get Loud,” is a joy to watch. And oh my god, their last twizzle-footwork-lift sequence was amazing. It was fast, energetic, and beautiful. Well done, Tanith and Ben. I’d put them in first. (But as I pointed out, I’m totally biased.) They’re only 1.38 points behind the leaders, so they can definitely make a play for gold.

Tomorrow night is the free dance, where costumes run wild, skin gets shown, and teams virtually have sex on the ice. Will Tanith and Ben take gold? Will Fusar-Poli and Margaglio kill each other on ice? I can’t wait!

THOUGH THIS BE MAD, YET THERE IS METHOD AIR IN'T: I don't know whose post I'm stealing (or arguing with) here, but for what it's worth I like what Lindsey Jacobellis did in the snowboard cross. The debate in my house -- and it's a heated one -- is about why you go to the Olympics. My view is that with two small bumps to go, Jacobellis had already proven to everybody that on that day, in that race, she unquestionably had bested the competition. She had already won. At that point, she needed to decide: do I just ski safely down and collect the gold medal that commemorates the win that I already own, or do I do what all elite athletes are supposed to do, and continue pushing myself to do something even more special? I don't watch the Olympics to see uncontested victories -- I want to see amazing feats of physical prowess, and I wish (though don't necessarily believe) that I were the kind of person who would do exactly what Jacobellis did. Except I would stick the dismount.

On another Olympic note, I come down squarely on the Shani Davis side of the Hedrick dispute. Let me get this straight: Hedrick is pissed because Davis chose to concentrate on his individual races instead of helping Hedrick chase Heiden's five-gold record? Hedrick just seems delusional to me -- everybody says that even with Davis, the US was a long-shot in the pursuit; plus, Davis was going to ruin the Heiden chase by beating Hedrick in the 1,000 anyway (Hedrick took 6th, so he can't blame that one all on Davis). Why should he sacrifice some of his edge in his best race to help Hedrick's pipe dream? And to top it off, Hedrick looks exactly like Colby Donaldson.

Is WoW the New Golf? Or is that suggestion just the latest bit of froth from the gaming industry's hyperbolic blender of buzz?
GOOD NEWS / BAD NEWS: The good news is that the star that makes best currently identified candidate for an extra-solar system capable of supporting life is only 26 light years away.

The bad news is that the Patent And Trademark Office will not grant coverage for your warp drive design until you produce a working model. ...or is that good news too?

General relativistic hat tip to Dennis Crouch of Patently-O, and to the superhuman clearinghouse for this kind of fun stuff that is Slashdot.
WHICH IS A LOT BETTER THAN PERSUADING BERKELEY TO DECLARE A=A: As Harper's subscribers already know, the city of Lawrence (KS) will celebrate International Dadaism Month during February 4, April 1, March 28, July 15, August 2, August 7, August 16, August 26, September 18, September 22, October 1, October 17, and October 26, 2006.
I THINK WE'RE BACK: Here's what we would've been blogging about had the server been working over the past 48 hours: