Monday, March 31, 2008

The best NBA season since they sported these fashionable wears

If you know me as a sports fan, you know my allegiances lie with the Red Wings and Lions first, then the Cubs and Tigers followed probably last by the Pistons. I suppose this is odd for two reasons: 1) I hate the Bulls and their fans more than any other opposing team in any of the four major sports and 2) no Cubs, Red Wings or Lions loss caused me to gravity test a cinder block like the Pistons double-overtime loss to the Nets in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in 2004 did - although a poor Taboo card holder experienced my wrath during Game 5 of the 2006 World Series. Regardless, I get less worked up about the Pistons and watch fewer of their games and NBA games in general than any other sport. I simply care less - far less - about the NBA than any of the other sports. So remember that when I say this: the season's NBA regular season has been more compelling than any other regular season for any sport that I can remember in my life time. Despite the disheartening - if not unsurprising - revelation last summer that referee Tim Donaghy had unsavory and compromising relationships with gamblers, the NBA has had a series of remarkable luck and great play since that dark day last June. Of the three "scandals" that broke last summer - Bonds and the home run chase, Vick and Bad Newz Kennels, and Donaghy - the mess Donaghy left was most damaging because it involved the very credibility of its sport. I'd recommend this Bill Simmons' column recounting its impact.

But Donaghy's indiscretions have thankfully been blurred by a Pax Association - the Rockets, LeBron Kevin Garnett, Chris Paul, the 76ers, Deron Williams, the Lakers, the compelling race in the Western Conference, and the incredible shift of talent west of the Mississippi as Pau Gasol, Shaq, Jason Kidd, and Kyle Korver. As of Monday, 1.5 games separated the top five seeds in the West, while just 5.5 games lie between the top of the conference and the ninth, no-playoff-invitation place. Denver, Dallas and Golden State are tied at 5.5 games back and fill spots 7 through 9 respectively. The race is fluid, dynamic, and exciting. I have deliberately set aside more time this season to watch NBA games than I can remember before and that is almost entirely due to the compelling story lines and exciting race out West. The games matter more and there is a heightened sense of urgency to maintain one's level of play instead of shutting in down for 3/4 of the season, waiting until the playoffs to turn it on. That is what makes it great live drama. Now the NBA has had a few issues this year - the Sonics situation is inexcusable, the Knicks are still an unbelievable embarrassment, the Heat are pretty awful, and the race for the final playoff spot in the East involves four "teams" who are more than ten games under .500. I suppose it is an example of the "best of times/worst of times" dichotomy, but things are pretty good in Stern-ville right now. But here's a suggestion for making the best of times better.

Allow only 6 teams per conference in the playoffs
I know, i know...keeping 8 teams per conference is more financially lucrative, keeps people in jobs, increases interest in cities who are in the race, and theoretically insulates teams from tanking it for the lottery if they have a shot at the playoffs. Ideally the NBA would lower the amount of games, increasing the importance of each game. This is one reason why the NFL works so well; the paucity of NFL games adds to their importance. The importance of each NFL game equals 5 NBA/NHL games and 10 MLB games. Ideally this ratio would be lower for NBA games, but scaling back on the schedule isn't likely. So the other option/challenge is to make the 82 games that are played more important. The easiest way to do this is to cut the number of playoff teams. Rarely are there seasons like this where an entire conference's standings are in flux on what seems to be a nightly basis. By cutting down on the number of playoff teams, that decreases the margin of error and heightens their sense of urgency. This would not only increase interest in the race for the sixth spot, but a six-team per conference format would mean that the top two seeds would have a first round bye as three would play six and four would square off versus five in a best-of-five opening round. Races for the top two spots would insure that the conference's top teams would not coast it into the playoffs, giving fans more to watch than the clowns in the 6-8 seeds battle it out for the final playoff spot. I don't see one reason why this wouldn't accomplish two huge goals: increase the importance of games and make the race to the playoffs more exciting. It would also make the unending NBA playoff season shorter. Amen to that.

Plus, does it really benefit anyone that 16 of 30 teams make the playoffs? Doesn't 12 of 30 seem like a better and more deserving ratio? Baseball lets in 8 of 30 teams and the wild card has been a huge success. Football lets 12 of 30 in and I don't think anyone argues that their system is flawed or unjust. While there have been some great stories from 8 seeds in basketball (Warriors, Nuggets, Knicks), those are few and far between. Most of the time these teams are not championship caliber and only enter into the playoffs to disrupt teams who have spent a season building to where they have gotten to. If they were leaving out championship caliber teams, then I wouldn't be encouraging the reduction to six. But it has been proven that the 7th and 8th seeds are nothing but undeserving pests. Get rid of them and I think most everyone benefits, including the quality of games throughout the regular season. Plus, if crappy coaches and GMs jobs are saved by making the playoffs even though the teams have no real hope of increasing their team's success ceiling in the next couple of years, shouldn't that change be made anyway? Why should the mirage of a playoff birth obscure miserable talent development and execution?

Again, if you aren't going to reduce the overall number of games, then you need to figure out a way to make the games more important. I have little doubt that this would work.

One smaller suggestion (and I'm not the first that has called for this), but they need to reseed the playoffs. The NHL does this and so does the NFL and both have found great success(!) - and even sexy time - with it. The NBA has recently seen its best playoff match-ups betrayed by their unyielding system. Last year the marque Suns-Spurs series was played in the conference semi-finals rather than the finals while two lower seeds - the Jazz and Warriors - battled it out on the bottom half of the bracket. This could have easily been avoided if a policy of reseeding had been in place and if such an egregious example could not persuade the NBA to change its policy, I'm not sure what will. But I think it needs to happen.

Other thoughts to this other than suggesting that they don't assign Donaghy any more games in the most important playoff series of the year?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Just Make It Stop

Of all the disgraced politicians, Eliot Spitzer may be my favorite. He owned up to what he did rather than unendingly deny his actions then attack the legality of the investigation that ensnarled him. He took responsibility and stepped aside, avoiding the circus atmosphere that would have engulfed Albany and inhibited him from effectively doing his job. While most people would agree that sex with a prostitute is unbecoming behavior for most men – and especially one of the nation's governors – it is still just an adulterous affair. It could have been far worse. Spitzer didn't use public funds to bankroll his prostitution fix, nor did he compromise the office or his constituents by placing those he was having an affair with into government positions they were unqualified for, as his New Jersey counterpart did. It was more the wide disparity of his public crusades and his private indulgences that sunk his political ship. Regardless, the scope of damage could have been worse and Spitzer addressed it in a direct and prompt way, yet he still stepped aside.

And if Spitzer has set the bar for resignation, then Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has surpassed it with plenty of room to spare. But the mayor hasn't taken a single cue from the former New York governor. A quick recap of the mess Kilpatrick has found himself in: Kilpatrick, son of a U.S. Congresswoman, was elected Mayor in 2001 at the age of 31. A young and charismatic leader, Kilpatrick was supposed to represent the promise and hope of a reborn Detroit. Unfortunately, Kilpatrick used the position's power and influence like a child would use a toy chest – picking and choosing the best way to entertain himself. There has been long rumors of a wild party of the mayoral mansion - the Manoogian (or Boogie-Down) Mansion - involving strippers and an alleged altercation between a dancer and Kilpatrick's wife. The young woman was shot dead in a drive-by shooting soon thereafter as her boyfriend sat in the front passenger seat of her car. The party instigated an investigation by internal affairs, but we derailed when the IA head and two cops were abruptly fired – or "misappointed" by the Mayor. The three sued the city for wrongful termination, knowing that they had been fired because of their impending exposure of the Mayor and his misdeeds. In the whistleblower trial, the Mayor and his female Chief of Staff (long-time friend) testified to no wrong doing and indicated that there was not an intimate relationship between the Mayor and his most immediate appointee. The city – at the Mayor's urging – agreed to a $9 million dollar settlement with the three cops in October. But early this year, the Detroit Free Press published rather salacious and implicating text messages between the Mayor and Chief of Staff of the two's affair and the firing of the three cops. It is pretty clear that perjury occurred. The Chief of Staff resigned soon thereafter and yesterday the Mayor was charged with 8 different counts, ranging from obstruction of justice, perjury and conspiracy. The former Chief of Staff also was charged with a half dozen or so charges. It is a huge mess, but the Mayor – despite large amounts of evidence to the contrary – expects to be cleared of any wrong doing and has refused to resign, even though an impending trial would take up much of the Mayor's time and attention away from a city that desperately needs it.

Kym Worthy, the prosecutor who charged the Mayor Monday, was exactly right…this is not a personal matter. If the Mayor just had an affair, then that could be considered an isolated and personal matter.

But the fact is that the Mayor flaunted and mocked the justice system during the whistle blower trail, ruined the reputations and careers of Detroiters who were doing their sworn duty while he was not, and the fact that the Mayor used $9 million from the city's coffers to cover up his embarrassing behavior. If any other city employee had cost Detroit close to eight-figures to avoid embarrassment, they would be ousted immediately. I am not entirely sure how the Mayor is any different.

And so the Mayor and his team have fallen into the familiar posture of deny, deny, deny and then attacking those who brought the mess to light. The Mayor has apologized, but not specifying what he is apologizing for and has hinted that his defense strategy will be based on proving that it wasn't his thumbs that pounded out the text messages to his Chief of Staff. The defense seems rather flimsy considering that Beatty has acknowledged the affair and resigned. The Mayor's team has also accused of the Free Press of being racially motivated, but the press seems to be willing to expose mayoral sex scandals regardless of race – take a look at San Francisco's mayor or George Ryan in Illinois, the white governor who is now serving time in rural Wisconsin for bribery charges. But Kilpatrick is hoping to rally his base by implicitly saying, "If I am removed, the white suburbanites have won and we can't have that." The Mayor used the N word at the end of the State of the City address, another strike to the wedge that continues to divide many of metro Detroit's residents. And since Worthy is black, they can't use the racially-motivated card against her, so they say the charges she has brought about are politically motivated. Those who have shown they have difficultly taking their responsibility seriously believe themselves to be the only ones who aren't culpable for this mess. Their hubris could not more clearly be shown.

But the Kilpatrick's fellow African-American mayors from across the country cancelled an annual meeting/convention at the last minute because the Mayor is political toxic, but I'm sure the administration would admonish that group for some inexplicable reason too.

And unfortunately, the Mayor's irresponsibility has put Detroit back on the front page for all the wrong reasons. While Kilpatrick cannot take credit for getting Comerica Park and Ford Field built, nor attracting some of the world's most prestigious sporting events, or for the move of General Motors to their current downtown location, Kilpatrick has been at the helm of a remarkable seven years in Detroit, including the opening of the RiverWalk, Campus Martius Park, some positive neighborhood development, and perhaps the most important and memorable week in Detroit's long history – that first week of February 2006, when the nation descended onto Detroit for Super Bowl XL. Expectations were not only met, but clearly exceeded and while Kilpatrick cannot take much personal credit for the week's success, it did happen under his watch and its glow shined brightly on the city's chief. However that brief era of good feelings has ended and Kilpatrick now finds the business community distancing themselves from a man they so desperately wanted – and needed – to succeed. Development will have to be put on hold, attention will be distracted, and the nation's newspapers will be splashed with stories out of Detroit that no one can be proud of. He has had successes, but this gathering storm is more than the city should be asked to withstand.

But Kilpatrick – selfishly and stubbornly – will not spare the city and his family the embarrassment as lawyers trying to define "sexual relationship" and "intimate contact". He will hope that one juror will be unconvinced or unwilling to send away a man who once held such promise, but now only holds a battered and mocked reputation. He will hope that his base will be rallied to re-elect him in November 2009, showing that they would rather have nothing entirely to themselves than share it with anyone from the outside. And he will hope that the text messages recently subpoenaed by the murdered stripper's family doesn't implicate him in a gruesome and unthinkable act. This seems to be bottomless.

And make no mistake, the biggest victims of this will be those that care about and live in Detroit. They have gotten hoodwinked by a irresponsible man who has used the tools of progress for personal enjoyment. They have not gotten the leader they need. And they have once again been embarrassed nationally in a way that other cities would find incomprehensible and simply not stand for. The longer Detroiters and its business community allows for this to go on, the more they will look like Kilpatrick's wife – and the litany of other weary and despondent wives of philandering politicians – hanging on because it's all they know and it's what they have come accustomed to. Detroit deserves better, even if they don't realize it.

Monday, March 24, 2008

If Mikhail is Rasputin, then Michael is Wile E. Coyote - persistent yet epically incompetent

Because of a trip home, I missed my normal Saturday early afternoon window for a re-watch of LOST and a post on the episode, so I apologize for this being a little later than usual as a few of you have pointed out. Anyway, I have lots of little thoughts on the mostly satisfying "Meet Kevin Johnson", an episode that reminded me of "Flashes Before Your Eyes", but maybe that is only because the flashback in both occupied almost the entire episode - although I do feel like it was time well spent.

We'll start with "WAAWWWW-ELLLLLAWTTTT!"'s dad. As I pointed out last week, I am not a huge fan of Michael and wish that Jin had rearranged his face Mr. Potato Head-style now, especially since Jin's watch was used to pawn a gun in order to commit suicide, an act Michael can't even effectively complete. Seriously, can this clown do anything right? I was impressed with the performance of the post-Island Michael and his strained relationship with the son he desperately wants to be a father to. That being said, I couldn't entirely buy his motivation for accepting the ride on the Flying Dutchman. Perhaps the producers painted themselves into a corner on this one, but it was tough to swallow. Michael is dangerously single-minded, his only goal being getting Walk back. Fine. Michael gets on the freighter to help his fellow 815 survivors and subsequently redeems himself for going Hannibal in the hatch, and is then reunited with Walt who realizes that his father is a hero. Fine. I buy that. What I don't buy is that Michael would get onto the freighter thinking "OK, I am going to show Walt what a redemptive soul I have by blowing up the entire ship and its crew, including myself, but never get to be reunited with my boy." That doesn't make any sense. Why would he want to continue on his suicidal path if he sees a way to right wrongs and ultimately show Walt the man his father truly is? Suicide before he meets Zeke in the alley = OK. Suicide afterwards = no sense. This was the most difficult part of the episode to swallow and it served as an obstacle from truly suspending my disbelief, a vital buy-in when you are watching LOST.

That being said, we now know why Jack could jump off the bridge on-ramp in the opening minutes of the season three finale - the Island wouldn't let him. This is also the second time "the Island" is said to have some mystical, controlling power off its rock - Hurley made the first allusion shooting hoops at the end of the season premier. I'm not sure where this is going, but it is an interesting thread to keep an eye on.

A couple more things Michael related. Zeke acknowledges that the Others have been keeping tabs on Michael since he returned to the mainland. This is the second time in three episodes - along with the Widmore beat down caught on tape - there has been an indication that the Others have an active network off the Island that serve some unknown purpose beyond 815 survivor espionage. Again, no huge insight here, but important to note and keep tabs on. How do they get off the Island? Was the sub the only way? I still think there is a landing strip somewhere on the Island.

I also think Michael gets stuck back on the Island, otherwise he would have been hailed as a member of the Oceanic and used that opportunity to serve as his coming out party - although the logistics of doing that and including Walt so he wouldn't have to hide in his bedroom under an assumed name could be difficult. And while Sayid coldly outed Michael to Cap'n Gault, I'm not entirely sure that the big guy didn't already know that Michael was an 815 survivor. Sayid clearly doesn't think Michael can be trusted more than those on the freighter and his nicely written - but cryptic - note about not trusting the captain clearly didn't do the trick. And I loved Ben's chilling reminder that Michael killed the insufferable Ana Lucia and tender (yet apparently mentally unstable) Libby. Speaking of Libby, I hope her brief flashes in Michael's conscious serve as a harbinger of future appearances. I still hold out hope that she has more impact on LOST's overarching story motif. We still don't know her last name.

More confusion on who put the plane at the bottom of the Pacific. This week evidence was shown to implicate Widmore as the reverse treasure hunter, but I'm still not sure you can discount Ben as the culprit. First off, that "evidence" was sort of flimsy and easily falsified. And why exactly would Widmore want the flight data recorder if it exposed the wreckage site as a fraud? There is always the possibility that the flight data recorder supports the crashed and sunk at sea with everyone aboard sequence of events, but by no means do I think the photo and order form discounts Ben/the Others from staging the 815 fuselage. When Lapidus was discussing with who he believed to be Kevin about 815, Lapidus subtly indicated that he is the reason that Widmore doesn't believe that 815 has been found. This web is getting awfully tangled.

Finally Rousseau and Carl. Carl was a logical choice to bite the bullet, a peripheral character who is clearly expendable, but Rousseau's death seemed sloppy and ill-timed, much like Eko's (although there were other reasons as to why Eko needed off the show). I had always hoped for a Rousseau back story, recounting her first few days on the Island, the illness that her fellow crew members succumb to, and properly placing her tile in the larger LOST mosaic. Her untimely end will not likely afford ourselves that opportunity and her storyline will almost without question feel incomplete. While I think most people will assume that Ben deliberately sent the trio into an ambush to separate Alex from her mother and dispose of the troublesome Carl, I'll leave you with an alternative theory...Cap'n Gault and Widmore have sent Lapidus and Keamy to the Island in order to capture Alex so that she can be used as leverage against Ben. We don't know where the helicopter has gone off to (one can assume the Island) and there's likely a reason to have shown Keamy practicing his shot off the side of the boat during the episode...

Also, if you want to irresponsibly speculate how Aaron ends up with the Oceanic 6, take a closer look to the preview shown at the end of the episode. 30 days until a new episode. It is going to be very interesting to see how the final five episodes of the season are paced.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Health Department Put an End to the Hasselhoff Burger

A little background on this post. A good friend of mine - Kenny Havok over at Zubaz & Cock Rock - went to Kuma's Corner last weekend. Kuma's is a burger spot in Lincoln Park whose menu features hair metal band-named burgers. If you know Mr. Havok, you know that hair metal is his specialty. Despite the horrible wait, the restaurant was reviewed positively over at Z&CR (scoring a 666!) with one notable exception; the burgers don't really have anything to do with the bands they honor, offering an excellent blogging opportunity. Mr. Havok's review includes suggestions on how to make how to make the burgers more like their respective band names along with a few suggestions of his own. In a revolutionary approach to blogging(!), Mr. Havok invited Robot In Disguise and The Situation Has Deteriorated to tandem blog on his post (I am certain this has NEVER been done before). So below you have my ideas about how the burgers would best represent the band they are named after. Although none of these ideas are as good as Matt Reedy's suggestion that the John Mayer Burger should be a salad...

Guns 'N Roses Burger - You get a small sample of the burger and it is really good so you order a second one. And you keep waiting and waiting, but it never comes out despite the fact that the chef keeps insisting that it will ready shortly.

Beyonce Burger - Hot and juicy offering popular with all sorts of people. It was originally part of the larger, more complicated Destiny Child burger, but people realized the only tasty part of the burger was the delicious middle, so the restaurant unceremoniously got rid of the other superfluous parts. The burger is now so popular, it is being served at local movies theaters as well.

Dave Matthews Band Burger - You try to order a regular hamburger, but the chef just keeps sending out a live cow. Again and again. Never anything fresh or new, just more live stuff keeps coming. While this is frustrating it is a better meal choice than the DMB Bisque, a hearty mixture of Chicago River water and poop from the tour bus.

Eminem Burger - The burger comes out and is sent back to the kitchen because it hasn't been blackened enough, even though it is better than every other blackened burger available in the restaurant.

Beatles Burger - Innovative and popular burger from England which is unlike any burger you have ever tasted until you get a side of Yoko halfway through the meal, which ruins the entire dining experience.

Nirvana Burger - The cow who's beef you were supposed to eat kills himself and the lettuce jumps to the Foo Fighters burger and no one is quite sure what happened to the tomato. Waiter suggests replacing your order with a Pearl Jam or Soundgarden offering.

Smashing Pumpkins Burger - You order it and take a bite, decide that it is so good you will share it with everyone else. You start passing it around from table to table, but for some reason the Smashing Pumpkin burger never makes an appearance back where it originally came from.

Rolling Stones Burger - A solid choice with cheddar, BBQ sauce, bacon with kobe beef and a kaiser roll. A staple for years. But everyone goes to the bar or bathroom when it comes out of the kitchen with something new on it.

Fall Out Boy, Guster, Oasis or Maroon 5 Burger - When you order either of these, you don't actually get anything, but you are asked by your waiter to go borrow/steal parts of everyone else's burger. You "build" your "own" burger from there, but never actually contribute anything original to the burger or overall menu.

Radiohead Burger - Only available online, you pay what you want and it is delivered through the mail four days later.

Arcade Fire Burger - It comes with 10 different ingredients that you would never put together yourself, but the taste is so perfectly orchestrated, that it is better than anything you have ever tasted before.

Coldplay Burger - scraps of the larger, more popular, and better U2 burger just put together under a stale bun.

Journey Burger - From south Detroit, a popular selection, but only on karaoke nights.

Any other suggestions?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Aaron counts!

I loved the narrative gamesmanship of this past week's episode. Some of LOST's best moments (the season three finale, Desmond's conscious-travel and deja vu) have been born from taking the routine narrative structure and being innovative, finding them free of narrative constraints. And while "Ji Yeon" doesn't rank as one of the show's best, it still is better than some are giving it credit for.

It reminded me an awful lot of "Greatest Hits" - the penultimate episode in season 3 when Charlie recounts his life's top five moments before swimming down to the Looking Glass. Both have a once-wayward and flawed man who finally reconciles his previous failings with the woman he loves, only to (seemingly) approach their premature end. Charlie reconciled his drug use and found acceptance from Claire, allowing for him to make the sacrifice necessary to bring the 815 survivors the chance at rescue and warn them that those on the boat were not who they said they were. Jin needed a similar moment. The previous personal foot-soldier of Sun's father needed atonement for his misdeeds and the treatment of his wife, which ultimately drove her into the arms of another man. He needed to know about her infidelity and then only could he be certain about who the father of the baby in Sun's womb truly was. Speaking of that, how surprising and cold was it when the Ice Queen told Jin about Sun's affair to keep them from leaving for Locke's camp? I was horrified.

I feel as if this completed Jin story arch. No character has changed more over the survivors season of discontent than Jin. He transformed from a domineering, overzealous and isolated husband into a caring, affable and entirely enjoyable character. Now looking back at it, don't you wish Jin had clowned Michael badly in their season one beach side throw-down? That fishing scene with Bernard was marvelous, a clear portrait of a man changed. We needed one more glimpse of Jin slavishly completing the dirty/menial tasks from Mr. Kwan juxtaposed against the infidelity/forgiveness backdrop to serve as a clear illustration of how far he has come as a character. Does this mean that Jin is dead or is he still on the Island awaiting the same "rescue" that Sun enjoyed?

If I had to guess, I'd say that Jin is dead. I suppose it makes sense that he is still stuck on the Island, but Hurley's line about "do you want to go see him?" leads me to believe that he is in fact buried at the tombstone. This is my guess as to what happened. Jin was one of the two 815 passengers to survive the crash but die before rescue, which would jive with the testimony Jack gave on the stand during Kate's trial. Between the time of the crash and his death, Jin impregnated Sun, but died some time thereafter. After his death, Sun is unwilling to leave the Island without his body and therefore is brought along with the other members of the Oceanic 6. Jin is buried under the tombstone erected for the couple after the fabricated 815 wreckage was found and the families sought closure by holding funerals despite not having the body. That would explain the 9-22-2004 date on the headstone and it would also close the holes in Sun's story about who was the child's father and why she was having a child in the 6 to 9 month window after being rescued from the Island. I don't know whether I believe this myself, but it's an explanation that fits in with some of the flash forwards we have already been given. The strikes against the "Jin is dead" theory are the date on the tombstone (why wouldn't Sun have changed it?) and the fact that killing off 815 survivors makes it more difficult for the audience to buy into Jack's obsession with returning to the Island, my argument from a few weeks ago. Are we really going to care if Mr. Go-Gurt is the one Jack is returning to save?

One final thing about Jin. I think this solidifies the members of the Oceanic 6. Kate, Jack, Hurley, Sayid, Sun, and Aaron. I always thought the "Aaron wasn't on the manifest, so he can't be a member of the Oceanic 6" argument was weak. Those questions should end now.

That's enough speculation about Jin for now. Let's talk about the return of Michael. I know it wasn't exactly shocking, especially since at Comic-Con last year, LOST's executive producers were joined for a Q&A panel with Harold Perrineau to discuss his return. And that he has been included in the cast credits for the past month. I wonder why they decided to do it, sucking the surprise or anticipation out of his appearance. Regardless, we are likely going to get an eye full of Michael next week (yes, there is an episode...ABC has previously scheduled the break to begin after this week's episode, but for some reason they are airing another episode this week..I was wrong) and get an idea about where he and Walt have been since leaving the Island at the end of season two. Michael pretty clearly is sabotaging the freighter's engine and communication room, opening doors for Sayid and Desmond, and passing notes about not to trust the captain. But I'm not sure that we can take anything Michael says at face value. We know that above all else, Michael is concerned about Walt and will do whatever he can to protect his son. If it is in his best interest to plant a seed of distrust about the captain in the minds of Sayid and Desmond, he will do it. The captain seems at least somewhat interested in exposing Ben - hence the fake black box that has been recovered from th 815 wreckage - but if revealing the 815 crash site at the bottom of the ocean as a fraud is detrimental to Ben, Michael is going to do whatever he can to stop it out of love for his son. It will be interesting to see where Sayid's loyalties lie on the freighter - will he trust Michael who has proved to be dangerously single-minded or the freighter folk who have not exactly been forthcoming/trustworthy.

Two other quick things.
The captain's name is Gault, an echo of Atlas Shrugged's enigmatic John Galt. My guess is that this is not coincidental and that the motif of overzealous capitalism will play into the coming episodes.

Finally, I want to quickly make a defense of LOST at the risk of sounding like an apologist. I liked Thursday's episode, unlike some of my friends. I think people want more action, more plot movement, and that is understandable. But the downside of that is having to continually come up with stuff to fill air time and add unnecessary drama for the sake of drama's sake. I really don't want the show to turn into The O.C., adding unneeded plot twists and tiresome drama in the name of spicing up the show. If Oliver shows up on the Island, I am going to quit watching. Those of you who have watched both seasons of Friday Night Lights knows how a show's conviction can be hijacked and betrayed by superfluous additions and ill-planned drama. If the choices are appropriately paced or wildly frantic, I'd take the former. FNL and The O.C. ran out of creative juices. Lost runs the same risk, but I think there is a conscious effort to avoid it, setting up for a large payoff in this season's second half.

NOTE: Again, there is an episode this week. I was wrong in my post last week too. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sam Adams B(eats) General Tso (Chicken)

Samuel Adams organized the Boston Tea Party, but is better known as a beer brand; most people under 30 think of a nunchuck-wielding, orange-clad mutant turtle - not a Renaissance artist - when they hear the name Michelangelo. It's easy to see there's a long tradition in America of recalling history in a backhanded way, honoring people and places in ways that bear little resemblance to their actual significance - coincidental or not. In doing so, we recreate history and historical figures, remembering them in our own unique way.

For example, John Hancock should be remembered for large things (President of the Second Continental Congress), but his name lives on because of larger things – his signature on the Declaration of Independence and the downtown Chicago building. An O. Henry can be “A Gift of the Magi” and a gift of sugar high, as both short stories and candy bars are meant to be consumed. And one can assume that Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show didn’t feature football games between cowboys and redskins, but the Buffalo Bills’ 2007 schedule featured contests against both Cowboys (from Dallas) and Redskins (from Washington).

Americans also seem to usurp foreign allusions easily. Homer no longer fathered just the Iliad and the Odyssey, but also Bart, Lisa, and Maggie. Can you imagine Cadillac rolling up the waters of the Detroit River in a canoe outlined in chrome and with spinners on the paddles? Most remember Casablanca as home not to Hassan II Mosque – the world’s second largest – but rather Rick’s CafĂ©. And one would think Marco Polo’s navigation of the Silk Road was slightly less happenstance than the pool game that carries his name.

Others references simply cross one of the oceans on their own through cultural osmosis. A certain Irish rock band may make more noise than the early Cold War spy aircraft they lifted their name from: the U2. Few people remember that Bloody Mary was first related to a Tudor, not a Mimosa. The Duke of Windsor’s scandalous abdication is long forgotten, but his debonair double-knot remains popular. And the end at Marathon now isn’t widely known for a crippling Persian defeat, but rather for crippling pains in da feet. And I'm almost certain that General Tso's troops didn't enjoy his delicious chicken during the Taiping Rebellion, but I sure do.

Current pop culture isn’t immune to their trend either. If I said, “I just finished Gray’s Anatomy,” you’d think I’d been watching a 43-minute drama dripping with sexual tension rather than reading a 1,000+ page document dealing with skulls and tendons. The original Madonna didn’t roll around in the innkeeper’s stable singing “Like A Virgin” while wearing a wedding dress before the birth of Jesus. And if my roommate tosses his Apple, Steve Jobs – not Johnny Appleseed – takes offense. The most famous white Bronco should be John Elway, not the one with O.J. riding in the back seat. And if a young Hollywood celeb told his parents he was in Paris last night, he might not have been talking about the one with the Louvre.

We’re involved in this cultural exchange every day. We’ve created a culture that might seem like our own, but it’s not; it’s inherently interwoven with history in entertaining – albeit less relevant – ways. While mostly harmless, this “reinterpretation” can be embarrassing, especially for well-educated college students. And I offer a final example to stave off possible embarrassment: Beirut is the capital of Lebanon, not just a collegiate drinking game, to played with – not against – Sam Adams.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

At least Jack didn't go to Bali for a Mike Tyson tattoo in this one...

LOST gave us a flashback on Thursday. Not to the pre-815 Island through Juliet's perspective, but rather to the doldrums of early season three. Perhaps we have set the bar too high. Perhaps we are settling in to a familiar pattern - set-up, payoff, rinse, repeat. Perhaps the writers' pre-strike jitters manifested themselves into a poorly written script. But Thursday's episode of LOST seemed to miss the mark, almost alarmingly so. I will confess, I am not a huge fan of Juliet, so that might have played a part. And a much like the Kate episode, this seemed to be more of a plot accelerator/positioner than anything else. But Kate's episode answered some overarching questions. It gave us a wonderfully delicious twist at its conclusion. This episode just sort of sat there, full of potential energy but lacking a catalyst to spark it. Frustrating on a number of accounts, but satisfying on a few others. I'll start with the positive.

Ben & Locke
My favorite scenes in LOST have dealt with the mysterious (and mobile) cabin of Jacob's. But a very close second is the interaction between our two favorite Island seers, Locke and Ben. It is no surprising that Terry O'Quinn and Michael Emerson were both nominated for Best Supporting Actor (with O'Quinn winning). It's like Messier and Gretzky or Malone and Stockton...perfect compliments to each other and a beauty to watch perform. It is dynamic. And epic. And nerve-racking. And LOST at its absolute best. Ben's line at the end of the episode to Hurley and Saywer - "See you at dinner" - was the highlight of the show.

The SS Widmore
Well, we now know who sent the freighter and if you have read previous posts on this blog, the revelation shouldn't be too much of a surprise. Mr. Charles Widmore - Penny's father - is the uber-zealous bad guy, at least according to Bug-Eyed Ben. Ben's insistence that he didn't know what Mr. Widmore wanted from/of the Island - answering in LOST's speciality, generalities - is probably a load of red herring, but the reveal was satisfying none-the-less. I need to point out when I am right this week because I have a feeling my Oceanic 6 prediction will fall apart 815-style next week.

One other quick thing about the tape. How did Ben get it? He said he taped over the Red Sox win, but has also acknowledged that ever since the fail safe key was turned and the sky turned purple, their communication systems have been down. Ben showed Jack the Red Sox tape after the fail safe key was turned, meaning he taped over it after the communication problems had begun. Has Ben been lying about his ability to communicate with the outside world? In what capacity has he been doing this? And do the Others have only one damn VHS tape on the entire Island?

Ben's communication problems is a good segue for discussing the bad in "The Other Woman."

First off, how is Ben communicating with Harper? I know Ben always has a plan and it is possible that the spy (I will call him Michael from here on out) on the ship knew of Farraday and Charlotte's plan and communicated that to Bed pre-imprisonment. But the timing suggests that Ben sent Harper when he "knew" that Farraday and Charlotte had left for the Tempest. Is Ben communicating telepathically through the Island? Does he have something to do with the whispers, which Juliet heard just before she had stumbled across Harper (I actually really like this idea)? And where did Harper come from anyway? It felt like she just came from no where. In fact, that appears exactly right. She wasn't in the opening scene of season three - when Juliet's book club was interrupted by the 815 crash - but was inserted in that flashback during Thursday's episode, standing behind her husband Goodwin. Regardless, LOST has previously flirted with introducing characters that were there all along, but really weren't (see: Paulo and Nikki), and we all know how that has gone. Harper seemed to be another misstep made in the same vein. It's not as if she was a ghost and mirage in the same way Walt and Jack's father have been since both Juliet and Jack saw her. Any thoughts on this or whether I am alone in my feelings towards Harper would be appreciated.

The back story didn't do much for me either. I suppose we needed a story about the "history" between Ben and Juliet and I loved the scene when Ben's sophomoric pining for Juliet shown through. But did it have to take the entire episode? Is the motif of Ben owning Juliet going to be such a strong emotional tenor for the remainder of the season that it deserved the lengthy and tedious set-up it received in "The Other Woman"? I hope so, because if not, I feel the show burned a major opportunity to add more dimension to Juliet's character. And while I don't particularly care for Juliet, Elizabeth Mitchell's performance is consistent, strong, and believable.

But she was dealt a horrible hand with "The Other Woman" script. I'd like to nominate the "What I need for you is to help me? Will you help me? If we move all night maybe we can catch them. Thank you" scene as the cheesiest LOST scene ever and worst female monologue scene on TV or film since T2 when Sarah Connor said, "In an insane world, it was the sanest choice." And the kiss at the end of the episode was almost as bad. I don't understand Jack's interest in Juliet. Doesn't he need a project, something to fix? Kate seems to fit that mold much better than the Other's OB/GYN.

And finally, who is Juliet really working and looking out for? She says that it is in personal interest to be near Ben, but chooses to stay with Jack. She says that she ultimately thinks Ben will win whatever war the 815ers find themselves in the middle of and yet seems to be distancing herself from him. If he is so powerful and important and possessive, why doesn't Juliet just stick with Ben? The scope of his power is vast and her belief in Ben's eventual victory would make at least me believe that Juliet could never escape Ben's grip. It is in her own self-interest to stay closely aligned with and within proximity of Ben. So why try to work against him and yourself? And why did Ben and Farraday/Charlotte want to do essentially the same thing - neutralize/not use the gas.

Another thing...Goodwin clearly worked at the Tempest Station...shouldn't that have played into Juliet's hand at some point. Didn't he spill some beans in one of their post-tryst sessions in bed that would help Juliet stop Farraday and Charlotte? The acknowledgment that she recognized Goodwin's electrical burn was too much of a hint that Goodwin was involved in something dangerous at the Tempest to be left hanging. What exactly was going on at the station?

I think most of us can agree that "The Other Woman" episode was not classic LOST. But if the show has taught us anything, it's that the episodes must be viewed in the right light. Isolated episodes may not seem to have great importance, much the same way a single tile of a mosaic appears insignificant apart from its whole. However, both stand as integral parts of a larger whole that gain greater significance when placed within their proper context.

Last season, I felt the episode about Hurley and the old VW bus was a nice episode and would have fit perfectly in season one, but felt out of place in season three. I thought it was a waste of an episode. But over the course of the next few episodes, when the skeleton in the bus was revealed to be Ben's awful father and the bus saved the lives of Sayid, Jin and Bernard, the episodes full meaning was revealed. The surrounding tiles and new perspective gave the singular tile its proper and complete context. Then there was the Jack in Bali episode when he got the tattoos, which was awful at the time of airing and when the full story arc of season three was played out. Here's to hoping that "The Other Woman" is more like the former than the latter.

The flow of the season seems to be set-up, payoff, set up payoff (the Freighter Foursome arrival lead into Sayid's flashfoward; Kate's episode lead into an excellent Desmond-centric thriller). Next week - the last LOST episode until mid-April - appears at least to be a worthy payoff. The meaning and worth of its wayward, meandering set-up remains to be seen.

Just a quick note about next week's episode. I think everyone is pretty sure Ben's spy on the boat is Michael. And we know the last of the Oceanic 6 will be revealed. But I think everyone is hoping for something more. And my guess is that we will get it. LOST had 8 episodes completed before the strike, but they are only showing 7 before they take their 5 week break. This is clearly a conscious decision to leave the show on a high note, giving fans plenty to gnaw on over their brief hiatus. If the build up to a big reveal just turns out to be Michael, I think we will be let down by who ever make up the last two members of the Oceanic 6. I think we all expect more (something like Jack's dad as the captain of the freighter), and my hunch is that we will get it.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

One, Two, Three, Favre, Bye...

Brett Favre will be remembered for many things. The first touchdown pass on Super Bowl XXXI's second play from scrimmage, his performance the night after his dad's sudden death, the almost incomprehensible consecutive start streak, and his seasonal flirting with his inner Hamlet. Another amazing feat: for a very long time, Favre was the second most winning quarterback in Soldier Field history, behind Jim McMahon. That is almost as impressive as his consecutive game streak.

Personally I will remember him for hitting a wide open Sterling Sharp in the final minute of a playoff game against the Lions at the Silverdome, leaving a boy just shy of 10 absolutely devastated. And then there is of course this (this too if you have the right software).

Which got me to thinking, what are the most unintentionally hilarious/awkward athlete appearances in movies. Ray (Jesus) Allen in He Got Game doesn't count. But these do.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Airplane!
Please put aside that Airplane! is one of the greatest comedies in American cinematic history with some of the wittiest dialog. Put aside that KAJ actually turns in a pretty damn good performance as Roger Murdock. And that his rant about trying to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes is the perfect response to what must be every athlete's unsaid emotional frustration with fans. The often aloof and mercurial Laker legend seems like such a bad pick for the role that he is perfect. And I suppose we should be thankful that Bill Walton wasn't cast. "OHHHH STRIKER! FLY IT DOWN, BIG FELLA!"
Best line: "Huh....Huh....Huh....What?!"

Dan Marino in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
The closest Dan Marino ever got to a Super Bowl championship ring was while filming Ace Ventura, and perhaps rightly so, because as putrid as his performance was in Ace Ventura, it was worse in Super Bowl XIX (1 TD, 3 INTS in a 38-16 loss to the 49ers). I'm not sure I even need to write any more about this. If you have seen the movie - and if you are reading this blog, my guess is that you've seen a handful of times - you know how painful it must have been to film. At least every young football fan learned an invaluable lesson...that when a field goal is missed it isn't always the kickers fault; and that laces out mean a world of difference. Right Lois Einhorn? And Tony Romo?
Best Line: Ace: Please don't kill me. I'll never tell anyone. Kill him, he's the one you want. Dan: No, no kill me. (see what I'm talking about...there's nothing here)

O.J. Simpson in the Naked Gun series
This goes up there with the KAJ appearance in Airplane! It was hilarious when it came out, still is to a large degree, but unlike KAJ, watching and laughing at O.J. now just seems wrong. And it is too bad, because the movies are pretty good and they stand up well over the test of time. But it is tough to enjoy. It is further complicated by the fact that Simpson stood as an example of sport's egalitarian qualities. He parlayed his on-field popularity into becoming the first black celebrity to be featured in a national corporate ad campaign, running through airport terminals for Hertz. In the mid-70s, a poll of grade-school children commissioned by Ladies' Home Journal named Simpson the nation's most admired figure. He starred in a number of other films, A Killing Affair, a made-for-television movie which stands as one of the first instances of interracial romance depicted in the mass media. Not quite as light-hearted as the other examples, but I think it's important to point out. At least we can still laugh at picturing Nordberg stuck on the underside of a bus on its way from L.A. to Detroit.
Best line: "
Nobody run, just walk. Single file. That's it. Now if we just stay calm, no one's gonna be harmed by the huge bomb that's gonna explode any minute."

Shaq in Kazaam
I suppose you could have picked Blue Chips, but that was actually a pretty decent movie. Steel was much closer to making the list. But I picked Kazaam cause Steel didn't have the line "You smell like hippopotamus butt". Regardless, I don't think it's too surprising when you realize that Shaq started winning championships after he left his acting and rapping career behind. But he is a man of many interests and talents, as his recent law enforcement pursuits have shown.
Best Line: "Grab my belly and make a wish." That is also what he reportedly told Steve Nash after he was traded to the Suns. I suspect that wish wasn't "To slowly fall out of contention in the Western Conference playoff race."

Gheorghe Muresan in My Giant
I haven't seen the movie, but me thinks this might be one that Billy Crystal would like to have back. However, I included it mainly because Muresan's Wiki page says that he played a ventriloquist in Eminem's "My Name Is" music video. This astounds me. This should also astound you.

Brett Favre in There's Something About Mary
Some of Favre's performances in domes were pretty lame, but his appearance late in TSAM as Mary's former lover was just atrocious. (If that movie was made now, Peyton Manning would be the premium choice...just tell him it's a commercial and he's there.) But we have to give it to Favre, a lesser man would have fallen back into his pain killer addiction after prolonged exposure to Ben Stiller. And his amazing MasterCard and Prilosec ads show a much more comfortable Favre.
Best line: "I would have looked out for the water main, but that's just me" Whoops...that's the MasterCard ad.

Pele in Victory
I do feel bad for Pele. He is a world icon that has (let himself) been used as a political pawn and sullied some of his legacy (great chapter in How Soccer Explains the World). It may be a good thing since Victory wasn't exactly the epic soccer movie of our time. (Actually, if it wasn't, then what was?) What this movie needs is "Pele Stallone", not Pele and Stallone. Pele couldn't act. And Stallone (in the blue shirt) couldn't possible be believable as a goalkeeper. It just wasn't going to happen. Goldberg was a more believable goalie. But if you can suspend disbelief that Stallone knows soccer rules and that Pele (as Luis Fernandez) would have ended up in a German POW camp, then you can enjoy the movie. Even if you think soccer is for a bunch of hippie panzies. (I've played soccer for my entire life, so clearly I don't think that.)
Best Line: "Where do I stand for a corner kick?" - Stallone. I'm virtually certain that Stallone needed to know that during filming, so he at least "played his part."

Dennis Rodman in Simon Sez
I don't even need to explain this one, right?

Anything obvious I missed?

Link to my best sports logos post.