Thursday, August 28, 2008

Premature obituration ...

There's an old saying that everybody would love to know what people are going to say about them after they've headed to the open-air baseball diamond in the sky, but I do wonder if there's is any inherent charm to knowing how your obituary is going to go before it's officially valid. (Someone ask that of Michael Phelps, who at 23 already knows what this first line of his final article will be.) History tells us that the premature publishing of an obit, while uncommon, isn't unheard of. P.T Barnum's obit made the New York Evening Sun while the ailing promoter was still alive to read it, though that was no accident; it was upon Barnum's request just so he could know what it would say about his life. Mark Twain was the "victim" of an unduly early exit courtesy of the press when he was thought to be lost at sea in 1907. And in 2003 someone at spilled coffee on a computer or something, an act that inadvertently published the obit pages of several prominent people, including Ronald Reagan, Bob Hope, Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II and Dick Cheney (whom, of course, can never die, but that's another conversation for another time).

Now you can add Apple grand poobah Steve Jobs to this list. Yesterday the Bloomberg News Service, apparently while updating Jobs' 17-page obit, ended up publishing it for all the world to see. Granted, the article had holes in the crucial places - you know, like when and how Jobs supposedly reached "sad face" mode - which would have been an obvious clue that something was up here, and it wasn't Jobs' time among us. Still, the incident has caused Bloomberg a touch of embarrassment and may have raised the blood pressures of a few Apple investors, especially considering fears about the health of Jobs, who has dealt with pancreatic cancer and was looking somewhat thin and frail at his most recent public appearance - and who, by the way, has named no successor to his Apple throne.

Bloomberg soon after issued the appropriate retraction, so all seems right with the world again. But will the writers at Bloomberg now have to start from scratch with their remembrance of Jobs' life, now that everyone has seen more than a sneak preview?

Boy, I Didn't See That Coming ...

Newly anointed swimming god Michael Phelps has been slotted to host the season premiere of Saturday Night Live on Sept. 13. Phelps' actual acting ability, of course, is virtually unknown, but athletes actually have a decent track record when it comes to holding their own on SNL.(Michael Jordan and Peyton Manning, yay; LeBron James, not so much.) But as long as the writers keep his workload light - and prepare a sketch that involves Kristen Wiig in a wet swimsuit - things should work out just fine. So far there's no validity to the rumor that NBC is about to sign Phelps to play Ice-T's new partner on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fair is foul, and foul is fair ...

Today Major League Baseball made it official, announcing that the umpires would be permitted to use instant replay to determine whether balls hit too close to the foul poles were home runs or just spectacular foul balls. The decision was a bold reversal after years of all sorts of factions within MLB fighting the encroachment of the replay technology onto big-league diamonds, and came after a string of several questionable calls earlier this season when the TV screens showed that the officials go their calls wrong. It will be a limited use of instant replay, as it should be; baseball has always been the most human of sports, a sport where the blown call is almost a tradition - albeit an extremely frustrating tradition, depending on whether your favorite team was screwed over or not. There's no need or desire for replay to be use to determine balls or strikes, or whether the runner beat the throw to second base or home plate. And yet, I'm not pleased about this move - or rather, the timing of the move.

Why? Because the change in the rules will not go into effect next April at the beginning of the 2009 campaign. It will go into effect on Thursday, amid the frenzy of some hot pennant races, some of which may have already been affected by iffy home run calls earlier this year, when going to the video tape was not an option. There's no retroactivity in play here - those past decisions still stand, even if the whole world now knows that they were plain wrong, and even if one of them may cost a team the playoffs. So what MLB has established here is what amounts to an uneven playing field within the body of a season - proving that even when baseball commissioner Bud Selig does something right (which hasn't been very often in my book), he still can find a way to muck it up.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

When coaches attack ...

So how did U.S. pole vaulter Jenn Stuczynki, who has only been competing in her sport for four years and was taking part in her first Olympic Games, do in Beijing last night? Listen to the message conveyed to her by her coach, Rick Suhr, and try and figure it out. Here's a hint: The answer is at the end of Suhr's speech.

Yeah, that's right ... Olympic rookie Stuczynki won the silver medal. Finished behind only Russia's Yelena Isinbayeva, who's only the best female pole vaulter of all time and who broke her own world record - again - last night just 'cause she could. It should have been the crowning achievement of Stuczynki's brief career, and a clear sign of what she might accomplish in the next few years. And she looked as happy as she should have been - until Coach Suhr offered his words of "encouragement", leaving his athlete looking as if her boyfriend had broken up with her and then run over her cat for good measure.

I get that different coaches have different motivational techniques, but I don't know how well it works to throw your athlete under the bus on national television (remember, Suhr knew he was mic'ed up) within minutes of her career peak, within minutes of besting everyone in the world save the titan of her freakig sport (who seems to be a piece of work herself). Having perused the blogosphere, I know what it can do - get you accused of being the lousiest and most uncouth coach in recent history - and that's saying something. Billy Martin would be taken aback by Suhr's grandstanding antics, including the tone of his voice and the body language he used in "communicating" with Stuczynki. To her credit, I have yet to see any articles in which she takes Suhr to task. Maybe that's just out of respect - the respect she should have earned from Suhr last night, if not before. Personally, I'm hoping for the moment when Stuczynski's camp announces that she is moving on to new management, as it were.

Good morning, Mr. Phelps ...

And how was your junket to Beijing again?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Big day ...

Today is Madonna's 50th birthday, giving you a big indication on how old you really are.

Today is also the 31st anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. Whether or not the two events are connected is entirely up to your own perspective.

... and Olympic justice ...

Since Ara Abrahamian was not a fan of his newly-won bronze medal for the Greco-Roman 84-kg competition, the IOC has relieved him of that burden by stripping him of that medal and disqualifying his ass from the Beijing Olympics. Go back home and enjoy your pickled herring, punk.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Olympic spirit ...

The Olympics are about many things. They are about superstars such as Michael Phelps and Kobe Bryant, and dazzling sports such as gymnastics and diving. But they're also about athletes such as Ronda Rousey, who became the first American woman to medal in judo, taking home a bronze in honor of her mother, who was a world judo champion but couldn't compete in the Olympics because there was no women's judo in the Olympics at the time. And it's about Tuvshinbayar Naidan, a wrestler-turned-judoka who wept as he became the first Mongolian to earn a Olympic gold medal, setting off a massive celebration in his nation's capital.

All of which makes the actions of Ara Abrahamian all the more infuriating. The Greco-Roman wrestler from Sweden, feeling cheated after losing his semifinal to Italy's Andrea Minguzzi, won the third-place match, took his bronze medal - then walked off the podium, snatched his prize from around his neck, dropped in the middle of the wrestling mat and stormed out of the arena.

I don't know whether Abrahamian had a legitimate beef or not - God knows worse has happened at the Olympics. But his actions were unforgivable, an affront to all of the competitors who have won medals and the many more who are in Beijing knowing that they have no chance to land on the medal stand, but who give their all anyway. Rousey was seen as having a legitimate change at gold, but I don't see her bitching and moaning about having to "settle" for the bronze. Being the third-best athlete in the world in your sport is nothing to sneeze at.

The IOC is investigating his actions, but for me there can be only one resolution to this matter. Abrahamian (who says he is quitting his sport anyway) should be thrown out of the Olympic village and banned from his sport permanently. And give his bronze to someone who will actually appreciate it.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Warner Bros. had pushed back the release of the new Harry Potter film from November 2008 to July 2009! How oh how will mankind survive the extra wait?

Love thyself - but only so much, apparently ...

Last fall Jennifer Love Hewitt was aghast at some of the hurtful things that were written about her, by fans and reporters alike, after paparazzi pics of the Ghost Whisperer star frolicking on the beach in a tiny bikini - and a more pounds than expected - hit the Internet. She struck back, decrying the emphasis on thinness and telling woman and girls everywhere to be proud of their curves; People magazine reported on the dust-up in a cover story called "Don't Call Me Fat". Yet today comes another magazine cover featuring Hewitt - this one for Us magazine that declares how she lost 18 pounds in just 10 weeks, complete with photos of her smaller physique, the curves she claimed to be proud of - and that many a guy has ogled for years - greatly diminished. What's more, she didn't drop the pounds, she says, because of the scrutiny over the beach candids.

Beyond my personal opinion that Hewitt didn't need to lose any weight - toning, maybe, but not anything radical. Indeed, to be blunt, I celebrated the fact that the bikini shots were easily the most revealing photos we had ever seen of her - I have to wonder what kind of message her dramatic weight loss sends to the young girls she claimed to be sticking up for last year. What are they to make of this mixed message from a star who wasn't overweight, an who said she was proud of her curvy body, but who felt compelled, despite what she says, to pare herself down less than a year later? Plus, now Hewitt seems too thin, having lost the oomph that made her one of the more enduring sex symbols of recent years.

Last year Hewitt wrote on her blog that being a size zero "doesn't make you beautiful". Now that she's much closer to that level, I have to agree with her. All I see when I look at her is ... hypocrisy.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Too soon, times two ...

It's been a bad weekend to be black and famous in America. Many of us were still reeling from the news yesterday of the pneumonia-related death of Bernie Mac when the word broke just a few minutes ago that Isaac Hayes has been found dead in his Memphis home. Hayes was 65 and reportedly was dealing with some health issues, his body was discovered by family members next to a treadmill.

Beyond the obvious pain that the family of members of Mac and Hayes obviously are dealing with, the loss of these two men leave a large hole in the culture. Both men were pioneers in their own right. Mac's profane but profound comedic style owed much to the work of such talents as Bill Cosby, George Carlin and Richard Pryor, but he also brought his own edge and perspective to his stand-up act, reflecting the challenges of men dealing with new ways of thinking and dealing with life and its ups and downs. He told it like it was, whether on the comedy stage or on his acclaimed sitcom, The Bernie Mac Show, which earned him Emmy nominations an won a Peabody Award. He also made a mark in the movies, including a lead role one of the better baseball films in recent years, Mr. 3000 (we'll forgive that he played a Milwaukee Brewer), and a supporting role in the Ocean's 11 franchise, where he more than held his own with the likes of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Don Cheadle. Most of all, Mac, who was just 50, was a dedicated family man and a loyal friend.

Hayes was simply iconic. His musical talents helped turn the Stax Records label from just another record company to a major force in music and beyond moving the early 70s. He fused pop, funk and soul into a potent blend that paved the way for such musical genres as disco and hip-hop. He's best known, of course, for his soundtrack to the blaxploitation epic Shaft, including the title song that became a smash hit and won Hayes an Oscar, making him the first African-American to win a non-acting Academy Award. (Hayes, being his own man, famously wore a shirt made of nothing but chains during his Oscar ceremony performance.) But his previous album, 1969's Hot Buttered Soul, may be an even greater musical achievement, as Hayes' acclaimed spin on some favorite standards put him and his distinctive bald pate on the map. (After Soul, You'll never listen to Burt Bacharach the same way again.) Later on, Hayes found a new audience as the voice of the wise but eccentric Chef on the cartoon series South Park. But it's his music that will be his ultimate legacy.

Ironically, Mac and Hayes will co-star in the comedy film Soul Men later on this year. The movie stars Mac and Samuel L. Jackson as former signing partner who reluctantly reunite, with Hayes playing himself. Let's hope and pray that they won't have to dedicate Soul Men to anyone else between now and November.

A testament to the power of Issac Hayes:

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Calm ourselves ...

These are strange times for the Chicago Cubs fan. Frankly, we don't know what to do with ourselves. We look at the baseball standings in our newspapers or on our computer screens, and we scratch out heads in wonder and confusion. What is this we see before us? The Cubs in first place? And widening their lead? We looked to the north last week, as the North Siders, losing momentum and with the Milwaukee Brewers breathing down the neck of our beloved, slogged their way to the Brewers' home park for a crucial (apocalyptic?) four-game series against their newest nemesis, including two games against Milwaukee's best pitchers, CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets. We closed our eyes and grimaced as if we were waiting for the first thwack of our father's belt, prepared for the worst. When we opened our eyes, the Cubs had taken four straight from Milwaukee on their own turf and seemingly changed the complexion of the divisional race.

We have been here before, of course. In 1969, 1984, 1989, 1998, 2003, 2007, and many other years when the Cubs had a pulse entering the dog days of summer, only to peter out in one fashion or another for one reason or another. We still gird ourselves for the inevitable departure of the ground below our favorite team, for the proverbial curse to emerge, for God to be reminded of the developing situation by Lake Michigan and to take appropriate action. As the eternal archenemy of the Cub, the Cardinal, heads toward Wrigley Field for yet another crucial series, we wait in fear and dread for the cock-up, the injury, the quirky moment that will collapse this growing house of cards (not Cards) and crush our hopes yet again. We look at the calendar, fully aware of the significance of this year more than any other, and we pray to whomever will listen to let our team, just this once, Do It.

The Cubs are off today; there are 47 games left in their schedule. They could hold on to make the playoffs ... or not. They could make their first World Series in 63 years ... or not. They could reach the promised land for the first time in a century ... or not. No one, of course, knows the outcome, even if many of us think we know. ("This is it, this is our time!" "They'll find a way to blow it - they always find a way to blow it.") All Cubs fans can do at this point is sit back and try to enjoy the ride. That is, when we're not turning away from the TV screen or trying to find our lucky cap, lest we cost Chicago the pennant.

Yeah, it is kind of easier when they're 20 games out of first place at this point in the season - you know, like they usually are.