Friday, October 31, 2008

Sign of the times?

In the fall of 1988, I was a newly minted college freshman, spending my first weeks living away from home at the small institution of higher living that I had chosen to further my education. Even though I was only 80 miles from my Kentucky home, I embraced the freedom of independence, an experience heightened by the fact that it was an election year. I was on a conservative-leaning campus in the middle of a conservative-leaning state, but I backed Michael Dukakis over George Bush, and took modest steps to express my choice - hanging out with similar-minded folk, putting a Dukakis sign on the door of my dorm room. And even though at that point in the fall the vice-president was starting to pull away from the Massachusetts governor in the polls, it was still a fun time for me as a young adult.

Except for the two times that my Dukakis sign was ripped off of my door. The second time, the sign was torn to pieces and strewn across the hallway. Democracy, indeed.

Of course, such acts of simple, callous vandalism have become a sad tradition of any heated political season, and the acts go both ways. But this year, as the Obama-McCain contest heads into its final hours, the incidents have become heightened in intensity and frequency. I have a friend who has had her Obama-Biden front yard sign swiped from her Indiana home twice. In Cincinnati, rock star and naturalized U.S. citizen Peter Frampton - who took the oath of loyalty to his adopted country right after the events of Sept. 11, 2001 - was so chagrined by the Obama signs that were disappearing from his lawn that he called the local paper to rant about it. And then there are the swastikas or worse being spray-painted on Obama signs and, more dire, the effigies of Obama and Sarah Palin that have been splashed across the TV and computer screens.

I won't analyze the root causes of such coarseness, partly because I try to avoid going too political on this blog and mostly because the the subject already has been analyzed to death by media figures with more time on their hands than I. But what I will say is that, in a country that so prizes its legacy of democracy and free speech, it's pretty pathetic when those who can't stand anyone who disagrees with their point of view resorts to baseless acts like these. The great thing about America is that there is a place for them as well - in rational, public discourse and debate; and, at least once a year, at the ballot box.

Of course, if the idea of criticism or disagreement is that distasteful to them, there are places they can retreat to. I hear Iran is beautiful this time of year.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Heal the World (Series) ...

The World Series is over, and the Chicago Cubs, er, Philadelphia Phillies reign supreme as the kings of baseball after what was definitely the most unusual Game 5 in Fall Classic history, one that took more than two full days to complete. And now the annual post-mortem about what's wrong with the World Series has begun, since the ratings are again in the toilet and people are complaining about another one-sided championship round, even though the Tampa Bays Rays gave as good as they got and only stunk in one of the five games. The last time there was a Game 6 of a World Series was in 2003 - that's a record time span. The last time there was a Game 7 was in 2002. And it's the Series that go six or seven games that are the ones that go down into the annals of lore and legend - and the ones that tend to have the bigger ratings and make the networks carrying them more money, thanks to that lovely additional ad revenue stream. There's not much, if anything, that can be done to compel a sixth or seventh game. That's the nature of human competition: shit happens, and it often happens at the wrong time. How else to explain the fact that the teams with the best records in their respective leagues, the Angels and the aforementioned Cubs, didn't make it out of the first round? If a team gets hot, it gets hot, and vice versa. But in terms of the popularity of the World Series, there are a couple of things that Major League Baseball should start considering for the future.

One of those things, by the way, is not the "neutral site" theory, the idea of playing the Series in a warm(er)-weather location to lessen the chances of major interruptions like the Philadelphia rainstorm that suspended Game 5 on Monday night and pushed the final three innings back two days. There are those who would convert the World Series into a Super Bowl situation, where the best four-of-seven contest would revolve between locations that have a nicer climate (L.A., San Diego, Miami) or no climate (domed stadia in Houston or Phoenix or even Toronto) rather than the way it's been for the past century - home-and-home. These Chicken Littles, to be blunt, are cracked in the head. Some of the biggest thrills in baseball playoff history come when the home team clinches the pennant or the Series on their home turf in front of the fans who have lived and died with them for the past six months. The moments are imprinted in our memories: Bill Mazerowski. Chris Chambliss. Tug McGraw. Joe Carter. To ask fans to travel hundreds of miles away from their homes and their jobs for more than a week - including some uncertainty regarding Games 5, 6 and 7 - is not only cruel, it's impractical in this day and age. And news flash - the World Series has always been played in October, when things tend to get a little nasty and chilly. The same as in April, when the season has always started. The neutral site theory is a knee-jerk response to a situation that rarely happens, a weather interruption during the final series of the baseball year.

If those guys are so worried about the cold and the wet getting in the way of a baseball game, they would be better served considering ways to shorten the entire season. I think one thing everyone can agree on is that the schedule, as enjoyable and thrilling as it may be, is too long. Next year, thanks to the World Baseball Classic delaying spring training, the seventh game of the World Series in Wrigley Field (what?) is set for Nov. 5. The last and only time the Series ended in November came only because of, oh, the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Understandable. But that doesn't mean it should be a regular occurrence. But this is what happens when The Powers That Be in baseball keeping adding games in the quest to line their pockets. Another round of playoffs - check. Extend the League Championship Series - check. Get rid of doubleheaders - check. As usual, in the process the big bosses have bitten themselves in their hindparts. Since they would never consider eliminating a round of playoff games, or cutting the regular season from, say, 162 to 154 games, they really must consider reviving the weekend doubleheaders. Making Saturday doubleheaders the standard rather than the exception would easily shave a few weeks from the schedule so that the season could end in mid-September, leaving plenty of time for the playoffs to proceed in potentially better conditions. And if the owners are worried about the gate, make the doubleheaders of the day-night variety, or pay for each game individually. Everyone makes their money, so everyone's happy, right?

As for the Series itself, its real problem is that the games are often inaccessible to the sport's most important fans - the newest ones. There hasn't been a daytime Series games in 25 years - and, what's more, the nighttime contests seem to be starting later and later on the clock. With the pregame shows and the pomp-and-circumstances, they usually don't start until after 8:30 p.m. on the East coast, meaning that it's rare for them to wrap up before midnight. If your son or daughter has to go to bed in the fourth inning because of school, how do you expect them to realize why baseball is so fun and cool. No wonder more kids are gravitating to football and basketball and soccer and even lacrosse. One of the great things about last night's Game 5 conclusion was that the Phillies wrapped things up by 10 p.m. ET - meaning that, for the first time in a long while, many kids were awake for the celebration. Wow - what a concept.

The leadership of MLB really has to seriously considering a change in how the Series games are scheduled. The preferred M.O. would be to schedule at least one or two games for 4 p.m. ET starts, preferably on the weekend. Not only would it allow fans of all ages to watch a couple of games in full, it also could improve the weather situation since it wouldn't be as cold when the sun is shining. (And for those who say that weekend Series games would compete with college and pro football, so what? Lots of sports are on at the same time as the NFL or NCAA, including NASCAR, and I don't see them withering on the vine.) At the very least, though, the night games should be moved up to 7 or 7:30 starts. That extra 60 or 90 minutes could make a load of difference. And the local affiliates, who may bitch about the loss of that important hour of local airtime, can live for a few days with the situation.

Bud Selig is not my favorite baseball commissioner of all time, far from it. But, in the final years of his leadership, if he would have the courage to push these modest reforms in an effort to revitalize the crown jewel of his sport, that would be a legacy that would convince even me to reconsider his place in baseball's history. I'd probably still hate him, but not so much.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


As if your life depended on it. 'Cause it might.

But don't listen to me. Listen to them. After all, they're celebrities. Well, most of them are.

Unnecessary roughness ...

Football is a violent sport where a lot of bad crap can happen to you. Just ask Joe Theismann, whose legendary career was prematurely ended on national television when Lawrence Taylor sacked him and shattered his leg so badly that Taylor, as fearsome a player as there ever was in the NFL, was the first player on the field to wave widely for medical assistance. Or ask Darryl Stingley - or, rather, the relatives of Darryl Stingley, the New England Patriots wide receiver who was paralyzed by Jack Tatum, the Oakland Raiders defensive back (and avowed headhunter - his autobiography is called They Called Me Assassin), during an exhibition game in 1978. Stingley was left a quadriplegic by the vicious hit and would, nearly 30 years later, of complications from his injury. But both Theismann and Stingley suffered their injuries on the field of play at the hands (if you want to put it that way) of other players, and both men knew the risks of that happening. But I doubt if Patrick Edwards, a talented freshman wide receiver for the University of Houston, thought that his season, and perhaps his career, would be ended by a piece of non-football related equipment during a game.

Edwards and his Cougars were on the road against Marshall University last night when he was set on a pattern into the Marshall end zone. At full speed, he ran through the end zone and, before he could stop, collided with a band equipment cart that was parked there. The impact snapped his right leg virtually in two, a compound fracture that was captured by ESPN's cameras and may have made a few people lose their dinners (so you are duly warned):

It's not clear what, if any, recourse either Edwards or Houston can take regarding this, but you can bet your bottom dollar that this will be investigated by the NCAA or others, and that many teams will think twice before they place equipment like carts in harm's way. (If you ask me, Marshall should have to pay all of Edwards' medical bills, and perhaps the balance of his scholarship.) Meanwhile, I hope Edwards stays in college and gets his degree, just to be on the very safe side.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Remind me ... are these guys pro-American or anti-American?

Well, we knew it was coming, and we probably knew it would be this wacky. With one week until one of the most pivotal presidential elections in U.S. history, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (and boy, don't those things go together?) have broken up a plot to assassinate Barack Obama and many more African Americans in a crime spree that would have covered America. Allegedly two young outstanding skinheads planned to invade an all-black high school, kill 88 students - 14 by decapitation, the fine art of separating the head from the body - and then keep on killing until they reached the Democratic nominee, whom they wanted to shoot to death from their car to his. And, as it to channel Fred Astaire or some such, they wanted to wear white tuxedos and top hats as they attempted to snuff Obama out. (Why do I suspect that crystal meth is involved with this somehow?) Fortunately, the bozos - who apparently knew they would die as well as they targeted Obama - were busted in Tennessee before they could carry out their dastardly deeds, or accidentally shoot each other in the process because they were so hopped up on something at the time.

When is this election done again?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A bear walks into a Subway shop ...

This actually happened recently in British Columbia. It's a cute story - until the end, when you learn that the authorities found the young bear - and KILLED IT! Killed it? For wanting a meatball sub with extra cheese? That's not service with a smile!

Since we're on the subject ...

Helen Mirren is sixty-freaking-three. Has been, in fact, since July 26. So there's really no reason to bring it up, except as an excuse to post this photo of Dame Helen in a skimpy red bikini during a recent holiday. :)

Sigourney Weaver ...

... is fifty-freaking-nine years old today. And while this photo isn't not a recent one, it's a pretty close approximation of what Sigourney looks like today. That is, pretty freaking fantastic. Mazel tov.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Back for another cup of coffee?

As many of my friends and colleagues know, I have a pathological hatred of the remake, the "time-honored" method of taking the core elements of a previously made movie or TV show and reviving it as an newly produced entity. The reasons for this are simple enough - remakes, for the most part, blow. They do nothing to enhance the enjoyment of the original and quite often send audiences running toward the hills and away from the screen, much of the time throwing off profanities in the process. Yes, I am not naive enough to think that every remake every made has been a worthless pile of civet cat excrement (minus the aromatic coffee, of course). But for every 3:10 to Yuma, there are least a dozen All the King's Men. Maybe a thousand. It's hard to keep track in a Hollywood that increasingly reaches for the past instead of, oh, trying to create something new and different. So you will forgive me if I'm not in a tizzy over the forthcoming remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic The Day The Earth Stood Still, starring no less than Keanu Reeves in the pivotal role of the mysterious alien Klaatu. ("Klaatu barada nikto, dude!")

"That's fine, Dave," you may ask, "but what about sequels?" "Good question," I would respond. Sequels are in a different category, as they are usually a continuation of a story previous told. And many a sequel has improved on the original, or at least been up to the standards of the first, whatever those standards were. The Godfather, Part II, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Dark Knight - just three examples of a follow-up to an acclaimed movie achieving its own level of excellent. (The first two actually won Oscars for Best Picture, while the latter may be up for its own Academy Awards if the cards fall in place.) Still, there are many sequels that also, well, blow, meaning that there is still something of a dread that comes into my movie-loving heart whenever a "Part II" or such is announced.

This all comes up because of an article in the New York Post this morning which reported that Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins are in talks to reprise their roles in a sequel to the popular 1988 baseball romantic comedy Bull Durham. According to the Post, the film would have Sarandon and Robbins' characers, baseball groupie Annie Savoy and hotshot pitcher Nuke LaLoosh, now married, apparently wealthy and co-owning a big-league franchise that is managed by Costner's "Crash" Davis. Now, the sequel will reportedly be written and directed by Ron Shelton, who did the same for the first. And on the surface, the plotline sounds plausible, as many a minor-league catcher has gone on to manage in The Show in the real world. But a sequel? To one of the best baseball movies ever made? Twenty-plus years later.

Oh, well, I guess the proof will be in the celluloid. Besides, I was so fearful of the Sex and the City sequel until I finally saw it. Just don't have Tim Robbins wearing women's lingerie again.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

A hundred years ...

And so, here we Cubs fans are yet again. Another year ... another year. To run down the litany of world events that have taken place since the Cubs last won the World Series a century ago - and, as of last night, it is officially, finally, a century - would be trite and redundant, since many a media outlet has already done that. What happened last night is better expressed in the pain of the team's many fans, myself included, who are facing both the impossible and inevitable square in the eyes.

One of my dear friends suggested to me today that it maybe was time to move on, that the Cubs were destined to break my heart every time in one way or another, and like to a mercurial lover or a parasitic chum, maybe I should cut myself off, at least somewhat, and get on with my life. (Full disclosure: This friend is a Boston Red Sox fan, which makes her heartfelt advice somewhat suspect, considering that her own pain has been more than lessened by seeing her team win two of the past four World Series.) Even if I were to attempt to implement her advice, I'm not sure if I could. In fact, the Cubs actually take up less of my time than they did during my high school or college days. Today there are other priorities in my life - like paying the rent or wondering who will win the presidential election or what will happen Wilhemina's baby on Ugly Betty. Still, I can be forgiven if I'm down in the dumps for at least the next 24 hours about what could have been, and what will be for the next six months - until spring training stars, of course.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Lion in Winter ...

Yes, karma can indeed be a bitch sometimes, can't it?

Congratulations, O.J. You're so not going to Disneyworld! Another "magic kingdom" awaits you for at least the next 15 years!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Anticipation ...

It's 8:30 a.m. on the first day of October (Happy Birthday, President Carter!) and I'm waiting to do an interview for an impending assignment at 9 so I can go back to bed for a few hours (didn't sleep well last night for no particular reason). But all that's on my mind is the fact that the Chicago Cubs' playoff run starts today when they host the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field.

Everyone knows by now that the Cubs haven't won the Series since 1908, and that a lot of baseball pundits are projecting that this may be the year that all of the sundry Cubs curses are put out to pasture like any old goat. But all I can think of is the many reasons why it won't happen. This, even as I get annoyed when media attention focuses on The Goat and The Black Cat and The Bartman and the other times the Cubs, destined for Glory™, have managed to screw the pooch in the end. (The latest? Just last night on SportsCenter, when the always helpful Rick O'Reilly jotted down the ten ways the Cubs can blow it this year. Lovely.) Hearing many of those same analysts who love the North Siders' chances also say how the Dodgers were the worst-possible playoff matchup for the team isn't helping things. Anyone can be a favorite to win a game or a series or the whole ball of wax, but being a favorite is like a fistful of stocks - it can become just a hunk of paper in not time at all. So there's anxiety building inside Dave, the kind of anxiety that can lead to physical upset if one not careful. But at least I know that if I blow chunks today, it likely won't be because something's wrong with the new liver.

Cross your fingers, everyone. Toes, too, if you have them.