Monday, November 1, 2010

The long awaited update

It's been a long time since I've last inked my pen, stretched out the mind and typed in the url for this blog, I know. So much has happened: Juan Williams was fired; that whacky senatorial candidate in Delaware did something headline-worthy somewhere at sometime; Halloween; Randy Moss was cut (again); Halloween.

So much fodder, so little time to come up with a compelling, unique perspective.

Instead I attended this weekend's Colbert/Stewart rally on the National Mall. While the jury is apparently still out on whether it was a political/nonpolitical/apolitical/anti-media event, my experience was that of a fairly nondenominational Saturday afternoon outing.

Because everybody was there: The Dems, the Republicans, the Tea Party, the anti-Tea Party, the anti-anti-Tea Party, the legalized marijuana folks (they brought demos with them, by the smell of things), liberals, conservatives, greens and libertarians. And everybody else. Apparently, there's an anti-Hitler Mustache as a Political Symbol movement afoot as well.

The largest denomination of folks at the rally were clearly in the "I like to Make Funny Signs" camp. They turned out in huge numbers. The same remains to be seen of tomorrow's election, where many of them will likely sleep late, scramble to work and have that nagging feeling of forgetfulness as they fight the evening commute.

Given my experience with rallies (none to speak of) Saturday was refreshingly vaudevillian, rather unserious and with the core message of: Why can't we all just get along and talk with indoor voices.

In fact, the only people I disagreed with were the folks who decided the rally would be a great opportunity for a Saturday afternoon picnic, blankets, pillows and all, and then got upset when the other 200,000 of us trampled on their "camp site" trying to get a better view.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Virginia welcomes you

It's official.

I took the plunge (read: I spent an hour or so at the DMV in Alexandria) and got my car registered. New license plates, an inspection sticker and several hundred dollars later, I am officially a Virginian.

Let that roll off of your tongue. Virginian.

Bill Pullman, a fellow UMass graduate (unless you read the fine print on those honorary diplomas, which I don't. Hurts the brain, it does), even starred in a movie called The Virginian.

In honor of my new state of residence - the second commonwealth I've resided in my scant few years - I've arranged some fun facts about Virginia:

1) Virginia was originally part of the Virgin Islands (British, not American) that broke away during the last ice age.

2) There are some mountains here, also trees. And squirrels. I saw a squirrel yesterday. Virginia is a squirrel-friendly habitat.

3) It's a commonwealth, which is derived from the word "Commonweal." Colonial-types often attached commonweals to their carts, forming Conestoga wagons.

4) Local government is seated at the county level, unless you live in Alexandria, which is an independent city. But if you live in the part of Alexandria that isn't Alexandria City, then you live in Fairfax County. If you understood any of that, you've spent time in Northern Virginia

5) NOVA is what those of us in the know call "Northern Virginia." See, abbreviations mean you're hip. Like saying "Noho" instead of Northampton.

6) Richmond is the state capital, or the capital of the Confederate States of America, depending who you ask.

7) Contrary to popular belief, state officials do not hand out firearms, liquor and fireworks at the border. That's only New Hampshire.

8) Virginia was originally settled by tobacco.

9) This state was built on an indian burial ground, ayup. They say there's a lot of history on that road. Sometimes dead is better.

10) The state motto is "Sic Semper Tyrannus" or "A pox on T-Rex."

11) The Commonwealth was named in honor of Sir Richard Branson, its original discoverer.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Road rash

Nobody knows how to drive in Northern Virginia. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Actually, they do know how to drive, in the sense that you get behind the wheel and the right peddle is "go" and the left peddle is "not go" (also "un-go" or "de-go," depending). They just don't know how to drive with each other.

Imagine a playground full of small children. Imagine all of these small children playing their own game with their own sets of rules. You've got kickball over here, dodgeball in that corner, basketball in the middle, maybe throw in a couple of jump ropes and a good game of high stakes poker. That's driving in Virginia.

I blame it on the clash of cultures.

New England is a great case study. Folks in Massachusetts drive one way, in New Hampshire they do it another. Everybody hates Rhode Island drivers; they're the worst.

But at least they understand the rules of the game (in Massachusetts the rules are: every man for himself; it's full contact sport; and "you don't talk about the driving rules in Massachusetts.") So when you're buzzing through Boston you know certain things. Like stopping for a stop sign is really rolling through it unless there is a cop, in which case you probably stop. Most of the time. You also expect the person taking a left after a red light to shoot out first, so as not to disrupt the flow of traffic.

Down here, you get a mix of that, toss in some obnoxious New York City motoring shenanigans and a touch of the Mass Turnpike on a busy day. But you've also got the southern hospitality factor.

The southern hospitality factor means slowing down for yellow light, so as to obey the letter of the law. Southern hospitality means deciding who will go first at a four-way stop needs negotiations reaching the Camp David Accords level. Southern hospitality means the speed limit is 25, dagnabbit, and that's the way it is, y'all understand?

On the roads, these people don't play nice.

While their interaction is amusing to watch from afar, when you're actually in the midst of it, these people will drive you to white-knuckle driving. Now I understand why people here don't stray out onto the streets if there's a snowstorm. Hell, I wouldn't either. Why risk it?

I don't know, when approaching a changing light, whether I can hit the gas or the brakes. I don't know whether I'll be able to roll through a stop sign or have someone cut me off. Frankly, it's unsettling.

And I don't think I'm the only one left unsettled. How else can you explain the Metro raising its rates again? $2 and change is a decent price for living a few minutes longer.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Draft night

It's that time of the year. Children are heading back to school, college kids are pretending classes don't start for another week, the leaves are changing (in New England, not so much in Northern Virginina where the temperature is dropping regularly below 80 degrees for the first time since April) and preseason football is on television: It's draft night.

I'm phoning it in this year, a marked departure from the last six years. My draft blog diary, a la Bill Simmons is below:

8:22 We're debating adding an extra tight end to the roster. Not sure how this is going to work on the field as there are only so many players allowed on the pitch at any one time. Someone needs to call the commissioner. Also, is pitch a soccer-only term? Discuss.

8:23 Debating whether to keep three or four players from each preceding season. Four sort of defeats the purpose of having a draft, in my book. But that's me. The downside of a keeper league is seeing all the best players taken off the table before the draft even starts. That's depressing. Exponentially so if you've invested in any fantasy football magazines.

8:31 We're still discussing changes in the rules. The league pushes for the extra Tight End. I disagree, arguing that if we're going to add another position it ought to be an extra running-back. I am told that, since I'm not there, I have no vote. The league laughs heartily over this.

8:32 Negotiations over draft picks begin. Shea reminds the group that this should have begun weeks ago. The league again laughs heartily.

8:38 We learn that Cooney doesn't have the money to throw in our annual pot this year, because he doesn't have any cash on him. This is after they've ordered pizza. The league is not pleased.

8:41 It's hard to figure out who is keeping who [in terms of players] when everyone keeps describing each other in not very pleasant terms using various ethnic slurs at the same time.

8:43 Maybe the quote of the night: "If we have to search for who you're keeping [this season] than you already know you have problems."

8:44 Should have bought more beer. On my end.

8:45 Cooney keeps Larry Fitzgerald (WR-Arizona). Too bad that team doesn't have a quarterback. Oh they do? But he's not good, right?

8:47 The league is discussing money options. Apparently, too much pizza has been purchased with too few dollars.

8:49 Some sort of disagreement has broken out over whether we should be using highlighters or pens to cross off our picks. Also, what color highlighters, if we were to use highlighters, would determine what. I'm using pencil. I'm like that.

8:53 Here come the war stories of legend, various players getting injured, arrested or killed right after drafts/trades. I have the ultimate trump card: Tom Brady, 2008. That was a season of rotating QB's on my fantasy team. I finished second to last.

8:58 Someone retains Peyton Manning. The first use of a gay slur follows shortly.

9:00 The chant "Bull-Shit" is less enjoyable when heard over a cell phone.

9:09 I guess Reggie Wayne is taken. I must have missed that in my static-filled world. The league laughs heartily.

9:12 I elect to grab Joseph Addai. Not sure how I feel about this pick, but he's dependable, though he does get platooned with Brown a lot. He's solid and I'd rather not see him racking up points on another team. I can count on him for the goal-line runs. I plan on picking another 'back as soon as possible.

9:14 For my second pick, Pierre Garcon. I know, another Colt. But he saw the ball often last year, the go-to-guy after Reggie Wayne. And Peyton likes to throw, damn him, he likes to throw.

9:27 It's amazing how quickly the list of wide receivers dwindles. Not the physical list, but the list of elite wide-outs. After Round 2 I am officially hoping for some luck on the field and especially the waiver line.

9:29 Over the phone drafts are OK. But I miss the personal contact. Getting to insult some one's mother in person is so much more fun. Also, their mental capacity.

9:33 Wes Welker has been drafted. I am informed he's played every preseason game. Egg on my face. Actually, it's mostly in his knee (although I wish him the best and hopes he kicks butt this season. It's the Pat's fan in me). But seriously, is he playing before November? Matthew Berry says no and when has the Talented Mr. Roto ever been wrong?

9:34 And the first Defense has been picked. It's the Jets! J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS!

9:38 I'm kinda curious, will anyone draft Edelman? I vote no.

9:39 My first phone call ends as the cellular phone in New England is dying. Just plugged mine into the wall to ensure it doesn't happen on this end. How sad is this?

9:46 PBR, a delicious cheap beer? Or the most delicious cheap beer? You decide.

9:47 LT has been picked. Much sooner than I had expected. I really thought I'd pick him up around midnight, when everyone else was delirious with pizza and PBR.

9:49 We've hit that point in the evening. First pick to get floated as a possible trade for another low pick. Excellent. Let the bargain-deals begin.

9:54 "Remember last year, you were hammered," - could be a contender for top quote of the night.

10:02 My phone is plugged into the wall, feeding off of the electrical current for life. I've just taken Donald Driver. Not sure how I feel about him, but Rodgers is expected to do well this year. And if he doesn't, Driver's only a third stringer.

10:06 I'll say it again, but this is much for fun in person. Although, it's nice to see a league last long enough - and stay serious enough - to warrant phone-in draft picks. When this thing started, we were recruiting girlfriends to fill out a 6-team league. I try to keep that in mind as I fork over my $10 and use up all of my Verizon minutes.

10:10 "Wait, he's hurt? Fuck." Quote of the night, hands down. Thank you Cooney.

10:15 Interestingly, the last few rounds last the longest. Not quite the opposite of professional football, but still entertaining. You'd think you'd spend all of your time debating the first few picks, but everyone knows what the score is. The point is to grab as many of the elite caliber guys as possible in the first 3-4 rounds. Once you get out into the boonies, it's just fun.

10:22 I feel like fantasy football, especially the drafts, is extremely silly.

10:32 It's hard to pay attention when all you can here is people shouting over each other. Not that I'm complaining. Also, we're definitely in the weeds.

10:40 It's official, we're calling off random players and you can hear the sound of people shuffling through the lists to take off names.

10:48 Several awkward good-byes later (The League is very concerned about when I will be returning home again. Mostly to contribute my $10 to the winners pot) I am done. Good night.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Full Count

Bill Simmons had a great piece on the lackluster interest in the 2010 Boston Red Sox and Major League Baseball in general the other day. Let me just quote a bit for you below that made particular sense to me:
We're feeling the effects of two solid decades of World Series games ending well after the bedtime of any prospective young fan. And don't kids have dozens more choices in 2010 than they did in 1975? Back in 1975, I went outside, whipped a baseball off the wall, dove for it and pretended I was Freddie Lynn. Do kids do that now? Isn't it more likely that they're watching Nick Jr., playing video games, watching DVDs, messing around with the computer ... how could baseball possibly mean as much to a young kid now?

Baseball has become a bore.

I ought to preface that by saying there are few things better in life than watching a ball game on a warm June or July night. The field glows white under the stadium lights and the sound of the bat cracking against the ball echoes into the night. The smell of hot dogs and brautwurst permeates the humid summer air. Children shout scream to pump up the scoreboard's "Noise-o-meter." Old men complain about the pitching. And lack of pinch hitting. And base running.

I love going to the ball park. I absolutely love it. There's nothing better than a live baseball game and I don't care what anyone says about HD this or 3D that. Sitting in a cramped seat, clutching a steadily warming beer and a steaming sausage is about as good as it gets. I find the experience even more relaxing when I don't care about either team. That sounds strange, but then you have to remember the life-or-death struggle every game of every season represented for the Red Sox until October 2004.

So I've had a good run this summer. I saw the Sox play in Baltimore and sure, they lost, but it was the first chance I've had to see Beckett pitch live. I went to a Nationals game in Washington and on this previous Friday night attended my first Brockton Rox game with the family in several years.

And that's what baseball is all about. The game, the plays and the experience. Which is why it's sad to see so many stories of disgust emerging about the *new* Fenway experience, where Yawkey Way is more like an amusement park than a street, the stands are filled because going to a Red Sox game is more of a social outing (look at my Facebook pics! I went to the game!) then appreciating the sport.

I haven't been to Fenway (for a game) since I was in college and in all honesty I haven't missed it much. It's not that I've lost interest in baseball, it's that I've lost interest in the showbiz attitude Major League Baseball has adopted.

Because there's still nothing better than a good ball game with a steaming sausage and a cold beer in hand. If you can still find it for less than $100.

Friday, July 16, 2010

2012: I hope reality is cooler than the movie

2012 may be some distance in the future yet, but the date had an early arrival in my girlfriend's OnDemand cable box.

Now, it's not fair play to critique a disaster movie, let alone an end-of-the-world flick, at least not on a point by point basis. Are there plot holes? Are there parts of the film that don't add up or make any sort of sense? Well, duh. That's par for course.

But how does it stack up to other films? That's the first question that popped into my head during the final moments of the happy, sunshine-filled conclusion of 2012. I'd say you could file this movie in with disaster films genre, cross-referencing it with the end-of-the-world crowd. For the sake of argument, I'm going to stack 2012 up only against it's end-of-the-world brethren, if only because it was so heavily advertised as such.

My list of end-of-the-world disaster films currently looks like this:

Reign of Fire
Dawn of the Dead (remake... I'm no critic, so leave me alone)
Everything else (including, but not limited to, Deep Impact (damn you Elijah Wood), The Day After Tomorrow (damn you Jake Gillen... Gilen... Jilenhall?... whatever), 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later (worse than its predecessor), Legion (although this wasn't bad), and I Am Legend (did not live up to expectations).

(Note: I am not including in this list dozens of science fiction films that deal with the aftermath of this devastation, because those don't count. World-ending disaster must be a primary plot point, not a jumping point for some deeper discussion of humanity. God forbid we use disaster flicks to move beyond stereotypes and actually explore the human condition under duress)

So where does 2012 rank? Well, not good. But not bad either. The Mayan-justifying apocalyptic movie falls well below Armageddon for failing to promote American exceptionalism (aside from a few acts of heroic stoicism on the part of the president, the Americans in the film are self-serving jerks. Oddly, those friendly red Chinese are our saviors in the end), lack of decent monster, overly optimistic view of humanity, less than realistic ending (I realize this is an end-of-the-world film, but if you're an apocalyptic movie fan, you know what is and what isn't a realistic ending).

John Cusack, however, is an unlikely hero. I'll give whomever produced the flick points for casting him in the role of yet another lovable loser trying to stitch his life back together as the Earth disintegrates.

Also, I enjoyed the film managed to combine many, if not all, elements of disaster films into one, 2+ hour showing.

We had a rain of hellfire, a la Armageddon/The Mummy(remake), we had tsunamis as in Deep Impact, we had fluctuating weather patterns from The Day After Tomorrow and something to do with the Earth's molten core like that other movie where they had to drill to the Earth's core and set off a nuclear warhead or something stupid and anyway South Park made fun of it.

To top it off, we even had a cruise ship rolling over after being struck amid ship by a rogue wave. Can you say Poseidon Adventure?

So yeah, I won't recommend it. I probably won't watch it again. And that's the true mark of a great, cheesy film. That you'll watch it again. How many times have I seen Armageddon? Too many to count. Reign of Fire? The same.

But maybe that says more about me than the film.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The LeBronacle

Let me preface this by saying I really don't follow basketball.

We grew up watching three sports in my household and though my recollection could be a bit hazy, the Bruins always came first. I remember my mother and father putting us to bed at the end of the second period, because that was bedtime. We never found out how the Bruins fared until the next morning. I don't know why my parents tortured my brother and I in this manner.

So Bruins first (I still remember sifting through piles of hockey trading cards to find a Cam Neely or Ray Bourque), Red Sox second (another sport where we would have to wait until the next morning to learn the final score - it was never good) and the Patriots a distant third (They sucked until '97; who could blame us?).

I got into it in '08 when the Celtics went on a tear and again this year. Call me a bandwagoner, a fair-weather fan, call me what you will, because I really don't care.

But this LBJ thing is just too much fun. I tuned in last night for the spectacle, because that's what it was, a reality television show with ratings probably higher than the final episode of MASH. I won't bother offering any commentary, other than to say never before have I seen professional sports drift so close to the theatrics of the WWF of my childhood, but I've instead put together a compendium of "hot sports takes" from around the country:

"Does James want a title because he thinks he deserves one? Or does he want to actually, you know, win it? His behavior suggests the former more than the latter. James seems to regard a championship as a birthright, as if it is something to be given to him rather than to be earned. And the more time that passes, the more you cannot help but wonder if James is just another damaged, spoiled, and self-absorbed brat who cannot understand the simplest rules in life." - Tony Massarotti, The Boston Globe.

"I blame the people around him. I blame the lack of a father figure in his life. I blame us for feeding his narcissism to the point that he referred to himself in the third person five times in 45 minutes. I blame local and national writers (including myself) for apparently not doing a good enough job explaining to athletes like LeBron what sports mean to us, and how it IS a marriage, for better and worse, and that we're much more attached to these players and teams than they realize. I blame David Stern for not throwing his body in front of that show. I blame everyone." - Bill Simmons,

"As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier.

This was announced with a several day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his "decision" unlike anything ever "witnessed" in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment.

Clearly, this is bitterly disappointing to all of us." - Dan Gilbert, majority owner, Cleveland Cavaliers.

"James made a more grandiose show of free agency than anyone ever has, but he didn’t create the culture of entitlement. He’s just the latest to exploit it, and Joyce was right about one thing: all would have been forgiven had he just told his interviewer, Jim Gray, he was staying in Cleveland, basking in his own stardust.

Maybe that was the main selling point in Miami. When the playoff dust finally settles, it won’t all come down on him." - Harvey Araton, New York Times.

"Now - even though he took less money to go to Miami - he will be seen as a mercenary of sorts. And with the way the Heat have been loaded like a team of ringers trying to swoop in and take a tournament, the club might want to add black hats to their uniforms. They will be the biggest curiosity in sport when they begin play this fall, but they will also surpass the Celtics [team stats] and Lakers as the NBA teams that fans most want to see defeated." - Steve Bulpett, Boston Herald.

"In LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the Heat becomes more than a basketball team. It's South Beach meets Cirque du Soleil meets Hollywood meets YouTube meets ESPN meets the '27 Yankees.

Now, a Tuesday game against Sacramento becomes a show. Any game against the Los Angeles Lakers becomes a national event. June is reserved for the NBA Finals. They're basketball's Beatles. LeBeatles." - Dave Hyde, The Baltimore Sun.

"When a major American municipality's identity is that wrapped up in one special athlete, what does it say about Cleveland's self-worth? LeBron made that city millions, made an NBA outpost matter again, and Gilbert has the temerity to call the guy who filled his building "callous" and "disloyal."

You're lucky you had him for as long as you did. He just outgrew you, Cleveland. He fell in love with somebody else. Deal with it.

That doesn't make how LeBron handled everything right, but it makes him look bigger than the place he left." - Mike Wise, The Washington Post.