Official Moving Day is Here
(Go to nsfwsports.com if you want to find Scott's new blog site.)
This is the last post at the Juice Blog. I have had a great time interacting with the readers of the site and I'm glad that most have come around to the original idea of the site by Will Carroll and myself. A baseball blog that would discuss pop culture, politics, and the rest of the sports world.
Let me mention again how much I appreciate Will Carroll for asking me to join him at his blog way back in 2004. Will is a one of the most interesting and talented people I've ever met. Considering I'm in a business that is supposedly filled with interesting and talented people, I don't throw compliments like that out randomly. With our busy lives, I don't see or even speak to Will as much as I would like, but I still consider him one of my best friends.
Towards the end of 2008 I discussed with the Toastermaster General, Ken Arneson, about how I was ready to go in a different direction with this blog. The idea I had was to go off on my own, as the new direction didn't fit with the way the Toaster operated. Ken shared with me that the timing for my new project was good, as the chances of the Toaster site continuing were slim. I want to thank Ken for all his efforts in putting the Toaster together. He has been great to work with and I will miss his technical skills. (Oh and by the way, Ken is really an underrated writer. I hope he comes out of retirement from blogging soon.)
While I'm on the subject, I've been very proud to be part of the great writers who have contributed to the Toaster. While many of us will continue to thrive at our new sites, it is a sad day for baseball fans on the net, as there was no other site that had as many quality writers blogging on baseball. I think the top 2 baseball blogging communities are Dodger Thoughts and Bronx Banter. It was cool that they were both located at the Toaster, which brought an East Coast/West Coast interaction at the Juice Blog that we couldn't have gotten anywhere else. Was Belth Biggie Smalls and Weisman Tupac? I will let you be the judge, but it's good that there was no gunfire.
As I outlined at the start of the year, I have a new site called NSFWSports.com. Having Not Safe for Work in the title points to the blog being R-rated. Specifically the idea is to cover sports and pop culture in an edgy and provacative way. I plan on being much more active at the site than I've been here, lately, as I believe the uncensored freedom I have at my new site will give me a newfound creative burst. Take a look at my latest post on how the Super Bowl featured 2 teams that weren't super bowl quality. As I mentioned, it uses bad words and some very naughty links that I use as provacative jokes.
While some individual facets of what I'm trying to do over at NSFWSports.com you will recognize, I don't think the overall product will be like any other site on the web. That at least is the plan going into it. I can't stress enough how much I hope you bookmark NSFWSports.com and participate in the dialogue that comes out of my new offerings.
(Final Note: If you want to get a hold of me, feel free to email me at email@example.com)
At the age of 10 my Dad decided that it was time for me to get a paper route. I mean I was in 4th grade, so why not give a child of one whole decade on this earth a job which required 7 days of work for 365 days a year. Sure no one else has a job that you are responsible doing every day, including holidays, but hey, with a generous pay package of 15 dollars a week, who wouldn't want that for their child?
Oh, did I mention that my Dad lied about my age because you were required to be 12 years old to get the prestigious gig? Fortunately for me, I had that Greg Oden disease where I looked older than my age. Remember the kid who could grow an Abe Lincoln beard at 10? Remember the kid who you noticed in the locker room having pubes at 8? That would have been me, so my Dad knew I was in the clear. I guess he felt he deserved such luck considering that he got dirty stares claiming I was younger than I was when it would help him pay less at the movie theatre. (He didn't have the same problem at drive-in movies because he would make me get into the trunk until we got through the gate.)
So I'm delivering the Des Moines Tribune, the afternoon version of the Register. (Yes youngsters, there used to be an afternoon edition in every major city in the country.) After school, I would ride my bike to the area they dropped my bundle off at, then I would stick the papers in the newspaper bag I tied to my handlebars. Since the route was more than a mile away, I would ride my bike anytime it was possible and sometimes even when it wasn't. Snowfall wasn't a problem, as long as the streets were plowed.
When I was 12, I can remember getting a moped for Xmas. At the time, it was kind of the rage, so on one-hand it was thrill seeing it on Xmas morning. The other hand was that I knew that a gift of this quality meant indentured servitude to my Dad for the rest of the year. consider that your allowance. He ended up driving the moped as much as me to work , which wasn't good considering the weight limit was supposed to be 190 and since he was pushing 240, he looked like one of those brothers from the Guinness Book of Records, when he was riding the hog.You need to paint the house this week, I mean I bought you a moped for Christmas! An allowance? I bought you a moped for Christmas!
Don't think that this was a Honda moped, my Dad was far too cheap to go that direction. This was an AMC moped.
For those of you that never had a paper route, one of the most amazing parts of doing the gig was that you had to collect your money from your customers. For some reason, the electric company or Ma Bell didn't need to go door-to-door to get their money, but a young kid who was collecting a $1.50 a week, was required to do it. Since I had an abusive father, I lacked confidence with adults, so if someone didn't answer their door a couple of times, I would get intimidated asking for 2 or 3 weeks pay. A bill of $4.50 seemed enormous to me and I was scared to ask them, so I would often just eat it. Maybe I only made 12 dollars that week, but at least I didn't have to deal with some possibly angry authority figure.
The thing I remember most about doing the job was how cold I would be delivering papers in the winter. There were times where I was walking home in windchills below 0 degrees wondering if I would be losing a toe. It was like I was on some expedition of Everest, except there was no great end result of reaching the summit. My summit was getting home and getting to relive this ordeal the next day. It blows my mind, now that I look back at it, that children were encouraged to do this. It really irks me to think that many of the people who I would collect from would claim they didn't have the $1.50 or in cold weather would say "I'll go get it", then slam the door and make me freeze my sweet cheeks off while they putted around looking for their checkbook.
There was a silver lining, though. This job allowed me to buy sports books and sports cards with the money my parents didn't make me put in a weekly savings for college. (NOTE: The couple thousand bucks I was able to save during my time doing this gig was taken out by my legal guardian, my Dad, who used it on a private investigator to try to find me and Mom, when we finally left and did are own version of witness protection. I can't pretend that during the 8 years I spent paying off my student loans I didn't think about this with some bitterness. Now back to the silver lining.) I had quite a collection of cards, which were my most treasured possession. I considered using a baseball card to get me into this writing exercise, but I thought it seemed kind of gimmicky. Really, who would want to read such a self-absorbed concept?
I also would occasionally buy wacky packages. Since I loved Cracked magazine (better than Mad magazine to my young brain), the wacky packages were a perfect extension. I decided to use the Gadzooka offering here, because I was a serious bubble gum freak. While I loved Hubba Bubba and thought that watermelon Bubblicious was the bomb, the greatest gum was Grape Bubble Yum. Just the smell of it would make my mouth water like I was Amy Winehouse at a meth trailer.
Since I was not exactly flush with cash, but needed to fill my addiction to sugary nuggets of gum, I would buy a couple of packs on my way to school and then sell each piece to other students who weren't as industrious. Grape Bubble Yum
Catch Past Juice Blog Contributor Tommy Johnagin on Comedy Central this Friday
If there is a better comic under the age of 30 than Tommy Johnagin, I haven't seen him. This Friday night, Tommy's Comedy Central special will debut at 10:00 pm EST. A couple of years ago, Tommy wrote a great road story for this site. Since then, he has had a meteoric rise in the comedy biz, which includes a highly coveted spot on Lettermen in 2008. (Very few standups get on with Dave.) Now comes the Comedy Central special, which I'm pretty confident you will love.
On another standup note, I want to congratulate another good friend, Dan Cummins for finishing 3rd in the Comedy Central Standup Showdown. If you haven't seen Dan's standup, you are missing out, as he has a completely original voice. While this is not like his standup, I suggest you check out the Myspace video he has done, featuring the talents of a Johnny Gunn.
Please Explain: The Initial Launch of the MLB Network
Are you officially a network if no one is watching? OK, maybe that is a bit harsh, but what a colossal bore the new baseball network has been. Unless you have never seen Ken Burns' wonderful PBS documentary or you are a historian of old game highlights, the only thing the network offers of any quality is its Hot Stove show. Yes, I know that it is January and it will amp up when spring training and the WBC begins, but that is no excuse for not coming out of the gate with more intriguing programming.
I'm aware that baseball doesn't lend itself to the exciting footage that the NFL does, but the clips are only part of the magic that NFL Films has added to its finished products. Steve Sabol has brought humor and an edge to most of the work he's done, with the NFL having enough foresight to know that their work has helped grow their game. While MLB doesn't have a great library of shows to offer to its new network like NFL Films brought to the NFL Network, it is inexcusable, considering the lengthy amount of time it had before launching that the MLB Network didn't create some better documentaries than its weak Prime 9. I wrote over a year ago that the MLB Network should emulate the NFL Network and create its own version of America's Game, the brilliant documentary program covering each Super Bowl champ. Sadly, nothing even close has aired on the MLB Network of America's Game quality.
The one major topic that baseball has which completely trumps football is the place statistics holds to its fans. If you wanted to get many of your hardcore customers to watch the channel in January (and who else would have that much interest, otherwise), there should be a show featuring sabermetrical talk. Even if it was just once a week, why isn't there a round-table show with statistical experts discussing current and historical issues with a sabermetrical slant? And while I'm on the subject of the MLB Network whiffs, where is a fantasy baseball show? This is the other subject that could interest many hardcore fans during the off-season.
I have no beef with the hiring of the on-air talent for the Hot Stove show. Its analysts are head and shoulders above what you see on Baseball Tonight, well except for when you get the occasional Gammons or Kurkjian sighting. The hiring of Tom Verducci and Jon Heyman were really good moves. I know a lot of people around here rip Harold Reynolds, but he is really telegenic and baseball on ESPN has suffered since he left. Where I do think the MLB Network missed out was by not hiring a top-notch host to be the face of the channel like Rich Eisen has provided for the NFL Network. Someone with some edge and a good sense of humor is needed to keep a 24-hour network dedicated to one topic seem fresh and it just isn't there right now. The Big 10 Network has its own problems, but the hiring of Dave Revsine from ESPN was a wise move to be their version of Eisen.
I'm sure when the actual season starts I will look past some of these issues, as having a channel completely dedicated to baseball, featuring highlights and live look-ins will camouflage a lot of problems. I'm just at a loss of why the channel decided to kick off in January 2009, instead of waiting at least until pitchers and catchers show up. I'm even more disappointed in the pathetic quality of its original documentaries.
If you're going to have your own network, you need to invest more in original programming. My first move to improve the network would be to hire some of the top people away from NFL Films and let them have the freedom to do what they need to create quality documentary programming. The other move I would make would be to give Baseball Prospectus its own show, which would give the network some edge and at the same time take away the idea that the MLB Network is just a mouthpiece for the owners. (I realize that probably won't happen, but a good compromise would be to hire a couple of the guys from BP to bring some much needed contrarian analysis.)
I'm happy that the MLB Network exists, but it is off to a pretty dismal beginning.
Best Dressed President of All-Time
Note: This is not a picture of recently signed Sox free-agent Bartolo Colon.
Why I'm Not Part of the 79% Who are Optimistic about the Next 4 Years
A recent CBS/NY Times poll reports that 79% of Americans are optimistic about the next 4 years under Barack Obama. Here's my thoughts on that question. I feel Obama is the right person for the job, but it is the job itself that is the problem. Even though Obama mentions the disaster our current economy is in, most Americans seem to have little understanding of how bad it really is since it hasn't really hit like it will. Unless you live in a state like Michigan or Ohio, you don't have a great feel of how it will be in the near future.
Here are my thoughts on what needs to be done.
Tell the AARP and its members that there is going to be major changes in how Social Security and Medicare will be used.
Politicians have been afraid of doing anything to social security benefits for decades, despite anyone who had a shred of honesty knowing that the government's version of a Madoff scheme was about to combust. Well, the subprime mess has exacerbated the problem, as we now are printing money like we are working in a Parker Bros factory. It is time to raise the retirement age, cut benefits to people who make over 100 grand a year and pull back the financial disaster that is the Medicare prescription drug plan. There are plenty of good articles about this subject, but I suggest a good place to begin is a column Robert Samuelson wrote in Newsweek. The greatest generation got way more than they ever paid in, so we need to act quickly on making sure the baby boomers don't continue this heist. We never could really afford it as a nation, with now more than ever that being the case.
Global Warming isn't as Important as Some Tell You
I believe it exists. I believe in promoting being a more earth-friendly citizen. This is not the time, though, that we should be pushing more new regulations that will hurt American business in the short-term. While I'm not someone who doesn't believe that global warming is a problem, there are real questions if its effects are as great as is preached by its zealots.
Push for Civil Unions for Gays
I'm all for Gay people being able to marry, but I'm in the minority on this one. Most of the country is not ready for Gays to marry. Instead, the focus should be on civil unions that would provide many of the protections that married couples have. The success of civil unions will eventually make for the next step, especially after a lot of old people starting dying off. Much like legalization of pot, it is more of a generational issue in being opposed to the concept of gay marriage. If you want to help the President you love so much, give Obama some time on this one. He doesn't need a hot button issue like this one to come up too soon, while he's dealing with bigger things.
Set a Time Table for Major Withdrawal in Iraq
Use the problems in Palestine or Afghanistan or our current financial crisis as reasons for needing to get out, but do it soon. The Iraqi government needs to be motivated to take more control. Yes it won't be a pretty exit, but here is where being a man of color with a Muslim middle name should help, right? It will also be time to see if Europeans mean what they say in their supports of Obama. The big, bad Bushie is gone, so we are going to need some of your troops to make-a-the-peace, when we leave the massive vacuum of security for the Iraqi's when we high-tail it out of there.
Increase the Size and Power of the IRS
During the Bush administration, this department has been devastated. It is part of successful democracy that people are forced to pay their fair share. We need more agents and we need to quickly shutdown the Cayman Island money shuffle which has gotten worse and worse over the past decade. Oh and can the nomination of Timonthy Geither, Barack. It sets a horrible example to have the US Treasury Secretary be a guy who doesn't pay his taxes properly. I'm not buying his excuses. If he's such a brilliant guy, he shouldn't have been dumb enough to do what he did.
Put Universal Health Care on the Backburner
This one hurts, but with the current economic mess we are in, it just isn't the time to push this through. We should try to set up a system that covers uninsured children in a more cost-effective way than Medicaid does, but that might be about all we can do right now.
I'm sure I pissed off about everybody with this list, but we are in really dire straits right now and we need to to have political leadership that is willing to look past what will get them elected next time. Since I don't feel very confident in Pelosi or Reid and have no confidence in Boehner and McConnell, I'm really hoping that Obama will be willing to make the tough choices Bush rarely ever did. I feel positive about him being up to the job, but I'm very pessimistic on the massive challenges we are set to face. Hopefully, I'm wrong and the next 4 years will be a positive place. Considering the way we have been running up our personal and government credit cards over the past 8 years, I'm not confident about that, though.
My Apology for a Past Piece
Back in September of 2004, I wrote that for the Democrats, winning the election might not be the best thing in the long run. I further added this prediction of the future.
OK Scott, we get it, you are a political genius. Is this another self-congratulatory piece of bloggery? No, I am here to apologize. While what I wrote did mainly come true, it came at a lot heavier price than I could've imagined. You see my dislike of John Kerry clouded my judgment, as because even a pompous ass like him would have helped us avoid some of the turmoil we find ourselves in. I apologize for my thinking Bush winning would be best for our country in the long run.
Do Hall of Fame Voters Understand the Game?
Let me begin by sharing this little nugget. Jim Rice was my favorite player during the time of his career. I can remember when he came up with the Red Sox in 1975 and believing, despite Fred Lynn winning the rookie of the year, that Rice would have won it, if not getting hurt in September I am not an unbiased person when it comes to his candidacy. Despite all these wistful feelings for him, I realize that Rice was not a Hall of Fame player.
It really comes down to this for me. His home splits kept him at a higher respect level than he truly deserved. His OPS in Fenway was .920, which during the time period was automatic Cooperstown numbers. It is on the road, where his OPS was .789 that changes the equation. A corner OF/DH with these numbers is just not good enough. Even his tracking stats aren't enough, as he didn't have 400 homers and didn't have a lifetime BA over .300. As a player, he reminds me of Albert Belle. A power-htter who intimated with his bat and his disdane for the media, but a player who ultimately fell short of Hall of Fame numbers. Of course, now he's in, so it just goes down as another example of the HOF voters blowing it.
(A note on Home/Away Splits: I believe they are the most underused statistic in baseball. Where it is really hard to judge players from one time period to another, it is much easier to see who was underrated and who was overrated by looking at their home/away splits. Cub fans, check out Milton Bradley this way. His road split for 2008 was very similar to what he has done his whole career. There is a reason that Michael Young isn't as hot of a commodity in the trade market. His road OPS during his career is .just 728. Last year I discussed how the topic of Josh Hamilton being the AL MVP was completely wrong-headed, considering how much worse he was away from hitting heaven in Arlington. (OPS was .200 points lower on the road.)
The biggest travesty of the 2009 HOF voting was how Rickey Henderson didn't even get 95% of the votes. Someone needs to do a personal investigation on this one, as Rickey was the greatest lead-off man since Ty Cobb. Some might argue that hey, what's the big deal, he still got most of the votes, but that misses the point. There is not one person who shouldn't have voted for him. His value to the teams he played for should have made him a unanimous choice. I realize that no one has ever gotten that high of a number, but for more than 5% of the voters to leave him off should be enough to have their membership revoked. Hopefully they work for one of the papers that will be folded by next year. Of course, the value of a great leadoff man has always been underrated. If you don't believe me, look at the miserable voting record for Tim Raines, who should already be in Cooperstown.
I have written before on this subject, so I don't want to spend a bunch of time revisiting my reasoning. If you want to know more specifics on who should be included, check out this piece from 2006 and add Raines to the list and take-off Gossage, who was put in last year.
Bowl Game Wrap-up
Who else would reference Britney, MSNBC Lockdown, the Wu Tang Clan, and Strom Thurmond while they were doing a bowl game review? Also included is how the Pac-10 is getting jobbed and USC is the best team in the nation.
Go to my new website, NSFWsports.com. This is the place where you will get the uncensored thoughts of Scott.
A Major Shift Set to Happen at the Site
As most of you know, this site has been pretty stagnant lately. I just haven't been that motivated to write, as I haven't felt like I have anything unique to offer. Before I was asked by Will to join him at the blog, I had an idea where I would create a place with uncensored sports talk, which would also feature other X-rated elements. Obviously, the Toaster wasn't the place to do this, as the sites here have a classy sensibility to them. I decided that beginning in 2009, I would explore this idea by starting a new site called NSFW Sports. Below is what I put under the category of about the site.
What does this mean for the Juice Blog? I'm not sure, yet. I'm hoping that it will reinvigorate myself towards more writing in general. There are things that I won't feel are a good fit for NSFW Sports, which I will want to explore here. I hope, in the meantime, you will bookmark my new site and check it out. I plan on posting on a pretty regular basis. My first take is on the Dallas Cowboys being selected the site's first honoree for a twisted version of Sportsmen of the Year.
Thanks to all my readers here. This is not a farewell speech like the one that Will did recently, just an update. And hey, maybe this will also force me to write on baseball more often.
Best Wishes for 2009
Top 10 Albums of 2008-Scott's List (Revised edition)
Update. I just discovered a new release this year from a band named Frightened Rabbit. Another great Scottish band that I think will have some staying power. Put them at number 3 on my list. Bump everybody down one. Uh, wait a second....another revision. Bump Girl Talk up to number 4, as that record is just too much fun to groove to. I wouldn't be surprised if in a couple of years, Girl Talk will end up being the record I listened to the most in 2008. Now, go back to your NYE festivities.
2008 will be an extremely forgettable year in music. In a decade where making a great album seems to be secondary, this past year was the worst. As Will mentioned, though, the depth wasn't bad, just nothing that really wowed me.
One of the most underrated groups in music, this is the 3rd quality release in a row for the Chicago-based duo. Music-hall meets 70's pop meets indie rock....
8. The Virgins
16. Metallica- Death Magnetic
I liked St. Anger a lot better than most, but it was cool that Metallica decided to make a more back to roots record with Rick Rubin. Some great And Justice for All-type moments.
Top 10 Albums of 2008 - Will's List
Every year we've been blogging, we've done a year-end music list. This one's no exception. Scott's list will be up on Friday.
I'm no Chuck Klosterman and no Lester Bangs, but I listen to a lot of music and I like to talk about that music. It's the same with Scott, so we have a great fit with the typical year end music list, something we've done since pairing up. This year, it is a Klosterman line that has me thinking most. In his review of Chinese Democracy, Klosterman called it "the last album." I've often wondered if we needed street dates, big buildups, and the marketing push that big albums once needed in the age of iTunes. Old paradigms die hard and with record labels using "360 contracts" to make it impossible for us to get instant downloads of live shows (a real no-brainer that still hasn't worked), I'm not sure if it's correct. I think we'll see quicker, cheaper releases, more along the lines of what Coldplay did this year with Prospekt's March than anything like GnR. I've been wrong before but when the landmark release of the year is Lil Wayne, the music industry has bigger issues than release schedules. It's a sad commentary that the most important song of the year didn't even get released. Will.I.Am's "Yes, We Can" video and song may be remembered as the turning point of a campaign, the point where pop culture and politics met perfectly. That Obama never truly embraced it was his campaign's only misstep. Here's my top ten of the year, though I'm told that Nate Silver had the same list in early May.
#1: Back Door Slam -- Roll On/Back Door Slam
Readers of this blog will not be surprised to see me rank my favorite discovery of the year at #1. Davy Knowles burst onto the scene at SXSW and stamped down his contention for lead blues slinger. Not since Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Jonny Lang over a decade ago has a real, honest blues voice come on to the scene. Both Shepherd and Lang quickly tried to become mainstream, while Knowles and his band are already within reach. The Manx band is simply tight, does great originals and covers, and knows when to let Knowles stand in front and put everyone to shame with blues licks that recall everyone from Clapton to Jeff Healey. It's that last name - the departed too soon Healey - that is the comparison that immediately came to mind for me when I first heard BDS; Knowles' voice is a dead ringer for Healey's and their fluid playing styles are also very comparable. The band toured incessantly behind both the album and their EP, exposing them to a varied audience. Touring with Kid Rock had to be an experience and it will be interesting to see where Knowles and this young band will take things next. I know I'll be listening.
#2: Fall Out Boy -- Folie A Deux
I left their last album off my Top Ten despite putting their breakout, "From Under The Cork Tree", on top of a previous list. I can't make the same mistake here, underrating FOB because they write smart pop. Great lyrics from a maturing Pete Wentz sung by rock's new best voice in Patrick Stump makes for great music. Important? Influential? I'm not sure. There's a lot of bands with similar sounds trying to do what they do without hitting the mark. Hit them for goofy song titles if you must, but this is a band that is maturing subtly. While they'll go ironic with a cover of "Beat It", they're digging a bit deeper on the songs on this new album. Originally titled "Welcome To The New Administration" and scheduled for release on election day, FOB held it back but won't get lost. Every song is solid, with some standouts moving towards real greatness. It's not revelatory. It's not significantly different than the last two. What it is, is damned good music that will stick in your head but will give you something to think about at the same time. "What A Catch, Donnie" might be the catchiest song in years, with the chorus of "Tiffany Blews" just behind.
#3: Kings Of Leon -- Only By The Night From the first bloop-bloop of bass and guitar to the western picking fadeout of the last track, "Only By The Night" is dominated by the passionate vocals of Caleb Followil. He's part preacher and part carnie barker, but all rock n roll while the songs go from U2-style anthems to country-tinged ballads. You wouldn't think a song called "Sex On Fire" could be a breakout hit, but it's the most accessible song the band has ever done. In making this album, they've stopped being potential and crafted a classic album that showed what all that potential and previous experimentation was leading up towards. With classics like "Use Somebody" and "Revelry" that follow up strongly, the band shows a confidence that's lacked on their past albums. It's passion and confidence that's given this a swagger. Followil knows that you want to follow now rather than hoping you will and it gives him a freedom to be just a bit more dangerous than he's been.
#4: My Morning Jacket -- Evil Urges The more I listen to this album, the more I think that MMJ might be a more sane and down-to-earth version of Flaming Lips. Jim James and the guys are just as out there, just as unique sounding, and James' vocals can even recall Wayne Coyne at times, especially on the opening title track. It's also their most accessible album at the same time, though it's not an album that will find much of a radio home. "I'm Amazed" makes for a nice single with it's simple focus and James channeling Ronnie Van Zandt by way of Patterson Hood for a song. Still, it's the indulgent musicality of the album as MMJ takes another step away from the reverb anchor that both defines and holds back their early work and tries to find itself. There's no center here to hold together many of the songs, leaving them to ramble a bit too much in places. Also missing is the playful soul of their live show, where they'll often cover everything from Sly and the Family Stone to James Brown to Motley Crue. These might sound like big criticisms, but the album is a great one, leaving only some nitpicks from this being a masterpiece.
#5: Guns N Roses -- Chinese Democracy Apart from the back story, it's ... well, it's a fine rockin' album, but while every review of the album tries to take the backstory out and just listen, you can't and shouldn't do it. This album is nothing but backstory and without context, none of the songs do more than rock. If that's enough, fine, but they're all missing the urgency of Appetite for Destruction or even Use Your Illusion. Heck, Velvet Revolver rocked harder, so if that's all you're looking for, you'll be disappointed aside from a few songs. With the backstory, the album works as both music and as a story of something gone horribly awry, yet ending up somewhere good. It's an album without context in the sense that takes apparently took place decades apart, yet somehow work on the song. Every decision seems to have consequence and as Klosterman said, it's more interesting to try to figure out what Axl Rose was trying to do than analyzing what he actually did. The answer to the latter is "everything." There's nothing subtle here and very little cohesive. It's songs, end to end, that if there's any unifying principle, it's just excess. Great? Maybe. Very good. Certainly, as much as it's the end of an era. Metallica's album proved you can't go backwards, but Axl Rose just went every direction all at once.
#6: Glasvegas - Glasvegas The Scottish band recalls, but doesn't ape, the Jesus and Mary Chain. It's also oppressively Scottish, from local stories and characters to James Allan's accented vocals. It's all impressively earnest and while it doesn't always translate, the passion does. It's a Spectoresque wall of sound with girl group vocal patterns. The ringing guitars can drone a bit and there's little complexity here, a surprise for something that sounds so big on first listen. The drums echo. The guitar rings. The vocals drone. This is a band that has greatness within it's reach, but only hits it in spots. Hyped mercilessly in the UK, they've made absolutely no dent in the US. That's no surprise, especially when they seem as happy writing inevitable football chants ("Go Square Go") as true pop songs. If they're fated to be more My Bloody Valentine with a work ethic rather than Oasis, that's still well worth a spin.
#7: Your Vegas - A Town And Two Cities
Apparently, there's some obsession with Vegas over in the UK right now but at least it's giving us good bands. This version, based in New York now, but from Leeds, makes the name ironic, given that this is the album that The Killers wished they'd made with Day And Age. Where The Killers have gone from Duran Duran to Springsteen and back, rolling about in the ridiculous that they try to make sublime, Your Vegas is combining that mid-80's Britpop sensibility with the anthemic songs and guitar of U2 and Coldplay. Where Your Vegas loses it is in predictably aping its influences. In their lead single "In Your Head", the song starts with the ringing Gibson you'll hear on Glasvegas and quickly shifts to an emo riff and a lead singer in a Bono pose. There's a series of tick boxes -- Keane falsetto? Coldplay piano? Black and white 'Boy' era walking? Brooding ballad that could be played while the teen girl reads Midnight Sun?-- and yet it's never really derivative. In an age where YouTube is the new MTV and MySpace* is the new place to find music, there's something satisfying in knowing that pop music still works.
#8: John Mayer -- Where The Light Is John Mayer is that guy you don't want to like, but can't help but like anyway. He's the good looking guy with all the girls, all the talent, and an aw shucks demeanor that belies all that. He's a pop star who wants to be more, but sincerely seems to be just following his muse. In this live set, he shows off everything he's got, from the acoustic start of his career that holds up better than you'd expect to the blues trio that opened many eyes, as well as the more mature rock of Continuum. Chicks still scream for "Neon", but the original "In Your Atmosphere" demonstrates his real songwriting talent and his ability to deliver both a story and a feeling within the same song. He still sounds alarmingly like Stevie Ray Vaughan when he brings out his trio, but given Stevie's pop inclinations - go take a listen to "Tick Tock" and tell me it's not as much a John Mayer song as anything Mayer's doing - maybe they would have met in the middle. He's evidently closing chapters and maybe focusing on things aside from music with this live set, but having seen him live this year, Mayer's perhaps a defining voice for this generation and losing it, even if it's just a pause, would be troubling.
#9: The Fireman -- Electric Arguments It's one of those endless arguments - what would the Beatles sound like today if they'd stayed together? It's not a stupid question, since the Rolling Stones were contemporaries. Of course, the Stones never really changed their sound much more than some experimentations (Sympathy for the Devil) and never matured the way the Beatles did, especially in their studio-only phase. Given what the various Beatles' solo careers sounded like, it's safe to say that they wouldn't have had giant sonic jumps past Abbey Road, which makes Electric Arguments be a nice what if. There are points where McCartney sounds as if he's back in full throat, such as the opening scream of the bluesy "Nothing Too Much Just Out Of Sight" that might be the same note as "Back In The USSR." It gets noodly at the end, as if McCartney turned things over to his producer, the ambient Youth, rather than continue to work. That artistic laziness and tolerance for poppy mediocrity is both the problem with this album and with McCartney's post-Beatles career. He's good enough to remind us he was and could still be great. The problem is he's not great aside from bursts. "Sing The Changes" might be his best pop song since the early days with Wings while "Dance til We're High" is very much the song you'd expect to here from the Beatles in 2009. Oh, and backwards lyrics to end the album? Seriously.
#10: The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound I agonized over this one, loving this album, but not quite sure if it was better than some of the other albums just off the list. It's top ten, but top eleven or twelve, so how was Gaslight Anthem better than very solid albums by Hammock, Nick Cave, The Parlor Mob, The Raconteurs, The Cardinals, Low Vs. Diamond, and others? They were original. They're somewhere in between Bruce Springsteen and Social Distortion, a combo you don't often think of, let alone hear. It works and works well. It's punky and upbeat, even when you realize they're not upbeat at all. Maybe it's Jersey, but it's working class anthems, discussions of the good old days, and the occasional sweating out on the beach with a runaway American dream of mansions of glory and suicide machines. The title track simply works on every level and hits you in the gut while your foot taps to the beat. I'm surprised this band isn't getting more recognition, but in this day and age, who knows who will and who won't, unless you're Britney Spears or the Jonas Brothers. Somehow, their albums didn't make my list.
This is also my last post on the blog. Whether here or back at the old place, the direction this has gone has always been simply wherever. Only nominally about baseball, if that much, it's been a place that has both exceeded any expectation I've had and occasionally crushed my desire to do this kind of open discussion. In the end, for me, it's simply run it's course and had for a while. I've enjoyed coming back to cover for Scott while he and his wife welcomed in twins, but it only served to remind me why I stopped, really. I would like to thank Ken Arneson and the Toaster crew for putting up with me. I'd also like to thank Scott Long, a great friend, comic, and writer.
You're With Me, Leather
Liveblogging Chinese Democracy
Perhaps the most anticipated and near-mythological album of all time is now out, at least over at MySpace Music. (I'll try not to bag on that too much, but the experience is terrible there.) So with the reviews starting to come, I decided to give it a first listen and give my initial impressions. Chuck Klosterman's review hits the big question - "Throughout Chinese Democracy, the most compelling question is never, "What was Axl doing here?" but "What did Axl think he was doing here?"" I'm not going to even try to answer or even contemplate that here. I just want to listen and react to what I think is presciently being called "The Last Album." Let's work through the narcissism, overdubs, and see if there's any 'there' inside this:
Chinese Democracy - the first "single" from the album is pretty classic neo-GNR. The lyrics are nonsensical and if China is a metaphor, is it one from the early 90s or now? In 1995, this one's damn good, but now, it's almost like a time capsule or an unreleased B-side. It's the problem with the whole album - do we judge it as an album that came out in late 2008 or one that sort of spans eras? It's an album encased in amber and I think where you put it depends on how you hear it. It's a Jurassic Park of an album if you can ignore the back story
Shackler's Revenge - This song debuted on Guitar Hero and seems almost built for it. Some odd breaks and a high difficulty Buckethead-style (I'm not sure if this *is* Cousin Bucket or if his work ended up on the finished product) solo. The overdubbed high-low vocals don't really add much and it's a decent enough, but not substantial song. If someone can tell me anything about Shackler or who the bleep he is, I'd appreciate it.
Better - This was leaked by Antiquiet earlier this year and for all the talk about those being demos, I can't see any big differences. Great riff, interesting bridge, and a very rockin' but very busy arrangement. The solo here is going to be one where people take sides on the loss of Slash. If you like the new stuff, you're in for some of the same arguments that came at Sammy Hagar. But wait, there's a second guitar solo that's much more Slash-ish, if a bit more fluid than his cutting blues riffs.
Street of Dreams - Another of the leaked songs, this comes with a bit of Elton John piano at the start and then changes into something else. There's obvious changes from the leaks. There's some Brian May-style riffs and ... horns? Axl's in "November Rain" mode, going from balladeer to screaming Katherine Hepburn rocker (yeah, really) in the same line. By the time the strings come in, it's obvious that he's thrown the kitchen sink at this song. If there's fifteen years of overdubs to be found, it seems they're here. Again, we have two disparate solos and a long falsetto leadout from Axl that takes the song that's already over the top deep into the uberindulgent.
If The World - Damn you, Klosterman. Comparing this song to a lost James Bond film tune is perfect. It really does sound like that and once you get it in your head, well, the song becomes almost parody. We've got some nylon guitar, some Middle Eastern sounds, and Axl nonsensically screaming. Fact is, the lyrics through the first songs make as much sense as mud. I guess I wasn't expecting deep insight from a GnR album.
There Was A Time - Another of the leaks, this one has a strong Queen feel to it, which to me isn't a bad thing. The strings are excessive, but do we have to look at "excessive" in a different way with this? Again, we're caught judging this album as much on backstory, but it can't be credibly separated from that backstory without changing the album. While excessive and indulgent have to be used here, the way it builds from the solo up to the multiple overdubs, strings and yet another second solo out, with Axl screaming over it actually seems reasonable. It's a huge cinematic song that reminds me that Axl might have had some idea here that he kept putting more and more into until he got close. Someone called it an "Appetite for Construction", a great play on words that effectively sums up the album so far. Brian Wilson says he knew exactly what Pet Sounds would be like before he ever started recording and just had to get everyone else to hear it. The problem here is that I think Axl knew too - the problem is that he heard the song in 1994 and was trying to reconstruct it from an increasingly vague memory. This one, he got close.
Catcher In The Rye - Only Axl would name a song this. If that's not Izzy Stradlin playing at the start, it's a very convincing imitation. His solo work is dreadfully unnoticed, by the way. The lyrics here are obviously about the album and Axl himself, but you can ignore the narcissism and focus on a great solo (seriously, someone get a guide to who did what on this, assuming someone knows!) Groupies everywhere are going to be quoting this song, saying Axl wrote it for them. The end is ... well, how many times can I say "excessive" or "over the top" without it losing the edge. It's a horror movie ending, where you think Jason is dead, but he comes back that one extra time to give you a shock. Axl always has to go one more time, it seems.
Scraped - The most straightforward song on the album has two vocal tracks that have slightly differing sounds from Axl. WIth this, you have to wonder - were they recorded years apart? At least he didn't autotune it, which is about the only tool he didn't seem to use. The solo here sounds like A Perfect Circle and I know there's some overlap between the bands, so ... who knows? It's a nice enough rock song that would have really rocked if this was a couple years after Use Your Illusion rather than a couple generations, musically. I almost want to call it filler, but not quite.
Riad N The Bedouins - Umm ok. Axl's going for another Middle Eastern feel and, honestly I can't tell why. He abandons it a couple times in the song. The "Immigrant Song" style scream that functions as a chorus doesn't really work for me and the strings under the solo are (you guessed it!) excessive for where the song is meandering along. There's a nice melody at places, but the song is so choppy, going in ten directions at once that the center never holds.
Sorry - Apparently Axl found his Pink Floyd albums over the past couple decades. It's a shock here in that it's relatively straightforward. There's some wavy psychedelic guitars and he does his best to channel Roger Waters in both spirit and vocals. This one is allegedly an early song written for someone from the original band, either Steven Adler or ... well, there's a list of possibilities. It's the most obvious of the hundreds of F**k You's in the album. Axl seems both obsessed with making an important album and in reminding people that they all tried to stop him to no avail. It gets really meta in places and none more here in a song that just doesn't fit with the album or the catalog.
I.R.S. - Yet another in the F**k You genre, the song loses itself in the slower middle. The falsetto misses where the growling "Gonna make this a federal case" chorus hits. "What you think, I'm doing this all for my health?" sums up everything else on the album and his soaring scream into a Bumblefoot solo (I think ... correct me here if I'm wrong) are vintage. The lyrics work here better than the song, a flip of most of the rest of the album.
Madagascar - When he started this album, I wonder if anyone could have imagined that Chris Rock would be doing a sequel to a kiddie animated film with the same name as the song. The open has horns ... real or synth? I'm not sure, but it's Beatlesy without being good. The vocals start out low and ... well weird. While the lyrics talk about being lost, Axl's voice is just a step lower than he's ever been and he does his snaky winds that seem as if he's trying to get back to where he normally sings. Again, without knowing which Axl sang this it's tougher to put it into context. By the bridge it's less weird and actually fits into the song. And then ... Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" and Strother Martin meet in the middle of some less clear quotes, a couple I think also from "Cool Hand Luke" just ... well, I have no idea what he's doing here. "Free At Last?" Kids in colleges across the country are going to debate the meaning of this song a lot while smoking pot and trying to get laid. And that might be the problem - no one had to think about "Appetite For Destruction" and even "Use Your Illusion"
This I Love - Tom Keifer, is that you? No, no, it's just Axl, a piano, and strings. Oh and a million overdubs. It's a Cinderella song, not a GnR song. I guess if the kid with the soul patch worked his magic on the last song, the girl he was explaining the lyrics to might give it up during the solo here. Otherwise, it's forgettable. I mean, who besides Axl remembers Stephanie Seymour anymore?
Prostitute - Following a straightforward love song with a title like "Prostitute" is natural here, right? But even Axl has to get the irony of starting a song with "It seems like forever and a day." It's a nice culmination, clearly about the album again and powerfully narcissistic while he tests the boundaries of ProTools more than he tests the boundaries of rock like he did *cough* twenty years ago.
You know, that kid with the soul patch in college now wasn't even alive when Appetite came out and as the guitars, drums, strings, ten vocal tracks, and six tracks of pure angst ring out as the album finishes, he's just as likely to say the old GnR was better. He's right, but while Chinese Democracy isn't a great album, it is a very good one. It opens with a laughing siren and voices that make you wait nearly a minute and then a killer riff through a crunchy Marshall stack. It closes with a lingering string quartet that just fades on a chord. There's a lot that happens inbetween, but that difference is about as effective a summary of this album as exists.
I spent the last ten minutes looking at a prospect list. There's a ton of them out there. Some are good, some are bad, and all to me are like stock analysis. There are reasons that they're written that are very valid and yet the outcome might be completely different for a number of reasons. For me, they're entertainment at a point in the season where there's not much else. Baseball America has done them for years. John Sickels and Kevin Goldstein do a nice job. The others? Well, I come back to the thing I realized a couple years ago.
I wrote about this somewhere, but can't find it. I remember a January or February day at the local grocery store. Just before the frozen aisle, just this side of the bandages and antacids, is the magazine rack. I always check to see when the preview magazines are out and pow, there was one. I forget which one but I parked the cart, walked over and started glancing through. I flipped to the contents and was looking at the articles, at the teams and realized -- wait a minute. I don't know any of these writers. It really doesn't mean anything, but I know a lot of people in the industry, especially the fantasy industry and I'd never HEARD of these guys. Why would I spend seven bucks on this?
A lot of prospect lists are like that. Guys I've never heard of talking about players they've never seen. Maybe they have, but they don't say that. Maybe they talk to people like Goldstein does, but it doesn't come out in their writing. I don't see quotes from scouts. Essentially, I think many of these are meta-rankings, lists of lists, made from reading lists, not seeing players. At one end it's worthless apart from the components and on the other, it's simple plagiarism.
But then again, I give them the benefit of the doubt if they're well written, informative and entertaining. I'm sure that someone picked up a Rotowire magazine at some point and wondered who the bleep this "Will Carroll" character was. Or maybe he's still wondering. Or she.
But inside the industry, there are a lot of people I do know. Mostly, it's because I've done radio with them in either direction. I've met them at the Winter Meetings, at least a lot of the beat writers. They're actually considering BP for membership in the BBWAA this year, which should be interesting. I don't think we'll get in, but it's nice to at least get a foot in the door. With newspapers collapsing, I wonder where the BBWAA will be in ten years. Someone I really respect and admire talked with me on the phone today about whether there might be a fit for him at BP. I wish I could hire the guy, because he's the top in the field, but I don't have that kind of influence at BP and he won't come cheap. In this economy, it could be anyone. Murray Chass isn't at the Times, Gordon Edes isn't at the Globe, and who knows who's next.
There's a lot of great writers out there, solid writers and thinkers and hard workers. In a crowd like this, you probably wouldn't say "who?" if I mentioned Alex Belth, Matthew Leach, Aaron Gleeman, Eric Seidman, or Sam Mellinger. But is anyone the next Peter Gammons, or is that like asking who the next Sandy Koufax is? The next Tracy Ringolsby? The next Michael Lewis? (I have an idea about that ...) And moreover, where will they be writing?
Who will I say "who?" about next? And who am I missing?
Basking in the Glow of Hitting My Game of the Year
Hard to see how I can top last week's EASY 5-star cover with Cal, but we will see if I can get on another hot streak.
Michigan (-3.5) Northwestern
Arizona (+6) Oregon
Stanford (+24) USC
San Diego St. (+30.5) Utah (3-star)
Utah has its big rival up on board (BYU), with a BCS bid on the line. I suspect they will be flat in Chuck Long's last major game as a head coach.
Houston (+8.5) Indy
Minnesota (+4) Tampa Bay
Kansas City (+5.5) New Orleans (3-star)
Jacksonville (+3) Tennessee
St. Louis (+6.5) San Francisco (3-star)
The NFL goes to the dogs this week. Does someone really think the Saints are that good at this point? Chief QB Thigpen might be the biggest positive surprise of any player in 2008. Does anyone think the 49ers are more than 6 points better than anyone at this point? 2 interim coaches are pushing their pathetic teams in hope that they get the full-time gig in 2009. Expect a bad game to go down to the end.
A Tangle of Wires
I hate wires. One of the reasons I bought my Macbook Air was the push towards "pure" wireless. I don't need a lot of ports, I don't need a lot of size, and up to a point, I don't need a lot of processing power. I took a peak approach to deciding whether or not an Air would work for me, though I did it blindly, pre-ordering after lusting on it during a Stevenote.
Somehow, along the way, I've ended up with a tangle of wires. This is my current desktop:
Yeah, that's a four-port hub I have there, stuck into my Air's one USB port. I have an external hard drive (for Time Machine and media storage), my iPhone cord, and my Turbo.264 video conversion thingie. That leaves me with an open port for ... well, anything else. It was a $29 port, so anyone who says one USB port on the Air isn't enough just isn't trying. I did learn that video conversion was painfully slow on the first-gen Air, so the $89 Turbo fixed that. (It's slow on the Macbook that was available at the time, though I'm hearing fast on the new unibodies.)
Still, why so many wires? I can do file transfers via wi-fi, download from the Internet, but I can't transfer to a hard drive? Yes, it'd be slower, but would the tradeoff of a bit of speed for a wire be worth it? Maybe. There's been talk of wireless USB or some variant for years and if it worked, I'd be all for it. It's not just my computer -- it's the miles of wires connecting my Tivo to my receiver to my tv. It's the speaker wire running under the carpet. I'm ready to ditch the wires if someone will just let me.
A lot of people in a lot of places are telling Barack Obama what his first act as President should be. Obama shouldn't listen to any of them, but I'll toss mine into the ring.
On January 21st, President Obama steps to the lectern at his first press conference as President and begins:
"I would like to announce that I am pardoning President George Bush for any and all crimes that he committed while serving as President of the United States. I am doing the same for Vice President Richard Cheney. We are closing a chapter and moving forward. We do not have time to look back, but merely to say 'never again.' We will now get on with the business at hand."
Cal is The Juice Blog's College Pick of the Year
Cincy (+7) West Virginia
(5-star Game of Year) California (+22) USC
Vandy (+24) Florida
I think the two most talented teams in the colleges are USC and Florida. Despite this I think there are too many points involved with them this week. This is Cal's chance to prove that the Pac-10 isn't just a conference of teams that are USC's bitches.
Buffalo (+4) New England
Indy (+4) Pittsburgh
Kansas City (+15) San Diego
All about the dogs.
This article gives some great examples of what this tax increase on the wealthy really looks like. To a player making $10 million a year, the proposed change of the tax rate would cost them about $400 thousand a year. That means Derek Jeter will pay about $900 thousand on his $20 million '09 salary. That's six games worth of pay, more or less.
Continuing to use Jeter as the example here, he now pays a 35% tax rate. Ignoring the deductions and other methods of reducing the tax burden as well as his other income, Jeter pays $7 million in federal income tax. That's a LOT of money, no doubt about it. I'm sure, somehow, Jeter will be able to make it without too big a hit on his lifestyle. Instead of pocketing a post-tax $13 million, he'll have $12 million.
But what if you're a normal American, not a Yankee. Well, you probably have more range, but that's another discussion. If you make $50,000, you'd be taxed at the current 28% rate, giving $14,000 to the IRS, again before deductions and other reductions. So you tell me, is it fair that someone making more is being taxed more? I'm not sure, but I'd guess that the effect is less. That $900 thousand isn't going to keep Jeter from eating, from buying a house, from paying his heating bill, or from jetting off to the Caymans with his hottie du jour. I'm not buying that it's patriotic, as Joe Biden suggested, but it's logical.
With the call of New Mexico for Obama, it's over. With the currently called states and near certainties in California, Washington, and Hawaii, Barack Hussein Obama has crossed 270. Theoretically, and stranger things have happened.
Congratulations, President Obama. Now, deliver.
The iPod Effect
Watching the political coverage today and talking with some covering it, I've noticed one thing and it appears that exit poll numbers is capturing it as well. I'm calling it the 'iPod Effect.' With younger, more affluent voters and long lines around the country, it seems that those same voters, which tilt to Obama, are prepped and enthusiastic. By taking their iPods (or books, magazines, or anything), they prepared to wait it out, no matter the wait time. Older voters seem more unwilling to wait. Many are saying they've never seen lines like this, can't stand this long, and some number, which polls suggest could be as much as 5%, are just bored and leave. There are a million things in play, but the iPod effect is in full effect. Next time HDNet* shows video of the lines, try and count how many white cords you see.
*Nate Silver will be providing his analysis for HDNet on tonight's coverage, anchored by Dan Rather.
Reexamining What I Wrote 4 Years Ago
With the election on the eve of destruction for the Republican Party, I thought I would publish again what I wrote 4 years ago. The only criticism I have of my analysis is that I wasn't harsh enough on the dire circumstances that the Bush administration and Republican Congress (especially the House) could bring to this nation.
For the past few years, I have had this piece linked on the side under the title of Kerry Losing Good.
The Loyal Opposition
I voted for Barack Obama.
That comes as no surprise to those who remember my staunch anti-Bush attacks of the last five years -- five?! -- at this blog. But where I worked for Kerry's victory in 2004, all along much more of a vote against than a vote for, I could never quite bring myself to believe in Obama's brand of hope. Sure, I wanted to believe, but I never did. In fact, it was John McCain who held me back.
Not that I could vote for McCain, a near-criminal and at the very least a co-conspirator in the ineffective Congress of the last two decades, a man who's best qualification was failure. Being shot down is no resume line and McCain is no more (or less) deserving than, say, Admiral James Stockdale, another former Vietnam era POW but who was roundly seen as undeserving even as a Vice-President. On this fact, any of the nearly 600 Vietnam-held Prisoners* are as qualified. McCain, of course, ran on his record in the Senate (undistinguished compared to others) and his wife's money, which is what got him to the Senate in the first place.
(Off topic here, but did anyone notice Cindy McCain wearing a "Navy Wife" brooch during her appearance on Saturday Night Live? I doubt Carol McCain felt good about that.)
So if my vote is once again more a tick of "against" than "for," it leaves me at a political crossroads. While my hope is that Obama will become the President and leader everyone so fervently hopes he will be - and there's that word again - I have no real basis for that hope beyond promises. I am brought back to my Christian school education and reminded to build my home on rock, not sand. (Matthew 7:24-27.)
So what am I for? What is my political rock? If I am not for many of Obama's policies and goals, it leaves me with one choice and that is to articulate myself as the loyal opposition. America's style of republicanism (form, not party) doesn't allow for this, but it is something that has strengthened them. If you've never watched the Prime Minister's question time on C-SPAN, imagine any recent President standing to question, then ask why we don't have a similar function. Yes, the press might, but doesn't.
As we elect a President tomorrow, it's time for all of us to become strong soldiers for his cause or to be in the best sense of the words, the loyal opposition. Over the next few months, as Obama or McCain establishes his government, I'll be establishing the principles by which I will stand. I hope you'll join me in examining the important issues of the day, one by one.
* Yes, I acknowledge discrepancies with the numbers, but let's not get into that here.
Zack and Miri Don't Make A Great Movie
First, let me be clear -- I love Kevin Smith movies. I love the concept of most of his movies and what he's done for a new generation, including Judd Apatow. That said, I was very disappointed by "Zack And Miri Make A Porno." We have a great cast, a great concept, and yet ... it just never comes together. As I walked out of the theater, I realized that in his third attempt to make a "commercial" movie, Smith had once again missed the mark. He simply doesn't have it in him to be anything but himself.
If you haven't seen him do a speaking engagement or the videos of these (I think there are two), you'll miss why his commercial movies don't work. It's because the guy simply can't be anything other than completely honest. The term "brutal" honesty is often cliche, but with Smith, it's who he is. From the subtle in-jokes about Bryan Singer and Judd Apatow to the dialogue that makes up most of the movie, it's pure Smith. He talks about being fat, his health problems in detail you wouldn't want from someone you knew, and the problems of his life because that's how he deals with it. In those moments, the film is true.
In others, it's not. The tacked on ending only reminds you of the line that "a film needs an ending." The presence of actual porn stars Katie Morgan and Traci Lords only reminds you that it's not an actual porn. The scenes of Pittsburgh only remind you that ... well, that something's just not right with this Kevin Smith film. It's not Jersey and therefore not really Smith. Hockey scene? A veritable deus ex machina for almost no payoff. Indian coffee shop owner? Same thing.
Nothing comes together, ironic in a film about coming together, in both senses. Is it a raunchy Apatow/Smith hybrid curse-fest comedy or a post-modern hard-luck love story? Smith didn't seem to know either. It is a great concept, on paper, but not on film. As I walked out, my friend said "I wish Judd Apatow had made it." For me, I wish Kevin Smith had.
Also, I did not need to see Jason Mewes like that. At all.
One Out of My Last 12 College Selections Right...
...but I still have a winning overall record. I am freaking amazing! Well, let's see what kind of wild streak I will go on this week.
(3-star) Northwestern (+7.5) Minnesota
I keep going against the Gophers, but then I've been against the Cats as well all year, so we will see if I got on the wrong team. The only other one I will discuss is my Pac-10 Game of the Year. The team from Tempe has been one of the big disappointments of 2008. Their talent level should make this an even game, and while I like Riley a lot, I suspect the game will go down to the wire. Hey, but what do I know, in 2 weeks I've went from having an overall record of 21-9 to 22-20.
Dallas (+9) NY Giants
I HATE this week's NFL games.
I can't wait to do our annual Top Ten albums list this year. I could probably do twenty, where last year, I could barely do ten and had to stretch to find ten *great* albums. Even better, I think I've found more good music this year as the paradigm shifted somewhere along the way. I can't quite put my finger on it, but things like lala.com, iTunes' Genius function, and social networks have given us ways to find new music where radio has failed. With a couple albums left to drop that could squeeze their way in if they're not massive disappointments like the new Snow Patrol, really good albums like Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" are likely to be on the outside looking in.
I'm still in the early stages of listening to Glasvegas' eponymous debut, but I can't imagine in not being on the list. Yes, they're overhyped in Britain, but in the US, they're as likely to be Robbie Williams as they are Oasis. Listening to the album, from the glistening and heartbreaking opener to the end track, it's a giant bundle of influences, as if everything in their music collection spilled onto the vinyl. (Yes, this album just feels like vinyl.)
Right off the bat, there's an Oasis feel in their pop songs. There's also a retro, Phil Spector vibe to the ringing guitars and girl-group pop-candy vocals. There's an obvious Jesus and Mary Chain feel that some have called "Proclaimers with a delay pedal"; I'll be a bit kinder. There's echoes of anthemic early U2, influences of angst-driven early Clash, and then a whole section of Glaswegian narrative that you'll need a Wikipedia page and a translator to get inside.
James Allan's accented vocals are a love or hate proposition and the reverbed guitars you haven't heard since early My Morning Jacket or late Phil Spector are the same. And yes, the hype around the band is as big and bad as any since Take That. The thing is here, the influences and hype don't really matter when they get it right. When Allan soars into the hook of "Daddy's Gone", when the guitar kicks in on "It's My Own Cheating Heart ..", and when you find yourself singing along with "Go Square Go", all that doesn't matter. It's just simply a stunning debut that can't be ignored.
It's as likely to be noticed in the US as The Libertines, but in Friedman's flat world, who cares about borders? Great music is great music and in the niches that Facebook defines, merit trumps sales out on the long tail, right?
Get Your I Survived George W. Bush T-Shirts
Even John McCain is saying that he's no Dubya, so the one thing that we can all agree on is that Bush has done his damndest to wreck this great country. What better way to demonstrate your Patriotic nature than with this new Scott Long t-shirt creation. Wear it to the polls on November 4th. Remember it does make a great Xmas Present. Just $15 dollars (plus $4 S&H). Operators are Standing By Now!
One Book, One Album
I was discussing Alan Greenspan with a friend and she was unaware of his connection with Ayn Rand. In fact, she wasn't aware of objectivism and hadn't read any of Rand's work. It stunned me, since she's smart and well-read. So it got me thinking ... what's the one book and one album people *have* to have read and heard to be culturally aware?
For me, the book is "The Great Gatsby" by Fitzgerald for it's style, theme and it's comment on American society that still holds true. The album would be "Pet Sounds" by the Beach Boys. Without it, the Beatles wouldn't have done Sgt Pepper and groups as varied as Van Halen wouldn't have the same sound.
Yours? Put it in comments.
A Humbled Man Gives His Picks
Just a week ago, everything was going well on the betting front. 21-9 overall in the colleges. Then came last Saturday, when I went 0-6. Hey, but I'm still 21-15, so that isn't so bad, right?
Purdue (+2) Minnesota
Kansas (-1) Texas Tech
N.C. State (+12) Maryland
Virgina Tech (+5.5) Florida St.
Colorado (+24.5) Missouri
4-star Tennesse (+7) Alabama
I've lost a lot of games on the Boilers this season, but I just don't believe in the Gophers. The Red Raiders have played no one and this week the Jayhawks change their path. Maryland will be flat. I love Beamer versus Bowden getting points. I will take the Buffs getting over 24. In my SEC game of the year, I will take talent getting points at home, even though it might be the biggest coaching mismatch of the week. I am actually going with Fullmer versus Saban and making it a 4-star game. Stupid like a Fox.
Philly (-8.5) Atlanta
New England (-7) St. Louis
(3 star) Buffalo (-1.5) Miami
(3 star) San Diego (-3) New Orleans
I was a respectable 2-2 in the NFL last week. I like the Jim Johnson blitz package against a rookie QB, so take the Eagles to cover. The Patriots are bound for a letdown, but I think the Rams will have a bigger one. The Bills were my surprise team at the beginning of the year and I will ride them in Miami. The Chargers are a much better team than they have shown, while New Orleans is starting to crack, as injuries and a lack of a solid defense is starting to overcome even Drew Brees' efforts.
Yeah, That's My County
The county I live in has no Democrats running for office this year. Not one.
Even better, the woman mentioned in this article? She's the one that checked my ID when I did early voting and gave me a look when I took a camera phone picture to verify my E-Vote.
A "joke"? Not to me, it's not. I bet it's not to this lady either.
I don't care who you vote for. Actually, I do, but I'll defend your right to choose, so please, just vote.
iPhone, A Year Out
It's actually been more than a year since I stood in line outside an AT&T store, expecting a shortage that never came. The iPhone was everything I expected and more, but does it hold up? As Apple reports that it's sold 10 million of the buggers, does that make them less cool?
Answer: Yes and no.
The iPhone is one of the things that after you use it, you wonder how you lived without it. My first phone, a Qualcomm model from Sprint that I got in 1999, was marketed as "thin" -- it was about double the thickness of the iPhone. It had nascent web access and honestly it was usable for me, since I was using a text-based web (anyone else remember Lynx?) as late as 1996. Still, it made me realize that I'd been missing something. Today, I can't imagine not having a phone, as it's been added to the "keys, wallet" check I make every time I walk out of the house.
What the iPhone did was make it so I could very literally ask the question "Do I need to take the laptop?" I dont use my laptop in the car. I don't take a laptop to dinner. Even with the emerging 'netbook' class of computers, the iPhone is still the perfect device. The other night, I was at a play (Avenue Q) and could check the score of the Rays-Sox game. Waiting before the show, I played Scrabble and read FiveThirtyEight.
As with other Apple products, it "just works." I've had no real problems and the one I did - it was locking up - was fixed with a restore. The battery life is tolerable, especially after the 2.1 update. Yeah, the battery life got better with a software update. I am buying an external battery, but I could live without it.
I see more and more on the street and I can't imagine why anyone would buy a regular phone. Yes, there's the keyboard issue and if it's that make or break, I understand why people would use Blackberry. Having used Windows Mobile, I have no idea why anyone with a choice would use it. It's worse than regular Windows. Still, Blackberry is moving to the touchscreen, though I think the Android G1 probably is the better solution. One thing I noticed was that I literally can't remember the last time I dialed the phone. I don't know what that says about me, but it's never really been an issue.
It works as a phone, an iPod replacement, a video device, a game playing machine, a laptop alternative, a decent enough camera, a recorder, and a GPS. I don't care if it's cool anymore; it's part of life for me now.
We talk about music more than baseball here at The Juice, so when we find a new album we love, we usually talk about it. Instead, I'm going to tell you about a new web service at Lala.com that looks to be the online iTunes. It's more fun to explore and find all the features, but here's the key ones:
* Buy mp3's online for 89 cents each, with no DRM.
* Listen to new songs by streaming them. The first stream is free for music discovery, the next streams are 10 cents, which can be applied if you buy the tune. You can also buy "web albums" which are essentially eternal streams.
* Listen to your collection of music from your browser, from anywhere.
* An easy to use uploader for your current music collection.
* Social matching, based on your friends' music.
So far, everything on the service "just works." It's a lot like the old MP3.com in ways, combined with Last.fm. Supposedly Lala has legal arrangements with the necessary parties, so it shouldn't suffer the fate of others. This is just another one of the services that has me really worried about Comcast's bandwidth caps. Check it out and "friend" me if you like it.
Thank You, Stu
I've followed the Rays for a couple years now. It started because I really liked watching Carl Crawford play, but grew when two BPers shifted to their front office (It's now at three.) Over the last two years, I've travelled down several times to do events or just watch some ball.
And I became a fan.
I like the park. I like the people. I like the team. I like the Rays.
After several years of being beaten down by a team I grew up with, I lost that passion. I didn't feel anything when they won and worse, I didn't feel anything when they lost. If you could have seen me on the couch during the Rays-Sox series, you would have seen that I felt a lot. And cursed a lot. And cheered.
Yeah, I cheered.
Forget the objectivity and remember the passion. This 2008 Rays team will be remembered for a lot of things, but the one thing I'll remember? They gave me my fan back. Call me bandwagon if you want, but in 2006, I was driving that bandwagon.
Congratulations Rays - 2008 AL Champs. Thank you, Stu, Andrew, Matt, Chaim, James, David, Dave, Scott, Matt, Carl, and everyone else with the Rays.
DId I Mention that My College Picks are 21-9
So last week I continued my mastery of the colleges with a 5-1 week, including hitting my first 4-star play with Michigan State, who covered by 16. In the pro's I went 3-2, but did lose my first pro 4-star play. (Houston won, but just missed the spread number) For the year I'm 10-6 on Top Plays.
3-star Purdue (+4) Northwestern
Georgia (-14.5) Vandy
Baylor (+17.5) Oklahoma St.
North Carolina (-4.5) Virginia
Colorado (-3.5) K-State
4-star Missouri (+4.5) Texas
As I mentioned last week, the Wildcats have been lucky and I suspect Purdue will come out with an outright win. Before the season this was set to be a more than 4 TD spread, so I will take the much superior talent of Georgia. The Big 12 has 2 games that are impacted because of last week. The Cowboys upset Mizzou last week and have Texas on tap next week. Can you say trap? Texas won their game of the year, while Mizzou stumbled. This week we see why Daniels is better than McCoy, as the Tigers win outright in my Big 12 Game of the Year. Colorado is a more disciplined team. In a case of an excellent coach versus a bad one, take Butch Davis over Al Groh.
NY Giants (-10) San Francisco
Kansas City (+9) Tennessee
Dalllas (-7) St. Louis
3-star New England (-3) Denver
Not a big fan of taking a team off a Monday Night game, but Coughlin should have his guy's focused after getting embarassed last week. The Chiefs are miserable, but they do have a huge home field and the Titans are good, but not this much better on the road. The Cowboys have lots of problems, but the Rams have many more. As bad as the Pats have looked at times during this season, with a win here and a Bills loss, they could be tied for first. I will always take Belichek over Shanahan, if given the chance.
College Picks are 16-8. Top Picks are 8-4. First 4 Star Selections of the Season.
Iowa (-5.5) Indiana
Nebraska (+21.5) Texas Tech
4-star Michigan St. (-1) Northwestern
Arizona St. (+28.5) USC
Stanford (+7) Arizona
Wisconsin (+6) Penn State
Iowa is better than their record, while Indiana is not. I think the Red Raiders haven't been really tested so far. My first 4-star is the Big Ten Selection of the year. The Spartans are right behind the Buckeyes, in a tier with Penn State and Wisconsin, while the Wildcats have been a great story, but I can't see where it will continue this week. Michigan State wins by 17. This is the Sun Devils chance at regaining some of their pre-season hype. They keep it under 4 TD's. The last 2 are home dogs, which is my favorite type of play. Harbaugh and Bielema are 2 of the best young coaches in the country.
Tampa Bay (-1) Carolina
4-star Houston (-2.5) Miami
3-star Chicago (-2.5) Atlanta
3-star Indy (-3.5) Baltimore
Jacksonville (+3.5) Denver
I expect this will be the best slate of games to wager on during the NFL season. The Bucs defense will shut down the Panthers running game. I have no idea if I will even have another 4-star pro game in 2008, but Houston is a great play this week. The Texans are much better than their record, while the gimmicky Dolphins are fun to watch, but they aren't a team who will have a winning record when they leave Houston. Another team I can't see with a winning record is the Falcons, especially after the Bears defense blitzes rookie QB Ryan into mistakes. The Colts are starting to get more healthy and while the Ravens have looked good, I like the Manning/Flacco match-up to be the major swing in the Colts winning by double digits. The Jags are another team starting to get a bit more healthy, while the Broncos defense is terrrible.
Two things you'd expect to find on this site now finally are!
Check this link for some comedy, some baseball, and yes, some politics. You'll see a great Daily Show clip and Nate Silver's appearance on The Colbert Report. (Obama, a White Sox fan, is not going to be happy that his future Treasury Secretary just compared him to the team that knocked the Sox out of the playoffs.)
Filling The Cabinet
I've started thinking about who might fill the Obama Cabinet. There's going to be a lot of discussion about this in coming days, as Obama's lead solidifies I thought Obama missed an opportunity to win the question last night about who would be his Treasury Secretary by not having a ready answer. Warren Buffett? I don't think so. Who do I think? Let's go down the list:
Treasury: JON CORZINEIt may not be highest on the succession list, but Tom Brokaw had it right that it's now the most powerful position. Henry Paulson gets much of his Wall Street cred from being the former boss of Goldman Sachs. Corzine was once CEO of GS, but was pushed out during a crisis (LTCM). That works against him some, but his success as Senator and as a popular Governor in New Jersey will help. Other candidates are former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and NY Fed Chair Tim Geithner, though I'd like to see Mike Bloomberg here. If you want a long shot, how about Ben Bernanke, shifting him upstairs and moving Geithner into the Fed Chair.
State:SUSAN RICEA black woman? Named Rice? Yes, but she's nothing like Condi. This Rice is a former Asst. Secretary of State under Clinton and a serious policy wonk. There's little question about her credentials but a bit about her temperament. She seems a bit too much like Condi to some and sending a woman to meet with the sheiks is a tough sell at times. Gen. Anthony Zinni is another strong candidate here, or could be on the NSC. (*A lot of emails about John Kerry here, but as I said with Homeland originally, I think Kerry is stronger in the Senate.)
Justice: ARTUR DAVISThe new Attorney General might need to start with pardons. I've always said it would be a strong statement to pardon George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as they leave office, both to end the discussion and to leave a cloud of wrongdoing over them. This spot could have been John Edwards', but he's now in no man's land. Davis is a young up and comer in the Democratic party who has solid creds and Obama connections. Patrick Fitzgerald, the man who headed up the Plame Investigation ... and the Tony Rezko case ... is going to get some consideration.
Defense: CHUCK HAGELAs much as I dislike the idea of a bipartisan cabinet -- it did nothing for Clinton -- Hagel is well qualified and a shoo-in for confirmation. Dick Lugar, who's work with Obama has been touted, is another possibility. This one seems very open, which is somewhat odd given the status. Jim Webb's name is going to be raised here, but if he wouldn't take the VP slot, he's unlikely to take a Cabinet position.
Homeland Security: WESLEY CLARKI wish Obama would just get rid of this white elephant, but he won't. Clark could also be State or Defense, but the Clinton supporter might start here. Given his PAC is called "Securing America" he could just port his web site over! There's a lot of good things to say about offering this slot to Lee Hamilton, a chair of the 9/11 Committee and another Republican, but I think Hagel is a better pick and doubt there will be more than one Repub in the Cabinet. Webb will also be mentioned here, as will John Kerry, but with Ted Kennedy ailing, it would be tough to have Massachusetts appoint two Senators.
Health and Human Services: HOWARD DEANQuick - name the current HHS secretary. In fact, name any of the current heads of departments from here on down. Can't do it? Neither can Bush, who's relied less on his cabinet than any other president. Putting a doctor in charge here, albeit one with partisan issues, to help lead the charge on health insurance might be a bit polarizing. It does give Obama the chance to put his own man (David Axelrod) in at the DNC. David Cutler is probably the most likely choice here, however with John Kitzhaber a close second. (Oh, and it's Mike Leavitt who's the current one.)
Education: GEORGE MILLERAnother graduation from House Chair to the Cabinet, Miller is a California congressman in a safe blue district. He's not terribly distinguished, but there's no real downside here. Kathleen Sebelius will be mentioned a lot with her focus on education, but it won't be enough to get her to jump to DC.
Veterans Affairs: MAX CLELANDAnother Clinton vet, Cleland's credentials are impeccable despite the attacks on him that cost him his Senate seat. It's an easy pick that would require almost no thought. Some have suggested that John McCain could be a bipartisan pick here, but I can't see him accepting for a number of reasons, including that his Senate seat would be filled by a Democratic governor.
Labor: DICK GEPHARDTUninspiring, but easy choice. Gephardt's got some credibility left in this area and there's not any great choices. The best choice would be David Bonior, but I doubt that he'd move to the Cabinet from his Whip position in the House. I'm less enthusiastic about this choice seeing that Gephardt is working for a big law firm and could conceivably get the lobbyist tar on him. This could also be where we see an Hispanic like Xavier Becerra tapped.
Energy: ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGERAl Gore is just too cute a pick here, plus I think Gore actually gets more done outside government than he could inside. He's a polarizing figure and the next President can't afford that with energy such a high priority issue. Instead, I think Obama could grab a popular figure who could be key in selling a bipartisan plan to the public. For the guy who "invented the Hummer" to champion alternative fuels is something you can only get in Hollywood.
Interior: JEFF BINGAMANLots of names here as possibles - Brian Schweitzer, Chris Gregoire - but do either leave Governor's mansions for this spot? I don't think so. Jeff Bingaman, the long term Senator from New Mexico, is probably senior enough to move up to a Cabinet spot from his current Chairmanship of the Energy and Natural Resources committee. (One suggestion from email was Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a passionate environmentalist ... and would make for two Kennedy's in the cabinet! He might be a bit strong but is certainly worth consideration as is Lisa Renstrom from the Sierra Club.)
Agriculture: CHET CULVERPatrick Leahy will be prominently mentioned, but again, leaving a power position in the Senate is tough. Culver was a big help to Obama's Iowa campaign, so this could be payback. He's young and ambitious, so this might not be enough of a profile for him. Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor, is another possibility, though as a co-chair of Hillary's campaign, he's not exactly an Obama loyalist.
HUD: TOM DASCHLEThis one might have more power than most people think, given the problems with the housing market and the possibility that the Treasury will nationalize the mortgage industry. Then again, the Treasury could essentially usurp much of this function, leaving it a dead end portfolio. Daschle's been solid for the Obama campaign and this is a nice mid-level area, one that Daschle could use to keep the department "in play" during the housing crisis.
Commerce: PENNY PRITZKERGiving a Cabinet post to a top fundraiser is a tough one, but Pritzker is pretty low-profile outside of the Beltway and has never been involved in big scandal. (TransUnion isn't a plus here, but isn't a disqualifier.) Her family connections, Harvard pedigree and easy style should make her a nice choice if not an inspired one.
Transportation: JIM OBERSTARThe little known Congressman from Minnesota has been on the Transportation committee and is a strong advocate of integrated transportation policies, especially rail systems. He's worked to shore up infrastructure after the Minneapolis bridge collapse and that work should push him to this post.
UPDATE: I've updated with links to these people since there are so many lesser known ones. I also noticed that I ended up with an odd mix for a Democratic cabinet, with as many Republicans as women and no Hispanics. I still don't think Bill Richardson would go from governor of NM to return to Energy, though it is more powerful than it seems and Schwarzenegger is an admitted longshot. I do think I got the geographic and political structure right, especially after some emails I got in response.
College Picks are 11-5. Top Picks are 8-3. People, I AM ON FIRE!
I have been bringing winners here week after week, so let see what we can do this time around. For those keeping track, even my NFL picks are 8-6, so everything is clicking.
Oregon St. (+11.5) Utah
Cincy (-3) Marshall
Kentucky (+16.5) Alabama
3-star Auburn (-4) Vanderbilt
N.C. State (+9) Boston College
Iowa (+7.5) Mich. St.
Nebraska (+10.5) Missouri
Purdue (+13) Penn State
Considering how well I've done in the colleges, it would probably be wise to lighten up... I instead go with 8 picks. The first is a classic trap game, as it is hard to see how the Beavers could be an 11 point dog to anyone. I just don't believe the Utes are that good. I am a big fan of the Bearcats' Coach Kelly and have been waiting for the right opportunity to play them, which I hope is this week. Did you know that Vandy and Kentucky are undefeated? The oddsmakers believe in the Commodores, but I think it will be easy like sunday morning for Auburn. Bama comes off the biggest win the program has had in a while, so I expect they will be flat. Wolfpack's O'Brien was the coach at BC, so I suspect his team will come up with enough to keep it close. I have been off Iowa all year and on Michigan State, but the Hawks have been a bit unlucky this year and I suspect this one will go down to the wire. I bet against the Huskers homefield last week as a favorite, but I like them getting points in Lincoln. The Boilers are another team that I like getting points at home, as Penn State usually finds a couple spots where they slip up during each season.
Detroit (+3.5) Chicago
Philly (-6) Washington
Minnesota (+3) New Orleans
Not a fan of this week's Pro games.
Societal Critic at Large: Scott Long
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Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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