Monday, August 30, 2004

COMEDY: I Like Kevin Smith, dagnabit!

Comedy is always a personal thing. The list of people that make me laugh isn't long. Mostly because I rarely enjoy raunchy, silly or slapstick humour. For me, the ability to tell a joke without offensive language is a skill to be treasured.

I grew up with Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and George Carlin as the holy trinity of laughter. Hope was always about one-liners, Carson about the setup and grinning punchline and Carlin the thoughtful comic. Indeed, I learned what the words you can't say on TV were from Carlin. At the same time, the single funniest spot I have EVER seen a comedian do featured Carlin coming on-stage and NOT SAYING A SINGLE WORD! He looked like he was going to start about a dozen times. Each time, he sighed, shrugged in defeat and tried once more to summon the courage to say something. I convulsed when he left the stage, still having not said a single word.

Over the years, other comedians joined my little class of must-see comics. I like David Brenner. And Bill Maher joined the conclave about a decade ago. He's the 'new' Carlin, the comic with an idea that jokes can inform as well as entertain. Jay Leno, more Hope than Carson, also has been worthy of my nightly night-time watching. Maher's the closest to raunchy on that list, but he's smarter when he works clean.

Shockingly, the must-see list now includes a truly smutty comic. And he's the funniest man alive, to boot. I talk here about Billy Connelly, the Scottish comedian who even has a routine called "Effing this, and Effing that." His take on the self-absorbed American makes him consistently funny, despite the foul language.

Which finally brings me to Kevin Smith, who ISN'T a comedian. I had occasion over the weekend to watch "An Evening with Kevin Smith." Smith is the director of such movies as Clerks, Mallrats, Saving Amy, Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back! Truth to be told, I only enjoyed Chasing Amy from that lot. He's written those movies and more and appeared in most of them too. He also writes top-calibre comic books (albeit without regard to a publishing schedule).

And he is very funny, if possibly the foulest-mouthed person I've listened to in a while.

An Evening is a long college concert show (almost four hours) pieced together from five shows at various US schools. It's slow to get to the parts that make it worthwhile--Smith's meeting his wife, his dalliance with Prince over a would-be documentary and his utter dismissal of Tim Burton and Jon Peters as anything other than visitors from another planet. Those parts are brilliant story-telling. Up until then, you have to wade through Smith's obsession with ... penises. He rarely puts two sentences together that could be clipped for TV. But I laughed, despite myself several times. Still, if he hadn't started with the longer-form stories, I might not have finished the documentary.

But I'm glad I did. I had actually used the Smith break to try and get over a programming problem that I had. I was stopped cold, couldn't see the solution for the obstacles stacked up in my brain. Watching Smith swear for three hours plus shook loose the cobwebs. Another day's work got the problem solved, and Mr. Smith bears some credit.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

SPORTS: Lies, statistics and BIG WHOPPERS

There is going to be a strike in the NHL this fall. Hardly profound, but tis the sad truth. During the week or two before the insanity begins, both sides will attempt to convince you and me that their side is right. A pox on their houses.

Let's talk about some points that will be whined about. The players will say business with any restraint on the free market economy is wrong. Well, sports is NOT business. As Microsoft and many others have proven, the role of most businesses is to strive towards a monopoly position. Sports teams NEED competitors. A couple of years ago, George Steinbrenner was moaning about less than a full house at Yankee Stadium where the locals were hosting the inconsequent Kansas City Royals. He used THAT as a reason for needing a new stadium. That's the equivalent of the murderer of parents asking for sympathy as an orphan. HE spent the Royals into trivial status and his fans knew it and stayed home.

Furthermore, many, many sports owners operate their sports teams as vanity businesses. Mark Cuban comes to mind, until this year. Guess all that money he used to lavish on the Dallas Mavericks is now going to go to make really bad TV.

When gigantic egos are involved, then you get inane decisions. Again, Steinbrenner was once reputedly a star. Over-hearing two scouts raving about a player of moderate ability playing for the Angels (Spike Owen), he decided to tell his GM of the week (this was before Cashman) to go get the player, offering up two million reasons why the player should jump to the Yanks. Since that almost TRIPLED the salary he was ready to accept from California, you shouldn't be surprised at the result. A new well-paid Yankee. A year later, every banjo-hitting infielder, including Toronto's Alfredo Griffin, had that contract starred and at the top of their arbitration data book. Steinbrenner's idiotic contract cost many, many clubs millions of dollars immediately. And since the Griffins of the world were worth more, than the REALLY good shortstops were worth even MORE.

And to think, arbitration was an OWNERSHIP idea!!! Yes, these titans of industry and neophyte sports owners, conjured up the WORST SINGLE IDEA in the history of sports ownership. And it wasn't just baseball. Hockey followed suit just as disastrously. All in a lame attempt to end holdouts. Take the current labour agreements of both hockey and baseball, eliminate arbitration and set restricted free agency to a certain age and then unrestricted free agency thereafter, and the sports would get healthy that much quicker.

Arbitration is impossible, with apologies to those who try each off-season. In baseball, when Baltimore gives Cal Ripken a huge contract for what he means to the local community, the value of the contract should have NO bearing on contracts to other players who don't share a similar career-long importance. Ripken, at the end, was making two-thirds of his money on his service to the organization, not what he was doing on the field of play. But that sentimentality doesn't show up in the raw numbers.

Another whining point I've heard, most recently from Chris Pronger, is that hockey players don't get unfettered free agency until age 31. He points to the earlier free agency of football players making it sound like hockey slavery that football players get unrestricted free agency as much as nine years earlier. Chris, and the rest of you who point to football and basketball--STOP using examples from games with salary caps. They all claim they can't make the big money until they're almost ready for retirement.

So what? Where is it written that a professional player must be rich beyond all belief before becoming middle-aged? They play a sport. I hope they get compensated for it. Compensated to the extent that they don't ever have to work another day in their life? Doesn't interest me a whit. Today's population will AVERAGE three careers in their lifetimes. Most everyone will change jobs about every 12-15 years, on average. Few are narcisistic enough to believe they only need to put one good decade in and park the butt permanently.

Which brings me to another plaintive whine from the players. "Well they OFFERED us the money, we didn't demand it!" That's like my mother denying me food cuz I looked forlornly hungry rather than saying, "Ma, I'm starved!" Beyond that, if anything has become obvious in the last five years, is that eating everything that comes your way is NOT HEALTHY. There's nothing wrong with leaving some behind. Those leftovers might make another meal, or feed another family. Being a pig when led to the trough isn't something to claim loudly, it's something to clam up about.

Next season, when Peyton Manning has one fewer weapons (either James or Harrison will leave as a Free Agent next summer because Manning's status as the most-highly paid player in football doesn't leave money in the kitty for both), do you think he'll wish he WASN'T the richest dude in football. One day, he'll be looking up at the roof of the Indianapolis Dome when some second-rate running back or lineman missed a block on a blitzing defender that crunched him and he'll say to himself, "I wished I'd given some of that money up for better guards!"

Some things are mysteries that need millions of man-hours to solve. Say, the long-lasting light-weight battery. Other mysteries are only mysteries to fools with an inability to look past their own nose. Ownership in ALL sports have a workbook for success. It is called the NFL. It has a cap. It doesn't hand out guaranteed contracts (although some of the bonuses are getting baseball-like silly). And it's owners share their money. Ergo, Green Bay plays with the big boys. Everybody makes the playoffs every couple of years, unless management REALLY hires a series of screwballs. In which case, they SHOULD be lost in the wilderness.

The NFL wasn't alway first. Baseball was America's game for about a century. Football built slowly, creating a fair field for all teams. Each team was guaranteed profit, LOTS of it if the team did well. THAT'S the kind of franchise that makes owners think about investing in. Football teams don't get put up for sale and last years on the market. Football teams don't declare bankruptcy. Football teams aren't threatened with folding by commisioners of their sports. Football just does things right (mostly).

The owners in hockey have to share revenue. Within a few percentage points of completely. If the NHL owners don't, hockey NHL-Style won't be played for another couple of years. A new logo will be about the only news coming out of the NHL.

Auditors are going to have to be brought in from third-party firms to determine all revenue. One of the great lies in today's sports is Rogers' Toronto Blue Jays losing 30 and 40 millions of dollars in recent years with a $50 million payroll. Of course, the Jays weren't getting much in property rights from their broadcasts given that their broadcaster were their PARENT corp. Don't even get me started on ad revenue.

Okay, enough of MY whining. Here's how we settle this thing.

The ownership revenue-sharing will be phased in over a period of three years. Let's call it 75, 88 and 95 per cent shared. There WILL be a salary cap with a salary floor. It too comes in in a three-year span, with a luxury tax the first two years while operating with a bigger cap. The tax will hurt, but not cripple, the Maple Leafs of the world. Contracts will be limited to four years, with only the first year able to be fully guaranteed. The succeeding years can only be guaranteed to 50 per cent. Players injured in play or organized team traning are fully guaranteed only one succeeding year. Career insurance is a player's issue.

Free agency is restricted for players to the age of 27. Unrestricted after that. No arbitration. Players who hold out with valid contracts in an effort to renegotiate will be fined by the NHL itself when they miss their FIRST regular season game. Such players will be barred from rewriting or otherwise altering their current agreement for the length of the contract.

The world-wide entry draft will be changed to five rounds. Each draftee will IMMEDIATELY be treated as a restricted-rights free agent. The only difference will be that the player who decides to sign elsewhere BEFORE playing with the original drafting club has enhanced compensation. In addition to the draft-pick compensation option used currently, which will be reduced in severity, the team losing the draft pick can take the indicated draft-pick package, match the offer, OR pick a player from the other team's roster, who's upcoming salary for the next season is LESS than 90 per cent of the average value of the contract the player is signing with the other team .

Oh yeah, contracts will specify a salary and that's it. No bonuses that are not team-oriented. No contract riders that end the contract prematurely. No no-trade provisions. Simple is better. The NHL contract comes into effect as soon as the player plays five games for the NHL team. The bouncing player between the NHL and the AHL team will at least get paid for the yo-yoing, as long as he dressed for at least five games.

Active rosters will be reduced by one player, hopefully each team's designated goon.

And finally we come to ticket prices. ALL ticket prices will be rolled back two percent for each month missed until there is an agreement. The players' contracts will be rolled back 1.5 per cent on the same basis. And when the game returns, teams will be limited to cost of inflation increases each year for the first three years of the agreement, and double it, thereafter, unless moving into a new arena. There ain't going to be much of THAT for the next while.


Sunday, August 22, 2004

SPORTS: Canada's doing OK

I know, I know, I know. The medal count is not up to snuff. Heck, I'm going to lose a pool I might have won had Canada gotten the 14 exected medals instead of the 17 I hoped for. The final count is going to be maybe eight. Yeah, that's disappointing.

But you know, I've been there and as lousy as fourth (or even lower) feels, sometimes that's the best that you can do. We are not a sports factory in Canada, discounting hockey players. Take one of the sports I got involved with at the worlds level: Softball.

I was still coaching boys rep softball when the first world junior championships were given to Edmonton Alberta to hold. As it turns out, the local junior girls were a good bet to win the Canadian championship (we hosted it) and earn the right to go to Edmonton the following year and wear Canadian colours. And, despite a spirited challenge from the Richmond BC Skunks, the Chinguacousy team did win that right. Many of the girls had trained with me and I couldn't have been more proud. Naturally, I tagged along to broadcast the Canadian games and act as a sounding board for my coaching mentor GrandPa Bob Sorenson, the team's pitching coach.

We landed in Edmonton augmented with three pitchers, one of whom was Lori Sippel, the colour analyst in this year's Olympic broadcast by the CBC. Otherwise, we were a town team. The Americans were the California team from their championships, with a few added players. And Japan, China and Chinese Taipei each sent national squads. Was this ever a set up to play the dutiful unoffensive host or what?

But a funny thing happened. We made it to the medal round. We'd lost three games early against the US, China and Japan, the latter in extra innings. We kept winning "or else" games until we MADE the playoffs!

In the playoff, we extended Japan to extra innings again. We had the potential winning run tossed out at home. The umpire's name was Oscar Romero. You remember calls like that for a LOOOOONNNNGGGG time. Eventually we lost. We felt horrible, just as many of the 'unsuccessful' Canadians do right now over in Athens. It helped not a bit at the time that Japan went on to upset China in an extra-inning semi-final and then the mighty Americans in a 1-0 gold-medal shocker later that day. I had been so sure that the Americans (not my favourite group of athletes) would win, that I turned down the offer to do the announcing for that game. That Japanese loss hurt too much.

Later the next day, a realization started to creep over the whole Canadian contingent. "We finished fourth. We finished fourth IN THE WHOLE BLINKETY BLANK WORLD!"

Somebody somewhere decided three places were all that were important. Gold, Silver and Bronze. What about fourth? What about a Copper medal? Is somebody's decision somewhere else, some other time, proof of invalidation of effort? Of course it isn't!! There's a WHOLE lot of people on this planet. To be fourth-best ... or seventh-best ... or just a competitor among the elite, is cause for celebration. Not repudiation.

I want Canadians to win. I want them to do their best. If it happens somebody from some sports factory nation is better, so be it. It truly is the effort against one's self that is the mark of the Olympian. To succeed there, is to win it all. The medals are just for the knick-knack shelf and the grandkids.

Congrats to ALL the Canadian Olympians!

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

BOOKS: A Reading List of Authors

I like books. Not all books. And many so-called classics just bore me to tears. I don't usually want to read books that make you work, unless they are technical books about computers. Avant garde Science Fiction, aka New Wave, is of no interest. But I LOVE space opera. Not much interested in bodice-rippers (my mother's area of specialization). Just good ol' page-turners.

So, who do I recommend? Glad you asked, because that's what the next twenty paragraphs or so detail.

Comic Faux Holmes

Right now, I have to admit that I like a splash of humour with my mysteries. In times gone past, I'd be reading the adventures of Nick and Nora Charles. But now, it seems only women are willing to make fun of their heroes as they write about them. The grand damme of this group is Janet Evanovich who has written a series of numbered mysteries featuring Jersey Girl and bounty hounter Stephanie Plum. Each year, a new Plum adventure arrives in June. Each year, I get the new release as a birthday present. Each year, a day past my birthday I'm finished reading Evanovich for the year.

In between Plum books, I make do with what I think of as Evanovich Lite. Sarah Strohmeyer writes about Bubbles Yablonsky, a combination of hair-dresser, would-be journalist and trouble-magnet from the hard-scrabble mine towns of Pennsylvannia. Nancy Bartholomew's heroine is stripper Sierra Lavotini. She's the least 'charming' of the lot, the most hard-boiled, yet the one that comes by the most straight-forward mysteries. In fact, she's a lot closer to the next section than this one. It's been awhile since Sparkle Hayter did a Robin Hudson mystery. That's too bad, because the ex-CNN staffer knows how to spin a humourous yarn.

Clint Eastwood Crafts

Mysteries and Thrillers. If I had to read only one genre, this is the one. In fact, outside of the sports books I read, many have facets of this category. Right now, the writer I look most forward to new books from is Greg Rucka. Rucka has been penning tales of a personal bodyguard named Atticus Kodiak for awhile. There's been a spin-off and enough happening in each book to highly recommend the whole series. Start with Finder. Moving closer to legit police work, you can find the Lincoln Rhymes novels by Jeffrey Deaver and John Sandford's 'Prey' books featuring cop/troubleshooter Lucas Davenport. In each case, there's enough cat-and-mouse interplay to make the reads worthwhile. Sandford also has a secondary series that's good, featuring computer hacker Kidd. Deaver had a three-book run with a character called Rune, but hasn't added to the series since 1991. Still, worth looking for those books.

Heironymous 'Harry' Bosch
seems like a friend of mine. Michael Connelly has made him so with the various books detailing the LA cop's toils and troubles. Possibly the most imperfect of the heroes in the previously listed series. In other words, he could be you. And vice-versa.

Clive Cussler is this generation's Edgar Rice Burroughs, a prolific chronicler of somewhat formulaic adventurers. In addition to the Dirk Pitt adventures that include Raise the Titanic!, Cussler has also got a series going with Kurt Austin. In both cases, the James Bond-esque Pitt and Austin spend a LOT of time in the water. Cussler habitually writes maguffin books and trying to outguess what the misdirection is has become distracting of late. And Cussler's insistence on placing himself into Pitt's stories to offer up key help or info is even MORE distracting. But, if you are new to Cussler, you are in for a treat.

Dan Brown is currently the HOT writer, having penned Angels & Demons and the mega-selling The DaVinci Code. While both books were flawed, both are worth reading, if only for the conversations they will engender. It's better to be informed when caught at the water cooler.

Fantastical Futurists

Speaking of formulas, Burroughs churned out books and books of it. But with GREAT characters. Tarzan is best known, but John Carter of Mars might be best-loved by those who have read the complete canon. Myself, I tend to the Carter novels with a nod to the sea-faring Carson of Venus stories too. A fun romp is assured for the evening it will take you to get through any one of most of the books. Concurrent with my discovery of Burroughs, I also found the works of Andre Norton. Specifically, Time Agent, the first book in the adventures of Ross Murdock. I was seven, pushing eight, when I happened upon the book in what passed for the Bramalea Library at the time. What a wonderful book. I read it again just last year. Fourty years had dimmed my memories a bit. It wasn't as good as I remembered it. But it was still pretty good. And it fostered a love affair between myself and Ms. Norton. I never cared much for her fantasy, but her SF was always welcome in my book bag. I might have learned my racial (and species) tolerance from reading her books.

I read the expected greats list of SF authors as I was growing from boy to man. No need repeating them. But some of the other lesser-known authors would be worth your looking up. A. Bertram Chandler wrote about the Rim of Space, introducing me to naval life as lived by a spacer of the future. Eric Frank Russell wrote one of my favourite books Next of Kin, aka Plus X aka The Space Willies. Think of it as a science fictional Hogan's Hero. I guarantee a delightful time reading it. Russell was a master of the short story as well. Try to find Allamagoosa. Gordon Dickson wrote great stories of the Dorsai, including possibly my favourite book, Tactics of Mistake. The Dorsai were mercenaries, frequently imperfect and often naive about the politics of others without honour. Still, each book and short story in the series made me wish for more. And lastly, in this group of secondary reps and primary talents, I offer Lester Del Rey, the man behind the book imprint bearing his name. Nerves reads like a script for a modern-day blockbuster of a movie and yet it is decades old. Not everything Del Rey wrote was as good as this, but I think it's one of the great un-made movie properties out there.

That's not a bad list of writers who's career peaked before I left school. Of the 'new' generation, writers I like to tout include Rick Cook, S. Andrew Swann, Elizabeth Moon and Robert Asprin. Cook's hero is a computer hacker named Wiz Zumwalt, combining Burroughsian sensibilities, magic and an understanding of the modern-day computer programmer. Need I write more? Swann has taken the writings of HG Wells to heart in penning the adventures of Nohar Rajasthan, who combines the nobility of the tiger and man's cunning, literally. Moon would have A. Bertram Chandler as a stylistic antecedent, telling stories of the future's space navy through the eyes of the Serrano and Suiza clans. Asprin is my new Andre Norton, with his Time Scout adventures. Doesn't hurt that Asprin can also claim the Phule's Company books that offers up militiary adventures that Eric Frank Russell would be proud of.

Although Asprin has truly channeled Norton's spirit in his Time Scout books, Norton's modern-day equivalent would be Alan Dean Foster. Foster's principle series involves Flinx and his pet mini-dragon and it's a good series. Yet Foster could have written only the Icerigger series and would still make this list. The Icerigger series, with heroes Skua September and Ethan Fortune, remains three of my favourite books. And did two characters ever have better names?

Asprin also must share the humour mantle with Canada's own Spider Robinson. Be aware, however, that the residents of Callahan's Cross-Time Saloon and it's associated houses of somewhat-ill repute, delight in puns. Pages and pages of them. Enjoyment will be as much in the reader's ear as in their eyes. If hilarity is still needed, any of the Retief books by Keith Laumer will likely fill the niche.

The complex de-coding that is a feature of the Dan Brown books has a science fictional equivalent. Jack McDevitt, James P. Hogan and Robert Sawyer each spin tales of scientific curiosity. McDevitt is an across-the-board SF Mystery writer, a genre that Isaac Asimov once opined was the most difficult in literature to write well. Since being able to pull a raygun out of your back pocket or do something almost as magical at a moment's notice is considered cheating the mystery reader, I can agree with Asimov. Still, McDevitt rarely disappoints. Hogan's nowhere near as consistent. But the Gentle Giants of Ganymede series is fabulous. Inherit the Stars, which spins from the premise of finding a corpse on the moon that isn't contemporary, makes for a wonderful night of reading. Canadian Sawyer doesn't always write mysteries in his SF, but he always 'Asks the big question!' Most times, he's successful in answering it. Amongst his works, the most enjoyable are the Quintaglio trilogy, featuring intelligent dinosaurs at work and play. That said, he won more awards with his more-recent Neanderthal Parallax series.

Moon's my favourite combat SF writer right now, but David Weber and John Ringo both have as many hits as misses in the category. Their teaming up on the Prince Roger series that started with March Upcountry is a great hit, and one I'm happy will expand a lot from the original trilogy length. Although he's veered into fantasy of late with great writer and friend Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle has many solid books out there to read. And seek out William C. Dietz. You'll be glad you did.

Niven, is sort of an oddball. He's very hard-SF-grounded, but he shows a flair for the inventive that takes him out of territory mined so well by Hal Clement and Robert Forward. In doing so, he joins the likes of Charles Sheffield and Ben Bova as good reads, with a hefty dose of science thrown in. Best of all, Niven puts out a new Ringworld book every decade or so.

When I was still a lad, I read the Robert Heinlein juveniles (The Man Who Sold the Moon is FAAARRR better than the usually-cited best, Have Spacesuit, Will Travel). Wasn't much competition at the time. Today, kidlit is a whole category worth exploring. Sure, you can't go tooooo wrong with the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowlings, especially the first two. But the gem you should search out is Eoin Colfer, the genius behind the Artemis Fowl series of books. All are uniformly good. The best approaches the initial Harry Potter book in quality. The worst is no worse than the second Potter book. Excellent stuff.

Scratching the Jock Itch

Two authors wrote sports fiction I found entertaining, when I was the youngster described above. I might be a Canuck and have great respect for Scott Young, the author of the seminal A Boy At Leaf's Camp. But the wordwright I consumed back then was Joe Archibald. In particular Old Iron Glove, a book that made spectacles an important plot point. I've had to wear glasses since before I started school. It really hit home.

Later, I discovered the autobiographical writings of Branch Rickey, Casey Stengel and Bill Veeck. As much as I respected the first two, I devoured all of the Veeck books. Veeck as In Wreck and Thirty Tons a Day by Veeck and Ed Linn, should be mandatory reading for EVERY sports executive. Sports as ENTERTAINMENT! What a concept!?!

Sports as humour was an obvious theme of the Stengel bio, as well as books by Ron Luciano and Bob Uecker. But if you want funny, then Loose Balls by Terry Pluto chronicles the zany goings-on in the old American Basketball Association. Great stuff.

The sports book with the most commentary in recent money was Michael Lewis' love-poem for Billy Beane, Moneyball. As a resident of Toronto where Beane disciple J.P. Ricciardi reigns, it is mandatory reading. Turns out, its worth the time spent reveling in Beane's tweaking the nose of baseball's old practices.

And finally, the creme de la creme of sports writing can often be found under Thomas Boswell's name. Why Time Begins on Opening Day is mandatory reading every ten years. In fact, I think it's about time to re-read it again.

Hope some of the preceding steers you towards an enjoying day or three. Comments and suggestions gratefully received.

SPORTS: Iverson and his prop

The more interesting verbal sparring I heard today was Chuck Swirsky, the new afternoon host at the Fan 590 radio station, coming down on Doug Faraway for 'dissing' Allen Iverson for his press conference theatrics the day before in Athens.

Faraway commented, that Iverson should have had a soother, at the least, for his kid, while standing up before the world's press. It was at the conference coming a day after the historic US loss to Puerto Rico in the Men's Basketball lid-lifter at the Olympics.

Swirsky, a softie, decried his fellow worker. "How can you criticize Iverson for having his kid up there?"

"We want our athletes to be more human and here you are calling him out."

I think those are accurate quotes, but I was on the road at the time I heard them and I might have only got them approximately right. The sentiment is correct.

Chuck, you are wrong.

Iverson had no business bringing his kid to work. He's been doing it for a while and nobody's called him on it. But the kid's a prop. Who's going to ask the nasty question of Iverson (who's done enough regularly, to get asked HARD questions) when his adorable little tot is right there, looking all googly-eyed and happy at the whole world? Iverson has a thug mentality. It landed him in prison. He hasn't left it behind, either. It takes a thug to hide behind a kid.

Doug, you are absolutely correct.

But should we really be surprised? Iverson treats the press with the same distain he treats Larry Brown's coaching. That would be world championship, NBA-winning and NCAA-winning coach Larry Brown. Iverson? He carries HIS trophy around like so much body armour.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

RANT: Kneecap the numbskull

A while back, I described my plan for spectators who invade the field of play. Snipers as a first choice. But hurt the twits, drunk or not, who can't keep their seat in the stands.

Yesterday, of course, a Canadian once again proved a horse's patootie in jumping into the pool during the Olympic men's synchro diving final. He did it as a publicity stunt for a casino in Quebec. He's the same lamebrain who pulled the same crap during the World Figure Skating Championship. He got paid after the fact by the casino, who shall remain nameless here, lest they derive more publicity.

So, here's the plan to handle the situation. First, the Greek police, hopefully helped the twit fall down a few sets of stairs. Something permanent, maybe a badly dislocated kneecap? Then, they should throw the brainless boob into the worst prison Greece has for a year. THEN, they tattoo "I'm a MORON" in big letters on the guy's chest. THEN, and this is the good part, they deport the guy to Baghdad International Airport with a fake American passport. Maybe nature will take its course and we'll never hear from the nebbish ever again.

Oh, I also tell the folks at the Indian casino owners that paid off the mook the first time, that any financial dealings with him this time will result in the forceable closing of the casino permanently.

Lastly, but not leastly, the Canadian diving coach and the head of Canadian security at the Games, who both blithely suggested the whole thing was no big thing, should both be bopped over the head with a tutu. They SHOULD have been angry and embarrassed.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

SPORTS: Wouldn't it be neat if ...

This is not going to happen. But wouldn't it be neat if Carlos Delgado let it slip to a writer buddy (there are many) that he'd like to sign a contract extension to stay in Toronto for $8 million a year for the next three years?

That would shove a dagger perilously close to JP Ricciardi's heart. It might be the reason Ricciardi's been so frantic to create a situation to get Delgado to waive his no-trade provision. Ricciardi wants no part of Delgado next season, at any price. He feels Delgado is a relic of an earlier era and contributes far less than we deluded fans thinks he does. He can't offer him arbitration for fear Delgado would say yes. So, he's in danger of letting Delgado walk for nothing at season's end.

But does Delgado want to go? Certainly, he keeps saying not. There isn't an American city that Delgado would find as hospitable as Toronto, given his anti-American positioning on many things relating to Puerto Rico. It might actually be that Delgado loves Toronto and has no interest in using it as a stepping stone for something nearer and dearer to his hometown. That's a statement Ricciardi would be hard-pressed to make with a straight face.

Without a single first baseman of any prospect status in the minors, Ricciardi dealt Josh Phelps this weekend for Eric Crozier. Phelps was leading the club in RBIs, playing less than half the time. Crozier wasn't listed amongst Cleveland's top prospects. But he IS a first baseman AND he's close to ready for the bigs. Ergo, he's the heir apparent. That most analysts think he's a Four-A guy, somebody who's good, maybe too good, for Triple-A, but nothing more than a spare at the Major League level, seems not to phase the Blue Jay GM. This smacks of an Anybody But Delgado strategy at first.

Given all of that, we KNOW Delgado won't throw a bit of excitement into the dreary days ahead by making a public play for a reasonable contract offer. But wouldn't it be neat if ...

SPORTS: Carlos Canned

The sound you hear is the crackling and breaking of JP Ricciardi's reputation. The Toronto Blue Jay GM tied the can today to Carlos Tosca as he gets an early start to his plan to de-Carlos the Toronto operation. He's days away from ending the Carlos Delgado era too.

Ricciardi's rep in town has never been lower. The loss of Josh Phelps for a prospect that most minor-league viewers has as a suspect, has been sharpening the focus on what has been a year of failure for the fair-haired GM (colloquially, not cosmetically). For the second year, Ricciardi has assembled a pitching staff that has failed. Batista and Lilly are probably better than their roles have indicated, but are still mediocre at best. Frasor was a nice pickup, but it cost the club Jayson Werth, who might have found regular playing time in a devastated Blue Jay outfield, rather than being a key part in the Los Angeles drive for a divisional championship. The vets brought into 'improve' on last year have uniformly been horrible.

What has become a bitter reality is that Ricciardi doesn't have the smarts and/or counsel to sign and/or trade for pitching. He's been wrong with just about every move. Even this year's Frasor acquisition feels a lot like last year's 'find,' Aquilino Lopez. Despite having Frasor on a roto team or two, let me tell you Frasor has an abnormally huge heaping of luck, as his hit rate is incredibly low. That means only one in five balls hit against him become hits, as adverse the league average of one in three, or thereabouts.

Ricciardi does have an eye for the fill-in scrub. He finds guys who can play a day or two a week and contribute. But where's the trade to steal a great starter (any position)? He's living off Hinske's rookie year, but doesn't that long contract Hinske signed last year look JUST as bad as any of his predecessor's excesses?

The Blue Jays play boring baseball at the command of its GM. The Jays were also playing uninspired baseball, and that was partially Tosca's fault. Tosca was always as clueless about handling pitchers as his boss was at procuring them. In many ways, Tosca had to go at the end of the season as he'd proved to be a good lieutenant, but not much of a manager. It's the timing that invites introspection.

Mr. Ricciardi. You've tied the can to this Carlos. You're going to usher the other Carlos out of town less than two months from now. Your cover will be gone. It's time to do something right. Starting with the new manager. He'll be your guy. Again. Think long and hard. If that decision goes south, it's back to Boston for you, too.

MOVIES: Jack's Never Coming Back

Over the years, I have assembled a list of actors and actresses who's mere presence means I can watch the movie they are in, or that I can't. For example, I watch everything Sandra Bullock is in and enjoy most. Even the duds are usually so-so at worst. Adam Sandler is a guy who (Wedding Singer aside) is usually a GIGANTIC SIGN that any movie he's in is unwatchable.

Prior to the last month, I placed Jack Nicholson in the former category. But now, I wonder. In a spate of used DVD buying excess last month, I purchased three Nicholson titles. About Schmidt, Something's Gotta Give and Anger Management. Yes, I'm aware that the last title has the dreaded Adam Sandler. But hey, it has Nicholson and Marisa Tomei. But enough of that, until later.

I watched About Schmidt first. I 'thought' it was the Sandler title and kept waiting for the bumbling pipsqueek to show up. Despite quite good reviews for Nicholson, I found the movie depressing and was glad when it was over. I kept thinking as the first hour passed and no Sandler was there, that he might have actually livened up the movie. For the folks who thrilled to Nicholson's performance in this piece ... LIGHTEN UP! Who needs to leave the theatre depressed? A swift kick in the backside to the critics who sold me on getting this movie.

The critics were back at it for Something's Gotta Give, a grown-up romance. It pokes fun at the bizarre notion that men of Jack's age (mid 60's) always have a twenty-something on their arm, rather than giving into the obvious intellectual charms of somebody closer to their own age. In this case, Nicholson plays a not-too-obnoxious lecher who 'meets cute' with Diane Keaton while currently squiring her daughter (Amanda Peet in yet ANOTHER fully-clothed role. What has this world come to?!?). Nature actually follows its expected course and there's a happily ever after moment despite a heart attack or two later.

What's wrong with the movie? Keaton's been a pet hate of mine since Annie Hall days. There was a missed date with a hot cheerleader that night (and not too surpringly, no followup) and I ABSOLUTELY HATED Annie Hall on its own merits. Switch Keaton for a sexy Frances McDormand, who plays her sister in this movie, and I could warm up considerably. But who believes Keanu Reeves as the doctor leg of the triangle? Reeves, who hails from just up the road from where I sit typing this, is a good guy. But his blank-faced demeanour requires the right role ... say a witless slacker or a perpetually confused SF movie construct. A doctor smitten by a woman twice his age? Too much of a stretch.

Jack's just okay in this movie. He still plays too self-involved to really catch a bright lady like Keaton is supposed to be playing. But the flaws in this movie really kill the victory age and treachery should have over youth and inexperience. Thumbs down.

Which brings me to Anger Management. This is the movie that got me out of bed and working this weekend, ending a week-long involvement in bemoaning my plight. This movie is SOOOOOOOO bad, that rather than continue viewing past the first half-hour, I had to do ANYTHING other than watching this train wreck. I actually worked, getting in a solid day and a half of programming, just to wipe the memory of that awful half-hour of video from my eyes.

Adam Sandler has drawn Jack Nicholson to the dark side. I can no longer trust Jack to provide intelligent entertainment. Now, you've been warned.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

HEALTH: And how to handle the lack of it

The Clan Mugford treats the common cold and the odd bout of flu as something to be handled in anything but the common manner. "Take two aspirin and goto bed?" Pshawww!

And almost none of the males in our family handles it the same way. My Dad heads for the cabinet where he keeps packets of NeoCitran stacked like so many bars of gold bullion. My brother Wayne immediately downs a Gravol from his stash of motion sickness pills. From my extended family, Nick, mostly at the urging of his better half, Genie, reaches for ever-ready bottles of echinecea and Zinc tablets. My brother Rick might be the lone Mugford holdout for aspirin.

Now, myself, I have dabbled with all of the above. They seem to help. But my remedy is Vick's VapoRub, heaping gobs of it, smeared all over my chest. Like most things, I don't do it lightly. I stink of menthol feet away. The advantages of living alone is that I don't care [G].

For too many years, I dug my VapoRub out of a big blue ceramic container. It was big enough that you couldn't hide it in the medicine cabinet. It variously resided in the upstairs closet or on the back of the toilet, depending on how many people were using simultaneously. Once I started living on my own, it moved permanently to a ledge in the bathroom, especially-built to hold the multifarious pills, inhalers and huffers I have to put up with each day.

Then, the unthinkable happened. The container was empty. Off to the local Shoppers Drug Mart I went, looking for the familiar blue container. I couldn't find it!!

I hunted down a store clerk and asked where the VapoRub was. How could I miss a honking big blue container?

Turns out, they don't make those containers any more. Haven't for years! VapoRub comes in these little ittie bittie jars. Plastic jars. Dark blue jars, not the cerulean ceramic I've grown up with. I was stunned. But not so stunned that I didn't observe the family tradition and buy five jars. I'm glad that I did.

I've spent most of the last two and a half days contending with a cold (teach me to let people in my house) that I'm sure I got by playing host early on the weekend to a friend needing help with a computer problem. I've gone through a half-jar of my preferred remedy. And here I find myself feeling good enough to do some typing.

Remember, I only play a doctor in writing. Do not follow the medical advice typed above without consulting your personal physician.