Sunday, December 11, 2005

TV: No VCR Sunday

This week (hopefully) I’m going through my TV viewing habits and listing what I’d watch if I didn’t have a VCR to view everything weeks later when I finally have the time. The only exception is I get to use the time-shifting capabilities of my digital box to add an extra viewing hour between 11 and midnight to my TV night.

Here's the Sunday schedule.

The 7-8pm hour belongs to CBS's 60 Minutes. I got hooked on 60 Minutes late in my teens on a Thursday evening. No, I didn't have a VCR to do my own time-shifting. Back then, 60 Minutes was still a struggling newsmagazine and summer reruns were being shown on weeknights to try and drum up interest for the show. The segment that caught me was a story about Bill Stevenson and the Enigma Machine. Thirty some-odd years later, I'm still a faithful viewer and would be, even if forced to eat a meal while watching the show. I miss the ambush interviews that Mike Wallace specialized in for years. And I really miss the every-man approach Harry Reasoner was famous for. But the true joy is watching Morley Safer turn whimsy into entertaining fact, and that Lesley Stahl seems a spiritual successor to Safer. Football might intrude, but 60 Minutes always has been worth an accommodation and will continue to be.

There's not much competition in the 8-9pm hour either, as the only thing worth watching is West Wing. This show has veered from great to adequate and back to above-average during its run on NBC. I think the show is touching its zenith again this season. Watching Jimmmy Smits and Alan Alda eat up scenes has been entertaining since it got going last year. Brad Whitford's Josh Lyman continues to be the entry point for the viewer, who either agrees with Lyman's politics or thinks Lyman is a typical liberal political screw-up. The characters surrounding Lyman are not as compelling as the past-cast, but Janeane Garofalo is giving it a try. And I’ve lusted after Mary McCormack forever. NBC, hardly on a run, could do a LOT worse than bringing back this show next year. And, despite a difference in politics, I think I'd actually prefer seeing Alda's character in the White House for that season.

Okay, there's some debate about what to watch in the 9-10pm hour. The world watches Desperate Housewives on ABC. Here, I also have a choice of CBS comedies that show on Monday nights or NBC's Law & Order: Criminal Intent. It's hard to deny the compelling viewing that is Terri Hatcher and Eva Longoria. But watching LOCI is usually entertaining for the full 60 minutes. The best part about LOCI this year is the splitting of the show into two concurrent series. Both have the same office setting with the captain played by Jamey Sheridan. But Mike Noth and the scrumptious Annabella Sciorra now get half the episodes while long-time stars Vincent D'Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe get two weeks to turn out their convoluted shows. This is almost a rebirth of the old NBC Mystery Wheel, which featured some of the best mystery shows ever shown. (Columbo and McCloud being the obvious ones). D'Onofrio is the modern-day Sherlock Holmes, who's guilty frequently of playing the character as an over-acting know-it-all. Some find the act grating, I enjoy the insights. Noth is the smart, but temper-challenged cop to Sciorra's steam valve of a partner. The different approach makes a perfect counterpoint. Frankly, LOCI's never been better, because they are getting two weeks to make each story, and that's a wise investment in time. Wonder when Olivia D'Abo's coming back as Sherlock, errrrr D'Onofrio's arch enemy?

The 10-11pm hour really comes down to ABC's Grey's Anatomy and NBC's Crossing Jordan. Jill Hennessy is very fine, and a Canuck to boot. But the women of Grey's Anatomy are all interesting and very pleasant on the eyes. Ellen Pompeo plays the lead, tortured resident Meredith Grey. She has a sexily squeeky voice and a lop-sided grin, which makes a good fit with the always good Patrick Dempsey as Dr. "Dreamy" Shepherd, one of Grey's bosses. And her off-on-off-on-off (I think that's current) paramour. Landlord Grey lives with renting residents played by Sandra Oh, sexy Katherine Heigl and T.R. Knight. Like Grey, Oh's Christina Yang can't keep a boss out of her scrubs, but with much more tragic circumstances. And then there's the parents. Grey's mother, a legendary surgeon slash harridan, spent time hanging around the hospital, her Alzheimer's Disease making her a time bomb to scramble any plot at any time. And recently, we discovered Yang's mother is a disapproving PITA. So far, the medical cases have been within the understanding realm of the average medical drama watcher (see House, for the reverse). This is a good show. P.S. I love the opening notes of the show's opening credits. Not the whole song, but the I love those first few notes.

And now the cheat show. Crossing Jordan or Desperate Housewives? The reality is that I'd prefer seeing Hex, a BBC show, but that's what the internet is for. Nope, I have to decide between Hennessy and Hatcher/Longoria. Counter-intuitive, I know, but the supporting characters in Crossing Jordan are so good, I'll stick with the Canuck ex-pat. Miguel Ferrer has rarely been as good as he is in Crossing Jordan. Hennessy's co-horts under Ferrer's boss, are enough off-kilter, but still earnest, that you come to like and admire them. Jerry O'Connell is trying to Dirty Harry up his image as Detective Woody Hoyt this year, but you know My Greatest Hero's heart still beats in his chest. The show will end the day Hoyt and Hennessy's Jordan Cavannaugh kiss for real, which might be this spring. But I wouldn't mind seeing another year of this fine show.

Well, it's bedtime and time to turn in. See ya' tomorrow night.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

SPORTS: Please, no Aldridge

I've been wrong before. I absolutely thought Channing Frye might be the biggest bomb of this year's draft. Maybe not. But hey, Zeke signed Jerome James and traded for Eddy Curry. So I wasn't exactly lonesome in my feelings about Frye. Still think he's a stiff, but I'll need time to wash out his good early stats.

But enough Frye and self-recrimination. It's time to start banging the drums to stop the Toronto Raptors from drafting LaMarcus Aldridge, the center/forward who will probably declare early out of Texas next spring. If he truly was another Bosh/Villanueva clone, I'd say do it. I think the Raptors could do quite well with a power trio consisting of power forwards. But Aldridge is all flash and potential. He has no back-to-the-basket game and he's easily pushed out from the boards. The Raptors have players like that already. Watching Aldridge get pushed around by Shelden Williams today makes me nervous about the pick, the most important pick since Vince Carter, in Raptor history.

If the Raptors, who will draft from first to sixth, get the first pick, then they have an easy choice in Rudy Gay, the small forward out of UConn. The problems come with picks in the next three. I really, REALLY dislike the idea of Aldridge. Unfortunately, the only other bigs projected atop the draft at this point, is the Italian Andrea Bargnani. His draft card reads like a slimmer Aldridge. He gets pushed around. Same problem with the Brazilian Tiago Splitter (can Babcock really draft another Brazilian?) and Nick Fazekas, the reed-thin Nevada star.

Behind Gay is Larry Bird play-a-like Adam Morrison of Gonzaga. Actually, the description I heard today was a modern-day John Havlicek. That's pretty good praise for the 6-8 SF. Now, here's the problem. Can the smooth-stroking, hard-working Morrison continue to have success against the typical great athlete small forwards he will see in the NBA? I have problems with that. So let me throw one more comparison into the mix. Wally Szczerbiak. Nothing wrong with that. Wally's hit a hot streak of late, averaging about 25 ppg. he works hard, but he's just not athletic enough to sustain those kinds of stats game in, game out. I think Morrison's more Wally than Larry. And I think Joey Graham offers enough not to want a Wally.

Soooo, the Raptors have to take a long look at three players. They all played today against each other. Texas PG Daniel Gibson was outshone by Duke PF Shelden Williams and especially by Duke SG JJ Reddick. Gibson has great measurables. He'd be a perfect running partner for Jose Calderon. That would free the Raptors up to package Mike James and/or the rights to Roko Ukic in trades to help out elsewhere. In fact, if Gibson could get a little better from long-range, the Raptors could pair Calderon and Gibson at times. Williams is too small to play NBA centre. But he does have a down-low game and he is a ferocious rebounder. He's getting smarter as he gets older. Would it be possible to play him with Bosh and Villanueva offensively? Yes. Defensively? Just as resounding a no! He's the least likely of the three to wear Raptor togs come next fall.

Which brings me to Reddick. If I knew Ukic was coming to North America in a year or two, Reddick would be the pick here. No second thoughts about Gibson at all. Reddick is undersized to be an NBA shooting guard. He's not as athletic as you would like. But he's smart. And he's an unconscious shooter, from NBA distance to boot. He creates a weapon that any NBA team with a half-decent drive and dish guard (Calderon) can turn into a killer. He doesn't create his own shot much. But give him a bit of an opening to spot up and you can, "Ring it up!!!" as Chuck Swirsky says at least once a game.

Will Reddick be a Rick Mount or a Jerry West? The worries are there, but gawd does he shoot the ball. If I was picking and only had the probable choices available in this draft, I'd rank Gay, Reddick, Gibson, Fazekas, Morrison and Williams in that order. Wanna bet the Raptors end up with the seventh pick?

Having Denver's first-round pick and an early second-rounder, could the Raptors end up with Reddick, Darius Washington, the PG out of Memphis and Michigan St. centre Paul Davis? If so, the tradeways of James, Eric Williams and eventually Jalen Rose would result in a young and talented Raptor team two years hence.

PG: Calederon, Washington
SG: Reddick, Peterson
SF: Graham, Bonner
PF: Villanueva, Sow
C: Bosh, Davis

Obviously, the money freed up with the trades above could go towards a true centre and Graham would be a better backup than starter at SF. Take the same group, substitute Magloire for Bonner or Sow and ask yourself if it can compete. The answer is an unequivocal YES!

SPORTS: Babcock no Knight-mare

Fans here in the Toronto area love to express their opinion that Mike Babcock, the Toronto Raptor GM is either an idiot or the devilspawn. Methinks he looks nothing like Adam Sandler, but I'm definitely in the minority here in T.O. That said, he's no Billy Knight.

Now, Knight happens to be a good guy. I've talked to him a couple of times and he's a good guy. A pretty good player in his time. But he's the nadir of NBA GMs, without a doubt. In fact, unless Steve A Smith gets a GM job, Knight might be the worst GM of all time. One caveat, he's often made decisions forced on him by management, but there's a limit any GM should do just to keep collecting a paycheck. I mean, even Elgin Baylor has managed to keep getting talent before sending it away at the behest of The Dentist.

The worst moment will come next summer when somebody from the Atlanta organization passes a card to Commish Stern that announces the Hawks have traded the number one pick in the draft to ... well, it doesn't matter at this point. Why is that going to happen? Because the consensus pick come warm weather will be Rudy Gay, a wing from UConn. And wings, the Hawks have. Point guards and tall rebounding types, not so much.

And it could have been really different down in the deep South. The Hawks had their chance this past summer. A team with a plethora of young and athletic wing players had the second spot in the draft. In that draft slot sat Chris Paul, an almost local product that had played one state over in Carolina at Wake Forest. A ready-to-start NBA point guard. Not necessarily an all-star in the making, but Steve Nash wasn't all-star ready out of the college mould either. Paul was the obvious choice to get the ball to those wings.

But the pretty girl at this baller's ball was Marvin Williams. The SIXTH man of the NCAA champeen Tar Heels of North Carolina. Couldn't start for NC, would have to be one of a half-dozen good athletic and young wings in Atlanta, but possessing the most pure talent in the draft. The spectre of Michael Jordan being passed over for needs in his draft year scared Knight into making the nightmare pick. He passed over Paul and took Williams. And he sealed Atlanta's fate for the rest of this decade.

Naturally, having screwed up that deal, he went out and gave max money to ANOTHER wing, Joe Johnson because, as we Toronto fans know too well, he finally found a player that WANTED to come to his town. He never found out if that desire would have existed at half-the-price, he just doled out the max dollars and fought with the lone bright light in management to keep that precious "Wants to be a Hawk" player. Muttered something about playing Johnson at the point.

Now we know. Paul's going to be an all-star some day. Johnson's a great complimentary player that can't lead and can't play the point more than 10 minutes a game. Williams plays the kind of minutes Rafael Araujo plays here in Toronto. Josh Childress, the real victim of all this, has regressed mightily. And Al Harrington crosses off the days until his trade out of purgatory in the New Year. Dunk champ Josh Smith should be playing big minutes, but isn't. And there are other wings who could play too, but don't.

Harrington's not the only one who should be outward bound in a trade. The smart money would have Childress and Smith going elsewhere too. But it will be a buyer's market and the return will hardly be all-star calibre points like Chris Paul. Bottom line, the Hawks have to divest themselves of at least two and maybe three of these players in order to rebuild their roster. And the Hawks certainly can't add Rudy Gay to the mix this summer. That's why the trade, hopefully for the pick a few back of theirs to take Texas guard Daniel Gibson, will be a requirement. After that, the Hawks will owe Phoenix draft picks from that ill-fated Johnson acquisition. That means the Hawks won't be able to get the other two studs they need to compete until 2008 or thereabouts. That's how bad of a job Billy Knight has done.

Makes me appreciate Mike Babcock a lot more.

TV: No VCR Saturday

The projects are coming to a close. I'm getting the itch to play Bridge (stop cheering Danny) and I've got a LOT of taped TV to catch up on. I have a lot of VCRs and I watch sports and that's about it for watching it live. To be honest, I'm not above turning the TV off, taping the Toronto Raptors game while I twiddle away at the keyboard. And THEN watch the game on tape later that night/morning. Can't make it last longer than a night, but I've been known to do it.

Soooo, one of the things I wanted to do was a series of nightly articles on what I'd watch if I didn't have any VCR's to timeshift. My one conceit is I will take advantage of having a digital TV set that allows me to timeshift and watch some other show between 11 and midnight. Thus, the nightly evaluations will allow for four hours of TV, not three.

Here's the Saturday schedule I'd adhere to:

Hockey Night in Canada on CBC. End of discussion. It's the only new TV, but I'd watch it the same. I look forward to Don Cherry bellowing at me between periods in the first game. And the second-period Hot Stove Lounge has been a favourite for fourty years. The hockey's good these days, too ... unless it's those boring Florida Panthers playing. Mike Keenan is demonstrating that an anachronism in today's hockey has zero chances of winning unless Roberto Luongo and Jamie McLellan stand on their head in goal. Good on his thug-loving backside.

Well, that starts the series. Let's see if I can keep it up through the next several days to get at least a week's worth of postings here at Mug Shots.

SPORTS: Is there a GIGANTIC big step still to go?

J.P. Ricciardi has been spending money and making moves. Not the moves I suggested back in August () But some interesting moves anyway.

Instead of Pat Burrell, the Blue Jays finished the winter meetings by acquiring Lyle Overbay. Cheaper, more consistent, less powerful. But with the chance to bang a few more homers as he matures. Plus, he's actually a first baseman, meaning he'll be better defensively. Earlier, the Jays signed the needed pitcher. I'm still not sure Kevin Millwood wouldn't be a more consistent better second man in the rotation than A.J. Burnett. But, Burnett does have the chance to be a whole lot better.

I wrote my piece in August, prior to Miguel Batista's meltdown. Getting B.J. Ryan was far more a necessity than many people think. His teammates had lost confidence in Batista, and big league sports is all about the 3 C's, Capability, Concentration and Confidence. Batista was more fire starter than stopper. And he had to be replaced. Money availability made Ryan, not Billy Wagner, my preference for a new closer. Good for J.P. to grab him.

Sooooo, what to do about my suggestion at getting Ken Griffey to make the power upgrade complete and finish off the major acquisition budget? Obviously, with the Reds ditching Sean Casey this week, the pressure to bounce one of Cincy's outfielders has lessened greatly. Would an offer of Alex Rios, Brandon League and farmhand John Haddig get Griffey? No. Would throwing in Batista? Still no, but a lot closer. Ultimately, no cigar for either Griffey or Adam Dunn. And I'm not so sure Rios by himself isn't better than Austin Kearns.

Sooooo, what to do? I'm nothing if not ambitious and able to change points of view. How's this to float the Blue Jay boat of good hope? Batista, Eric Hinske, Russ Adams and Brandon League to the Baltimore Orioles for Miguel Tejada.

Now, before you jump up and down and say I'm foolish, let me point out Tejada's request to bail, issued to the press this week. When a team leader type like Tejada explodes than it might be very difficult to bring him back on board. The Orioles face a couple of years of rebuilding and paying Tejada 12 mill per year to help them finish fourth might not be prudent. Batista gives them a year to school Chris Ray, the closer of the future. He'll be tradeable at the deadline with his modest 4M stipend. Adams becomes the long term replacement for Tejada. Hinske joins the DH/1B team with Javy Lopez. League gives the Oriole another bullpen option. The quartet's bill comes in at around 8M, a savings immediately of four million a year. Within a year, the savings are at 6M a year. That's money that can be spent on a power-hitting OF when the time to contend comes again.

Can the Jays live with Tejada? The salary hit is $4M, but it does clear power and playing time problems off the to-do list. All it creates anew is a lead-off issue.

How about RF-Rios, LF-Catalanotto/Johnson, CF-Wells, SS-Tejada, 1B-Overbay, DH-Hillenbrand, 3B-Koskie, C-Zaun, 2B-Hudson. There's 35-homer capability in Wells and Tejada. Overbay, Hillenbrand and Koskie can pass 20. And Hudson is the only one of the others (assuming the LF platoon is one player in effect) that won't hit double figures. There's plenty of speed in the top four and Hudson. Aaron Hill leads a slim bench. Maybe John-Ford Griffin, the backup catcher and another spare IF. Hudson's not indelicate.

This group can be decent offensively and pretty good defensively. Left field would be the only clearly sub-par defensive position, and that's only when Catalanotto is out there. Add in the definitely better pitching and the Blue Jays feel like a 92-98 win team.

That means a trade at the deadline will be needed. A go-for-it trade in August to bring in a replacement for a corner outfielder isn't far-fetched. Rios, Hillenbrand and a kiddie pitcher for a ticket might be the route to 100 wins and the playoffs. That would allow Catalanotto to DH, Reed Johnson to play one corner and the new guy to go to the other field.

But that's just me daydreaming about a GIGANTIC step forward. Realistically, Hinske to Baltimore for a minor prospect, Batista and Hillenbrand to Pittsburgh for Craig Wilson and a reliever, and the signing of Reggie Sanders and Mark Bellhorn sounds a lot like the finish to the Blue Jay off-season.

Monday, October 10, 2005

SPORTS: R.I.P. Tom Cheek, you touched us all!

"Touch 'em all, Joe!"

It's the line that made Tom Cheek famous in Canada to many, many baseball fans. Most Americans never heard it. Otherwise, Tom would be in the Baseball Hall of Fame today, having given what would surely have been an emotional and funny acceptance speech in Cooperstown. He would have wondered if skipping a Toronto Blue Jays game that day was right, given his attendance record.

Tom Cheek showed up for work. Every day. 4,306 games in a row. And a bunch more post-season games. And he worked in what "I" would call his off-season, what he would call his summer job. His summer love. And there wasn't a day that the voice of the Blue Jays, of baseball in Canada, wouldn't end up talking about a game he loved to anybody who'd draw up a chair and listen. Whether it was on the radio or in a hotel lobby, Tom Cheek loved talking baseball.

Passion is always interesting. Passion with a sense of humour and without much of an ego is a delicate treasure. Tom Cheek was anything by delicate, being a tall, imposing figure. But he had passion. He had a sense of humour and he could listen as well as talk. He was that rarity amongst folks these days, a universally loved man.

Tom Cheek passed away yesterday from brain cancer. I heard the knews while driving to a birthday thing for my sister-in-law. It made it tough to laugh and joke around when I got there. Still, I knew that the ending was in many ways a blessing. However, there is a void today.

Tom, you touched us all. Rest in Peace.

COMPUTERS: Mouse droppings

I initially came here to write about the passing of Tom Cheek (see item above) but on the way to doing a good thing, I ended up cursing my trackball. I actually love trackballs. Every computer I own has a trackball, rather than a mouse. Trackballs take up less space than mice and tend to not pick up as much crud and require less frequent cleaning. But there's a HUGE difference between less cleaning and no cleaning.

The trackball was SOOOO flighty that I broke down and unscrewed the bottom screw of the Logitech Trackman and popped out the big red ball. (I have Trackman marbles and even a Microsoft trackball in the house, but I vastly prefer the big ball type from Logitech.) I looked inside and wasn't completely surprised to find each of the pins that hold the ball in place were covered with a mat of lint. The window for reading the dots on the trackball was relatively clean, but the rotating pins were just buried. In all, I pulled enough lint out to form a good sized pea. THAT is gross!

I reassembled the trackball and faith and begora, the mouse started jumping to my commands like it always should.

Once more, trackballs require less frequent, BUT SOME, cleaning.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

TV: Late to the Reunion

I want to like Reunion, an early debut from FOX, but I can't. I defy anybody to really like any of the characters at the core of this "friends forever" series that will showcase a year in the life, each week.

Three boys and three girls. In some social circles, that would be three couples. In others, it would be two couples (see Friends) and two singles. In this show, everybody likes somebody else and there's only one official couple, which teams up a cheater and a creep.

That's the problem. The characters are either floor mats or uber-twits. Chyler Leigh, who demonstrated some personality in the otherwise drab That 80's Show and in a guest spot of the doomed North Shore last year, is the primary floor mat. She likes the male floor mat, but arrives just as he enjoys momentary bliss with HIS ideal, the slut played by Amanda Righetti. I'm on record as admiring Righetti, but putting her in Madonna fashion circa 1986 is cruel. The third lady is Alexa Davalos, who dates the alpha creep and beds his best friend.

The boys are rich, poor and artistic. I can't remember any of their names, not even the Tom Cruise wannabe, straight out of Risky Business. I'll probably watch one more show, to see if the older, bitchy Chyler Leigh's right. Will 1987 be a helluva year, starting off with a bang? If not, there'll be no more Reunion for me.

Monday, September 19, 2005

TV: The First Returns are in

Fox and the WB kicked off their new seasons early, some reviews have appeared here before. New episodes of returning shows merit a mention or two now.

The O.C. took two episodes to introduce new villains for the plucky rich kids to contend with. Out with Trey and in with a new Dean of Discipline, a hissy missy for Summer and Marisa to contend with, a troubled stranger (played by the inexplicably popular Jeri Ryan) to bedevil Kristin and the turning of Jimmy to the dark side. Or should I say, a return of Jimmy to the dark side. Could he be more devious than his once and future missus? Stay tuned.

Luke and Lorelei are still headed for the Gilmore Girls fictional altar. It's been one whole episode and no break-up. It's coming, just like the rapprochement between Laura and Rory, who didn't have one, not one, of the patented mother-daughter conversations that have driven this show for a half-decade. Rory's attempts to live the bad girls' life should fuel another good season of this well-written show.

I laugh at What I Like About You. I think Jenny Garth's sexy and Amanda Bynes is adorable. I wish a certain teenager I'm related to would try to emulate Bynes more. The supporting cast is strong. There's marriage and love (not necessarily between the two same people) in the air, but the laughs do outnumber the groans. A guilty pleasure.

Living with Fran
would be a guiltier pleasure if I enjoyed the show. Fran Drescher seems to have aged from the first season this spring. The kids remain unlikeable and the only good part of the show is Ryan McPartlin. He seems to be making an effort to fit into the madcap band that is Fran's family. I'll give it another couple of episodes, but the kids gotta get over their brat days.

TV: Twins are one too many

The television season has been a real hit or miss proposition. The hits are pretty good, the misses are REALLY bad. Unredeemably bad. Twins bad.

Sara Gilbert gives it a good try in the character part she's become mired in, the plain-jane smart-alec. One wonders if they gussied Gilbert up and put her into a good show, whether she could be the star I think she could be. But, we will never know.

This show has cancellation written all over it. Mark Linn-Baker was funny a billion years ago in Perfect Strangers. He's not funny anymore. Melanie Griffith was funny a trillion years ago, the pre-frozen face days of Something Wild and Working Girl. She's so plastic in this part, a mannequin could have been used and no one would be the wiser. She's VERY unfunny.

Which brings me to Gilbert's titular twin, Farrah, as played by Molly Stanton. She's blonde and possess the killer bod a lingerie model is supposed to have. But she's Melanie Griffith-dumb and I don't find her all that attractive.

Imagine, a show set in a lingerie and underwear factory, and I can't recommend it. How sad is that?!?!

TV: Bones has the bones

David Boreanaz looks uncomfortable in a suit. THAT was my first reaction in watching the Bones premiere episode this weekend (taped from earlier in the week). He smiles more in this show, but I kept waiting for him to break out the scowl and duster, that he perpetually wore in Angel. He kept the dry delivery for jokes, though.

Bones is a TV adaptation of the books written by Kathy Reichs, a more literate and readable Patricia Cornwell (who started with two good books and a series of bad ones since). Boreanaz's FBI agent, Seeley Booth, hooks up with anthropologist/super-heroine Temperance Brennan to solve a crime that was a tad less devious than one might have hoped for in a first episode.

Brennan, played by one of the quirky-cute Deschanel sisters, Emily, comes across as a modern-day Emma Peel. She's constantly flipping people and doing mostly whatever she wants. Cuz she's cute and smarter than most of the other characters, she gets away with it. Boreanaz and Deschanel have a good chemistry, but it's going to be a workplace chemistry.

Speaking of workplace, the digs Brennan and her crew of helpers get to work out of, are spectacular. Unbelievable, but spectacular. And the Washington scenery is no less imposing. This show LOOKS good.

And one last thought, welcome back John Jackson. He plays the vaguely unlikeable boss for Boreanaz, although it's not much different than the bureaucrat he played in JAG.

The show is off to a decent start. It's certainly worth continued watching.

TV: The Batman Has a Girl

I'm too old to watch cartoons. But animation? Sure!

Coming off the disaster that was Loonatics Unleashed, I had to admit loading up The Batman was done with just a bit of trepidation. I was coming to the party a bit late, having still not watched the first two seasons of this well-regarded show. And, now, I'm going to have to dig up the saved episodes for watching.

The season three kick off is a multi-parter called Batgirl Begins, a takeoff on the movie of this summer. And it's a dandy barn-burner of a show. It recasts the origins of Batgirl and Poison Ivy. At least as much as they can be modernized. The first episode has an opening credits cliffhanger followed by a "How this predicament came to be" section that was well-done. Nobody seemed perfect, which is rare for a super-hero cartoon (or comic book). There was a genuine sense of drama throughout.

In any cartoon, the first question is: How is the animation? Pretty good. This is a slightly raggedly drawn cartoon, when compared to earlier Batman shows, like Batman Beyond. But that fits with MY concept of Gotham. Batman, Alfred and the Commissioner all are appropriately drawn. I'm not crazy about the new Batgirl suit, which is Catwoman's suit with a cape, but I can get past that. Barbara Gordon and Pam Isely look like the teenaged friends they are in this show (I did say there was a recasting of the origins, didn't I?).

THIS is the kind of cartoon that adults and kids can watch.

TV: Loonatics Unleashed Should Have a Leash

Within the animation fans' community, the announcement that a futuristic super-hero team version of the beloved cartoon characters Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, RoadRunner, Wile E. Coyote and the Tazmanian Devil was met with, shall we say, unhappiness. Actually, revulsion might be closer in accuracy.

Sooooo, I watched the debut episode of Loonatics Unleashed this weekend and discovered everybody's worst fears were wrong. It's worse. Bad graphics. Horrible opening credits. Weak voice acting, with only lame attempts to really mimic the originals' voices. Dumb plot. Worthless.

I'd be surprised if even kiddies would return to this trash for a second visit.

You've been warned.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

TV: Distant Shores comes to Ontario

I channel surf while watching ball games. I keep the game on the secondary TV, but switch channels between half-innings. Think I'm getting ADD from too much exposure to kids this summer.

Mid-evening, I was doing the remote rhumba and encountered Distant Shores playing on the TVOntario channel. I stopped and watched Peter Davison playing a total ninny of a doctor making a ninny of himself. This six-episode series out of England was one of my year-end break pleasures last winter. I managed to get all six episodes and watched them one night. It was great!

The show plays on many of the themes of my third-favourite movie of all time, Local Hero. In that Bill Forsyth movie, a bunch of Americans arrive on the shores of Scotland, prepared to roll over the locals and get an oil refinery up and going just off the shore. Needless to say, the whimsical local folk just ignore the Americans into a non-problem and everything ends happily.

In Distant Shores, Davison's Dr. Bill Shore gets dragged to a craggy isle off the British coast by his fed-up-with-her-marriage wife, played by Samantha Bond. His beloved new car comes to a stop upon arrival, only re-starting when departure is imminent. His two kids, played winningly by Emmy Fildes and Mathew Davies, need a change of pace and place, and get it. Fildes's wild child Laney, discovers being different can be done in non-obvious ways, while Davies' Harvey rediscovers a father he thought he'd lost.

The islanders, led by Tristan Gemmill's Duncan, are an odd lot. But you come to know and feel for them, especially in the tragedy-marred final episode. I defy anybody with real blood flowing through their veins, not to give way to a tear or two when last we see Duncan.

In a way, the predictable and silly ending to a sweet tale of personal growth, was just perfect.

This is a series worth catching on TV or getting a DVD set.

TV: Head Cases headed for ...

The Blue Jays/Red Sox game tonight ended a tad early thanks to Papi Ortiz's latest game-winning home run. That caused me a bit of pain. I cheer for my Blue Jays, but Ortiz is the star of my roto team. At any rate, the game ended in time for me to check out Chris O'Donnell and Adam Goldberg in Head Cases on Fox.

If I was told I could never see another episode again, I'd actually feel some regret. I didn't necessarily love the first episode, even with winsome Krista Allen playing O'Donnell's soon to be ex-wife. But there is a BIT of a seed there. And adding top second banana Richard Kind and another favourite actress, Rachel Leigh Cook, could turn this into a real watcher. Maybe not, but maybe yes. Certainly worth looking in on the second episode to check out the changes.

The key to watchability will be dial back Goldberg's rampaging maniac lawyer act. A lawyer with little or no inhibition isn't exactly a stretch. Angry lawyers (remember Petrocelli?) aren't exactly rare in TVdom. Mixing the two, and then throwing in the panicky O'Donnell's character and it might be overkill. But if the ever-bombastic Goldberg can cut those rages down to one an episode and let the viewers see the fight within he has to wage to keep control, then this series can succeed.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

MOVIES: Silencing The Sound of Thunder

One of the seemingly endless source of crappy movies these days are good skits on Saturday Night Live. The TV show generates MANY ideas worthy of five minutes, not so many when stretched to movie-length. It so pervasive, that it's like a neon sign blinking 'AVOID ME.'

Ray Bradbury wrote a masterful short story called The Sound of Thunder. It has been collected many times and I manage to read it about once every dozen years or so. I've seen two comic book adaptions that were first-rate, each time, the story being completely told in about 20 pages of art. The ending is always perfect, whether on the comic page, or in the mind's eye as you read the last paragraph of the short story.

So good is the story, that it's been made into a movie at least once before Peter Hyams came along and gave it another shot this summer. He's a director that mined the time travel field in a decent actioner called TimeCop and he also helmed one of my favourite SF movies of all time, Outland. Soooo, good source, good director, not to mention decent lead actors in Ben Kingsley and Ed Burns. Had to be worth shelling out the dollars to watch.

Not so much. No applause at the end of this stinker, just relief that it was time to slink out and try to forget the movie.

The problem in the movie is the padding. Hyams decides to introduce the artifice of time waves to have the changes wrought by the mistake that lies at the heart of the story, slowly over-take our time. BUUZZZZZZZ! Wrong! If the time travellers changed something back 65 million years ago, the meanie plants and animals would have evolved along side mankind and a wholly different architecture that's nowhere to be seen in the movie. If the time travellers brought something back from the time safari, then the bug, spores, virii or whatever would spring forth in epidemic fashion, but would not change the weather and cause earthquakes. In fact, none of that would have happened regardless of the time travellers missteps.

So, a great story turns into a creepy, poorly-written, CGI-enhanced Night Stalker story, replete with dino/mandrills and pterodactyl/vampire bats. Ugly. About the only saving grace was young actress Jemima Rooper, who's about to start a second series of the excellent British TV show, Hex. It's not that Rooper was any great shakes in this movie, it's just good to remember that Hex is coming back soon.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

TV: The War at Home ... Surrender!

This review is based completely on the pre-credits act in tonight's premiere of the new Fox series, The War at Home. So cringingly bad that I went back to work. Yep, rather than continue slacking off (I am the world's laziest man), I got out of the easy chair and went back to programming.

A show that makes emininently likeable Michael Rapaport unlikeable in four minutes flat isn't a place where anybody with half a brain wants to spend time at. It might be billed as this century's Married with Children, but it's lacking any heart whatsoever. May it die quickly.

In the meantime, back to work.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

MOVIES: The Sublime and the Ridiculous

Caught on a holiday Monday with nothing to do after the ballgames. What do you do? Why head for a movie theatre of course. And what two movies do you pair together for your own off-beat double feature? The Transporter 2 and March of the Penguins.

Okay, I'm a seriously deranged movie-picker. But the absurd fiction of The Transporter sequel fits quite well with the factual absurdity that is the life of an Emporer Penguin. I enjoyed both movies. A fair bit, too.

Jason Statham has a David Janssen mimics Jackie Chan style in his movies. Not much talk and a grim determination to his antics. Evading cops by flinging one's car from one building to the next, skidding to a tottering on the edge stop in the second building wouldn't be MY first idea. But that's how Frank, the Transporter does things. I could detail the plot, but I'd only confuse you. I could mention model Kate Nauta plays a wacky lingerie-clad gun moll. I could even include mention of gorgeous Amber Valleta. But it's all meaningless.

How are the stunts? What about the car chases? REALLY, REALLY good and unbelievable. 'nuff said.

The perfect antidote to getting all hot and sweaty over Kate and Amber is to head for the Antarctic and the soothing voice of Morgan Freeman as he details the intriguing life of the Emporer Penguin. It's not long, it will fit uncut into a 90-minute TV slot sometime in the future. Yet in those few minutes, any watcher gains a new-found respect for the sea-going birds who walk miles inland to launch their next generation.

Penguins are funny. They waddle and surf the land to get to and fro. They fight like sissies (well the females do, over the males to boot). But after this movie, you can't help but respect them.

It might be a super-sized National Geographic special, but March of the Penguins is a revelation on a movie screen. It's worth the ducats and might even be worth tricking your kids into seeing it.

Thumbs up to both movies.

TV: A maybe, a miss and a hit

TV Pilots are an inexact science. Good to great pilots don't always turn into great TV series, and some very good TV series survived so-so pilots. Frequently with many changes.

The series E-Ring this fall will be nothing at all like the pilot, apparently. The wife, a major component of the pilot, doesn't exist in the TV series. That means I can't predict what this Benjamin Bratt-starrer will be like. I did like the supporting cast (wife included), a fair bit of the rescue-by-submarine plot and Bratt's got plenty of TVQ. But the series seems a non-starter for me, following in the brief footsteps of several recent series pushing the American military agenda. JAG excepted. Does the exception make the rule ... or invalidate it?

On the other hand, I'm pretty secure about my projections for the other two series in this blog entry. They are Surface and Threshold, both inspired partly by last year's Lost bonanza.

Surface used to be Fathom. Surface stars nobody I know, save Lake Bell. And I watch LOTS of TV. So there is no stardust to get in my eyes, although Bell looks WAAAAAY better in blue jeans and a rumpled sweatshirt than she did in a Boston lawyer's suit. The story was fractured and each piece was water-based. And there is NO reason to continue after that. Not since the halcyon days of Sea Hunt, has a water-based story survived. Love Boat was a set, for those in an arguing mood.

I just don't see Surface lasting as long as the original Kolchak, Night Stalker, the series that I really feel Surface is an ode to. The Lost comparison? Must have been drugs. I know Lost, and this is no Lost.

On the other hand, Lost isn't that fair a comparison to Threshold either. In fact, a favourite of mine, Stargate SG-1, has a lot more blood in this one that the fine folks marooned on that lost isle.

There's lots of familiar faces, led by scrumptious Carla Gugino. Nobody that saw it will forget Gugino's bit role in Sin City and a TV series worth DVDing was Gugino's Karen Sisco from a couple of years back. She's got the "Samantha Carter" role in Threshold. She's got her own team of eccentrics, including Brent "Star Trek's Data" Spiner as a crotchety med expert and Peter Dinklage as the uninhibited math whiz that speaks 200 languages. Dinklage always seems to make me see the character rather than the lack of height. Always welcome Charles S. Dutton has the leader job Don Davis played so well over at Stargate.

The team gets thrown into an alien contact mission at sea (see, THERE's the connection between the three shows [G]). The contact seems about as successful as most of the Stargate crews' entanglements with their own baddies, the Goa'uld. And the debut episode of Stargate immediately jumped into the body-taking over powers of the bad guys. Same story here. Leads to a real nifty final shot, even if it isn't exactly unpredictable.

Still, I can see this show outlasting Surface by a fair bit. It's got pseudo-science, name stars and Carla Gugino. And her dog Monster, a lovably ugly mutt that could be a breakout star on his own.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

BOOKS: On the whole, I'd rather...

Sometimes, reading is a bother.

These days, I prefer my books in electronic form. I can carry around a dozen or so on my Sony Clie PDA. The screen on the Clie is great. I can sit/lay in the dark and read comfortably, switching hands as necessary. No bookmarks are needed. It remembers where I left off. And, if I want to look back for something, there's even a search function. Virtual nirvana.

Well, not quite. The battery doesn't last as long as I do, which might or might not be a good thing. And I can't even consider a leisurely bath with the Clie. I use it for business reasons too, and dunking it would NOT be a good thing.

So, I still read the old-fashioned hard-copy books. In fact, by prior arrangement (a publishing of my Gift Wishbook a month before birthdays and Christmases), I get A LOT of books as presents. I suggest paperbacks to lessen the hit on gift-givers' pocketbooks. But I list a bunch of each format, paperback, trade paperback and hard-cover. Naturally I get some of each.

Hard-covers can be handsome reminders that somebody cared enough about me to spend the most. But, they seem to be getting more and more awkward to handle as I get older. A connection, I'm sure. I end up sitting up in the green comfy chair downstairs when I read a hard-cover book these days. But I do love a book I can read while lying on my side.

Trade paperbacks are nice. A medium price-point and easily handled for the books I tend to read. There was the exception of the Captain's Log ombnibus of Star Trek-related titles that weighed a zillion pounds, but I was able to buy an electronic version of that one [G]. The other thing publishers can do to screw up the trade paperback is to die-cut the cover so that it's no longer rectangular. Two recent Clive Cussler books reviewed below, demonstrated I can fight through the annoyance of a badly-cut cover to recommend a book. But it would have been a WHOLE lot nicer not to have to work around the cover issues.

Which brings me to paperbacks. I have had a LOOOOONG love affair with books and paperbacks in general. My personal library now runs close to 5,000 volumes, mostly in the paperback format. I would have no space to actually live in my house otherwise. But even this format is changing. And I think for the better.

The latest Stephanie Plum book by Janet Evanovich, arrived with Large EASY-TO-READ type. It said so right on the front cover. I was a tad annoyed at which of my relatives thought it necessary to give me the large type book, until I realized I had ordered that particular book pre-release in February and it was only a happy happinstance that the book arrived as is. And frankly, I loved it.

The other new formatting I recently saw was in The Lost City by Clive Cussler. It advertised itself as being easier to hold. And by dadgum it was. It was slimmer and a tad taller. And it was perfectly easy to use single-handed. I want MORE paperbacks in this format.

They can even survive a little soap suds. Trust me.

BOOKS: So much for a month

Once I find a writer I enjoy, I tend to hoarde books until I can sit down and spend a month reading one writer. Sometimes, I can buy every book put out by a writer for as much as four or five years, and then go through them one-after-another until I have another half-decade wait 'til the next time I'll read his or her offerings again.

There are exceptions. My birthday and Christmas co-inside with Janet Evanovich's publishing schedule. The latest Stephanie Plum book never lasts two days from receipt. I do the same "get and read" for the latest Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling) and Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer) books. But that's about it. I have self-control for the most part.

This month was SUPPOSED to be Clive Cussler month. Turned into a week. I've been a big fan of Cussler since a radio interview he did convinced me to read Raise the Titanic! It was a great book (and one of the stinker movies of all time) and made Cussler a must-read on acquisition day for a loooong time. But somewhere around Sahara (a bad book, punctuated by a character named Cussler, but a very pleasant surprise of a movie), I started collecting Cussler for "reading months." And it was time to plow through the four Cussler co-authored books on the top of my reading pile.

As previously mentioned, I was disappointed by the Kurt Austin series entry, The Lost City. I bit my lip at the Dirk Pitt series tome, The Black Wind, when the Cussler fictional alter-ego once again improbably arrived to save the day, an aaargh moment in an otherwise decent thriller. And I raced through the two entries in the Corporation series, Golden Buddha and Sacred Stone in three days. Thus, my intended enjoyment of Cussler's writing was condensed into just eight days.

But Cussler, writing with Craig Dirgo, has a keeper in The Corporation books, aka the Oregon Files. It's really a literary equivalent of the TV Alias series transplanted to a floating wonder-ship. There's none of the unconvincing romantic by-play that Cussler really doesn't do well. It's wall-to-seawall action and I have no problem seeing these books making good TV or a movie or two. And nary a fictional Cussler to rub me the wrong way.

My brother hobnobs in the higher circles of the literary world and only offers a bemused smile when I mention my affection for Cussler's work. But when it comes to escapist, page-turning fare, it's hard to beat the mcguffin man.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

BOOKS: 4 For World War II

World War II has been popping up in my most recent spate of reading. While only one specifically occurs during the timeframe of WWII, all deal tangentially with the subject in an adventurous aor science fictional way.

I just finished John Birmingham’s Weapons of Choice. It’s sort of a reverse-take on The Philadelphia Experiment. In that movie, a sailor is jumped 40 years into the future from a WWII naval vessel. It’s a good one. Rent it.

The reverse happens in Weapons of Choice, as a naval flotilla a dozen or so years in the future, is sent back into the looming Battle of Midway. And naturally, 21st century technology is akin to magic to the hard-fighting men of the 40’s. Brutally so. The opening skirmish runs the first quarter of the book and reads like a Tom Clancy hardware descriptive. It’s detailed to the extent I was wondering where all the good reviews of this book were coming from, since I’m not a Clancy aficionado. Then, comes a page that simply says “D├ętente.”

And from there on, the book is fascinating. And crude, and racist, and misogynist and probably a lot like what those times were like. It’s pretty good. Except for one thing.

THERE IS NO ENDING.


Actually, the book comes to a stop, with an ad for the next part of the series, due in November of this year. AAARRRRRGGHHHH!!!! Not a single word about duology, trilogy or whatever is planned, graces the cover. And none of the reviews I read mentioned it either. There ought to be a law consigning publishers who don’t admit to an incomplete story to some sort of stygian jail cell in the outback of Afghanistan.

I recommend you buy this book a few years down the line when Birmingham’s finished the series. Until then, read at your own peril.

Somewhere in the middle of the first section of Weapons of Choice, I took the time to read the Top Ten: The Forty-Niners graphic novel by Alan Moore and Gene Ha. It deals with the aftermath of WWII, when all the super-heroes who fought on both sides of the way, returned to the USA and to Neopolis specifically. It’s a prequel of sorts for the Top Ten series of comics that posit a future where EVERY resident of Neopolis has some sort of super power and the cops who have to police them.

Moore is an exceedingly talented writer. He pays homage to the history of comics while twisting them in a way that takes a certain maturity to read. In fact, this book should have a mature readers’ label on it. I certainly wouldn’t want the younger members of my Movie Mob reading it. Gene Ha’s artwork is a fitting companion to Moore’s words.

The book itself takes the reader through the nascent Neopolis that is a slum of sorts for super-heroes. There’s sex and violence, horror and triumph. This hard-cover graphic novel isn’t cheap, near fourty bucks after taxes, but it does show what good writing and good art can do for an original American art form.

Following those two books, I started off on my Clive Cussler reading month. I had four Cussler books on the top of the reading pile and grabbed The Lost City first. It’s a Kurt Austin adventure, Cussler’s ‘B’ series lead character. WWII gets little shrift in this book, which starts at the cusp of the first World War instead. However, it is stated in the book that one of the BAD people in the book was instrumental in the fomenting of both World Wars. Soooo, I guess it qualifies as a member of this reading set.

The Lost City is not Cussler at his best. It’s certainly a cinematic story, but the solutions to many of the problems are unbelievable or too simple for the supposedly bright folks who get involved. Bluntly, this is a Cussler tome that can be skipped.

Cussler’s ‘A’ character is Dirk Pitt and Black Wind is shared by Pitt and his son, Dirk Jr. It starts off late in WWII with some evil Japanese do-badders and sets up a bunch of Korean zealots as a pre-cursor to a current day “evil organization” not too unlike Al Qaeda. A failed attempt to try and gas cities on the North American west coast in WWII revives to become a threat to modern-day America. Cussler’s love of mcguffins once again leads a reader down a path to nowhere, but the rest of the book is decent Cussler. My faith in Cussler has been shaken occasionally over the years, and I HATE, REALLY HATE, his annoying habit of late of injecting a Cussler character into his books, but it’s a page-turner. Perfect for summer-reading.

No more WWII for me for the next while. A couple of Cussler’s ‘C’ series books dealing with The Corporation await.

SPORTS: If I was GM of the Blue Jays

J.P. Ricciardi didn’t ask me, but I’ve come up with a plan to spend the $30 million or so dollars Ted Rogers will give him extra next year to populate the Toronto Blue Jays’ roster.

I’m not going to go crazy in the free-agent pool. It’s going to cost close to $9 million next year, but I hire Kevin Millwood to give that extra boost to the starting pitcher roster. I’d prefer to give the money to Matt Morris, but you don’t win bidding wars with the St. Louis Cardinals. On the other hand, Millwood’s turn this season in Cleveland means he’s over the AL Introductory Phase that hurts a LOT of ex-NL’ers.

The other low-cost hire is Mark Bellhorn, to come in as a back-up second-baseman and disciplined pinch-hitter. If Bellhorn goes elsewhere this season and gets a contract next year for joining up this year, then I go after ex-Blue Jay John Macdonald.

Now, I remodel the roster with a couple of trades that involve taking on salary. The first one is the big one: Reliever Jason Frasor and Triple AAA prospects John Haddig (3B) and David Purcey (LHP) going to the Cincinnati Reds for Ken Griffey.

The Reds want to move an outfielder and big-ticket Griffey is part of a four-man outfield that suffers from only having three spots to play regularly. He’s been injury-prone and the contract makes him risky to any team, including the Reds. In Haddig, the Reds get the Future’s Game World 3B starter in case fellow kiddy hot-cornerman Edwin Encarnacion falters, and a first-round, big-potential left-hander in Purcey. Frasor could even end up being the Reds’ closer, a role he did last season in Toronto. At worst he helps out in the bullpen.

Griffey represents a gamble to the Jays. He’s earning eight figures and he’s got that aforementioned injury bug. About this stage in the career of Paul Molitor, he was similarly unblessed. And Molitor bounced back really well. While Griffey isn’t the best player in baseball any longer (and he WAS at one point), he’s a tonic to the Blue Jay batting order.

Power, which Griffey represents as much as anything else, is also needed in the form of Pat Burrell, who comes over from Philadelphia, along with Class A OF Jake Blalock, for OF Alexis Rios and reliever Brandon League. Philly makes this trade because Rios has the potential to be better than Burrell and he’s almost as good now, for a lot less money. He’s also a significantly better outfielder, which helps the Phillies defensively. League is that proverbial power arm who might or might not ever harnass it. The Jays get Burrell because he’s a mature power-hitter who can hide in the DH slot and then play outfield in a pinch. Blalock is a future major-league outfielder.

Lastly, the Jays move perennial prospect Guillermo Quiroz to the Tampa Devil Rays for Toby Hall. Quiroz still holds allure as a starter while Hall has to get out of Tampa and away from Lou Piniella (Who might move out at the same time anyway).

So let’s see how the Blue Jay roster takes shape in 2006. Across the outfield, we have Frank Catalanotto/Reed Johnson in LF, Vernon Wells in CF and Ken Griffey in RF. The infield starters are Corey Koskie 3B, Russ Adams SS, Orlando Hudson 2B and Shea Hillenbrand 1B. The catcher combo is Greg Zaun and Toby Hall. The DH is Pat Burrell, who covers off the fifth-outfielder spot. The IF backups are Aaron Hill on the left side, and Mark Bellhorn on the left side. The 14th offensive spot goes to PH Eric Hinske, if he can’t be disposed of. Otherwise, John Ford Griffin probably gets the nod over Greg Gross, who needs to keep playing full-time. Griffin’s a future DH, if he ever gets to the majors. If Hinske does stay, then he’s the backup 1B. Otherwise, Koskie or Burrell might occasionally have to pick up a first-basemen’s mitt.

The batting order goes Adams, Catalanotto/Johnson, Griffey, Burrell, Wells, Koskie, Hillenbrand, Zaun/Hall, Hudson.

The pitching staff sees Roy Halladay, Ted Lilly, Kevin Millwood, Gustavo Chacin and Scott Downs produce a decent mix of experience and youth. The long man in the six-man bullpen is Pete Walker. The middle men are rookie Lee Gronkiewicz, Justin Speir, Vince Chulk and the lone lefty, Scott Schoeneweis. The closer remains Miguel Batista. It would be nice to find a second lefty, but he would have to be at least as good as the man he replaces. Alternatively, the Jays could go with one of the Syracuse-bound youngsters in the fifth slot and move Downs to long relief. That might cost Walker his spot, or more likely free up Speir or Chulk for trade.

Down in the minors, Gross would be the top offensive prospect, along with first baseman Kevin Barker. The pitchers itching to get to Toronto would include Dave Bush and Dustin McGowan, currently 40 per cent of the Blue Jay starting staff, as well as Chad Gaudin, Francisco Rosario, Shawn Marcum, Spike Lundberg and Zach Jackson. That seems to be a decent pool of pitching talent to handle the inevitable injuries.

The one weak spot would be finding a couple of veteran MIF types to play in Syracuse to cover off any injuries to Hudson, Adams and/or Hill.



There you have it. The Blue Jays, 2006 playoff contenders.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

TV: The Sci-Fi Three

Normally, I like to watch my episodical TV in at least month-long chunks. Especially the shows given to cliff-hangers. Thus, over the last few years, I've become accustomed to sitting down and watching the whole of a Stargate SG-1 season. Somehow, however, I actually slipped two season behind and never actually got to watch the first season of Stargate Atlantis ... until recently.

About a month ago, I watched seasons seven and eight of SG-1 and the debut season of Atlantis. And I thoroughly enjoyed the week it took me to watch the 60 hours or so of science fiction. I was a sceptic of SG-1 when it debuted, utterly convinced there was no way the show could last beyond its inaugural season, despite liking the show. Keep that in mind as you read further, I COULD be wrong again, and in a major way.

The last two seasons of SG-1 each were meant to be a final season. Thus, the shows ended pleasantly at a conclusion of sorts. This is a wonderful thing. Atlantis did not. And this was not a good thing.

I had found myself quite enjoying Atlantis more than its parent. Torri Higginson and Rachel Luttrell grew on me with each passing show, while I found I could put with David Hewlett's caustic Canadian (we had to export him to the States to maintain our 'nice' reputation). Joe Flanigan had his Richard Dean Anderson patter down pat and I was constantly reminded how much the early years of SG-1 was fun. But the cliff-hanger ending meant breaking the now-established pattern of "wait 'til the year's over" viewing habit.

Besides, it wasn't the only show solving a cliff-hanger from last season. The two Stargates have been teamed with Battlestar Galactica to provide viewers with a Friday-full of good 'ol space opera. So I reluctantly started watching the shows as they come out, starting early last month.

And I am troubled. Of the three, only Atlantis has remained fun to watch. I have no qualms with it, so far into the new season. Jason Momoa, one of the few good things about the not-sadly belated North Shore, has largely replaced Canuck Rainbow Francks as a regular. But Francks has gotten himself a Daniel Shanks-like semi-regular guest-star spot that's been effective so far. (Shanks largely took season six of SG-1 off, making it into about a quarter of the episodes). Nothing has been cringe-worthy in the show and each hour seems to be able to stand on its own.

Before bouncing off the roof about the other two, let me state that I'm a card-carrying agnostic. I think religion is good, organized religion too frequently not so good. I've played bridge on teams with a Scottish Presbyterian, a Roman Catholic, a Hindu, a Jew and and Muslim. You CAN get along, whatever your beliefs, if you permit others their's. I think religion belongs in the home and at your place of worship. Not on my TV screen, as a major plot element.

So, despite a real star turn by ex-Farscaper Claudia Black as the mostly amoral Vala, SG-1 has come close to losing me for this season. In fact, Black has ended her arc as of this week, and woe to any producer who doesn't rush to get her back. They MUST take advantage of the out they left themselves when Vala apparently sacrificed herself to stave off the religious zealots, the Ori. (The religion being Origin, get it, ORIGIN. Yeah, lame.)

As such, the shows have descended from the fight against the Goa'uld false gods, who KNEW they were taking advantage of ignorant followers, to nuts who are doing it for religious reasons. Gak! Sure, there's some resonance in forward-thinkers as to pastiching the current uber-evangelic society we Earthlings find ourselves in these days. But I watch TV to get AWAY from the vagaries of our existence. The Ori schmucks (And YES, I know the translation of the word) are all-too powerful in a way that means we are a "War of the Worlds" viral solution away from winning. It's not going to end up being human engenuity that carries the day. Just some random happening. Even though I have enjoyed the other SG-1 additions, Ben Browder, Beau Bridges and the always welcome Lexa Doig (of Andromeda fame), I've got serious worries that SG-1 is finally in a final season.

Which brings me to the new, darker Battlestar Galactica. And it's internal battle between the religious following of now-deposed President Roslin and those following the orders of Commander Adama. Sure, it's a made-up religion and yes, I didn't shed any tears when the book-carrying priestess got blown up this week, but it's so ... ground-level. Galactica is SUPPOSED to look somewhat grungy. Sure, they don't have top-level communications to go with their star-spanning space-ships. But the primitiveness of what they do have, makes this whole Cylon thing, with their instant Galaxy-wide internet too incongrous. A lot of people make a lot of stupid decisions in key positions. When you have no real internal logic that makes sense, you play up religion. Gak, yet again. Or should I say FRAK again! It's cute the way the writers get Frak to replace the other F-word, but EVERYBODY in Galactica's using it and the cute charm of it has become TOO FRAKKIN' MUCH!

There ARE some nice touches this season in Galactica. The constant Baltar-Six internal monologues have been few and far between. Tish Helfer is gorgeous, but SOOOOO unneccesary. Richard Hatch is getting some good play as a bad guy who's going to be a REALLY bad guy some time soon, aided by henchman James Remar, who's work is consistently enjoyable. The multi-Boomers have devolved into the single Cylon who MIGHT be siding with the humans. Grace Park's handling that duty well. But I still can't get over having religion thrust into my fiction.

At some point, and that point's soon, the Sci-Fi Three, might become ONE ... and wait for the others, for a time when I've got absolutely nothing else to watch.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

BOOKS: Emmeline

Emmeline. It's a pretty name. I saw it once a couple of years back as a character's name in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Emmeline Vance. A couple of mentions, nothing more. Didn't think of it again until this month.

I started reading the wonderful Retrieval Artists novels by K.K. Rusch. The lead character of this "NYPD on the Moon" has a long-dead daughter named ... Emmeline. It's a name that stuck this time as I polished off The Disappeared, Extremes and then Consequences. Each seemed a better read than the prior volumes, which is a rarity these days.

When I opened up Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Saturday, it didn't take long to run smack dab into another mention of the now deceased Emmeline Vance.

Four straight books, each with a character named Emmeline, who is dead. And more than 40 years of reading before these four books with only ONE mention of an Emmeline, who was alive in that tome.

Wonder if a lottery ticket purchase might be in order?

BOOKS: Harry Potter 6 ... 6 out of 10.

Having started my 50th year on this planet some 37 minutes ago, it strikes me as probably the time to recommence kvetching here on this blog. Monday was my birthday and it was preceded by an interesting weekend of programming and getting some reading in ... the You-Know-What book.

To prove I am a curmudgeon, I only have to note that I think the last two Harry Potter books have been monumentally disappointing and the the last one, in particular, was a bad book. I loved the first book, think fondly of the next two and couldn't find much to complain nor laud about the fourth book. But the fifth was a chore to read. So, you understand my mindset approaching Saturday's delivery of book six, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

To say it was a marked jump back to better than average is an understatement. To say I was still disappointed at the climax of the book is equally obvious. J.K. Rowling's imagination, a wonderful thing, flits here and there throughout the beginning and the middle of the book. Not sure why she decided to throw in a couple of chapters of "What's Gone On Before" exposition to start the book, since surely the number of readers JUST now starting the series must surely number less than ... well, what IS less than zero? But even those chapters had some moments.

There are Rowlingian moments for most of the rest of the book, many of which just do not pay off. House elves show up a couple of times for no good reason, nor effect. A trip to the Weasley's joke emporium in Diagon Alley sets our minds wondering WHAT will the Gang of Three do with some of the offerings found therein. Nothing, as it turns out. Still, the magic that makes this series readable, even for an old coot like me, hovers over the pages as they seem to turn by themselves.

Until the climax. Which feels phony to me. I believe a dead man will be alive sometime in book seven. (Hint: The Phoenix did it). I believe a bad guy will be a good guy about the same time, as dislikeable as the bad/good/bad/probably good guy might be). Let me guess the plot to Book 7. Take one part disinterested school life, one part Spiderman swipe, four parts of Hercules 12 Labours and one part of Alec Guiness' "May the Force Be With You" ghost-speech and you will have distilled the final volume to its essence.

Rowling has the ability to be inventive. I'm sure I have some of the minor details completely wrong. But I'd be very much surprised if we don't have Harry Potter triumphant at the finish line with all the beloved characters gather around the bruised and battered hero. And I mean ALL of them, even the one sneering over in the corner.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

SPORTS: In my crystal ball ...

A week before the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, aka March Madness, got started, I opined the final four would be North Carolina (winners of Illinois in the final, according to my prognostication), UConn, Louisville and the aforementioned Illini of Illinois. My only miss was UConn, who ended up in the same bracket as UNC. Felt pretty good about those predictions.

Unfortunately, had more than a few wrong picks on the road to the final four and went without winning a prize in the various pools I entered this season (One pool is still adjudging a tie-breaker, so there might be a Sony PlayStation afterall). But, for some reason, I just don't succeed in March Madness contests in odd-numbered years.

Enough complaining about the roundball, time to turn to rubber-necking.

The World Men's Hockey Championships started today (well, yesterday. This IS Sunday afterall. But I'm still on the Saturday clock). All four of my first-day picks won. And not ONE of them won convincingly enough for my tastes. I thought this was the easiest day of selection, only to watch Canada struggle against Latvia, the Russians need an empty-net goal and the Finns BARELY beat Denmark. Hunh?

Going into this tourney, I thought to myself that the prevailing winds were going to blow badly for two-time defending champion Canada. And today's contest seemed to back up my feeling that this squad was going to trip up somewhere before the gold medal game's anthem. The Czechs and the Swedes were popular choices to join Canada at the medal podium. But my gut told me Russia, Canada and Finland were going to be the medallists.

The feeling in my gut today? I hope it was something I ate, cuz right now, none of the three look particularly threatening. Still if Nash, Thornton and Gagne are the dynamite line they can be and Martin Brodeur shook all the rust off against Latvia, the Canucks will at least be PLAYING in the game for the gold. But those are no lead-pipe cinches. Maybe the Czechs, Slovaks and Swedes will look awful tomorrow. If not, this might be the final cruel blow of a cruel winter that has seen Canadian property, the world Junior Mens, Senior Women's and Under-18 Men's titles end up in the USA rather than there rightful place here in the Great White North.

Damn odd year.

TV: R.I.P. J.A.G.

It's been too long since I posted here, mostly because of a silly, insane work schedule. I told the big boss that this weekend was for lying flat on the back and digging into the six-week old hoarde of video-taped TV. Maybe a book (Al Sarrantanio's Haydn of Mars, if you are wondering).

I caught a couple of J.A.G.'s right off and decided that this was the time to jump ship and plough right through to the final. I just finished watching the series' last episode. Loved it. Schmaltzy and just a little left of predictable, but this Sam really did get his Diane.

Some confessions here. David James Elliott's mother plays bridge here in this area. I started watching the show mainly to not have to lie to her about seeing her son's exploits on any given Friday when I might find myself in Milton at her table. To be honest, I was more interested in his two co-stars that first year, Andrea Parker, who I was not familiar with, and Tracey Needham, the tall blonde goddess in the making, ex of Life Goes On.

The show was a so-so freshman and was actually cancelled, before moving from NBC to CBS and losing the two attractive co-stars to bring in Catherine Bell. I'd be lying if I said I remembered her from her brief first-season guesting role late in the season. And I was less than thrilled she was replacing Needham (remember, GODDESS in the making). But hey, I still had to answer to Patricia and I kept watching the show.

And, wouldn't you know it, Catherine Bell grew on me. And her character, Mac Mackenzie, grew on Elliott's character Harm Rabb. So much so, that as the show's end loomed ever larger, I felt like most loyal viewers, "Come on already, tear down the wall and get together!"

The series finale did not disappoint. It brought a fitting conclusion to 10 years of occasionally jingoistic TV that usually entertained while preserving it's commercial appeal to the American Navy and Marine corps. Bluntly, many of its tales of heroism were entertaining and spine-tingling as all get out.

My single favourite episode was the one early last season where Harm lands a big non-military plane on an aircraft carrier. Thought that was a big of TV bluster ... until the end credits rolled with some archival film footage. It had actually been done back in the 60's. The tingling reminded me of just how much stranger truth is than fiction.

JAG was not just Elliott and Bell. Patrick Laborteaux, who was always "Matt's brother" until he landed the coming-of-age role as Bud Roberts, regularly turned the sidekick role into an attention-getter. The last two JAG heads, John Jackson and the always fascinating David Andrews, were enjoyable curmudgeons. And the last in a list of good gunnies, Zoe McLellan, was fun to watch. Bud's wife Harriet, as played by Karri Turner, was the living embodiment of Mother Know's Best, a fact frequently alluded to in the finale. And no actor's list at JAG goes without listing the troubled Trevor Goddard, an Aussie pain in the butt on the show. His death by suicide was one of too many footnotes on the show honouring the dead.

I liked this show. I'll miss it. But it ran its course to a successful conclusion. Congrats to Don Bellisario and the crew for giving me so many hours of enjoyment.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

TV: Old, Not So Old and Current SF Series

During the last month or so, I haven't had any hockey to while away my spare hours and that's meant digging out some old SF series on video and DVD to take a look at how things have progressed over the years.

In roughly a month, I saw the whole of the Space: Above and Beyond and Crusade series, as well as all of the episodes of Battlestar Galactica 2004. To be honest, I watched the first half of the Crusade series, then all of Galactica and Space, then the remainder of the Crusade series. But it was fascinating to watch the computer effects of the shows that span from Space's 1989 to Crusade's 1999 to last year's Galactica.

And you know, the 15-year old Space series probably stands up the best!

Yet another series that lost out due to expensive production, you can see all that money up on the screen. The incredibly jingoistic series was an artistic success and it's a shame it couldn't last. It did get a whole 24-episode season rather than the 13-episode (or less) trial that "modern-day" series get, but ended on an ambiguous note that could be an ending or a cliff-hanger. I was satisfied for the viewing experience, but wish I could have seen more adventures.

The day I put Space to rest, I saw taped episodes of NCIS and Law and Order:Special Victims Unit that featured guests Morgan Weisser and Joel DelaFuente respectively. It was a bit weird, since I couldn't remember seeing either actor much over the last few years. In fact, the only members of the Fightin' 58th I can remember seeing with any regularity this century were James Morrison and Lanei Chapman. Otherwise it's been like the group was lost in space. (One guest-starring role worth seeing in Space is the one with Richard Kind, playing against his usual comedic arch-type).

Crusade was a new-born babe with no sense of form when it got canned. J.M. Straczynski was fresh off the Bablyon 5 success and wanted something the same but different. And the focus hadn't coalesced when this series came to an end. In fact, the interesting (but sparse) extra features in the DVD set of Crusade hints at an overall story that would have been worth watching.

Gary Cole's commander Matthew Gideon only emphasizes the limited range Scott Bakula has at the helm of the now-doomed USS Enterprise. Unfortunately, the only other constants were Cole's right-hand man Daniel Dae Kim and a badly-underused Marjean Holden as the doctor. Other members of the ensemble cast proved anything but regular. A de-glammed Carrie Dobro was the one resident alien and had some promise, as did the annoying corporate barracuda/smart guy Max, played with smarminess by David Allan Brooks. Babylon 5 carryover Tracy Scoggins lit up her three episodes as a captain capable of tangling with Cole and that got her star billing on the series, despite being in less than a quarter of the shows.

But the one character with the most promise was Peter Woodward's technomage character, Galen. His dry, deadpan humour infused his episodes with the most needed component of any SF series, laughs. Humourless SF is horrible. Galen added laughs, mystery, an easy out for some problems, and a riposte for Cole when Scoggins wasn't around. Woodward, Edward's son, was extremely memorable. He popped up in a Charmed episode just after I finished Crusade, keeping my weird meter running.

In many ways, the Crusade SFX were better than Crusade's. But where Space looked dilapidate and dirty effectively, there were odd glaring instances where the brightness of Crusade was just a little wobbly. In fact, Straczynski mentions one glitch repeatedly in the commentary he does for one show. And it doesn't help (although it is explained in a couple of ways) that the crew uniforms go through several changes during the 13-show run.

Which brings me to the darker and grittier Battlestar Galactica. It's been renewed for a 20-episode second season and that is a good thing. But I hope some things the creators cherish disappear during the 'off-season.'

Those among the viewership that bemoan Starbuck and Boomer change of genders to the interesting Katee Sackhoff and appealing Grace Park are all misogynists. Both actresses do a fine job. On the other hand, the human-appearing Cylons don't do much for me and I'm truly irritated by Tricia Helfer's Six, a mind construct for the weasely Dr. Baltar played by Jim Callis. He's too smart, she intrudes too much and nobody notices the man talking to the shadows. Un hunh. Yes, Helfer is gorgeous. No, she's not needed. The 'enemy among us' plot line would succeed just find without her.

Edward James Olmos' Commander Adama has more depth and gravitas than Lorne Greene had and he's fun to watch. As is sparring partner Mary McDonnell as the dying President. But the fun performance to watch is Michael Hogan's turn as Colonel Tigh. The embodiment of Gruff, Hogan and Olmos take turns in being the restrained powder keg in command central. And let's not forget Richard Hatch, the old Apollo and new bad guy with a heart of fool's gold. For a guy who fought long and hard against this incarnation of Battlestar Galactica, he's climbed on board impressively.

Which brings up the special effects. The show has a future retro vibe that works in the main. But everything is SOOOOOO dark lighting-wise, the SFX guys are fighting a loosing battle. The same grittiness worked for Space. But it fails to hold the attention here. I guess I expected better.

I hope Galactica gets off the ships and hits the planet-sides once in a while this coming season. I want to see more of Hatch and his plots and less, much less, of Six and Baltar having mind-sex constantly. But most of all, I'm just happy to see a SF series get a second season.

SPORTS: Gonzaga or Louisville?

A month ago, I 'knew' my final four for the upcoming NCAA basketball championships was Kansas, Illinois, North Carolina and Duke. A week ago, I 'knew' the final four was Illinois, North Carolina, Kansas and UConn.

Today, what I know is that I don't know who to pick to complete my final four with North Carolina, Illinois and UConn. Will it be Gonzaga or Louisville? I think the TarHeels will beat Illinois in a low-scoring final, but I like Charlie Villanueva to get UConn close and I have to choose between Rony Turiaf of Gonzaga and Francisco Garcia of Louisville as this year's Travis Diener. Rick Pitino makes Garcia the pick, draw permitting of course.

Wake Forest? Chris Paul is outta control and will get distracted at a key moment. So many good guards out there means John Lucas will get shut down before Oklahoma State runs the whole race. Duke's short bench means any tightly-officiated game is deadly to my favourite team's chances. Boston College, Syracuse and Pitt all have flaws, although BC's hidden theirs longer.

Kentucky loses with one sub-par Patrick Sparks game. Florida, Alabama and LSU are heartbreakers for their fans. Arizona and Washington will eventually come up against defenders capable of stopping Salim Stoudamire and Nate Robinson respectively. And Utah feels like a cozy pick until you look at the litany of teams they have beaten, and don't recognize anybody other than LSU. Pacific is the terror that wins two and celebrates a good year. Charlotte and Wisconsin are better than their reps, but not good enough. Michigan State isn't as good as Paul Davis et al should be. They'll trip early.

Who's left? Kansas. My pick to win it all a month ago. A competitive team without Wayne Simien, and a top team with him back. Or so I thought. Turns out the team needs now-gimpy Keith Langford to shoot well (hit or miss) and 35 plus minutes from PG Aaron Miles. As a first or second #1 seed, the Jayhawks might very well have gotten what they needed after coasting a round or two. I just see that not happening.

So, here I am, a week before the festivities start, wondering who to take fourth rather than fifth and hoping the injury bug leaves 'my' teams alone.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

SPORTS: A Cheeky Treasure

In between dental procedures, I've finally found time to listen to some radio and get back here to record a few thoughts.

Saturday was a programming day with the usual cacaphony of sounds and images playing around me as I tried to get a handle on product reduction for this project I am working on. The TV was showing CBS's triple-header of what turned out to be great college basketball games. But I wasn't paying too much attention, since I was anticipating a big Illinois win over Ohio State. Not much to my credit there.

No, the main source of distraction was the Toronto Blue Jays' game on the radio. And, much to my happy surprise, the voice I heard was Tom Cheek's. The timbre and sound of his voice has been more than the occasional companion for more than half my life. His consecutive game streak came to an end last year as he lost his father and then his good health in one horrible fortnight. But until then, the tall, ex-Vermonter had been a constant for every game the Jays played until then. Every game, save some Spring Training exercises in exercise. He was a man who's style and grace made comparisons to Vin Scully legitimate. For that, he should have won the Ford Frick Award and entry to the Baseball Hall of Fame. With apologies to Jerry Coleman, a fine man and announcer, I believe Cheek should have won the award.

I say all of this so that folks out there make sure to catch Tom Cheek this season in the home broadcasts that he has signed up for. His continuing treatment for a brain tumour have me worried that the end of career is nigh. He had a rough time Saturday, but that could just be a case of getting out the winter rust. But even at a sub-par level, Tom Cheek made me feel like it was warm and sunny out and the Jays were once again the coming sign of summer.

A couple of innings in, I noticed the supposed to be one-sided basketball game wasn't. The programming was put aside and I wandered over to the lounge where the radio is set up near my left ear and the tv's straight ahead. I'm a basketball junkie, so I could have been pardoned if I shut the radio off. It was, afterall, a meaningless game. But I didn't. I kept the TV sound down low and let the sounds of coming summer cast their spell over me.

I didn't want to miss one more Cheeky performance. Make sure you don't pass up the opportunity to turn in every now and then to Blue Jay home games this summer. Mute the TV sound and let Tom and Jerry (Howarth) remind you of when you were younger, a lot younger, and loved pro sports a whole lot more than you do today.

Appreciate Tom Cheek while we still have him.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

SPORTS: RIP NHL 2004-05? or FOREVER?

On December 15, 2004, I wrote what follows below. I consigned the season to posterity at that point and NOTHING changed in the two months since. Yes, the players proved a moral stance meant nothing to the leadership. Yes, the owners finally figured out that you can delete the word linkage, and then call for a cap low enough that it should withstand most if not all of any shortfall the economically-challenged NHL would experience. But, ultimately, the owners made silly mistake after silly mistake and that allowed the bozos in the player's association to back taking nothing of a $49M cap rather than all of a $42M cap. A plague on both their houses.

The season is over and stupidity reigns.

Just reading archives here will tell you who I hold responsible. I still can't believe bleating sheep who repeat the "Free Market" mantra over and over again. Sports Leagues don't operate like other businesses since they don't strive for a monopoly and to drive competitors out of business. They can't, since competition (and seemingly legit competition, at that) is required to sell tickets.

The union won't accept a cap in the same way fat kids eat themselves into an early death because loving parents putting heaping platters of food in front of them and perish the thought of not eating it all. (One of the few changes in the reality in two months)

Unions in the real world negotiate contracts for ALL of their members, not just perqs and minimums and let the members get whatever they can. The real world unions get a percentage of the money that's out there and aportion it accordingly. The only people the NHL union wants restricted and capped are the members not yet in good standing ... the rookies. The union has no problem with a salary cap for SOME members.

How does the old joke go? "Will you sleep with me for a million dollars. YES!! Will you sleep with me for a buck? WHAT DO YOU THINK I AM?!? We've established what you are, we are just haggling over the price." The union just has to decide who and how much cap they are willing to accept.

Did the agreement work the last two years? OF COURSE it did. There was a looming work stoppage. The owners didn't want money spent that wasn't going to be productive. Will the same system work with a six-year contract in place? OF COURSE it won't!! The good behaviour of the past two years was enforced, just as a capped system would enforce it in the future.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have budgeted $60 million for this season. Reduce the payroll by a quarter and the Leafs don't respond by lowering ticket prices and being happy to make even more money than usual. The Leaf management asks themselves who they can get with the $15 million they now have to spend. Jarome Iginla? He goes from being a $7-8 million player, probably with Calgary, to a $12-15 million dollar a year bidding prize between Toronto, Detroit and Philly. They had the money already spoken for, why not spend it? Say good-bye to that 24 per cent cut likety split.

I participate in the Sporting News' Basketball Roto Leagues. I drafted well initially and have used my transactions fairly well to be competitive. I am placed third in one of the leagues with absolutely NO chance of winning. I have limited financial resources. I can spend a certain amount on transactions. The two teams ahead of me have outspent me, at this point in the season, by almost 80-1. They both change their rosters completely every day to ensure they have six active players every night. That's almost fifty transactions a week. I average less than two. It's all I can afford. I am not embarassed by that fact. Thus, I participate out of intellectual curiosity, rather than emotional fervor. I can't win and won't spend money to prove that point.

The NHL allegory is that a New York contract can't be held in comparison to a contract in Minnesota or Calgary. Arbitration allows OTHER teams in far-off places to dictate a team's payroll. Arbitration is unnecessary. If the player doesn't have a contract, let him negotiate one. Until a contract is agreed to, the player doesn't play. Why does the union bleat 'free market,' then make arbitration a motherhood and country issue where somebody not affiliated with a team tells them how much they have to pay for a player?

Most assuredly, the NHL is often run like a circus. Idiots abound. Mistakes of the most basic kind occur. Gary Bettman is not a stupid man. But why not make the management offer come out to 56.6 per cent of revenues. rather than 54? Why not give the union EXACTLY what it asked for, rather than suggest the debate should be what mid-point between the two figures can be the agreement point? And, the dolt that released the memo on Monday is on a par with the dunce in Atlanta that talked about replacement players.

Which brings me to the summation. NHL Owners are well-to-do for a number of reasons. Some earned their money. Some inherited. Some piggy-backed on others' great ideas to build up a bank account good enough to afford an NHL franchise. Expertise in one area does NOT make you an expert in another. It probably helps, but offers no guarantee. The different levels of 'intelligence' and the different agendas (some owners are out to win, regardless of profitability) means the owners DO have to be protected from themselves. They DON'T work for each other, but NEED each other. But in a competitive world, it's easy to overlook the common good and make the one transaction that serves as a dam breaker.

For the good of the sport, the NHL Union must accept a cap, negotiating as good a cap as it can get. To do elsewise means changing the title from R.I.P. NHL 2004-05 to R.I.P. NHL.

And now we know. RIP NHL.