Monday, June 30, 2008

TV: Three Strikes and You're OUT!

Carla Gugino could be excused if she thinks the viewing public is not worthy of her efforts on television.

She's tried three times and the TV viewership has failed her abysmally. Even fans of Spin City might have trouble remembering that Gugino played Michael J. Fox's girlfriend for the first 13 episodes of the many Emmy-winning show. The series had an initial 13-episode order and Gugino didn't renew her contract when the series was picked up to continue. And it did. For six seasons. By the end, if somebody asked to name that girl from Spin City, it would be Connie Britton. Or Heather Locklear for the Charlie Sheen years.

Seven years later, Gugino tried TV again, starring in 2005's Karen Sisco. It was the TV-revamp of a then hot movie, Out of Sight, which starred George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in the Sisco role. As sexy as Lopez is, Gugino was sexier. But there is a problem with turning Elmore Leonard material into TV shows. It's just too quirky. See Maximum Bob for more evidence.

Karen Sisco had a great cast. Robert Forster took over the Dennis Farina movie role as her Dad, Marshall Sisco. Bill Duke was her boss at the Marshal's office. But what the show had going was Gugino, who looks sexy in a uniform, T-shirt and jeans, or a slinky evening ensemble. She emotes with her face well, always being able to show a little steel behind a kid's visage.

Alas, this show didn't even make it to 13 episodes. Made 10, canceled it from the airwaves after seven. I finally got a chance to see all 10 last year. And they were a delight. Made me angry I wasn't watching the fifth season of the show about right now.

Next time I saw Gugino, she was topless in Sin City. Turns out her body is as good as I imagined it, under all those clothes in Karen Sisco. And don't think I don't chuckle over the fact I saw her first in Spin City and then I SAW her first in Sin City.

At any rate, Gugino gave SF and TV a go two years after the Sisco debacle, taking on the lead role in Threshold as Dr. Molley Caffrey. This time, she got the 13 episodes again, but I remember only nine airing here. At any rate, I saw all 13 last week, including the last 2 minutes of the final episode, which brought a successful stopping point to the series. And I'm angry again.

Beautiful. Intelligent. Interesting co-stars in Charles Dutton, Peter Dinklage and Brent Spiner (although, as good as Spiner was, casting the former Data from Star Trek Next Generations was a mistake). So, why did America turn off the show so darn quickly? It wasn't like they hadn't watched similar fare in the past (X-Files). It was certainly better than the other alien invasion fare of that fall, Surface and Invasion. Maybe it was because they gave up including Monster, Molly's cuter-than-a-button Bulldog.

Whatever the reason, YOU viewers out there BLEW IT! I wouldn't blame Gugino if she never comes back to TV.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

MISC: This and That

Nothing's happening, so random thoughts and notes ...

I spend WAAAAY too much time worrying about what to do about my hands. The just seem to always get in the way. They hang over the end of the arms on my chair all day while at the computer. Getting them into a comfortable position while tossing and turning in bed is an on-going contributor to the tossing and turning. And forget knowing what to do with them while sitting as a visitor ... or worse, while attending a graduation or religious ceremony.

The movie reviews haven't been often kind to movies I was looking forward to. At least I wasn't disappointed when I finally saw Jumper. And 10,000 B.C. was SOOOO panned, I skipped the inevitable displeasure of watching the creators screw up a movie with Mastodons and Sabre-Toothed Tigers! So, Friday, I was opening the pages of the Toronto Star entertainment section to check out what Wanted was like. Hooray! Got a good review. I've wanted to see this one for awhile, and not just because Angelina Jolie gets down to basics and the buff. Mark Millar is an interesting comic book writer, violent and profane. The original series, which has only a passing connection to the movie plot, was an interesting read. I mostly hate Millar's work on mainstream Marvel characters. But his original stuff is mostly worth reading.

I'm not looking forward to Dead Man Smiling, aka Batman: The Dark Knight. Ultimately, Heath Ledger will take me right out of that movie.

My pal Rasho Nesterovic is leaving town. He's headed for Indiana with Maceo Baston and (happy to have him leave) T.J. Ford. Interesting side note about the deal. Indiana COULD have gotten Joey Graham instead of Baston, to pair with his twin brother Stephen. The Pacers also made a draft-night trade to bring in Brandon Rush, already having his brother Kareem. The Pacers COULD have had two sets of brothers at the same time, which I think would have been unprecedented. On the other hand, I think Joey would have replaced Stephen and I'm pretty certain the Rush brothers' reunion will be bittersweet. I see Kareem getting cut at the expense of his brother!

Spain won the Euro Soccer Cup, just as I predicted. Had I gotten more than half of the other games right, I'd have done a WHOLE LOT BETTER in the soccer pool. For a soccer game, the final wasn't bad entertainment.

I 'recycle' plastic bottles from soft drinks to fill with water from my refrigerator filtered system. I counted yesterday just how many bottles I had filled or awaiting filling. Came to 192. I need to do some recycling that actually ends up in the plastic being recycled, not re-used.

Canada celebrates a birthday Tuesday. Half my clients will be working that day, having taken a long weekend, the other half will work Monday before taking July 1 off.

And I don't which is which. I'll be working both days.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

TV: LAST YEAR's Most Entertaining TV Shows of the Last Year

I'm old. I forgot I DID NOT post much last year (I'm already well past the total for 2005-2007, just THIS month!). So there's no comparing the shows I listed a couple of days back as my most entertaining of the last 365 days. For comparison purposes, here's the list from summer previous:

Jekyll was a brilliant retelling of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. James Nesbitt was mesmerizing in the lead role(s) and Gina Bellman was a revelation as Mrs. Jackman/Mrs. Hyde. This cast included Michelle Ryan, doing a neat supporting role, leaving me completely and utterly gob-smacked how she could be so terrible in Bionic Woman. This British mini set the stage for a good year in TV exports from over 'ome.

British imports included the third-rated Life on Mars, featuring John Simm and Philip Glenister playing in 70's Manchester as coppers. Glenister's Gene Hunt, an Eastwoodian hit and click the handcuffs cop, and Simm's Sam Tyler, a misplaced-in-time 21st century inspector butted heads in entertaining ways. Hustle had a great third year. The grifters' challenge match between Adrian Lester's Mickey Stone and Marc Warren's Danny Blue was a highlight. Too bad Lester left the show prior to series four. New Tricks was seventh in the rankings, as Amanda Redman and her cast of old coots proved again, experience and treachery over youthful exuberance. The last of the slots went to Doctor Who (14th) and Primeval (15th) as Britain continued to do great science fiction shows. Billie Piper's farewell to the good Doctor was right up there with the first season of Doctor Who's Father's Day episode. David Tenant certainly made a very presentable Doctor. And as for Primeval, there were some logic holes, but lots of personable actors. The cliffhanger ending had me sitting on my seat for the series' return this spring (unfortunately, the quality of the writing got way worse in year two).

More than a few of the shows on the top 15 list were shot in Canada. Kyle XY was the sixth best show, while Stargate Atlantis (11th) and Stargate (13th) also made the list. That meant nine of the top 15 were filmed outside the borders of the United States!

Eureka, another SF show, debuted strongly, finishing second. The best of the shows without a fantastical bent was NBC's Friday Night Lights in 4th. FNL was about football in the same way The Shield was about a police precinct. Football was merely a background colour to the otherwise drab and dreary prairie landscape in Texas. From out of the dust and occasional patches of greenery came a great show about the culture of football, which is akin to a religion in small towns throughout the panhandle. Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler played real, human parents and Zach Gilford had the starring role of Matt Saracen, career backgrounder, thrust into the spotlight due to the life-changing injury suffered by Scott Porter's character Jason Street. Jesse Plemons, Gaius Charles and especially Taylor Kitsch turned one-note cliched characters into characters you cared about.

Real Time with Bill Maher grabbed eighth spot, one ahead of another show that merited some national attention. Jericho was canceled and then un-canceled after fans mounted a Nuts campaign to save the show (for what turned out to be an abortive second season). Jericho was based around the idea of terrorists letting loose nukes that generate an electromagnetic pulse that downs all things electrical AND turns many towns into islands of civilization. Jericho, Kansas survived, thrived for awhile, and then faced impending doom at the hands of a rival town (and TV executive's whims) as the first season came to a close. Skeet Ulrich and Gerald McRaney made you care about these denizens of Middle America. And you know, any show with Ashley Scott is worth watching.

Finishing out the top 10 was The Riches, which starred a Brit, Eddie Izzard, as the head of a Traveler family that subsumes the identify of the Rich family, when they come across the accident that took the lives of the Riches. Strangers in town, Izzard cons his way through his new found life as a corporate lawyer for a scummy real estate firm. The kids try hard to go straight. It ain't easy. And to top it off, you have Minnie Driver in full crazy mode. An absolute delight, despite the odd disquieting quirk on the part of some of the characters.

Speaking of oddly disquieting, the last new show of the year was 12th-ranked Dexter. Michael C. Hall has way too much fun as a serial killer meting out justice to those that have done wrong, but gamed the system and walked away. The kick is that Dexter is a blood-splatter specialist with the very detective division in charge of finding out just who he is. Beloved by most reviewers, the subject matter is a little too icky for me, and Julie Benz' dreary performance as Dexter's gal, Rita, was a downer.

There you have it, your shopping list for your next visit to Best Buy.

Friday, June 27, 2008

SPORTS: Roenick Holds Off TV Post Another Year

I have seen the future, and it says that Donald S. Cherry will be around for a few more years. But when he does retire (get fired?) by Canada's national broadcaster, his spot will go to Jeremy Roenick.

Roenick officially signed his million-dollar deal to continue his career with the San Jose Sharks yesterday. He proved to be quite a competitor last year with the Sharks, after almost retiring last summer. Picking his spots, Roenick certainly earned the money San Jose paid him, if only in game-winning goals. He had an uncanny ability to pot one when it was important. And he proved to be a good teammate, a leader and a mentor.

There was a time when that didn't look like Roenick's role in life. Frankly, he was often immature and had all the self-control of a three-year old at his birthday party. But he's matured, while still demonstrating a killer sense of humour and a willingness to let himself be the butt of jokes. The American broadcaster, whoever it might be at the time of his retirement, would be absolutely nuts not to have him fill the role Brett Hull used to have. Irreverent and enthusiastic. It's a role Cherry's filled for years up here.

The trick with Roenick, will be getting him to commit to coming north for his post-playing career. He's the kind of guy who COULD pull a Fred Dryer and move into acting when it's all said and done. But I truly think his passion for hockey might save him the humiliation of casting calls (that and an ego, unhappy at being told you're not good enough). He's absolutely the hottest hockey broadcast property the minute he announces his retirement from playing.

But that's at least a year off. In the meantime, Roenick's refining a bit more out in California wine country.

SPORTS: The Might Have Been

I'm still not completely sold on the O'Neal Deal for the Toronto Raptors. I edged closer to happiness when I found out the Pacers had coughed up the 41st overall pick in completing the deal. But the thing about happiness ... it can be fleeting.

As the second round started, I was depressed that one of my second-round jewels had been snapped up in the first round of the NBA draft. I was hoping DJ White would be around to serve as the replacement for Kris Humphries as an energetic rebounder with a chip on his shoulder. No such luck. Still, Richard Hendrix remained on the board as the names of who-he started disappearing off the available list. It got closer and closer to the Indiana-turned-Raptor pick. And there was still a name there. Could it be that the Raptors would luck out and get Chris Douglas-Roberts?

Names jumped onto the screen and time after time, it wasn't CDR's name. Golden State took Sonny Weems with the penultimate pick before the 41st, and suddenly, the Raptors were guaranteed to have either CDR or Hendrix, or both, available. But NOW I wanted Douglas-Roberts. THIS is why buffoons like me watch the wee hours of the draft. For buried treasure. Then Adam Silver, the NBA Second Round master of ceremonies, stepped to the podium and announced, "With the 40th pick in the draft, the New Jersey Nets select Chris Douglas-Roberts."


Then the broadcast cut to commercial. A LOOOONNNG commercial block. By the time the broadcast came back, the Toronto pick had been made. Nathan Jawai, the stocky Aussie Shaq-wannabe. A futures pick, rather than Hendrix. I'm sure we'll hear why in two weeks when the charade of 'Possible Trade,' comes to an end. I will be interested in the explanation. But I'm pretty sure it involves not much room under the cap and needing to stash a pick overseas, rather than having him show up in the fall at training camp. I've seen video of Jawai. He's not without talent, and he's a big man. BIIIG.

As for the ephemeral chance the Raptors had at adding a guy who they MIGHT have taken 17th, in the immortal words of Don Adams, "Sorry chief, missed it by THAT much!"

Thursday, June 26, 2008

TV: The Most Entertaining Shows of the Last Year

If television had any sense, they'd debut their seasons right after Christmas. That would make each calendar year the full season. You'd have a good long primary watching season as viewers stay in at nights, a late summer break, which now occurs during the holidays, and you'd role out all those reality crap shows from sunny climes just as the weather was getting cold and bleak and thoughts would be turning to Christmas and New Years. But television is hung on the horns of habit, so no making logical changes.

So, I make the TV season as being from July 1 to June 30. If they can be contrary, so can I.

The best show I watched in the last 365 days was State of Play, which is a three-year series and can't qualify. So the winner as the most entertaining show for the last year for me is ... House.

House's ability to take a whole cast of co-stars, push them off into a corner and then bring in a new set of potential co-stars was the deciding factor in making it my favourite show of the year. That we cared about the old crew AND the new crew bespoke of top-notch writing. And here's the kicker. The writer's themselves didn't know which of the characters would make the final House team when the season got started. They let the characters and actors themselves determine which of the group survived. It was like well-orchestrated improv, but in dramedy.

Ashes to Ashes, the British-made successor to Life on Mars, was almost the winner. Philip Glenister's continuing role, Gene Hunt, gave Hugh Laurie's House a real run for the money as most entertaining actor. And it doesn't hurt that Keeley Hawes was sensationally sexy, emerging from the background of MI-5. The show's biggest problem was not matching the first four brilliant episodes to a so-so second four.

Chuck comes third in my own personal poll. Zachary Levi, the unctuous twit from Less Than Perfect, was perfect in the role of well-meaning nebbish who gets a head full of secrets and a new life as a secret agent to balance his drone day job at a Best Buy clone. Best of all, he got a great workmate/nemesis in Adam Baldwin, plus all-star newcomer Yvonne Strahovski, a new-to-me Aussie export. This one's so good, my brother Rick watches it.

Real Time with Bill Maher will always be on this list because I love Maher's ability to cut through the spin and get to the heart of the screw-up that is American politics. I do NOT agree with Maher on everything. I think his PETA stance is wrong and I don't share his affection for drugs, prescription or otherwise. But the rest of his libertarian attitude runs pretty well down the centre line of my ideals.

Burn Notice, coming back next week (yeah!!!), is stylistically reminiscent of many shows, while keeping its own unique identity. I'd say it's a Magnum PI for the paranoid 21st century. Jeffrey Donovan's voice-over explanation of the events transpiring, evoke Magnum and MacGyver. His trigger-happy ex-girlfriend, played unevenly by Gabrielle Anwar, is a hoot more often than not. And you simply cannot go wrong with Bruce Campbell, playing the double/triple agent who playing straight, is funnier than most comics.

Felt wrong to leave Eureka out of the top five, but the wonderment of the first year didn't quite carry over into the second year. The idea of a town where all the smart people go, just to freestyle the latest and wildest inventions seemed fresh a year ago. Add in the wide-eyed new sheriff played by Colin Ferguson (plus his annoying faux-naif of a daughter) and the first season was a treasure. This year, the outlandish seemed normal. Still entertaining, good enough for the top 1o. But not top two material.

Satisfaction, the Australian show about life in the (upscale) neighbourhood brothel, was sexy, without glamourizing the life to the point of glossing over the sharp edges of prostitution. The breakdown of Madeleine West's Mel, while Allison Whyte's Lauren emerges from the background, shows the yin and yang of being involved. What happens after the cold-blooded shooting to wrap up the first season really does have me looking forward to next year.

Stargate: Atlantis has its detractors amongst Stargate fans. I've consistently thought it to be the best of the series thus far. It did have the distraction of adding Amanda Tapping and losing Torri Higginson, but the show was strong enough to withstand the contract-dictated insertion of Tapping from the original Stargate. Now, both are gone and Robert Picardo is on board. Promises to be a good fifth season. (I've seen the kickoff episode already, and it wraps up, fairly neatly, the fourth-season cliffhanger). Joe Flanigan's Colonel Sheppard and David Hewlett's Dr. Rodney McKay are two of the best characters on TV for entertaining repartee. And come on, Rachel Luttrell has naught but to bat her eyelashes, to make for worthwhile viewing. Best eyes on TV.

Speaking of repartee, How I Met Your Mother and Monday night CBS-mate The Big Bang Theory tied for ninth. Rather than get old, the continuing mystery of WHO the mother is on HIMYM turned into an advantage. We now have a pretty good guess that Stella, the winsome doc played by Sarah Chalke, is going to be the winner in the Ted-stakes. Good. And Neil Patrick Harris' hound dog Barney is till an amazing act of acting, given Harris' personal preference for the guys. As for The Big Bang Theory, we have the new breakthrough star in Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon. Parsons and Johnny Galecki are this century's Odd Couple, but it's Parsons, channeling Tony Randall that transforms this show into top ten material. Don't quite have the same affection for Kaley Cuocco that others have, but she does play sweet well.

Betcha thought you were at the end of this post, didn't ya? Well, it's MY list and I can make it 15 long if I want to!

Kyle XY would have made the top five, save for the continued use of the perpetually annoying character played by Jaimie Alexander. Jessi Hollander's source-of-conflict character was introduced to take the sweet edge of the show, populated by a whole series of likable characters. I'm on record regarding Marguerite McIntyre, who plays the mom. And Matt Dallas does outstanding work as Kyle. But boy, was Hollander unlikable. I wish the writers had gone in a different direction. Kirsten Prout's sweet Amanda could have been a delightfully bad girl upon returning from New York. But she remains the light of Kyle's life.

Coming in 12th is My Boys, raved about a couple of weeks back. Jordana Spiro plays a Chicago sportswriter ... need I say anything more? Well, she's cute and sexy and has a Scooby Gang that includes Jim Gaffigan playing her stuck-in-surburbia brother, wanting to get out. Laughs aplenty.

It was a down year for Hustle from England and for The Riches from the USA. Stepping into the criminal family enterprise was Honest from Great Britain, a remake of the New Zealand show, Outrageous Fortune. Amanda Redman, on vacation from New Tricks, played the matriarch of a crime family trying to go good. Funny stuff.

A cancelled show, CANCELLED I SAY, makes the top 15. Journeyman was a good show with small flaws. Just like, say, Life. Yet it was canceled after 13 episodes and Life is coming back. That Life survives is not a bad thing. But canceling Journeyman was criminal. Kevin McKidd was becoming the role of Dan Vasser. Under-appreciated Gretchen Egloff and Reed Diamond were pitch-perfect playing wife and brother respectively. Guess the world wasn't ready for a good SF show on one of the major networks. It was almost Fox-ian in fouling up this show.

Life could have made the 15th slot. So could have a trio of comedies, Samantha Who, Corner Gas and Little Mosque on the Prairie. Penn and Teller had a good year. But the last entry in the top 15 list for the last year is 30 Rock, just because Tina Fey's so damn cute and funny. Alec Baldwin (not related to Adam) didn't have as good a year as the previous one, playing network head Jack Donaghy, but it didn't matter. With the spotlight off the idiotic characters played by Tracy Morgan and Jane Krakowski and centred on Fey's Liz Lemon, the overall show took a turn for the better. Appointment watching.

Done. Finally. Quit yer belly-achin'.

SPORTS: No Reason to Watch Highlights, Read Paper

When Monday morning dawns, I will not have a single pool or rotisserie sports entry in play. For the first time in more than a decade. Closer to 20 years, actually.

Because the 20-year old roto baseball league is on hiatus this year, there is no reason to inspect the line-scores every morning while reading the paper. No reason to agonize through the wire portion of the highlights on TV, hoping you DON'T see one of your players listed as having been injured and will be out six to eight weeks. Or the dreaded "day to day." No shouting 'Yabba dabba doooooooooo' as you see one of your guys do something point worthy.

If I sound depressed, I am.

The hockey and basketball pools ended badly for me. I paid up yesterday. THAT was depressing. Life hasn't even thrown me a bone by letting me do well in the soccer pool. I know nothing about soccer, but I was hoping somebody up there was going to try and balance the scales for the Lakers' el-foldo act in the NBA final. Nope. My pre-event pick of Spain is STILL alive, but I picked Russia to beat them in the two round-by-round pools I'm in. Even if Spain DOES win it all, my third pool entry still won't make the top results.

I am SOOOO looking forward to October and the start of the OOPS hockey roto league. Only 96 days to go. Not that I'm counting or anything.

SPORTS: The O'Neal Deal

Apparently the Jermaine O'Neal deal is done. He's coming, TJ Ford, Rasho Nesterovic and probably Joey Graham are headed the other way ... accompanied by that 17th draft pick in tonight's draft. Well, it will be a quiet draft from Toronto's perspective.

Or maybe not. Bryan Colangelo sure seemed quick to rhyme off a dozen to 15 names as potential draftees. And with first-round draft picks being available for straight cash, we might see a new Raptor take the stage afterall. But not likely.

I haven't wavered on my take on the deal. I'd have done it more happily without losing that draft pick. I'll take the deal since it will change the dynamic of the team and get that mental mope Ford out of town. But I wish I was more confident in O'Neal's knee. Last time the vibe was THIS bad on a newly-acquired Raptor, Toronto was about to pay for Hakeem Olujawon's early retirement. But, if it goes south, then the Raptors have a boatload of cap space when the bonanza free agent summer arrives two years hence.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

INTERNET: The Catch with THE Catch

If you've been trolling the internet at all in the last few days, you've seen "Ball Girl," a YouTube video showing a ball girl making a brilliant catch of a foul ball by climbing the wall. The catch with the catch is that it's all fake, just a viral advertising campaign for Gatorade.

That said, it's pretty good.

There are REAL catches by ball girls and ball boys out there. Spend a minute or two hunting and you will be amazed.

SPORTS: Beware What You Wish For

Okay, Bryan Colangelo isn't the only Toronto sports executive hearing tick, tick, tick. Mind you, he's got the pleasant duty of deciding how to go about bettering his team, knowing most fans will back his decision. On the other hand, the louder tick, tick, tick you hear is the alarm clock next to Ted Rogers.

At some point, it will go off and Paul Godfrey and J.P. Ricciardi will be fired. Unless Clarence Gaston really does turn the team around, in which case Godfrey will stay. Ricciardi's toast either way.

But Tuesday's Toronto Star included Richard Griffin's latest brainstorm. Elevating Gaston to the GM's spot in Ricciardi's stead. See what I mean? The Blue Jays would be getting rid of a general manager who I despise for a GM whom I just generally dislike.

The scenario requires the Blue Jays win and score runs (Tuesday night's walloping of the visiting Cincy Reds ... and Adam Dunn, was a good start). It also requires Gaston decide a half-season of being back in the harness is enough and that he'd like to be in the firing and hiring position. That Godfrey would entertain the idea is a foregone conclusion. He's a sentimental man, if not much of a baseball executive. Much to my horror, this scenario has legs. It COULD happen. Oh well, anything to rid this town of the itinerant New Englander.

Oh, you ask what I'd do? Pat Gillick's out of contract at the end of the year. Make him Godfrey's replacement. I would let him make the GM decision, while shouting it's time for Gord Ash to be the latest Toronto comeback kid. And they would probably leave Gaston in place.

My dreams don't even have happy endings any more.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

SPORTS: You're on the Clock, Mr. Colangelo

Less than 48 hours to go before the clock strikes 12 on the Toronto Raptors off-season. Bryan Colangelo must decide how to dispense with two issues, T.J. Ford and the 17th pick in the NBA draft Thursday night. It's a thorny problem.

Now, I will tell you that the best scenario I see is swapping Ford to Phoenix for Boris Diaw AND keeping the 17th pick, which I would use on Roy Hibbert, the future Rasho Nesterovic. I wouldn't be horribly upset to see Robin Lopez' name, or even than of Alexis Ajinca come up on the screen. But that's what I think would be best for the Raptors. I'd later try to make a deal to move Kris Humphries off for a second round pick and use it on DJ White or Richard Hendrix. Seattle has a slew of picks and might like the energetic conundrum.

That's what I would LIKE to happen.

However, the story circling about is that Toronto is adding the draft pick to fluff up Ford's value to Phoenix. I really don't think that seems enticing. Helping Phoenix stave off the luxury tax AND getting Steve Nash a backup and eventual successor should actually get them thinking of ADDING their own 48th overall pick into the trade. That's a little late in the in the draft to do Toronto any good, but I do think it would make me hesitate to do the trade if Phoenix was in the business of draft-pick acquiring.

Of course, there's the headline-making trade with Indiana. One medical mystery for another. Move Ford, Nesterovic and the draft pick to Indiana for Jermaine O'Neal. I've run hot, cold and lukewarm on this trade since it first surfaced. A healthy O'Neal, even at 20 Million PLUS a year for the next two years would make the trade a no-brainer. Defensively, the pair of O'Neal and Bosh would play like Garnett and Perkins and would outscore the current title tandem handily. Surround them with long-range bombers and you have a title contender. Problem is, O'Neal is unhealthy an unhealthy amount of the time. Worse even than Ford. Not that Ford is a paragon of perfect health, but he's basically played more than O'Neal, excluding the year he sat out.

It comes down to the rest of the intangibles. If Larry Bird blinks first, than it might very well be a Ford, Nesterovic and Baston/Graham trade for O'Neal straight up. Forget the draft pick. Then, that draft pick would end up being used as for a swing man. And since small-ball is being tossed to the winds, I throw the dice and draft Nic Batum, the Frenchman with the suspect heart. Something tells me we have another Tony Parker situation here. Dismissed because of origin and knocked out of the lottery by the tepid physicals both Toronto and Philly let slip, the clean bill of health that has come out subsequently MIGHT be enough to return his value in some eyes. And experienced miner of Euro gems Brian Colangelo might be high on that list.

Let me see. I would make BOTH proposed trades bruited about, as long as the draft pick is NOT included. I think a case can be made to NOT include the pick. But what if the trades require including it? Then no to Diaw and a tepid yes to O'Neal.

But before that comes down, I'd try to shoehorn past Phoenix and get in on the Clippers' willingness to sign and trade Corey Maggette. I'd let Lost Angeles keep their 7th overall pick (which Phoenix is asking to swap with their own 15th), but I'd want that high second-rounder. With Maggette looking for around 10 mill a year, Maggette and the 35th pick for Ford and Baston or Graham. Plus Toronto would pay the max 3 million to help LA pay to make the ballast go away. Then, for sure, I'd go big with the first rounder and take a chance at finding the next Millsap with White or Hendrix in the second round.

Failing that, I'd be hounding Portland. Surely they jest when they say they prefer Jarret Jack to Ford. Granted, that's the way I believe, but I'm just some foolish crotchety old man living up in hockey country. Jack and Webster plus the 36th pick lands you Ford and Baston. I'd like to believe that.

Seattle seems set to draft Jerryd Bayless, who I would trade straight up for Ford if I could. Maybe, Seattle would settle for keeping the fourth to do with as they wish, but ship Chris Wilcox, the 24th pick, and one of their plethora of washed out centres to Toronto for Ford and Humphries. I might even toss in that 17th. The 24th might still be good enough for Batum. Heck, J.J. Hickson, in twice for show and tells, might be around at that spot.

And you know, Mitch Kupchak might just be feeling his trading oats. How 'bout Ford and Nesterovic to L.A. for Lamar Odom, Jordan Farmar and a future number one pick? Farmar slots in perfectly as Calderon's backup. Odom starts at small forward with Andrea Bargnani and Bosh along the rest of the picket fence. Doesn't exactly solve the defensive wing woes, but Odom does a lot of other things well. Draft big with the pick and you have a decent front-court rotation. Although, I'd still try to make Humphries an ex-Raptor at the expense of a rebounding stud who might be a wee bit more coachable.

Cleveland and Miami, and possibly even the Knicks, would be happy to take Ford off Toronto's hands. Normally, making yourself better should be the first rule in trading. But it helps not to make a key divisional opponent or two better too. Besides, those three teams really don't have anything to offer for Ford beyond bad, expiring contracts. Not interested. Well, maybe if the Knicks offered Jamal Crawford plus a swap of draft picks. But that isn't happening. Mike D'Antoni is willing to try to go with Nate Robinson first.

I think I've run the gamut of new Ford homes. Could be wrong. Truly wish Chicago had wanted Mike Beasley more than Derrick Rose. There WAS a matchup of talents with the Bulls before that lottery draft.

When it's all said and done, Ford has to go. His time has come and gone. He needs to translate into something better defensively along the wing or in the centre. His trade will not satisfy both spots, and I wonder if Toronto's mid-level exception is enough to solve the other. That's why the club has to hold on to the draft pick, give or take a few spots in the drafting order.

We will know what Bryan Colangelo decides to do in about 46 hours.

Tick, Tick, Tick.

Monday, June 23, 2008

BLOGGING: An Old New Logo

Killing some time awaiting a phone call from MTD (Hellooooo, Scott!!), I decided to take a shot at doing a new header for the blog. Since I expected to be interrupted any second (Scott, you there?!?), I just went on first instinct. So, now you have the traditional Mug Shots team logo from my Roto Leagues, replete with black hair, incorporated into a new logo. Of course, the black hair is a lie, with my hair getting greyer and sparser the longer I wait for Scott's call, but so be it.

Scott, are you still alive?

BOOKS: Mystery Served Up BBQ-Style

It's June. My book bonanza from last Christmas is but a distant memory. My July birthday book bonanza is still 26 days away (not that I'm counting ... those three hours extra). My reading pile now consists of long-ago bought books and remnants from Yard Sales and my own Christmas Book Bag trips around to various clients. Up to the top of that pile floated Lou Jane Temple's Revenge of the Barbeque Queens. A cookbook wrapped inside a mystery!

Now, I'll be honest, I can't remember whether it was bought from a favourable review or survived trying to be given away at Christmas. But I do know I loved the focus character's name and I often read books, just because I liked what the author's have named their main character or characters. (Please see Skua September and Ethan Fortune in Alan Dean Foster's Icerigger series). Temple does herself a favour. How could you resist a mystery involving Heaven Lee?

No, Heaven Lee is not her birth name. That's Katy O'Malley. But between getting married a few too many times, becoming a lawyer and then a restauranteur, little Katy did a two-week try at swinging around a pole. She liked the stage name so much, she kept it. It fits the flame-haired (dyed) firecracker to a 'T.'

Revenge is the second of the Lee books, written in the mid-90's. It also happens to be Temple's second book. I mention this because there is much to like about the book. And some things that show a beginning writer just learning the craft. I took the occasion to head off to the Amazon site to see where the series stood, before writing this review. Turns out, I'm ten years behind and there are at least eight culinary-inclined, Lee-starring books out there. And the reviews of this book are almost as interesting as the novel itself.

What was most striking about the reviews are a couple of the real nasty negative reviews. In each case, they pulverize Temple's writing, saying it's no improvement on the first book in the series!! Now, I will tell you, if I don't like book one of a series, I NEVER GET to book two!!! Whatever possessed these writers to read another Temple book after hating the first one, I'll never understand.

This book entertained me. I have no interest in barbeque. The eight or so recipes included were just so much gibberish to me. Don't eat the kind of meat that passes for sport in Southern parts (you know, the places that hate hockey). I found the culture around barbeque contests interesting. I liked Heaven's Scooby Gang. The tone was light and edged close enough to occasionally edgy to make reading it a page-turner. And I wouldn't REFUSE to book-pile another book in the series. But I'm not immediately going out to read the rest of the Heaven Lee books.

That judgement might be a bit harsh. I thought there were a lot of logic holes in Heaven's behaviour, especially given the fact she was a murder suspect herself in the previous book. Her lack of communications in the day of the cell phone is less understandable today than it might have been back in '96 when she wrote the book. But even then, not leaving word when walking into a trap, is a contrivance that stretches credulity. Not telling her cop friend of known conspiracies and her cop friend not telling her of hospital shenanigans served no good purpose, save to further the plot. Not logical at all.

Ultimately, the mystery fails as a standalone test of Temple's writing. It hints at better, and the long string of books she's written now seems to indicate she's matured as a writer. That probably means I will get around to reading another Temple book. Eventually.

But, for right now, I'm all full up.

COMEDY: George Carlin, R.I.P.

George Carlin has probably been referred to more often than any other comedian in these posts. Afterall, his 'The Seven Words You Can't Say on Television' actually created law in the United States. THAT is leaving your mark on society.

As seminal as The Seven Words routine was, it wasn't the funniest bit Carlin ever did, at least to my eyes and ears. I wish I could remember the specific show. I think it was Howard Cosell's vain and less-than-valiant try to create a Saturday night variety hour. But whatever the source, I remember watching the show and busting a stitch. And Carlin never said a word during the whole bit.

He entered stage right and came to the mike stand and did all the motions for starting his routine. But at the moment you felt a bon mot ready to emerge, he took a big sigh and remained quiet. It was as if he was trying to think of what he was about to say. If cue cards were being used, you could imagine the poor cue card person had just dropped them, just before Carlin was supposed to begin.

But a sadness came over his face and you realized it was NOT some off-camera difficulties. He pondered a moment, screwed up his courage and approached the mike again. Once again, nothing. He'd approached the cliff and had decided not to dive off.

Variations on this theme went on for two or three minutes. I didn't get it until about the third or fourth time. THIS was going to be his routine for the night. Working up his nerve to talk and failing... time after time. Eventually, he just slunk off the stage, stage fright having apparently gotten the best of him. I kept laughing for a good solid ten minutes after the commercials started. It was THAT funny. Wish I could tell the story in words as well as the pictures did. YOU'D still be laughing too.

George Carlin has been silenced for real. Nothing funny about that.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

SPORTS: Long-Term Future Meets Tanguay

During Bob Gainey's tenure at the helm of the Montreal Canadiens, summer drafts have been largely a case of who-he? Gainey has shown a real penchant for drafting American high-schoolers, especially if they once suited up for the Sioux City Musketeers. It borders on the Toronto Maple Leafs' once-bad obsession with Belleville Bulls come draft day.

It was not always thus. Back in 2005, Gainey proved the whole world was wrong in their mock drafts grabbing that, that the Habs did not need. By now, most people have come around to his view on the matter regarding goalie Carey Price. It's Price's low-cost hire for the upcoming 100th anniversay Montreal season that has Gainey deciding the likes of David Fischer, Max Pacioretty, Ryan McDonagh and this year's additions to the Yankee Kiddie Corps, Danny Kristo and Steve Quailer, will probably all have to be back-burnered.

It's time to make a run at Lord Stanley's mug.

Even Pacioretty, the most highly touted of the lot, is not likely to suit up in Montreal this year. I CAN see a scenario where P.K. Subban, a 2007 draftee and Canadian National Junior Team veteran, is the only rookie in Montreal this coming season. Gainey has decided veteran names need adding to the litany of Montreal sweater-wearers. Alex Tanguy is newly in hand, carrying a big payroll stub, and a desire to bounce back from a humiliating season in Calgary under Der Kaiser, Mike Keenan. The odds of him doing a Kovalev seems pretty good.

And it gets better. IF the Canadiens make optimum use of their exclusive negotiating period with Mats Sundin, the forward puzzle in Montreal is complete. Admittedly, the power forward for staying IN FRONT of the net would be missing. But Saku Koivu down deep, with Alexei Kovalev and Sundin at the half-boards, Andrei Markov and Thomas Plekanec on the points, will continue the powerplay domination Montreal has enjoyed over the last few years. With Sundin's face-off artistry being not the least of his accomplishments, you could even make the case that Christopher Higgins might very well replace Koivu in the unit, if he's willing to do crease duty.

That said, most of the rest of Gainey's discretionairy budget expires if Sundin signs on the dotted line. That reduces the number of other hires Montreal might be able to line up. Sure, I'd like them to find a million to throw at Glen Metropolit to fill out the fourth checking line. But Koivu-Higgins-Tanguay and Plekanec-Sundin-Kovalev look like two pretty good scoring lines. Put the Kostitsyn brothers together with either Guillame Latendresse or Maxim LaPierre and that's not bad third-line cheddar. Steve Begin and Tom Kostopolous make for two thirds of great checking line. There's also Mikhail Grabovski in tow, but he might have worn out his welcome. Betcha the Russion Kontinental League beckons. And notice, I haven't even listed Pacioretty in the given 13 Montreal forwards.

To be honest, I'd be over the moon to see Sundin in the Blue, Blanc et Rouge. But a Pacioretty who lives up to his billing could skate with Plekanec and Kovalev. So Sundin is not a necessity. But what the heck, let's make this a season-long Stanley Cup party in the making. Sundin's ability to transform the Habs into an offensive threat 75 per cent of the time would be worth the reported 8-8.5 million he'll ask for to give up his dream of retiring a loser, errr, a Maple Leaf. You only get one hundredth anniversary.

Unfortunately, to bring in Sundin would probably mean moving on without my fave Hab defenceman, Mark Streit. If those contract negotiations look at all promising with Sundin, I think I'd be phoning Paul Holmgren and offering him Streit's exclusive rights til July 1 for about what the Maple Leafs were trying to extract from Gainey. Philly seems to like these kinds of deals. In fact, they've sent spring-time acquisition Vinny Prospal BACK to Tampa Bay in exactly the same kind of deal, since the Flyer millions will be spent on re-signing players and bringing in new defensive help.

That's where I see Subban possibly making the team. He won't hurt on the second powerplay replacing Streit. He would fit in with the rest of the common-man group Montreal uses to man the defence with leaders Mike Kommisarek and Andrei Markov. It will be the weakest feature of the Habs next year. If Sundin does NOT decide to join the team, then re-signing Streit becomes easy. And there would still be some money in the kitty to go after a power forward to do battle with Pacioretty. I still think Fredrik Modin could be had for Grabovski. Tanguay's arrival takes Wade Redden out of the extra defenceman acquisition list. But you know, Michal Rozsival has a lot of charm.

Of course, Price will have to continue to pay off for Gainey. Jaroslav Halak is apparently not suited mentally to back up Price, so somebody like Patrick Lalime is being bruited about to be brought in. Me, I'd think Curtis Joseph might be better at the role, but Lalime might do for the 20 regular season games he might have to play.

Ahhh, it's a good time to be a Habs fan.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

SPORTS: No, I Was Right

Just clarifying the facts in referring to the return of Clarence Gaston as v3. True, he is now in his second stint managing the Toronto Blue Jays. But we are talking comebacks here. In between his two managing stints, he came back to be the team's Hitting Coach during 1999-2001.

Ticky-tacky. I know. But when you were fired in 1997 and "not retained" in 2001 and are now managing the team again, I call that version 3 of your coaching career. Am I discounting the near decade Gaston spent as the hitting instructor before becoming manager? Yes. He wasn't fired after that stint. He got promoted.


Friday, June 20, 2008

SPORTS: The Cesspool Called the Toronto Blue Jays

Clarence Gaston is back.

And this doesn't smack of J.P. Ricciardi's last-gasp attempt to fend off his inevitable firing at season's ending. No, this is Paul Godfrey feeling his Richard Peddie oats and telling Ricciardi, "The season's lost. I don't want to answer any more Gibby questions and Gaston's popular. Trust me, the fans are too stupid to notice we hired the unhirable. They'll just be happy to talk about '92 and '93 again."

Mr. Godfrey, you are wrong.

John Gibbons wasn't a good manager. I think he had risen to the level of average this year, attempting to inject action into the moribund Blue Jay offence, styled as it was by the GM to hit homers. And now, in the non-steroid era (snicker), homers don't happen outside of Milwaukee. Mike Scoscia, who some feel is state of the art in managing today, or even Sparky Anderson could not win with the players the Jays now call their regular line-up. Gibbons could have been better, but there was no light at the end of whatever tunnel he was wandering around in anyway.

Gaston's charm, as limited as it was, was being able to reign in his own ego and let old pros play. If we get THAT Gaston, we get THE EXACT SAME laid-back manager as Gibbons. If we get the Gaston who got upset when he wasn't recognized as the best manager in baseball (snicker), then we get a sour-faced guy who failed when he DIDN'T have the GREAT old pros to put out there and have them make him look good.

It's been more than a decade since Gaston or any of the coaches he brings back were on the firing line. Baseball's changed, not the least of which is this dramatic lack of power. And most of these folks have been on the sideline, just like you and me. This might very well be the ultimate fantasy for Roto players!

Availability and misty fond memories seem to be the driving force behind Godfrey's interference in Ricciardi's probable plan to stave off criticism by firing Gibbons (probably at the all-star break) and installing Brian Butterfield in the manager's chair. It is the reason, afterall, that Butterfield was moved from the third-base coaching box into the dugout, to serve as Gibbons' right-hand man and successor. Ricciardi, who didn't have the cajones to quit when presented with the hiring fait accompli, at least saved the jobs of the two coaches he truly cherished, Butterfield and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg. Won't matter. He, Butterfield and Arnsberg will follow A.J. Burnett out of town in three months and 12 days. If Burnett doesn't pack his suitcase earlier.

Make no mistake about this. Godfrey was the guy who made this move. He probably told Ricciardi Wednesday it was happening. That accounts for Ricciardi's idiotic slippage of the tongue about Dunn. Who knows, he might have been getting heat from Godfrey about making a move for Dunn the same way radio callers were doing it to him. Ricciardi's notoriously close-mouthed, prefering lying to the public to telling us what he really thinks. (Note to Mike Wilner: Being willing to come on and spin, is NOT a refreshingly honest approach. Just more spin).

Toronto is the Comeback City. Tony Fernandez had FOUR tours here and Rico Carty was technically a four-time Jay. Wendell Clark was a three-time Maple Leaf and Oliver Miller had two Raptor stints and was in training for a third when management wised up. The Argos have made a fetish of bringing back the likes of Leo Cahill, Adam Rita, Bob O'billovich and even Mike Clemens to coach again. There is a whole posting in the future just listing the tens and tens of guys who have coached and played in Toronto around tours elsewhere. This is Gaston v3.0. Of the above names, only Rita and Clemens really enjoyed rebirths. The odds of Gaston making that three exceptions to the rule? Not great. Be afraid, be very afraid.

He's baaaaaack!


The NHL Entry draft goes tonight and it will start off with an announcement that the billboards around Tampa aren't just for show. Steve Stamkos is on his way to the Florida city to play second fiddle to Vinny Lecavalier.

Next year, the top pick's only surprise will be which of the losers in the upcoming season will get the chance to erect billboards to John Tavares, who has roots just down the way in Mississauga. But, I'm telling you now, the winner of next year's draft might be the team that drafts second. Victor Hedman of Sweden will be the kind of consolation prize they write about in movies. Honestly, as good as Tavares is, if I had something other than the Anaheim defence, I might just think about drafting Hedman first.

Big defenceman sometimes take awhile. I mean Jay Bouwmeester has taken a bit to get the engine going. Now, there might not be six players in the league Florida would trade him for heads up. One of them would be Calgary hard rock Dion Phaneuf. That's because Phaneuf is as good and is younger. But, THOSE are the kind of names Hedman will be in conversations with, five years from now.

The consolation prizes Los Angeles is looking over this year include a half-ton of defensive potential. Guys like Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Alex Pietrangelo and (my pick) Luke Schenn will each have good NHL careers. But I'd trade any of them in a heartbeat for Hedman's pick next year, where ever it falls.

BOOKS: The Gun Seller

Read any of the Star Trek novelizations and a LOT of the visualization is already done for you. You KNOW what Commander Picard, Captain Sisko or Spock or any other Trek character looks like. You can even hear their voices. It often adds a whole layer of enjoyment to the reading of the book. Your mileage MAY vary if you actually like to do your own imagineering.

Which brings me to the book of this post, Hugh Laurie's The Gun Seller. This is NOT some science fictional escapade by Laurie's character, House, as he gives up the practice of medical guessing for the fine art of weapons dealing. It doesn't feature Laurie's signature American TV character at all. And yet, it is impossible to visualize Thomas Lang as anything other than a healthy version of House.

Thomas Lang, the 'hero' of the book is a grizzled Scots Guards vet. He's a bit less gung ho than a real mercenary, but basically rents himself out for situations that often end up in violence. He's actually introduced mid-violent encounter right off the bat. A three-page discourse on breaking arms follows immediately. All the while, he gives a running commentary that could come right from the mouth of Gregory House. It's dispassionate and involved all at the same time. And all the while, you cannot NOT hear House speaking the Queen's English as it should be spoken, all the while cocking an eyebrow.

Does that add or subtract to the book, since it really ISN'T a House book? Actually it DOES add a bit. The rest of the enjoyment comes from a slightly convulated tale of Lang falling afoul of the various spook groups in England and in the States. He goes undercover in a faux terrorist group at the behest of his 'handlers' due to a bad case of puppy love. It all works out in the end, with Lang hand-in-hand with his true lady love.

Along the way, much booze and many cigarettes are consumed, Brit slang is slung around with abandon, and we learn far too much about guns and cars. If that sounds like your cup of tea, have at it!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

TV: Little Life Left in Life on Mars

I admire David E. Kelley. Great writer, plus the man goes home to Michelle Pfeiffer nightly. He's even a hockey fan. But boy was he smart to get out from under his remake of the British TV hit, Life on Mars.

The first pilot circulating around the internet has been, or will be, supplanted by another pilot. The new pilot will NOT be under the stewardship of Kelley, who's got one or two other new series already on the go for this fall. The next pilot just has to be better. The first one wasn't good enough to merit inclusion on anybody's fall schedule. Because Kelley's name was attached, plus it was a hit over 'ome, it made ABC's sked.

Where does the pilot go wrong? Where doesn't it? Well, I like Irishman Jason O'Mara, late of In Justice as Sam Tyler. Fellow countrymen Colm Meaney doesn't do a bad Gene Hunt at all. Doesn't overact to the same extent Philip Glenister does in the original, but I hope he'll ham it up a bit more once the serious business of making good TV gets started. Okay, I'm done.

Rachelle Lefevre, a Canuck by the way, has done work ranging from the very bad Life on a Stick to the not too bad What About Brian? Stuck in bad polyester in the early 70's, this performance is much more Life on a Stick than she or the viewer would like. Annie Cartwright was a policewoman who elevates to detective status in the original, played winningly by doe-eyed brunette Liz White. Lefevre is already a detective, an equal-standing colleague to Tyler. In the original, Tyler formed an early alliance with Cartwright, affording her respect and responsibility. Cartwright earns her detective's badge by becoming a 21st century worker, in most respects. Tyler needs that support.

The original is set in Manchester, England. The closest allegory to Manchester in the States would probably be Chicago. My first impulse about it being an American adaption would have been to put it into Pittsburgh or maybe Cleveland. Los Angeles? Bad choice. Urban grit, not sprawl, is required. The pilot tries to make L.A. look gritty, but fails. O'Mara's Tyler is an angry man who doesn't build coalitions all that well, including with his girlfriend. The build-up to get Tyler's girlfriend (a Hong Kong-born actress, doesn't ANYBODY in this cast have USA underoos in his or her past?) kidnapped and him hit by a car is long and boring.

Then it's off to sometime in the 70's. At least one reference is made to it being 30 years ago. That would put it into 1978. But Nixon's still prez and there IS a reference to 1972. Note to the script-proofreaders. That would be 36 years ago.

I am on record as hating the original's continual mental meanderings through the strained subconscious of Sam Tyler. The pilot did NOT improve on the original in the same way Ashes to Ashes did this past winter. A little bit of that "See things, hearing things" stuff goes a long way. Hope that point gets made to the makers of the second pilot and subequent series.

There WAS one American-born actor on prominent display in the pilot. Lenny Clarke, or what's left of him. He has been interviewed and those interviews make me pessimistic that he'll actually make the working show. I LIKE Clarke, thin or not. All the way back to 1990, when he starred in Lenny, I thought Clarke was a funny guy. He's proven it time after time in Rescue Me with his Boston bud, Dennis Leary.

Say, wouldn't Boston have made a great locale for this show?

SPORTS: Regrets, Garbo

I'm going to miss Garbo. Jose Garbajosa, the Spanish hoops hero, reached an agreement with the Toronto Raptors on a contract buyout for the final year of his contract with the NBA team and will almost assuredly never play another game on this side of the Atlantic.

And that's too bad.

Garbajosa was something too many NBA players are not. Smart. The definition of 'wily old vet,' ends with "see Garbajosa, Jose." His intelligence made a willing body into a dangerous basketball player for more than a decade in Europe. Garbajosa came over in the European invasion two years ago, bringing along ex-pat Yank Anthony Parker to play with countrymen Jose Calderon. Never underestimate the effect Garbo had on returning confidence to his young countryman. He earned this last pay cheque for that fact alone.

Garbo wasn't tall enough to play power forward, nor quick enough to guard small forwards. He didn't have the best outside shot and frankly, he could get beaten down the court because he wasn't fleet afoot. That's what he wasn't. What he WAS was a rebounding forward who could guard more small forwards than he couldn't. He hit big shots from outside and it was telling that his NBA-career-ending injury came when he WOULD NOT give up on a breakaway, trying to swat away a gimme and landing awkwardly.

The pleasure in watching Garbo was in seeing just how much smarter he was than his opponents (and sad to say, teammates). He would fake a drive, fake a shot, fake a pass. He'd do all three on the same play, thus setting a record STILL UNMATCHED today for most fakes in a game. He'd position himself to get rebounds standing on the ground (John Wooden once found that 60 per cent of all rebounds were gathered in by players standing on the floor). He'd elbow his way between other players to get to balls or spots on the floor denied less-determined players.

We never saw the best of Garbajosa. He was a beast in Europe for a LOOOOONG time before landing here in Toronto. He played the same smart physical game there as he played here. But the years wore off some of his sharper edges. He could still get a lot out of his physical talents. And he played with such smarts that sometimes you didn't notice that he couldn't really defend the best of those small forwards anymore, and he had to cede the power forward spot to all-star Chris Bosh.

But he always played with control, effort and a slight little grin that showed just how much he loved playing this big boys' game of basketball.

And for that, I will miss Garbajosa. Good luck in the future, Jose.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

SOFTWARE: How Ruuuude!

Which one of the Tanner kids used to say, 'How Ruuuuuude!?" Stephanie? It doesn't matter. People are stretching the boundaries of rudeness every day. And I'm sick and tired of it. I am talking about companies who send data files to other companies, expecting them to have the software needed to decipher and use it. That is just so rude!

Microsoft has made a billion or two (bordering on a trillion), by changing the data file formats for each iteration of its Microsoft Office suite. I remember that the first releases of Office 97 couldn't READ files from Office 95 file format, because the intermediary format was supposed to be RTF. Rather than writing a new RTF, the person or persons responsible just renamed a .DOC file to .RTF ... and hoped nobody would notice. It took something less than a billionth of a second for the first person to start hollering.

Still, Microsoft stuck to its guns by changing the format each release, even if it inconvenienced the very people buying the product. By making changes, it hoped to FORCE people to keep up with the Jones ... or at least the people they were doing business with. The mafia version of this is called the protection racket.

Microsoft's agents of change are now complaining about having to provide documents to one of my clients. Taking the seconds to choose SAVE AS, changing the file format and then saving the file, normally a five-second process, is too arduous for these folks. They'd rather my client spend thousands of dollars on updating Office product AND pay the time and money it takes to train people on the completely new interface that graces Office 2007. That's the co-operative spirit that leads to better product and better profit for both companies! Wish I owned the company. I'd be talking to their bosses and asking them why they employ such lazy sods who seem compelled to tick off a supplier for want of getting to the coffee truck five seconds quicker.

The FIRST thing I ask somebody who I'm sending a data file to, is how they want it? Does that strike you as something too tough to do? Will it save confusion and re-doing the transfer? Of course it will. Does it take me more than a minute to implement ... EVER? No.

The MS Office 2007 issue is not without possible solutions that don't involve lots of money. My preferred solution is switching to Free and thumbing your nose at Microsoft, what's wrong with that? Microsoft itself has a pack to convert files to more popular earlier formats. If you head off to this site, you can download the FileFormatConverters.exe. It converts with declining degrees of success the further number of versions back you go.

Or you can give into the blackmail started by Microsoft and foisted on you by 'your customer.' Go ahead, upgrade just to deal with the rude company or two. It'll only cost money, time and confusion. In the meantime, that twit at the other company will get his or her soda and chips from the coffee truck first instead of second.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

SOFTWARE: Leave the Fox Alone

Okay, Firefox 3.0 is out and I am going to take a pass. I could live temporarily with some of my needed add-ins missing, but I'm mystified by one omission in Firefox 3.0 that I cannot find a single intelligent reason for.

Whenever I showed Firefox 2.x to Internet Explorer users, I waste no time showing them a folder full of bookmarks. I middle-click on that folder and, like magic, EVERY bookmark in the folder opens up in separate tabs. As I described it usually, "I turn on the computer, fire up Firefox, middle click on this folder called 'DAILY' and go off to do the rest of my morning rituals. By the time I come back, ALL the sites I visit every day are loaded and ready to go." It's like magic to IE users, already established as being a little slower and willing to believe in whatever MS feeds them.

So, why oh why did the programmers of Firefox 3.0 do away with the middle click on bookmarks? This baffles me beyond all comprehension. I KNOW it's easy to right click and choose the first choice, Open All in Tabs. But it's a stupid, stupid, extra key-click with NOTHING to be lost by retaining the former setting. It shows all the foresight of a Conservative Minister trying to get his Canadian government booted out of office. More on that another time.

At any rate, there's enough still missing in the actual gold version of the program that I'm going to wait a bit for the groundswell to mount and force the bozos to recant the middle click paring. What's missing from what's needed in Firefox 3.0? CLEO and FEBE, my automated backup of bookmarks, passwords and extensions, is not available. Neither is TabBrowser Preferences, which might never be. TextMarker!, Bookmark Duplicate Detector and Save Image to Folder are missing and I won't run a Firefox session without them. Plus there's RePagination, SafeCache and SourceForge Direct Download to await updates for.

In some ways, that's an astonishingly small list of my personalizations that haven't made the transition to v3.0 right out of the box. Most people would be satisfied to get an 80 percent carry over. Me, I dwell on the stupid decisions and the missing things.

You've been warned.

TV: Well, If You Like Comic Books ...

Tonight's debut of The Middle Man on ABC Family was entertaining to me. I LIKE comic books. On the other hand, if you aren't a comic-book aficionado, I'm pretty sure you probably went, "Hunh?"

The Middle Man is actually from a comic book, a little indy title penned by Javier Grillo-Marxouch. It's his sideline have-fun project between writing and producing gigs on such shows as Lost, Medium, Charmed, Jake 2.0 and The Pretender. He knows of where he speaks in the TV biz. And, as it turns out, he writes a charming little comic book.

So what went wrong with the transmutation of the black ink-stained pages to the little screen. It's too much of an inside joke. The patter is fast, Lorelei Gilmore-fast. The problem is that it's written in code, the comic book code of loony lingo, salted with the names of two dozen comic book characters and their alter-egos. Ranges from charming to chuckle-worthy funny ... if you know what the hell they are talking about. I did. I smiled a lot. Laughed out loud once. That's a pretty good score.

But my mother? The various folks I work for? My dentist? The lady at the checkout counter during my late-night run for milk and bread? Not a one of them would get this show at all. And that's too bad.

The show itself is more or less timely. It'll be hard not to think about The Middle Man when I finally set peepers on the Get Smart movie later this month. Matt Keeslar's Middle Man has a chunk of Dudley Do-Right and the fecklessness of (and wardrobe) of Wil Wheaton from the early days of Star Trek: The Next Generation. But he's just really a spiffed up Maxwell Smart. And Natalie Morales plays wise beyond her partner, Wendy Watson, as a modern-day Agent 99. I imagine a generation of boys would be growing up thinking of her in the same lusty way I did Barbara Feldon 40 years ago, if the show lasted long enough to develop a cult following.

But I think it will be 13 and out ... even with the gun-toting gorillas in the origin issue errr first episode.

Monday, June 16, 2008

SOFTWARE: Firefox 3 Tuesday

Tuesday June 17th is going to be an interesting day on the Internet. It's the day Mozilla releases Firefox 3. And there is an attempt to set the stage for the day's downloads of Firefox 3 to set some sort of download record. Since any Microsoft Windows update PROBABLY exceeds whatever imaginative maximum the Mozilla folks have, I think it would be better to wait a couple of days before downloading it yourself. I know that's not in keeping with the Anti-MS Agenda, but patience does have some virtues. Not the least will be not running into congestion at the download sites.

And going through my normal load of sites I have to visit is going to be difficult enough tomorrow.

Should you take the plunge with Firefox 3? Eventually. But if you don't have some serious current complaints about Firefox (it IS a bit resource intensive, amongst a few current flaws), then wait until the first or second update comes out. Let others beta test.

I've used the third release candidate on one of my machines for about a week. It seems a bit faster. But it doesn't represent the difference between my Saturn and a Maserati. there are some visual differences and bookmarks work a little smarter. But then again, I've done a LOT of work on my bookmarks, so it won't save ME as much time. There's better security, but NoScript already does that for me with Firefox 2.x. I'm going to wait to upgrade myself, on the main machine Nuklon.

The issue for me will be the add-ins. Until I know Adblock, Aging Tabs, All-in-one Sidebar, Back to Top, Bookmark Duplicate Detector, CLEO, Context Highlight, Dictionary Search, DownThemAll!, Extended Statusbar, Fast Video Download, FAYT, FEBE, ImageZoom+, InForm Enter, Launchy, Neo Diggler, NoScript, Nuke Anything Enhanced, PDF Download, Print Preview, Redirect Remover, Repagination, Save Image in Folder, Screen Grab!, SourceForge Direct Download, Stop Autoplay, Tabbrowser Preferences, Table2Clipboard, Tabs Open Relative, Text Marker!, Toolbar Buttons, Undo Last Closed Tabs Button and URL Link are all available AND working in FF3, I'll be a little slow on the switch.

You, can go ahead if you please. But be careful!

SOFTWARE: Say, Do You Have a Minute?

Bluntly, I don't play games much on my computer. I do play Bridge on the computer and on the Internet, but that's more of a calling than wasting time.

Like everybody else, I DO find myself with a couple of minutes to kill. And that's when I click on the Summing icon. Summing is a game, available at Raphael Fetzer's site. Now, the site is in German, but there's an English link on the right-hand side. You can probably figure out how to download the game fairly easily.

And playing the game can take all of a minute. Sometimes two or three. That's all. Perfect for waiting on hold, when focusing in on the jerk who put you on hold would be enough to drive you crazy.

What is Summing? It's an arithmetic game. You have a board filled to within one row all round of random single-digit numbers. In fact, it's actually only the digits 0-8. On the left, you have a stack of buttons with the same digits. As the one comes to the top, you have to place it on the board. If you place the piece on the board in such a way that ALL the pieces touching it add up to it (or it plus ten, or it plus 20), the pieces and the one you placed all disappear. The goal is to make all the pieces disappear. I've cleared the 9x9 board with the 64 starting pieces in as few as 15 moves. I can do most boards in the low 20's and I average a shade under 20, I would guess. There are times when I get an unlucky run and the game can last five minutes and 60 moves, but those are the exception to the rule.

What's great about Summing is its brevity. It's easy to learn and to master. And it doesn't hurt to keep your arithmetic skills in daily use. Oh, and it distracts from that gawdawful elevator music while you are waiting on hold.

SPORTS: Remember When ...

Readers here know my stance on Toronto Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi. Faster he gets fired, the faster the healing starts. But Ricciardi acolytes just refuse to see flaws in the self-admitted liar and full-time failure of a general manager. I proved his drafting record doesn't hold up to comparison with his ill-thought of predecessor, Gord Ash. And to the plaintive bleats that he's a better trader, let me cite one and only one trade attempt he tried to make this past off-season.

Alex Rios for Tim Lincecum.

Baseball pundits came down on both sides of this trade offer, some citing the advantages of having another top of the rotation starter. The other a maturing, five-tool, two-time all-star outfielder and home run derby runner-up just entering his prime years. It was an interesting trade offer.

But completely and utterly, idiotically, wrong for the Toronto Blue Jays.

What has been the main failing of this team this year? Offence. What has been the main advantage keeping the Blue Jays from Seattle Mariner-level awfulness? Pitching. Would having Lincecum rather than Jesse Litsch have helped the Blue Jays? Probably would have moved them from fourth in major league baseball into the top two or three. Would subtracting Rios from the Blue Jay line-up have damaged even further a poopless offence, dropping it to the very bottom of MLB? Undoubtedly.

And the trade offer was BEFORE Casey Jansen got hurt. Sure you can't have enough pitching in big league baseball. But, we have seen the effects of not having enough offence, either. It results in a .500 club that is going to waste the efforts of the pitching staff until parts of it are traded off. That's right, the Jays will have to TRADE AWAY pitching to get better. How's that for taking the wrong approach in the off-season?

Wait, you say, Rios is both symptom AND cause of the offensive problems! If he wasn't belting a soft .270 with about as many homers as Marco Scutaro, the Blue Jays' offence would be percolating along a lot better. Maybe Ricciardi saw the imminent fall of the right fielder. Would that we could ditch the guy for a top of the line hurler like Lincecum. Maybe it was a CANNY offer, almost Billy Beane-like, to offer up Rios just as he was about to go bad, for the future ace.

Okay. If Ricciardi, all-knowing seer of the future, DID suss out the decline and fall of Rios, WHY did he give him the big multi-year contract?!?!? Can't have your cake and eat it too.

As interesting as the trade idea was for the Blue Jays and Giants to discuss, it was MORE interesting for observers to yak about. In reality, the Toronto-born idea was a BAAAAAD idea for the Jays and the Giants came to the conclusion it would be a bad idea for them too. So far, they're right.

Ricciardi reacted interestingly to being let off the hook. He went out and signed a shortstop and a left-fielder he didn't need, instead of upgrading Lyle Overbay at first, who's just not the same player he was before the wrist injury. He could have looked for something more durable and offensive at catcher, getting more out of Rod Barajas than anyone thought possible. And that much is still not enough.

Giving fading stars big bucks, the same failing as Ash, making bad trades (Think Orlando Hudson would look good in Blue Jay blue? But he dissed Ricciardi and had to be traded), drafting poorly, and even getting some of his bad trades turned down shows Ricciardi is lucky. But in this case, I'd rather he be good than lucky.

Tick, tick, tick.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

LIFE: Friends Bearing Gifts

Casey Slack dropped by a for a visit tonight. He's in town this weekend to wish his dad a Happy Father's Day (By the way, Happy Father's Day Pops!) and to attend an educational conference in the Big Smoke (Toronto). He came bearing gifts, a case of ketchup. That, gentle readers, is a case of friendship in action.

We talked about a favourite subject of mine, Bridge, and one of his, education. He's an administrator for several schools up North and a rising star in the Education establishment for the province of Ontario. Mind you, he had to spend a lot of years teaching in South America and in an Arabic country or two to get the bona fides, but I can safely say he's a 'hands-on' educator, rather than an academic. Within the constraints of the whims of the education system, the schools he's involved with are lucky to have him there.

Given the opportunity, it takes little for me to pitch my favourite ideas for education. I would like to see comic books promoted as young as kindergarten and grade one. I believe the progression to reading and enjoying books as a pleasure, starts with comic books. I'm not talking about The Punisher or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, of course. But Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Uncle Scrooge, Little Dot, etc. Most kids that age don't know reading is boring. Capturing them then, captures them later. All kids love a story with a narative. Pictures help them learn to read. Why can't more people see that?

I also think THAT'S the time to start teaching kids the difference between tattling (telling to get other people in trouble, wrongly) and telling (telling the truth about other people doing wrong things). We have to eliminate the stigma of telling, if we are to ever get a handle on the exploding bullying problem. By lumping tattletales together, we later learn telling the truth is tantamount to snitching, ratting and all manner of truth-telling pejoratives designed to protect the criminal element in our society. And bullies depend on it.

While I wouldn't champion teaching 10-year olds how to play Bridge, I think there's LOTS to be gained by teaching the game in high school. It's a game that teaches arithmetic and mathematics, psychology and communications. It requires co-operation and it functions as an aid to memorization as players learn to compartmentalize and then remember the playing of all the cards for each hand. These techniques serve cross-subject educational values. And, anything that creates more face-to-face time amongst kids, keeping them away from the computers in their bedrooms, can't be a bad thing.

Bridge has been very, very good to me. Despite my natural disinclination towards socializing, Bridge has created the opportunity for me to visit one end of this continent to the other. I've been offered trips across seas (which I declined). I've hobnobbed with billionaires and snot-nosed kids not yet in high school. I've partnered nonagenarians and pre-teens, hearing stories about each's childhoods. I've played with players from just about all the various religions and ethnic types. It's a game I learned in high school and which I hope will keep me mentally alert and active until the day I keel over.

And you know, cashing the deciding trick in a bridge game wouldn't be the worst way for that moment to come.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

BLOGGING: A Noth-Toth Mixup

Yesterday's post was about Mike Toth, not Mike Noth and not Chris Noth. When you are apoplectic with anger at having subjected yourself to Toth's ridiculous radio style, you make silly mistakes.

Correction made.

SPORTS: That Classic Look

Tonight's Chicago Cubs-Toronto Blue Jays game was a triumph of the good ole days, when Toronto wore their powder blue uni's and Chicago wore, what they always wear, road greys with the traditional dark blue and red trim. Refreshing.

The hated black Toronto uniforms were out because of flashback Fridays, the one day a week at home that the Blue Jays haul out the old-style uniforms and hats and please the crowd that pays their salaries. Tomorrow, the team will once again revert to those gawdawful black uniforms with the horrible logo. Wish they'd learn a little bit from their opponents this weekend.

Last night (Thursday), the Cubs actually DID wear throw-back uniforms themselves in a game against Atlanta. There wasn't much difference to their regular attire. Although, it WAS striking to watch the players wearing stirrup socks, showing the white athletic socks underneath. They looked like ball players. Not like hobos, which many of today's players seem to aspire to. I'm frequently surprised Manny Ramirez doesn't trip over his heels. Or worse, have his baggy drawers fall down around his ankles.

There's a lot to be said for tradition. The stated reason for why the Dodger, Yankee and Cubs' uniforms are among the best-selling is that they come from big cities. Poppycock. It's because their uniforms are eternal. Maybe a little change here and there for exceptional seasons. But principally, they follow the credo of the Montreal Canadiens. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

In this "if it's 10 minutes old, it's out of fashion" world, the Blue Jays feel compelled to change with the times. But they keep screwing it up. Adopting the universal black for a primary colour goes beyond stupidity to idiocy. Inner-city kids supposedly prefer black. So, since they are the half of the primary uniform shirt-buying audience (the other half are suburban wannabe's), it's only natural to appeal to their sense of colour. This might be true in New York or L.A. But see many black Toronto shirts other than at Blue Jay games?

Following the same reason, the Yanks should give in to the current eco-green movement and make those pinstripes green. Think the management is thinking about that for any longer than a New York second, and I've got a bridge to sell you.

It takes intestinal fortitude to stick with good people and traditional looks. It's a missing component in Toronto management. Maybe after JP Ricciardi and his mentor, Paul Godfrey, find themselves no longer employed, their replacements will show some gumption and restore traditions like wearing blue and winning.

Friday, June 13, 2008

RADIO: No, No, No to Toth

One of the few pleasures I have in life are the Monday and Friday roundtables on The Fan 590 radio station. Almost anything is interesting when knowledgeable people gather and discuss things, but my first love is sports, and Toronto's all-sport station puts on good roundtables on the weekday bookends, from 5-7 pm.

The moderator is usually Bob McCown, the eminence grise of the sports talk biz in Toronto, if not in Canada. The Bobcat is a surly old guy who treats sports more as business than avocation these days, but there's enough of the little boy's wonderment in him to leaven the grumpy facade. Yeah, I'm more like him than most other broadcasters, so that's why I prefer him.

As it happens, he does a good job at moderating. He asks questions, gets OTHERS to offer opinions and facts and than sums up with his opinion, usually short and sweet. I bet he says one word to the guests' 10 during the segment.

Earlier in the year, it was announced that Mike Toth was going to be McCown's regular guest host when he was away and would be moving into the BIG chair, the Primetime Sports host spot, when McCown leaves (through getting fired, which has happened a few times, or deciding retirement or other opportunities beckon). The day the switchover DOES happen, I will cease listening to PrimeTime sports completely.

I have a short list of announcers/personalities who I dislike completely. Jungle Jay Nelson was the first name on that list. He was a CHUM DJ back in the day, and, unfortunately, the quizmaster for Reach for the Top when it was being filmed up in Barrie, the year I was part of the Bramalea team. The gentleman had an affliction for sticking his fingers up his nose, and for taunting losing teams in the academic showcase. When we lost, I felt like slapping my teammates upside the head. Him, I wanted to punch out and stomp on his guts. I was younger in those days. Today, I'd order a hit.

At any rate, the list has grown to include the likes of smarmy, would-be comedian Tim Micallef of The Score and especially Toth, late of Sportsnet, now of The Fan's future. Toth is awful. He is the king of the preamble, starting every question with some long, inane reference to his own life and opinions that nobody, not even those that love him and are related to him (thus HAVING to), care about. See, that's EXACTLY the way he starts everything. Plus, like Micallef, he fancies himself a comedian. He's not. He believes himself to be a king of April Fool's Day jokes. He's not. I believe he thinks he's informative and entertaining. He's not.

Toth comes from a journalism and sports background. I think he lives and breathes sports, and that's usually the sign of mental in-breeding. You have to have outside interests to draw on, to bring non-insiders into the discussion. I do think he's fairly well read. Mostly sports stuff, though. I heard an interview he did with Terry Fox's brother that showed him to be a compassionate, caring man. He isn't a blight on civilization.

But he's a bad broadcaster. He might be an okay radio call-in host. His ability to twit his conversational partners can probably induce some animated discussions. And that's what those shows are all about. But he can't turn it off.

The example was today's roundtable. Toth had written a blog a little ways back, suggesting John Gibbons be fired and replaced with the likes of Bobby Valentine, Buck Showalter or Bob Brenly. Not all that well-reasoned, but not completely devoid of critical thought. When that didn't get the desired reaction, he reached into his bag of stupid ideas to champion the replacing of Gibbons (the real reason d'etre of the piece) with Gary Carter, a child-hood hero.

Now, that foolishness works for filling out a blog and probably doesn't engender any serious discussions in person because the sheer idiocy of the statement. But today, Toth just had to start off the roundtable with that idiotic stance, daring Jeff Blair to bat it down. And so he did, pointing out Carter's well-known lack of people skills when the cameras aren't rolling, his desultory status as an independent league manager and the fact not one MLB club wanted anything to do with the Hall of Fame catcher. Toth should have left it right there, but he decided he hadn't extracted enough entertainment value.

"But he hugged me," Toth bleated. He actually told Blair that he (Carter) had two things that Blair didn't have, 'A World Series ring and a plaque in the Hall of Fame." To Blair's credit, he didn't go across the table Pat Marsden-style and try to punch out the punk. The 'conversation' degenerated further into a shout fest, with all three professional sports journalists yelling facts at Toth, until he realized he'd missed the TV commercial cue and cut the discussion off. I turned the radio off at that point. So I don't know if anything further good (the guests leaving or physically assaulting Toth) happened.

I fully realize that Toth was 'funnin' Blair and the guests. Of COURSE he does not believe Carter should be a big-league manager, let alone the Blue Jays' field boss. But in his warped little reality, playing the devil's advocate with conviction is somehow entertaining, even when the losing side he's supposedly defending is asinine and completely without merit or entertainment.

To Mr. McCown, stay healthy, happy and employed by The Fan for many more decades still to come. AND STOP TAKING VACATIONS!!!!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

SPORTS: Blocking Shots

One of the iconic images of this NBA season has been Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics rising into the sky and swatting an opposing player's shot into the tenth row of the stands. Remember it well, you are going to be seeing it less and less.

That's because of two things. Garnett is a very smart basketball player. And this off-season, he's going to spend time with Bill Russell, who will explain how the defensive heart of the Celtics can get better.

I know most of you are too young to have ever seen Russell play. By most definitions, Russell was the best defensive player in NBA history. He was a 6-9 centre in an era with few seven-footers, but a fair number of guys his size. He dominated through intelligent positioning and great timing. And he did something too many of the modern day shot-swatters fail to do. He kept the ball in play.

Russell's ability to DEFLECT shots, especially in directing them to teammates, was worth a half-dozen or more points a game on the vaunted Celtic fast break. He also saved his energy and was usually as fresh in the second half as he was in the first half. The only modern-day equivalent who maintained most of those attributes was David Robinson, the former Spurs star.

Garnett is emotional. He WANTS to shove that ball right back in your face. As Jack Armstrong would say, "Get that garbage out of here!" (Side note, Too Stupid Timmy would try for the entendre here, replacing garbage with shhhhhhhhhot. Pssst, Timmy. It isn't funny and it isn't clever. Shuddap!). But making the hi-lite reel fails in one respect. It gives the other team the ball right back.

When I was in high school, there were a number of good shot blockers wearing Bramalea Bronco double-blue. Steve Chessell, Rick Briscoe, Phil Cadman, Arvid Yorkman. All blocked a fair number of shots, although only Chessell was a pure centre. But the Bronco who was the best technical shot blocker I ever saw was Gary Kynoch. Kynoch was a power forward, but he was more or less, a fullback in a basketball uniform. He was the poster boy for "White Men Can't Jump." He might have had a six-inch vertical. But he blocked shots, got possession and didn't foul. What more could you ask?

Kynoch never played any higher-level basketball. He was a football player, afterall. But I wish I had tape of him. I would pair it with tape from Russell's days and force any centre/shot-blocking forward to watch it until his eyes bled. Then, I show him again the next day.

Give me a shot-ALTERER, who doesn't foul while doing it, and I will win world championships.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

BOOKS: Hot for The Hot Rock

I needed a change of pace from Dragons, and boy did I get it. The switch turned out to be the caper book, The Hot Rock by Donald E. Westlake. It's the first of the Dortmunder books, starring the star-crossed master thief who does well enough in the end, but perennially has his brilliant capers blow up in his face while getting there.

In the inaugural Dortmunder book, he's freshly sprung from the pen and out of sorts. Quicker than you can say encyclopedia salesman (which be becomes, briefly), he's hooked up with the gang who COULD shoot straight, but doesn't. He's out to steal a big emerald at the behest of one fictional African country from the New York display of rarities from another fictional African country.

Dortmunder's gang succeeds to a certain extent. That extent is that the emerald and a member of the crew end up in police custody. So, the crew breaks the laggard out of jail. But he left the emerald behind. So they break into the lockup to recover the hidden gem. But a shifty lawyer beat them to it. The lawyer hides in an insane asylum. That doesn't present too big an obstacle. The fact that the lawyer sequestered the gem in a bank vault also doesn't prove insurmountable. And there's still ONE more heist required before Dortmunder's gang is done with the heists. All along, the humour is sly and belly-aching.

Just reading the section where Dortumunder runs afoul of a guard dog (of sorts), only to be rescued by one of his crew, anxious for him to continue devising plans to continue the string of heists, has more laughs than the average TV sitcom. Sure that the emerald is jinxed beyond belief, Dortmunder's response is straightforward. "Take me back to the dog!" And he says it more than once, earning the reader's sympathy, and outright chuckles, each step of the way.

The Hot Rock, written in the mid 50's, is certainly anachronistic. The laggard who gets caught, merely changes his name and continues on his pilfering/womanizing ways. There's many places were the gang would leave copious amounts of DNA evidence. And with mastermind Dortmunder recently convicted, it would have taken the NY cops a nano-second to be on his doorstep. And some of the historic references are less timely now. A Jim Brown sweep in referring to an impressive display of power, makes sense to me. Today's readers might have heard of Brown as a political activist or even as an actor. But it's been close to fourty years since he played. And references to western cowboys might be equally obscure.

Still, this is a great book. The sex is non-existent and the violence more implied than acted out on. It turned into a pretty good Robert Redford movie in the early 70's. In whichever form, you probably can't go wrong by getting YOUR hands on The Hot Rock.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

TV: Summertime TV is Here!

Rob Salem lamented in Monday's Toronto Star newspaper about the coming of summer and the gazillion crappy reality shows that will be coming our way. Cheer up Rob, some entertaining SCRIPTED stuff will be here soon.

Law and Order: Criminal Intent
returned to USA on the weekend. I like this branch of the L&O franchise because I like Vince D'Onofrio and Mike Noth as lead detectives in a mini NBC Mystery Wheel. Having each set of detectives take two weeks per show makes for better results. Yes, I know D'Onofrio can play TOO weird, but that doesn't bother me. After all, USA eagle eye detective shows Psych and Monk are further out and I enjoy them too.

This week, we see the return of two funny shows in the TBS stable. Bill Engvall's eponymously-named show is a decent comedy about a decent middle-America kind of family. Three kids straight out of cliche college don't sparkle. But Engvall has a real connection with TV wife Nancy Travis, who's good in anything she does. This isn't a great comedy, but it's just darn likable.

The Big Engvall Show
leads into the return of My Boys, one of my top twenty shows from last season. First, it's a show about a Chicago sportswriter. They literally had me with the tag-line. Forget the quality. Then, they made said sportswriter a lady played by Jordana Spiro. Spiro is one of those gals who don't get double-takes, but are as sexy as all get out. I wish I could find a set of her first TV series, The Huntress, where she played the younger half of a mom-and-daughter bounty hunter team. Guess she's born to play against sexual stereotype.

As sexy as Spiro is, and as enticing as the environment is, the key to this series is the supporting cast. Nobody's an extreme oddball. No Cliff Claven's, no Latka's, no character screaming he or she can't possibly be for real. Just normal folks doing normal things. Well, except for Jim Gaffigan, who plays the married brother of Spiro's PJ Franklin. He's hilarious. All the time. Doing nothing, or lamenting his married with children status. A very, very funny man.

In the upcoming weeks, Burn Notice comes back for a second season, while Sci-Fi shows like Eureka and Stargate: Atlantis will be be making their summer returns to the little screen. The Closer is on its way as are the return of fact-checking shows like Real Time with Bill Maher and Penn & Teller's BS.

Honestly Rob, things aren't that bad. Just point the remote control at the console and change channels. There's absolutely NO need for you to subject yourself to I Survived a Japanese Game Show.