Friday, February 29, 2008

You wanna be on top?

Top Model time! Going 14 to 13 tonight.

Nice credits this season. Poor Lauren, the punk girl, looks terrified. I hope she can get herself together. The city, however, looks gorgeous. Brooklyn Bridge, Lady Liberty... Viva NYC, baby.

They have a meet-the-girls thing; Marvita used to be homeless and is just glad to be here. Kim's really down-to-earth, in her own words. She also bought Reese Witherspoon's face on eBay. Fatima is from Somalia, which we already knew, and suffered a complete female circumcision at the age of seven. That happened in 1994. Just damn. And Aimee Two is now calling herself Amis. She tries harder!

They get to the new model pad, a neat loft with one very large bedroom and then one very large bed in a second room. Nice place, but Cycle 1 Chicky did not originate that "Stand for nothing and you'll fall for anything" quote. (It may have been a greeting card originally.) There's also a big No Smoking sign inside, so three of the girls go outside for their nic fix, shocking poor Atalya. Dearie, the sign is INSIDE. Blomberg hasn't started shooting smokers on sight just yet.

Fatima's first cause is awareness about female circumcision; her second cause is scolding her fellow models for being undignified. I don't like her second cause quite as much; I admit her point, I suppose, since it is important to be aware of how one behaves and presents oneself. But the perpetual unsolicited corrections tend to undercut the point.

The J's are introducing the girls to the sights, including their first event: a Times Square runway show for Badgley Mischka. Lauren is hugely nervous. I loved the shot of her getting made up in her Chuckie Cons. HAHAHAHA, they used the Kill Bill "unfinished business" music.

Marvita's first, and staring at her shoes. She caught herself too, knows she's in for it at the judging. Katarzyna is very good. Kim is terrible, and then bitches about how expensive the clothes are and it's not her. This bodes ill. Fatima is lovely but I can tel she's nervous. Lauren, in contrast, just seemed bored and haughty, which may have worked if it was on purpose. She's very clumsy, sort of endearing. Miss J was horrified.

Off stage, Marvita has her first anger-management moment. Then there's our first Ty-ra mail! It's a scrolling message board, that's odd. E-Tyra-mail? T-mail? Whatever - it's horrible. They're all reading aloud word.... by.... word.... Lose it, please.

New judge Paulina Porizkova is replacing Fashion Icon Twiggy. Good choice. Wow, she called Dominique a drag-queen version of Robin Wright. I though I was being mean to poor Manga Boy, but that was cold. But she has a lot of good advice too. First photo shoot time. The girls catch a huge limo/taxi combo called the "Fab Cab" to the location. I don't like the name, so I'm calling it the Death Cab for Cuties. (Big missed opportunity by Tyra and Company. Frankly I'm surprised.) Fatima and Marvita are building a Piers/Omarosa relationship here. That was fast.

Hi Saleisha!

The shoot is for the Reciprocity Foundation, who look like they do really good work. The homeless girls will be wearing the high fashion and the models will be dressed down for the occasion.

Hi Christian Marc!

Marvita is now telling Fatima her own story, which sounds just as bad. They're connecting. Good, I didn't want to have to track a huge senseless fued off the get-go. Whoa, does Claire have some loooooong hands.

More T-mail. Speed it up or ditch it, I beg you. But the city makes up for all of it. These night shots are fantastic. Speaking of which, Miss Jay is unveiling his new elimination shtick - he has panels of all the model's names on his shirt, and will remove the name of the model sent packing. I'm looking forward to the goofy gaps in between the remaining names.

Best shots. Amis's is, in Nigel's words, "amateur model staring at light fixture." "What were you looking at?" Tyra asks. "Uh... the light." Hahahahaha.

Allison was outmodeled by one of the homeless girls. Not a good sign. Whitney looks terrific, though. Paulina calls it the "invisible wind machine." Kthxbai! As she feared, Marvita gets nailed on the lookdown but the picture is good. Atalya gets outdone by the same homeless girl! Maybe this is one of the sustainable careers Reciprocity is working on; she'll be on Cycle 11.

Wow, now Kim is up, and getting raked. And she just let drop that the modeling scene is just not her. No passion for it, doesn't know if she wants it. BAD move. We saw last cycle what Tyra does to quitters. She looks like a cat about to pounce on a two-legged hamster. "I had to cut six girls in casting and you didn't say anything!" And she's right. There's a half-dozen smashed remote controls right now. Those girls must be flipping out. "You want to go home? Fine - GO HOME." And mini-Reese does. Banished. Then they show her picture, which they say is one of the best of the week - and rip in in half. Hahahahaha, they are completely bonkers. Oh, and someone is getting eliminated anyway, so it's 14 to 12.

After the pics, I think Atalya or Allison will go.

Claire wins the Cover Girl of the Week bit and talks about being "a global warrior for the environment," yawn and yawn. (I miss Heather.) Kim's name is removed from Jay's shirt - darn, the panels are Velcro, so probably no gaps from week to week. Poopie. Paulina digs at Allison, calls her an Upper East Side princess, which is hilarious. Isn't she from Wisconsin? So far I love Paulina.

Anya takes first photo honors, then Claire ("Yay!"), Whitney, and Lauren ("Awesome, thank you!") Both girls seem genuinely friendly and happy about it. Allison is the last to get pass before the bottom two, Atalya and Amis. Trying harder pays off, Amis is safe - but Tyra warns her to focus more. Atalya had the same trouble, looked very listless and her photo was bleah.

Two names off the shirt; two pictures off the group shot. There's something melancholy about watching those faces fade out week after week...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

"God for Harry, England, and St George!"

And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'
-Henry V Act 3 Scene 1

Prince Harry was in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban, that is, until Drudge posted it.

TALIBAN fanatics were last night feared to be hunting down Prince Harry after he secretly fought in the Afghan badlands for ten weeks.

The 23-year-old Household Cavalry lieutenant killed up to 30 of the enemy on his frontline tour by directing at least THREE air strikes.

I love this. The royalty of England used to do this all the time. Forward Air Controller is not the safest job in Her Majesty's Army.

The concern wasn't that Harry would be in danger - heck what he was doing was dangerous, but that when news of him being there got out the Taliban would specifically look for him. He would still be there if The Drudge Report hadn't spilled the beans.

This is the UK Sun - I love the way Brit tabloids write.

Now I've got to watch Branagh's Henry V.

"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; or close the wall up with our English dead...."

AI water cooler - Top 20 results

The powers that be have finally gotten it together to let the contestants sing the Beatles catalogue. (Hat tip on the story to my own lovely Ladybug!) This will probably come too late for Biker Nurse to gargle her way through "Helter Skelter," but them's the breaks.

I do feel compelled, while we wait, to regale you with a song of my own - an original.

Here he comes
Here comes Drag Racer
He's a diva on wheels
He's a diva and he's gonna be talking back to Simon

He's uber-pouty when his music takes a dive
He's singing Elvis and it makes me wanna cry
And when the judges mock him and he starts to smirk
You bet your life Drag Racer just might be through

Go! Drag Racer
Go! Drag Racer
Go! Drag Racer, Go!

He's looking splendid as he struts his stuff around the stage
He may sound older but it's hard for him to act his age
Disaster's waiting just ahead!

Go! Drag Racer
Go! Drag Racer
Go! Drag Racer, Go!

As for the actual results? Come back in a couple of hours, friends... all will be revealed.

update, 10:30 pm - aaaaaand we're back. AGAIN. Because I spent a half-hour typing, and it all went to poop. Trying again -

Ryan says that there were almost 31 million votes cast this week; I doubt Yeager or Amanda cracked six figures. They're making fun of the half-moose! I guess Ryan reads Snark Raving Mad (scroll down to comment #10).

Medley time. Part of me wishes that they'd used some of these songs in the main performances. "I Saw the Light," good solos from Michael and David Cook. They also give solos to Kristy and Carly on the next song (forgot to write down the title). Hm, Biker Nurse gets a star turn too; she was decent. "The Things We Do For Love" by 10cc, and "I Feel the Earth Move," featuring a nifty duet by Alaina and Trent Dimas.

OK - cut time. Back row stands: Yeager, Manga, Chekeize, Jason Castro, and Michael. Michael and Chekeize sit, easy call. Ryan decides to spook Jason, but he's safe. And Yeager's out. Even he is not surprised. Ryan puts Simon on the spot, but he repeats what he said on Tuesday - no presence, no charisma. Time to fast-forward: I refuse to watch him butcher the song again.

Ladies turn. I just noticed something in the recap that escaped me at first: I think Brooke lost her pick after the first verse, and that's why she didn't play the guitar in the middle. Finally she just strummed along with her thumb at the end. Biker Nurse was a little hissy after her set. "I'm not asking them to buy an album." Uhm, yes you are, dummy; not that I'll buy it or anything. Gosh I can't wait until she's out of there. If the hair doesn't scare you, no evil thing will.

Back row up: Kristy, Biker, Alexandréa, Brooke, and Asia'h. If they count it off right to left it's a no-brainer. Nope, they mix it up. Alexandréa and Amanda are the last two standing - the two people I said would both go home. I'm guaranteed half-right; but also half-wrong. WTF - Alexandréa? No way. %$^#%^**! I am seriously ticked. She wasn't very good, but worse than Biker Nurse? Pure hogwash. Did all of Ron Paul's supporters decide to back Amanda?

After Alexandréa's exit performance she goes straight to Dave Archuleta for smooshy hugs. Don't worry Paula, it's early and there are plenty of guys left.

I would have given millions to hear Ryan add, "By the way, Amanda, you're also out. Boo-bye."

Next, the girls' front row. Carly is safe, no duh. Remmiele is also safe; that's the end of my bottom three perfecto. Syesha sits, the remaining two are last, and third-to-last. (Amanda wasn't even third? WTF.) Kady and Alaina are left, and it's Alaina going home. I was worried after her performance, but I thought that Alexandréa would have put her in the clear. Poor girl is taking it hard, says "it's embarassing." It's embarassing but not for her. Whose baleful hand hath worked this woe upon us?

Ryan's doing a good job talking with her - even offers her the option of letting her out of the sing-off, which is sweet. In the end, all the girls come up for support. Manga Boy is bawling. Alaina sounds good in her farewell, which sort of highlights the dumbassery of this decision.

Both girls going home sang miserable break-up tunes, so maybe America doesn't like that; Ladybug's theory is that Kady, Kristy, and Brooke split the blonde vote and Alaina was odd girl out. (Or, even girl, since she's fourth of four and... you know, that sounded better in my head. Never mind. I blame Amanda.)

Coming back from break, Ryan announces the Beatle catalogue availability thing... the top 12 will take on the Fab Four on March 11th. Idol Gives Back will air on April 9th. Good times. They go on about it for a while (and why not, it was their finest moment), but this means the guys have to sweat out more commericals.

And we're back again. Ryan is name-dropping the guest list for IGB. Did he even stop talking during the break? Again, Amanda's fault. She's the VFTW poster child, I just know it. Poopie. I will destroy this room with my rage. Luke and Robbie finish the bottom three (so I get that much right), but Robbie, not Luke, is going home. Farewell time. That's right, Robbie was the guy who got silly string-ed in auditions. Kind of a shame.

Your turn, folks. I will move on to the Top Model update.

Repurposing the cooler

I am getting sucked into Tyra's World like the Cygnus got sucked into the Black Hole. I'm going to try to jump on here, now that we've got our fourteen finalists - and you'll forgive me for being a little late since we've got Idol results later tonight.

CAT is too sexy for YOU (picture courtesy of ICHC)

So... congratulations! You all get to be sucked along with me. Coming soon, the America's Next... Topmodel! Water Cooler. Remember, this is taking place in New York City, with insane backstabbing pretty people, a reformed Chief Hater, a guy who dresses like a gay Klingon, and certified crazy person Tyra Banks. (Her Homecoming Queen segment was simply incredible. She's already in midseason form.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

AI water cooler - top 20

Speaking of tens... ten boys, ten girls... hopefully, not three hours of teh suq. After watching it all en masse with the Ladybug, I'm here to report my findings. Listenings. Also, each contestant gave us a little "what you didn't know about me" segment before the song. I usually enjoy these because it's fun to see a little behind the scenes stuff. Guys first:

01-Michael Johns - a jock. They show him swatting tennis balls, then they show him singing Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way." Sounds a little sterile to me. He couldn't reach the high notes. Later he says that singing the Mac is a dream come true for him. If so, then why not pick a song like "Monday Morning," which is in a lower key?

02-Jason Castro - his big secret is that he gets easily tongue-tied. They show a bunch of botched takes from interviews. Poor guy. (I feel him on this; I can't talk to answering machines. I babble, stutter, and eventually hang up, despairing of a return call.) His song is "I Wanna Be Your Everything" by Andy Gibb. Though I hate to disagree with the Queen of Infidels, I thought it was a good take on the song. Good arrangement, he seems comfortable with the guitar. But he bailed on the high note, and sounded a little out of breath in general. Not as good as last week but still decent. Is Simon raising his hand to be called on?

03-Luke Menard - his deal is six years in an a capella group. They show a snip of Bohemian Rhapsody, which I don't care for; then he goes live into "Killer Queen." This isn't really any better. It looks rather like Peter Petrelli does American Idol, only without the ability to absorb the talents of others. He's got the wrong voice for this song. It's just too goofy, especially compared to Freddie's original. Agreed with Simon: no charisma.

04-Robbie Carrino - hey, the red couch room! I missed seeing that (in fact, I missed pretty much all of Idol last season). His deal is "Hey, I am me." Brilliant observation, Holmes. "America would be surprised to know I drag-race cars." Yes, I'm astounded that the long-haired bandana rocker is a drag racer. (As compared to Daniel Noriega, who starred in a cartoon called Drag Racer. Thank you, I'm here all week!)

Anyway, Robbie's singing "Hot Blooded" by Foreigner. Not quite as rocking as advertised, Rob. His voice is good, but something's just off to me... is it the constant "squint/weird mic tilt/finger waggle" thing? Oddly, it suffered for being sung in a more comfortable register for him - he needed a little roughness around the edges. (Don Henley usually writes his songs slightly too high for himself in order to get that edge to his voice.) Agreed with Paula (‼) - it was a little too safe.

05-Daniel Noriega - Ghey Manga boy was in a ninth-grade punk-rock outfit. (Oh, and he also apparently sang in a band.) Couldn't tell which was him at first. The lisp is tres annoying - so affected and precious. He's singing "Superstar" by the Carpenters, recognizing that last week was a rushed mess. Much better this week. Usually Karen Carpenter is tricky for the typical tenor because of her excellent low range - baritones seem to handle it more easily - but he's good for the most part. I did expect him to punch the end of the song a little more, though.

Hey - what's this "ISH" deal? Hands off my wife's turn of phrase, Rainbow Brite.

06-David Hernandez - he was a gymnast! He shall henceforth be named Trent Dimas for the rest of the season. Make it so, Mr. Data. He's singing one-sixth of "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," and really doing a fine job. Best of the night so far. Great ending, not afraid to go for the moment. Simon's right - he rose to the challenge instead of getting pouty.

07-Jason Yeager - I've wanted to shave that bleach spot out of his hair since Hollywood Week. He plays three instruments. Now, I shouldn't snark since I can barely play a kazoo, but I'd say 2½, since that "hold the same chord and slide it up and down the guitar neck" is kind of cheating.

"Long Train Running." Ironically, this is a song where he could actually get away with the guitar, it's all the same chord, you just have to sustain occasionally. He's Happy Facing. He's also Snappy Pointing. Ugh. Judges are right, this song requires a gritty performance, not this lounge singer pferdkaese. Whoa, he's saying to the judges that he's all about soul? Shenanigans. He's as soulful as matzoh ball soup. I liked his Moon River much better.

08-Chikeize Eze - his big reveal is that his name is Nigerian, means "Well made by God." Neat. He also isn't dressed like the One Top tonight, a plus. "I Believe," lesser-known, I think it's a good choice. He sounds very good, much more like the audition Chikeize than Tom-Jones-eize. Good vocal, good execution. Just don't defend the suit, man.

09-David Cook - our 38-year-old contestant is a big word nerd. (Me too.) Please lose the scarf. (Hey, he did!) Now singing and playing Free's "All Right Now." I think it's pretty good - the guitar work was solid, not trying too much, and his voice worked perfectly for the song. Just please shut your word-hole about not needing to win over the judges. It's obnoxious (to use Simon's phrase). Heh, he's already backpedaling while talking to Ryan about realizing the need for charisma. I think my Ladybug is right, and he realized that he just sounded like a tool.

10-David Archuleta - it's probably for the best that the best pure voice in the show is going last. He reveals that he met the season one finalists and sang for them. Cute. The song, however, is the godless commie dirge "Imagine." As I said at Snark Raving Mad, I turn other people's radios off when this comes on. But of course, the arrangement is beautiful, and he's absolutely blowing it out of the water. Tremendous. Better than the original, even. Easily the best of all the men this week. The other guys had better watch out or he'll crush them like Tiger crushes the PGA.

So... Tuesday amounts to Dave and the Nine Pips. (Maybe Chikeize has eight more suits to share with everyone.) Bottom three are Yeager, Luke, and Robbie. I think that (as Ladybug says) the emo vote will boost Daniel, and Jason Castro was stronger than Robbie this time. Going home are Luke and Yeager. No big loss. For other takes on the guys, see Tracey and Ken S. and naturally the lasses of American Midol.

On to the ladies: hopefully with a minimum of spunk and ya-ya-hood.

01-Carly Smithson - another shocker: she works in an Irish bar. Being Oirish an' all, you wouldna expeck thot. She's taking on Ann Wilson - "Crazy on You" - and she has the pipes for it. Yup, she's got it. Really good, especially on the power sections. She's selling it far better than most of the guys did last week. Biker Nurse is Googling the flight schedules back to Dixie after that.

02-Syesha Mercado - she did commercials locally, and also does a creepy-good impression of a crying baby. Now she's singing "Me and Mr(s) Jones," and coming on the heels of the crying baby, is extra-ooky. I don't like this song much. She's not that bad, I don't agree with Randy at all; she was soulful. Paula's right (wow, she's been right a lot this week), the power notes were better than the softer ones. Simon calls it indulgent, and is predictably booed AGAIN. You know what? The booing is really getting stupid. I love that he shushed the crowd. Dunno, I seem to have liked it more than anyone else: it's not her fault that Carly went first.

03-Brooke White - she went to beauty school. Oh, great, she has David Cook's scarf from yesterday. Is it unusually cold out there this week? She's singing "You're So Vain" by Carly Simon. Heh, she even kind of looks like CS in profile. I really like this, she's singing well, though the guitar isn't adding anything for me. Maybe it's just grounding her a bit, I don't know. The entire second verse she's just got it propped on her lap. Then why bother? (Out of order alert: at the end she says she debated about leaving the guitar backstage. Hm.) But it was still quite good. Ha! At the end Simon says, "I love how she was looking at me while she was singing." Funny: then Randy and Paula decide to take a decent quip and burn it completely into the ground. Way to go. And for the love of heaven, Randy, stop calling Simon "Mr. Happy." It's insulting, and has some disturbing ramifications.

Now Ryan is taking a whiz on the ashes of Simon's decent quip. Idiot. Simon gets a good dig in reply to it.

(Aside - the ADA singing dentist gum commercial is odd, but kind of fun.)

04-Remiele Malubay - again with the amazing revelations: she knows how to hula dance. I could drop dead from not surprise. Hope the song is good. "Don't Leave Me This Way." She's handling the slow bit all right, but the transition is rough. The song really kicks there and she didn't kick with it, it left her behind. I also think the song needs that key change upward, or it just lays there. Speaking of which, she's just immobile. The vocal is maybe a six; the rest of it is a two.

And who stole Randy's brain? It's not a bad song choice. The trouble wasn't the choice, it was that she didn't sell it at all, it just lay there. No conviction at all.

05-Kristy Lee Cook - surprise! "I'm a tomboy." Gosh, NO! The horse-riding, kickboxing, strong-shouldered, muscle-toned girl is a tomboy. What, is this M Night Shyamalan Twist Week?

"You're No Good," Linda Ronstadt. She tended to shout a little, so Kristy may do well here if she's powerful but in control. Alas... control is good, but she's lacking a little in the power. The "gonna say it again" phrase needs to be stronger. Gotta SELL IT. She just never went for bust in that performance. However, she did move around a lot better, looked good, and the vocal was better than last week.

06-Amanda Overmeyer - Biker Nurse is already Dead Girl Singing. Goodness, why is a badger perched on her head? "Carry On Wayward Son." You know, for a rock tune, this is really sedate. It must be hard to rock out with a giant fork sticking out of one's back. At least she picked something with words this time, but it's just sitting there. Her vocal is messy. What the heck was that spazz dance during the guitar break? Too stagey. She's done like Christmas ham. Paula, oddly, says "We need her in the competition," but Simon has the perfect description: "Contrived." It's so obviously bad that the audience doesn't even boo him when he rips her. Ouch.

07-Alaina Whitaker - will be singing "Hopelessly Devoted to You," so I will spend this commercial break cringing. Everyone sings this, especially when they used to do Movie Week. Olivia Newton-John is a tough act to follow. Please don't stink.

Heh, interesting, kinda-OCD secret habit - she hates for her foods to mingle on the plate. I used to have this when I was a kid - I would have to dig out any peas or whatever that got into the mashed potatoes, and eat them first. Only then could I move on to the rest of the meal. Cruel parents would have noticed this and served me jambalya.

Ironically, she's the right age for the role she's singing, but is her voice up to it? I liked her demeanor for the song, but the vocal is average. Better finish than start. She didn't bother trying for the high note at the end (probably wise). She may not get another shot to improve.

08-Alexandréa Lushington - didn't notice her secret. It was probably that she likes to wear her shoes on her feet. "If You Leave Me Now" - watch it, you're starting to Happy Face.... tapping your hand in time. Quit bein' glad about your misery! Just eh - dull. This song has a dearth of vocal fireworks, so you have to sell the emotion behind it. I also don't like that she omitted the only real pop in the tune, when Cetera practically starts bawling at the very end. Alaina is the happiest girl in the room right now. And she just made it forty times worse when the judges point out that this was a poor choice of song: "I know the song was right for me." WRONG-O. She also adds, "I'm the underdog." I'll take Self-Fulfilling Prophecy for $400.

09-Kady Malloy - wow, she sings opera. Does darned well, actually. Hearts have been broken, so she's doubling up on the Wilson sisters, this time "Magic Man." She's taking it to a lower key, which is just silly. If you can sing alto opera, couldn't you hit these higher notes? Instead, she started too low and her bottom register is bad during the verses. She's not selling the song well. The girls are staggering around the final turn here. It was kinda maybe better than the last two but she's not safe.

(Aside - I hate "The Moment of Truth." It's despicable. In the promo, the show's own host says that he wished the producers would have spiked the upcoming episode. Good job, boys! How was this ever greenlighted?)

10-Asia'h Epperson - are you sitting down? She was a cheerleader in school. Like, no way! Even she realizes that this is less than startling. I wish everyone would have taken her advice about selling the cheer/selling the song. She's singing Eric Carmen, "All By Myself." Another person singing in the wrong key for their voice, she's not reaching the bottom notes on the verses. Chorus is better until the big note, which is screechy and sharp. I am not pleased at all. She had the emotion, but the performance didn't get there. Since this was such a poor week for the ladies, she's probably OK. Somehow, however, Randy is happy with it. Did he grab Paula's cup by mistake? He's loopy and she's on target, noticing the pitch problems. Simon, as usual, is spot-on: "You almost got away with it, but the song showed you up." Ryan tries to rally to Asia'h's defense but Simon nails him: "You have to know your limitations - like Ryan."

By the way, typing the word Asia'h's made me bleed from the eyes. This is a job for the Name Police.

Whew, the girls really closed out poorly. Any of six girls could make the bottom three. I'm going to say Biker Nurse (mortal lock), Alexandréa (for singing a slow old song no young people know or like - and then kvetching at the judges), and Remiele (first dud of the night, with three good-to-awesome performances before and a good performance after). Kady could get in there too, I don't know. Biker Nurse and Alexandréa will be leaving us.

Want more Idol snark? Go, read! And read more!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Top ten arguments about top ten things

It's too easy - if you want to start a fight, make a list.

Cullen's right, this thing is borderline silly. Any list will leave shows off: either shows not seen or shows that (fairly or not) the individual in question simply hates. For what it's worth, I'd set my top ten brainy shows up roughly like this - with the caveat that these are shows I've seen a lot of. If one you prefer is left off, it's probably because it's before my time. And all other things being equal, I went with the more entertaining show over smart and dull, because you have to be pretty smart to be able to entertain with a smart show.

Jeopardy - you can't simply guess your way through this board. Bonus points for having two famous hosts AND a Wierd Al parody song. (Which makes sense how, exactly? I dunno. It makes sense to me. I won't hear any more of these ridiculous accusations!)

The Simpsons - with all due respect to the excellent Futurama, the Simpsons is the cleverer show. The song work is incredible; the quick sight gags and word plays never overwhelm the characters or plots; and it's lasted forever. To be that seriously good for so long really takes some brains.

Bones - I prefer this to the various CSI franchises. They debate a lot of really heady stuff while they solve crimes, and very little of it seems forced - that's some good writing (and great acting).

Mythbusters - any show that blows stuff up for SCIENCE! has to garner some consideration, the moreso because they are informative and entertaining at the same time. Along the same lines (but not as "smart") was Junkyard Wars - they didn't do as good a job at explaining some of the principles behind their actions because of the format involved.

Good Eats - a nerd show about food. The concept itself is just genius, but to pull it off takes some brains, not the least of which belongs to host Alton Brown. It's not just about yummy food but about why it's yummy, and how the recipes work the way they do.

Sesame Street - it isn't easy to get kids to learn, but they do it, primarily by not assuming that kids are dumb just because they're innocent and little. Always catchy and inventive.

Schoolhouse Rock - you could say that these three-minute snippets weren't shows, per se, but stop for a moment and think about it. Do you know the preamble to the US Constitution? The times tables? How do conjunctions function? Or the nervous system? And all of it set to extremely well-written jazz, funk, pop, and country. That takes some kind of genius.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 - from concept to execution, this remains one of the best shows ever. They were smart enough to withhold explaining WHY the show happened: the theme song set it up and then you were off. Bonus points for the invention exchange segments, which had to be discontinued after Joel Hodgson left, since he was the guy who came up with all of them. (This is not to dig Mike Nelson, who was after all the show's primary writer.) Above all, the basic likeability of the poor guy in space gave the show charm to go along with its wit.

The various WB Batman/Superman animated shows - maybe this list really betrays what kind of schlock I grew up with, but I stand by the choice. Leaving aside the Justice League and Teen Titans stuff, just focus on the two shows where Bats and Supes went solo. You've got excellent voice work all around (especially the leads, Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly), fine plots, and a focus not just on the derring-do but on the alter-egos and their problems, most of which can't be solved with a timely kick to the chops. I especially like how these shows let you into the thinking aspects of each character as they faced their challenges.

I'm going to make those last two shows #9 and 10. They're not in any sort of order, you'll see. I'm not smart enough for that. And I'm going to go ahead and apologize in particular for two programs: MacGuyver and Quantum Leap. Wonderful shows, and very cleverly done, but I haven't seen more than three or four of each of them, so I can't put them into my own list. If you guys want to do something less, you know, cartoony, then by all means swap them in for two others. (And geez, there are an awful lot of cartoons up there. And musical stuff. Heh, drawing and singing, two things I really don't do well, wind up all over the list - that's not connected AT ALL to ANYTHING.)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

God 1, NFL 0

Update on this post:
The NFL, which found itself on the receiving end of protests and controversy after it objected to churches showing the Super Bowl on big-screen televisions, has reversed course and will now permit the viewings.
In a letter to Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league would not object to "live showings -- regardless of screen size -- of the Super Bowl" by religious organizations.

In response to questions from Hatch, Goodell said in the letter, dated Feb. 19, the NFL will implement the policy starting with next year's Super Bowl.
The rest of this article is here.
To be fair to the NFL, they were not targeting churches, it's just that the church parties fell under their general rule. In general this is not a bad rule. On Super Bowl Sunday in Tampa your neighbor can set up his plasma in his backyard along with the keg and the grill. Do you want to have 300 drunks next door? Especially when you didn't get an invite?
I can understand the concerns of my libertarian friends about Senators Hatch and "Snarlin'" Arlen Spector's involvement. Guys, it was just a letter and a question - a light touch to fix a small desparity.
Update:I need fully wake up before I post. My libertarian friends may have a stronger argument. Congress was threatening a legislative fix. In a sense, Senator Hatch's letter may have started with, "Commissioner Goodell, if you like kneecaps the way they are..."
Why is this guy posting on a Saturday? Doesn't he have a life?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Put Your Makeup On, Fix Your Hair Up Pretty..

...and meet me tonight in Atlantic City.
Playing like a seasoned gambler, he blended in with the rest of the crowd, wagering thousands of dollars at the poker and blackjack tables at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
He was even rewarded with comps for being a “rated player.”
But his yearlong gambling spree finally ended in late 2006, when Borgata officials found out that this would-be high roller was actually a 19-year-old underage gambler.
He was able to avoid detection for so long because the casino failed to verify his age after he used fake identification to sign up for a Borgata player's card. Now Borgata has been slapped with a $105,000 fine in what is the largest penalty ever against an Atlantic City casino for violating New Jersey's law prohibiting anyone younger than 21 years old from gambling.
This kid was sharp, When I was 18, I was only playing a one-armed bandit when I got tossed from a casino in Reno back in 19-whatever. Security waited till I lost all my money before busting me.
My friend stayed longer because he kept winning. He was ahead when security lost patience and stopped him. I don't remember how much he won, but when he cashed in his quarters for bills, the cashier was nervous about giving an underaged gambler his winnings, so she gave the cash to the Lutheran minister who brought us in the joint.

Sally Rand @ The Nukes That Brought My Daddy Home

I've seen a photo, in my mother's possession, of my father as a young sailor during WW2 with this woman.

It looks like it's from a USO show when Dad was @ Pearl Harbor in 1945.

On a related subject, I sometimes wonder if I or my siblings would be here if The USA didn't drop the nukes on Nippon. Would Dad have been part of the land invasion of the Japanese Islands in the spring of 1946?

What am I to think of the nukes that brought my Dad home to marry my Mom and beget me?

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Passion of the Muslim Christ

This ain't Mel's movie.
We are talking about the same beautiful man, the same beautiful prophet, the same divine person sent from heaven. In the Koran, it emphasizes maybe three main points: about the birth, about the fact that he was not the son of God, and then, that he was not crucified. The rest is [the same] Jesus ... the sermons, and the miracles, and the political situation.
See! Other than some trivial things like not being the Son of God and not being crucified, The Christian Jesus and the Muslim Jesus are the same guy. So lighten up!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Bless you, FJM

They give bad sportswriting the brutal dope-slapping that it deserves. In fact, they do it so well that some people notice and realize instantly what it means: accountability. They can no longer run thrice-weekly columns claiming that David Eckstein makes your team better, or that "my eyes tell me that Bert Blyleven isn't a Hall-of-Famer," or "this guy strikes out too much." They have to keep up with things.

Some folks react poorly to this, as the Bill Conlin saga demonstrated. Most just put down their heads and plow onward, as this tidbit shows.

Dak doesn't touch on everything, but he mentions this one glaring statement by George King: "There was nothing wrong with Andy Phillips and Doug Mientkiewicz, but the Yankees got rid of them. Instead, they are looking at Duncan, Wilson Betemit, Jason Lane and Morgan Ensberg."

There is, in fact, a whole hell of a lot wrong with the guys the Yanks ditched. Andy Phillips is just short of 31, with a career OPS of .678 in less than a full season's worth of plate appearances. Last season's mark of .711 was 44th in all of baseball among first basemen, with teammate Mientkiewicz checking in at 30th. This would be an embarassing month for a lot of guys, much less a full season from two of them. The Yanks cannot afford an entire season of this from first base, where offense is the premium concern.

Shelley Duncan was a rookie last season and hit seven homers - as many as Phillips and Mientkiewicz combined. Add in Betemit (who can also spell A-Rod at third), hope that either Jason Lane (primarily an outfielder, but moving to first is generally easier) or Morgan Ensberg (again, can move from third to first, and waves a decent stick) makes the roster, and the Yankees have improved that spot in the lineup considerably over teh suq that generally ruled last season. Bonus: Lane wouldn't be a bad fourth outfielder, either, so the Yankees can properly rest the aging and injury-prone Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui.

The worst bit, to me, was one not covered by Dak: "How will the young arms fare?" Read those three paragraphs and tell me if you find even word one about how the writer thinks they will do. I didn't find a thing. Was it badly done? Not necessarily - the upshot is, if Chamberlain starts, the Yankee bullpen is weakened and Ian Kennedy goes to AAA ball. Reasonable analysis, and also irrelevant to the question, which was how these guys will actually pitch, not where.

If we were in a bar and I said, "Hey imaginary person in this cool invisible bar, how do you think the Yankees young pitchers will do this year?" then you might say, "Well, 'fly, Joba only threw 115 or so innings last year, only has 24 major league innings, so they should limit his work and build him up to about 140 or so this year - maybe spot-start him when there aren't that many days off. He may struggle as the league catches up to him and he pitches through fatigue more often. Hughes will hold down the second or third spot in the rotation. Kennedy may not be league-average at first but he'll get innings and he should have a better second half as he adjusts to big-league hitting." I'd then say, "Cool, thanks." Or, you could say, "Gee, I read the Baseball Analysts and their section on the AL East's rookies has some good info on Chamberlain and Kennedy," and I'd say, "That's nifty! I'll have to read up."

That would be better, wouldn't it?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Hockey Weekend...

...across America.

Friday is Wear Your Jersey to Class Day. Fly, did you ever do this @ RU or in high school?

Saturday is Bring a Friend to the Rink Day.

Sunday is Celebrate Local Hockey Heroes Day. For some that local hockey hero is the Nightfly himself.

Here in Tampa our hockey hero is Vinny Prospal.

Poetry best served cold

From Greg Ames, via Tracey. One wonders how it happened...

A boy has dreams.
His heroes are tall,
his ideals are noble.
Most people get this about boys,
having been (or been near) one in times past.

Parents tread softly around boys' dreams,
even when their boy is weird.

This boy's dream shaped his world.
He was a serious, crusty six-year-old,
wore button-down shirts with rolled-up sleeves,
and he refused to have spunk.

His parents found him one April morning
with the electric razor,
trying to give himself male-pattern baldness.
Good parents tread softly around boys' dreams,
but this was much.

They took him out to see the show.
He didn't even mind
that his hero turned out to be short
and irascible.
He waited, reporter's steno book in hand,
an index card with "Press" in crayon
taped to his Twins cap.

"Mr. Grant, sir?"

It could have been pressure from rewrites,
it could have been the crowds.
It could have been that he broke into a take
that they'd tried eleven times.
It could have been how they all went "awww"
or the grin from Gavin MacLeod.
But Lou Grant hissed, "Not now, kid,"
and sent him on his way.

That night
the boy burned his homemade press pass in the backyard grill
and swore an oath over the ashes:
"I'll get you for this, Ed Asner."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sometimes I'm glad when it's quiet here

The alternative is mind-numbing flame wars.

The article's kind of simple, really. The Islanders are hurt, slumping, and the coach acknowledges that if they don't play better, a few of those guys are going to wind up on other teams.

If it's that simple, then you'd think that the discussion would be about which teams would want players who are currently Islanders, and what could be gotten in return, and what the Isles could do in the upcoming draft, regarded as talent-rich. You would be a raging pollyanna optimist with an aw-shucks grin the size of the Dakotas. The "discussion," as such, starts here.

First three comments make sense. Then someone insults Rick DiPietro, who's been carrying this team and its matador defense for most of the season. Then someone insults another poster. And then, when I try to actually talk about actual hockey, the response from "Busey" in Melville is to tell me to sod off. (Twice, actually.)

I can suppose that he saw the **** in my comment and assumed that I wasn't worth dealing with. (For the record, the board monitors struck out the word "crap." I presume that Busey wasn't telling me to "crap off.") I also see his grasp of numbers is slack; the Isles drew over 9600 fans that night, not 5000. But after that it's people telling other people to die, and other useful information.

At times like this I'm glad for The Puck Stops Here - a guy who just loves hockey and posts about everything that's happening in the league. When there are comments, they're smart and polite. His sidebar is another wealth of hockey goodness. Newsday hides the comments unless you click to them, which is just as well; but I'm not reading the articles, either. Life is too short.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Man's Best Friend... a gator's snack.

An alligator that ate a dog at Al Lopez Park on Monday has not been caught, though it was nowhere to be seen a day later.

A trapper hired by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission failed in a first attempt to snare the gator and will return until the reptile is caught, said Gary Morse, a spokesman for the game commission.

On Monday morning, an alligator that stayed near a walking path past the park's South Pond grabbed a dog belonging to Sarah Frey that got too close. Morse did not know the type of dog.
Emilio Lefler reached the pond moments later.

"The alligator had a dog in its mouth," Lefler said this morning. "You could see fur out the side of its mouth."

Lefler, 78, said he regularly saw the alligator either in the water a few yards from the asphalt path or sunning itself on a bank.

"That was a big alligator. When they say it was 8 feet, it was every bit of 8 feet," he said.

Guys, this park is in the city limits of Tampa, across the street from Raymond James Stadium, home of the Bucs.

Assume every natural body of fresh water has a gator in it.

If Archbishop Rowan caved to Isamists..

...then this is an avalanche.

Dutch Catholics have re-branded the Lent fast as the "Christian Ramadan" in an attempt to appeal to young people who are more likely to know about Islam than Christianity.

The Catholic charity Vastenaktie, which collects for the Third World across the Netherlands during the Lent period, is concerned that the Christian festival has become less important for the Dutch over the last generation. "The image of the Catholic Lent must be polished. The fact that we use a Muslim term is related to the fact that Ramadan is a better-known concept among young people than Lent," said Vastenaktie Director, Martin Van der Kuil.

So is the Dutch Catholic Church going Bill Hybels seeker friendly? Marketing isn't the issue. Teach the truth, and people who want to hear the truth will come to you.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Can she keep this campaign promise?

Guys, the only reason I bring up the Clintons is for laughs. Seriously, how can Hillary make this promise?
Clinton, speaking on WJLA Channel 7 in Washington and, also promised there would be no new scandals involving her husband, former President Bill Clinton. The senator was asked a question from a reader in Santa Monica, Calif., who was seeking assurance that "no new business or personal scandal involving Bill Clinton" could erupt if she were in the White House and give fodder to Republicans.
This is one of Obama's selling points, that compared to his competitor he is relatively scandal free. And unless the former president has had the kind of surgery more common in the veterinary field, Hillary can't make the above assurances.

Professor Tolkien got stiffed?

This is so wrong.

The estate of "Lord of the Rings" creator J.R.R. Tolkien is suing the film studio that released the trilogy based on his books, claiming the company hasn't paid it a penny from the estimated $6 billion the films have grossed worldwide.

The suit, filed Monday, claims New Line was required to pay 7.5 percent of gross receipts to Tolkien's estate and other plaintiffs, who contend they only received an upfront payment of $62,500 for the three movies before production began.

The writer's estate, a British charity dubbed The Tolkien Trust, and original "Lord of the Rings" publisher HarperCollins filed the lawsuit against New Line Cinema in Los Angeles Superior Court. If successful, it could block the long-awaited prequel to the films.

Robert Pini, a spokesman for Time Warner Inc.'s New Line, declined to comment.

The Spider's First Hockey Post

Usually the Nightfly is the hockey guy, but this happened in my backyard.
Two professional hockey players and a man who may have played professional basketball were arrested outside a South Tampa nightclub early this morning, police say.

The hockey players, who identified themselves as members of the Montreal Canadiens, were arrested about 3 a.m. outside Whiskey Park, 720 S. Howard Ave.

Police say defenseman Ryan O'Bryne stole a woman's purse and teammate Thomas Kostopoulos resisted an officer.

The Canadiens are scheduled to play the Tampa Bay Lightning in Tampa on Tuesday night.
In town two days before the game? Too many ways for a Canadian (or Canadien) to get in trouble.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

I'm listening to Dire Straits...

...and it's depressing the meshuggah out of me.
Romeo & Juliet, Private Investigations, Brothers in Arms, On Every Street.
Where did I leave the rat poison?
I'll put on the Steely Dan song "Don't Take Me Alive". That'll cheer me up.

I got ARPC Form 156 in the mail

But what's more important is that it came with a copy of my DD Form 214!!!!!
I am handling it like a piece of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
I am going to make 10 copies and mail them to Mom and my brothers and sisters.
Now where's that birth certificate? This will be a chore, since I was born in the US Army Hospital in San Juan, Puerto Rico. When I hit 21 years of age I started getting campaign literature from the governor of Puerto Rico. In Spanish.

Friday, February 08, 2008

No one expects... the Dhimminquisition!

Yeah, so this morning's news from Ye Olde Country hasn't been very encouraging.

Dr Rowan Williams told Radio 4's World at One that the UK has to "face up to the fact" that some of its citizens do not relate to the British legal system. Dr Williams argues that adopting parts of Islamic Sharia law would help maintain social cohesion.

Even for the current Archbishop of Canterbury, this seems a little dumb. Large amounts of unassimilated immigrants is actually a large factor in social disruption: each treats the other with a lot of suspicion and resentment, precisely because "they aren't our kind, they don't follow our ways." Usually, what happens is that their children grow up together as friends in the same neighborhood, under a single system of laws, education, and a shared experience that blends elements of the new cultures with the existing. It takes time, and a commitment to seeing it through.

Letting people opt out of that common life - especially to follow a code that is in many ways inimical to the common life - is about 180° from where you ought to be heading.

He stresses that "nobody in their right mind would want to see in this country the kind of inhumanity that's sometimes been associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states; the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women as well".

For the Reverend Doctor's sake, I hope that this is true, and he really isn't in his right mind. If this IS his right mind, he's astonishingly dense.

But Dr Williams said an approach to law which simply said "there's one law for everybody and that's all there is to be said, and anything else that commands your loyalty or allegiance is completely irrelevant in the processes of the courts - I think that's a bit of a danger".

The good thing about being this blind is that these nova-sized Flashes of the Obvious don't do any damage. It's rather a hassle for the rest of us, however.

Of course, Dr. Williams can meekly slap his noggin down on the chopping block if he pleases, as is his right; but what gets me is that this will stick a lot of other innocent heads down alongside: "Last month, the Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, said some places in the UK were no-go areas for non-Muslims." That's from the very tail end of the article. I have no doubt it's accurate: half of France's cars burn every time something annoys the Presbyterian Community; in places like Germany, Denmark, and even the US, there are incidents of honor killings and other examples of calculated mayhem.

The worst part about this, in some ways, is that it's not even surprising to hear the current head of the Church of England talk like this. England has long been in the forefront of a disturbing trend: every time there's trouble with crime, they pass laws to punish the law abiding: disarming them (even knife control is proposed, now), prosecuting and convicting them for self-defense, and most recently a proposal to shrink the police force. What happened to blood, toil, sweat, and tears? What happened to fighting them on the beaches, and in the streets, and never surrendering?

On one side we've got a demoralized and weaponless citizenry, protected by a denuded police force, topped by moral and civic leaders who willingly welcome and embolden their sworn foes. When the smash comes, which side do you think is likely to win?

(Thanks to the Swillers and It Comes in Pints for their posts.)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Lake Como Family Nudist Resort

Get your mind out of the gutter! This is a Family Nudist Resort. And yes, I've been there.

Lake Como Family Nudist Resort has opened its new RV and mobile home park, South Grove Village, the product of a four-year redevelopment project.

To showcase the park, Lake Como will have a free open house from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

The village features 33 mobile home spaces, 39 RV spaces with full hookups, and a new bathhouse with indoor laundry facilities, all within walking distance of a pool, sauna, outdoor hot tub, restaurant, nightly entertainment and other amenities.

Lake Como is home to more than 200 full- and part-time residents and host to some 1,500 tourists per year. It's the oldest nudist resort in Florida and one of the largest in the country, with 200 acres of nature, recreation and sports amenities, a news release states.

About five years ago our company put a new A/C in one of the homes at Lake Como.

Thankfully, the homeowners had clothes on while we were there.

What I discovered is that this place was more like an AARP nudist resort. I saw no one under the age of 50, and as someone closing in on the half-centry mark myself I can attest that there are not many of us you want to see naked. I myself am a laundry bag with legs.

But about the "family" nudist resort. You may be into the nudist thing, but having your kids, your teenagers doing this? How many deviants would making their weekend reservations at good old Lake Como?


I mentioned previously that Nina had written a great post that had gotten me thinking and writing. I'm not done with that yet, but darned if she hasn't done it again here on Ash Wednesday.

Well, I'll take it in reverse order and share some of the things this made me think about, especially in light of the developing conversation in the comments. Why here? Length and manners. I don't want to tie up someone else's comment section with my theologisms. In the end it's not for me to butt in, so I just offer it here for whomever wishes to read it. (Or really yell at me in my own comment section, since that's what it's there for.)

The comments there, by the way, are wonderful. A lot of people are offering their opinions without ruining the thread with a bunch of stupid fights. (That's what this post is for. =P) And around 17 or so, there's this comment.

Willowtree: "Catholicism thrives on guilt and forgiveness, they are so obsessed with sin that they even give you one to start with the moment you are born, how sick is that! Why not make things easier on yourself and just ditch them? It's easier than you think, I did it and I come from a family full of priests and nuns! If you switched to Buddhism your mindset would switch to not committing the transgression in the first place, rather than seeking forgiveness afterwards."

Not to pick on WT, but by design or chance he's hit on a few of the major unspoken assumptions about Christianity (Catholic or otherwise) that are not really founded in fact. Not that there aren't humbugs and legalists in the faith. There are many; but there are also a lot of humbug, legalistic atheists. There are scolds and busybodies who couldn't give a rip about any church at all, but want the authority to mandate how long your showers last and how far your cars can run and what you can buy with your own money. To me, it's obvious that this comes from someplace other than faith.

The natural question then becomes, is the person who chooses a faith doing so from a legalistic personality, and naturally choosing the most legalistic faith out there? If the Church doesn't cause the problem, does it simply cement it in religious attitudes?

It all depends on who's doing the teaching. The Bible is pretty clear about it: "I came that they might have life, and have it more abundantly." (John 10:10). But a church comprised of people can of course miss the best part of the gospels. And even if not, there's a lesson to be learned from the rapid exodus of believers from the more permissive denominations: when a church loses touch with the tough parts of the faith - the sin from which we are redeemed - then their followers, not surprisingly, see no need for a Redeemer and feel no loyalty to Him or His people. We don't like being bound and gagged by laws: "They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger" (Matthew 23:4); but neither are we meant to be utterly lawless - serving our momentary whims and instincts as if we were no more than cats or chickens. Go to your local mall or sit in a coffee shop for an hour and listen to people - heck, watch Judge Judy for a week - and you will gather many examples of the unhappy results of living without any discipline or consequence.

This gets to be complicated. Well, if we obviously need a few rules, but not too many, why bother with a faith? Why not just be a good person? I think it's preferable to being a bad person, but good or bad, I still think faith is the way to go: because of that "sin you start out with," in WT's words. Sick? In the literal sense, yes we are. "It is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick." (Matthew 9:12) The Church doesn't assign us a sin when we're born, as if we did something wrong on our way out of the womb; it describes a real problem. We are the sort of creature that commits sin. Original Sin wasn't invented to punish us - or, if it was, then we are the unhappy holders of the patent, not the Catholic Church. Saying "men are sinners" is like saying "cats are felines."

As a result, avoiding transgressions, while a valuable skill, is not one that comes naturally to us - nor does it really repair the fundamental problem, any more than chicken soup and orange juice really cure a cold. You may feel better but you're still not cured. We need virtue that is not naturally in us; something more than the mere absence of sin. If avoiding transgression is all there is to Buddhism, then Buddhists are missing a major part of the picture.

Now, I know next to nothing about Buddhism, but I'm reasonably sure that it's not all there is to it; I'm even willing to guess that it isn't even the main draw - so I have to ask why, given all the various teachings that go into it, that this one was picked as the selling point. It's possible that the answer is right there - it was meant to directly contradict the idea that Catholicism is all about the guilt.

Luckily, this is the opposite of Catholicism. The faith is all about grace, and being freed from guilt. (If one has done wrong, it's good to know that it's not a permanent condition.) In fact, Catholicism and Buddhism agree about not committing the transgression, and also about not obsessing over the ones that have already gone. The difference is that Buddhism (as I understand it) tells us that there's nothing to obsess about, because all is illusion anyway; whereas the Catholic view is "Be of good cheer! Your sins are forgiven." That is why Nina can close her tremendous post thus: "...confession is a terrible, awful, very bad, perfect thing. And by the time you see me again, I will have tried to accomplish it with something like dignity."

The dignity relies on Christ and not us, so I can confidently say "mission accomplished." And that is ultimately the beauty of the faith, as properly practiced.* All the good in it depends on God, who never runs out of it, nor ceases to give grace. We can therefore face terrible times, endure hardship, or even just feel crummy without worrying that He will grow disgusted by us and kick us to the curb.

The alternative here is Nirvana**, an attractive concept - that we can rise above all such illusions and embrace pure, still emptiness. The downside is that this is not actual freedom. There is nothing to be freed from, since slavery (such as that to sin) doesn't actually exist. So in the end, it solves the "problem" by saying that there is no problem at all, and no solution.

This is fine unless sin is real, in which case we're going to need a more concrete approach. Saying so is not a matter of indulging our own grim need to feel badly about ourselves. I'm sure that WT would reject an accusation that his fondness for Buddhism indulges his need not to have to make up his mind - it's clear that he has made it up, and has set his path accordingly. If one really thinks that there is no "there" there (or anywhere) then it's a sensible choice. I will not accuse him of such an indulgence, but fair's fair; I also reject his assumption of loving guilt as a motive for belief in Christ. Rather, I think that there really is sin in me, and Christ is the one who offers the cure for it. From the "all is nothing" point of view it does seem a psychological mumbo-jumbo of hang-ups. ("Why not make things easier on yourself and just ditch them?") Looked at from the other side it's rather meat-and-potatoes, everyday sense. (Yeah, meat and potatoes on Ash Wednesday. Brilliant, 'fly.) There is sin, and also Jesus Christ: thus freedom from sin, through grace.

In any case, the things we think of as "the Church's hang-ups" are often our own, passed on to us by our parents or peers in defiance of good sense and the actual faith. We abandon the ways of our youth, and quite naturally feel better. But we could just as easily leave behind the hang-ups while remaining in the Church. When I decided to start taking my faith seriously in college, it was the beginning of freedom. I didn't have to obsess over sin any more because I had a Redeemer. Again - a child of Buddhists may say in college, "Man, that eightfold path is nothing but a drag; I'm converting! Thank goodness I'm finally free of it. Chuck it all and you'll be glad you did!" Is it really about the teachings, or is it about annoying Mum and Dad?

* I call it practice on purpose - I may sound pretty good but I have a lot more trouble actually living the faith properly. For now, I settle for living it clumsily and braying about insights that are beyond my power to perform. Still, there's Jesus, so I hope for better.

**There's an upper-end furniture and notions store in Red Bank named Nirvana: pricey decor for enlightened incomes. One wonders how they can sell anything. "Embrace nothingness - and YOU NEED THIS LAMP."

Deputy Shaq

Imagine getting pulled over by this guy.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio is excited that Shaq's coming to town.

Arpaio deputized Shaquille O'Neal, who became a Phoenix Sun on Wednesday, two years ago.

``Actually, I made him a colonel after he won the NBA championship (with the Miami Heat in 2006)," Arpaio said after learning of the trade.

``He's a great addition to the Valley. He's a good guy and likes law enforcement, and I hope he'll be good for the Phoenix Suns."

The sheriff added, ``I'm glad he's coming out to my turf. I'm hoping we'll recruit him for our posse. Maybe we'll go after illegal immigrants and other crime."
Arpaio has one concern.

``The only problem I have is he keeps saying he wants to run for sheriff in Florida or California. I hope he doesn't get any ideas here in Phoenix. However, I'd beat him anyway."

Arpaio said he'll have a uniform made for Shaq if he'll join the posse. It will be a big one. O'Neal stands 7-feet-1, weighs 325 pounds and wears a size 23 shoe.

Shaq is no stranger to police work; he has been a Miami Dade volunteer office for years.

Charlie Balances the Budget... betting on your betting.
The spending blueprint Crist is sending to the Legislature is propped up with $405-million in new money from various forms of gambling. But most of the new money, $248-million, comes from what Crist calls "enhancements" to the Florida Lottery. These include instant-ticket lottery vending machines in high-traffic areas - low-income neighborhoods where desperate people try to bet their way out of poverty; a new $30 scratchoff ticket, and two-a-day Cash 3 and Play 4 drawings.

Crist promised as a candidate in 2006 that he would not expand gambling, and on a plane trip on Oct. 18, 2006, said he would not rely on gambling money to pay the state's bills.

"The numbers work without it," Crist said then.

Not any more, they don't.

Why not just say that you expect $405 million in revenue from seagulls flying down from heaven with bags of money? I'm from Atlantic City, NJ; I've heard this story before. You folks who still live in Jersey will testify about how the state treasury is overflowing in cash because of casino gambling, whoops - I mean "gaming" and that AC is a paradise on earth.

We have all been in the convenience store checkout line. Donald Trump and Marvin Glazer aren't buying these lotto tix. Why tax the rich when the poor give it up easier than Paris Hilton?

Crist is one of the reasons I left the GOP six months ago. In 2006, Charlie flashed religious conservatives enough leg to tease us into the voting booth. He supported the Defense of Marriage Amendment - now he's running away from it. Obviously he broke his promise concerning gambling and the budget. And he is a self-identified McCainkisser.

After I cast my vote in 2006 I felt like a whore. Now that I am no longer a Republican I don't have to carry water for these clowns anymore.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Giving Up Carbon For Lent

I'm sure the Fly is thanking God it was C of E bishops and not Catholics recommending this.
Two senior Church of England Bishops have called on people to give up carbon rather than chocolate for Lent.

They want to drive home the climate change message to churchgoers by encouraging them to cut their energy use.

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones and the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, will make the call before the 40 days of Lent begins on Wednesday February 6.Lent is the time when Christians traditionally give up such things as sweets, chocolate or alcohol in recognition of the 40 days Christ spent fasting in the desert to prepare for his ministry.This year they will be asked to think about their own carbon footprint and follow a few simple steps designed to help cut CO2 emissions. They include:

* avoiding plastic bags
* giving the dishwasher a day off
* insulating the hot water tank
* checking the house for drafts with a ribbon and buying draught excluders

Yeah, I'm going to feel a lot closer to Jesus after I insulate my hot water tank.

For a Brief Moment, I Pitied Him

I went to bed at 8 pm Super Tuesday Night, leaving the radio on to hear of the returns. I awoke at 11 pm with the voice of Hillary cackling in my ear.
And for a brief moment I felt sorry for Bill Clinton.

A constant dripping on a day of steady rain And a contentious woman are alike ;
He who would restrain her restrains the wind , And grasps oil with his right hand .

Proberbs 27:15-16

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Hammer time

Such a great article from Russ McQueen at The Baseball Analysts, about one of the ten best pitchers in my lifetime. Of course, by the time I had figured it out, he was better known for his Century 21 commercial, but still... And check out comment number 15!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Rockin' the blues

A couple of weeks ago, we went to the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank to see the rock n' roll. My dear heart is a big fan of live concerts; me, not so much, but it's something I'm learning to enjoy with her. The three young fellows emerging from the golden haze in the following photograph were the opening act.

This is something you need to own, quickly

I'm used to typical opening acts. For example, we've seen HIM twice and each time the opening acts were atrocious. Well, these guys were the exact opposite of atrocious. Back Door Slam is a blues power trio from the Isle of Man, none of them older than 20, and they are filthy good.

Davy Knowles (guitar/vocals) handles the songwriting, and both his composing and performing are incredible, especially for such a young guy. The drum chair is held by Ross Doyle, a gregarious man with excellent timing and a gift for playing well without indulging in fireworks. (Not that a four-song set offers much opportunity, but there you are.) And the bassist, Adam Jones, just keeps things in the groove - he reminds me most of a young John Entwistle in that he's rock-solid and stays happily in the background.

The band played three songs off the album pictured above: Come Home, Heavy on My Mind, and It'll All Come Around, and added the Robert Cray tune that gave them their name. Afterward, they slipped out to the lobby to sell CDs - fifteen bucks got us a disc AND a poster with all three kids' signatures. Since they were all there, I also asked them to sign the CD insert (they did so on the inside), and told them that they were made of awesome. Knowles especially was gracious about it - he looks no older than any of the kids giving you fries with that at your local drive-through, and seems genuinely staggered that people enjoy his band. He hasn't lost that "this is the coolest thing EVER" vibe, and I dig that.

In a couple of years, it'll take 100 bucks and a crowbar to get a signed CD and poster at one of their gigs, so act now. Seriously. This is some terrific blues. ***½ out of four, only because I want to be able to go up when they blow us all away with the second album.

Oh, and the headliners? Some old dudes...

Not pictured: anything remotely associated with Mr. Roboto

Steeks? Stikes? Something like that.

Hey eighteen

Hard to believe it was enough points, but it was
Coming into the game, everyone I know was suddenly a Giants fan - everyone down in the Spider's neighborhood, the folks in my apartment watching the game (on a not six-foot screen)... We had Steeler, Redskin, Cowboy, and Eagle fans all pulling for Big Blue. And when Eli Manning hit Plaxico Burress, he made nearly as many believers as Billy Graham.

All fine and good. It was a terrific finish to a decent game. I have but one concern: all season long we've had to hear about Belicheat, videotape, "caught spying," etc. etc. ad nauseum. And the whole world wanted "good" to prevail over "evil." Now that it has, do you expect good's fans to have any dignity about it whatsoever? The one downside to seeing the Giants nail the huge upset is the whole tired '72 Dolphin champagne bit, and the "Boston Sux" bit, and TMQ, and generally dealing with Noo Yawkuhs crowing about it for frickin' EVER. And they will. This town eats its own alive. They tell me my hockey team sucks, even though theirs only wins one Stanley Cup every 67 years or so. They boast on the Yankees, but despise their best player. I know one Jets fan in my office who will act as if he hit Burress in the end zone - and when was the last great Jets moment in football history? Not screwing up in the draft last year? Having neat retro uniforms?

If the Knicks were even close to .500, you'd hear from their fans too. Thank you, Isiah Thomas.

Friday, February 01, 2008

The No Fun League

For years, as many as 200 members of Immanuel Bible Church and their friends have gathered in the church's fellowship hall to watch the Super Bowl on its six-foot screen. The party featured hard hitting on the TV, plenty of food -- and prayer.
But this year, Immanuel's Super Bowl party is no more. After a crackdown by the National Football League on big-screen Super Bowl gatherings by churches, the Springfield church has sacked its event. Instead, church members will host parties in their homes.
You would think that the NFL would be a little more concerned with public relations than copyright, but here is the rule:
The NFL said, however, that the copyright law on its games is long-standing and the language read at the end of each game is well known: "This telecast is copyrighted by the NFL for the private use of our audience. Any other use of this telecast or any pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the game without the NFL's consent is prohibited."
The league bans public exhibitions of its games on TV sets or screens larger than 55 inches because smaller sets limit the audience size. The section of federal copyright law giving the NFL protection over the content of its programming exempts sports bars, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.
To be fair, this rule covers all gatherings, not just churches. Of course, one could convert their church into a forum exempt from the rule. Hope Bible Church & Sports Bar?

Don't Barak That Joint, My Friend

Obama wants to decriminalize it.
Last fall during a nationally televised presidential debate, Sen. Barack Obama hesitantly raised his hand and joined with most of his Democratic rivals to declare that he opposed decriminalizing marijuana.
But as a candidate for the U.S. Senate four years ago, Mr. Obama told Illinois college students that he supported eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana use or possession, according to a videotape of a little noticed debate that was obtained by The Washington Times. "I think we need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws," Mr. Obama told an audience during a debate at Northwestern University in 2004. "But I'm not somebody who believes in legalization of marijuana."
Nowadays I don't think that this will make or break a candidacy. I know that Barak is pandering to college students who never put down their sticky-iky long enough to go and vote.
On a related story, there are now weed vending machines at the aptly named Timothy Leary Medical Dispensary in the San Fernando Valley