Monday, May 29, 2006

They Wish to Cure Us

Even if you haven't seen X3, you've likely heard that line in the promos. I love how Ian McKellen delivers that phrase. I think it has more resonance with me than with most people because growing up my brothers and I would use the word "cure" as a euphemism for "kill". It originiated from a radical mis-hearing of the Band's "Up on Cripple Creek" (radical because neither the word "cure" or "kill" is actually in the song). An example of its use: "If you don't give me the remote I'm going to cure you."

For the awesome use of the word "cure" alone, I'd give this movie five stars. But even without that line, I give it five stars. It got pretty mixed reviews, but I think that's because film critics don't give honest reviews. They try to figure out how a movie is going to be received and then do their best to write a review that won't make them look stupid. I have to qualify this opinion by stating that I don't know what makes a good movie. I've watched fewer movies then about 99% of people my age, and a hugely disproportionate chunk of those have been superhero movies.

Still, I think my unique vantage point as a film consumer allows me to see trends in crticial reception. I finally watched "Blade" a few weeks ago in preparation for the upcoming Spike TV series. That movie got pretty good reviews, but I found it to be pretty terrible (though I did read a good academic paper about it called "Vampire Cyborgs & Scientific Imperialism: A Reading of the science-mysticism Polemic in Blade"). I think it benefitted from being in the early wave of the comic book genre resurgance. I think Daredevil was the first movie to suffer critically from a backlash against the genre, which I think is still existent. I think the Fantastic Four movie last summer would have been absolutley lauded had it come out ten years ago, but it suffered because it didn't give anything new to the genre.

X3 suffered critically because it was the third movie of a franchise, which is traditionally a huge drop off in quality (Superman and the Godfather come to mind, not that I've seen any of the latter). Critical darling Bryan Singer had left as director to pursue Superman and critical whipping boy Brett Ratner took over. There was quite a bit of negative buzz surrounding the project (which was a bit rushed in production to beat Superman to the box office). I think critics read all the tea leaves and decided the fim would flop and wrote their reviews accordingly.

Whoops. Here's a word of advise to critics--never underestimate the power of Stan Lee's Marvel. Here's another piece of advice-- the Internet zeitgeist doesn't necessarily reflect the larger cultural zeitgeist.

So what did I like about the movie? I loved the number of characters. Critics complained that some of them were undeveloped, but if they were all developed critics would have just complained that the movie was too long with too many unnecessary plotlines. There were a core of very well-developed characters and a great group of supporting characters.

I also loved the ethical dilemnas that characters faced throughout the movie. I was especially intrigued that a left-wing franchise seemingly took a turn for the right in this film. Here is a copy of some of my commentary from the X-Men bulletin board (spoilers follow):

I found it interesting that the notion of the cure was ultimately sanctioned as an individual decision. While you could argue that the doctrine of individualism is a leftist cause, I'd argue that it often gets trumped in leftist circles by a demand for oppressed individuals to join together.

I found it interesting how sympathetic Warren Worthington II ended up being. He was portrayed as being misguided, certainly, but I think other directors would have played him more as an evil individual. He really thought he was helping others, and he wasn't made to die for his sins, which again I would expect to be the standard Hollywood portrayal of such a character. I would also expect that alternate scripts would have had him trying to profit from the cure instead of giving it to the government to be administered voluntarily.

The idea that Jean had to be killed struck me as a hard line, conservative reaction to the situation. Storm's exhortation that Wolverine needed to do "what needed to be done" stood out in this vein. It was the type of "Billy Budd" scenario we see played out in many good stories. Does an essentailly good but flawed character have to die for the good of others? The typical leftist approach would be to save the individual, the conservative line would be to make the hard decision for the sake of society. I also think that the difference between Jean's self-sacrifice in X2 and Wolverine's actions in X3 speak to a difference in ideology.

The president was very interesting. Sympathetic to mutant cause, but an ends justify the means guy. He made some hard line, almost Bush-like decisions, and in the end came out smelling like a rose.

Unlike X2, the U.S. military was quite heroic in this film.

Other hard-line ethical decisions were rewarded. Charles's decision to basically tamper with Jean's mind, despite Logan's vehement anger, was proved to be the right thing. Charles's decision to inhabit another body is also played for cheers. Kelsey Grammar's Beast seemed to espouse some of the conservative ideas that the actor is known for.

I don't want to give the impression that I thought this was total right-wing propaganda. On the contrary, I think the film accurately portrayed the ways that people on both sides of a political divide use rhetoric to advance their causes, it showed how much fate and contingency can influence political outcomes, and showed the agony that individuals encounter when caught in a political vortex. All that and great action sequences.

A Nation at Risk

Until recently, I never really thought about differences in public vs. private education. This is probably not hugely atypical for a 20-something male without children, but it is probably atypical of an educator. I went to public school from K-12 because that's where my parents sent me, I went to a private college because of all the ones that I visited, it was the only one that told me I could broadcast as many sporting events as I wanted on campus radio, and I went to a public grad school because it was the closest to my residence.

For the last five years or so I've wanted to be a high school teacher, but due to a variety of circumstances haven't pursued a job in this realm all that aggressively. That changed in the last few months when I was compelled to seek a job for myself. Being certified in Wisconsin, and there being a tremendously convenient database for public teaching jobs in that state, I must have applied for at least 20. There wasn't a huge database for private school openings, so I limited my applications to three, all of which I heard about through word of mouth.

I got exactly one call back for an interview from the public schools I applied to, and didn't get that job. I got one e-mail rejection without an interview, and one snail mail rejection without an interview. The rest of the places didn't bother getting back to me, even in some cases when I followed up with an e-mail to them.

Meanwhile, the one private school I contacted in Kentucky gave me an interview and offered me a job. The other two private schools, in Wisconsin, would have given me interviews, but I took the KY job first.

There are two ways of looking at this situation, and it pretty much hinges on how attractive of a candidate I might be. Either public schools suck for ignoring me or private schools suck for being interested in me. Which one do you think I'm leaning towards?

I'm fairly well convinced that public schools are turned off by my graduate education, since it puts me in a higher pay scale. Private schools still put me on a higher pay scale, but the non-union status changes the dynamic greatly. It's certainly true that most public schools have a ton of applicants to choose from, and they might find a qualified candidate who starts at a low pay scale. But I wonder if many parents are aware that the criteria that public schools use in hiring are often more about finances than qualification. If so, might those parents be more inclined to send their students to private schools?

Monday, May 22, 2006

My All-Time Favorite Obscure TV Shows

In honor of the end of May sweeps, I thought I'd compile a list of my all time favorite obscure TV shows. As I tend to watch only shows involving superheroes, the list is a bit skewed toward that genre.

1) Small Wonder-- In 6th grade I watched this syndicated show every day after school. It was an absolutely absured sitcom about a family with a robot (Vicki) posing as a teenage daughter. The robot even talked like a robot and no one figured out she was a robot. The best episode was when the Dad (Ted Lawson) invented a new robot as an upgrade (Vanessa) who went rogue and Vicki had to save them all. I was very disillusioned when this series just ended. I thought there would be some kind of a dramatic reveal to the world that Vicki was a robot. Nope. It just ended.

2) The Hat Squad-- "You guys shouldn't fight. You should be different." This is the line that started the opening credits. Three adopted brothers, shown fighting as kids, grow up to work as cops. They all wear fedoras, hence the name "Hat Squad." Their dad is a bald retired cop who helps them. The pilot was really awesome. It had a bad guy named Victory Smith who went around and did whatever he wanted, stealing stuff and killing people just cause he felt like it. He even had a cell phone in 1991. Then the Hat Squad beat the crap out of him. Way to go Hat Squad.

3) The Flash-- Based on the comic superhero, aired on CBS in 1990. Flash is rip-off of the Roman god Mercury, who is a rip-off the the Greek god Hermes, but he is really cool. This 1990 series starred the dad from Dawson's Creek as Flash. Mark Hammill played the Trickster. This led to Mark Hammill voicing the Joker on Batman: The Animated Series. I've never seen a Star Wars movie. To me, Mark Hammill is the voice of the Joker. I've digressed from the Flash, but the series is now out on DVD. They are also making a Flash movie. The guy who directed Blade is directing it.

4) MANTIS-- This series had a ton of archetypes, which to me always rules. A genius black dude in a wheelchair gets a costume that allows him to beat up bad guys. He is joined by a middle age British dude and a cocky young bike courier. They mostly fight interdimensional men in black. How could this show not last forever? The dude who played Mantis went on to voice Martain Manhunter in the Justice League cartoon. Oh yeah, he's in Alias too. I will always associate this series with the early days of the NFL on Fox. Spidey director Sam Raimi did the pilot.

5) Due South-- started out on CBS, then actually revived in syndication after being cancelled in the mid 90s. More archetypes-- a Canadian mounty teams with an Italian-American cop in Chicago to fight organized crime. The mounty also had a pet wolf. The mounty himself was an interesting cross between Superman and Batman.

6) Murder in Small Town X-- The only reality series I've ever watched, on Fox in 2001. An awesome premise: the contestants are joined by improv actors in a fictional town to investigate a murder mystery. Unfortunately the execution sucked. It also made no sense how they wrote a contestant's "death" into the series every week. Lots of Taco Bell product placement, too. Eerily, the winner was an NYPD fireman who died on 9/11 a week after the final episode aired.

7) The Trial of the Incredible Hulk-- Kind of cheating here. It was a made for TV movie based on the series that aired in the late 80s. It was incredibly awesome because it had Daredevil (though in a black costume), Kingpin (even though they called him Wilson Fisk and not Kingpin) and even the Arranger (though they just called him Edgar). I've wondered if there is anyone oblivious to comics that saw this, then saw the Ben Affleck "Daredevil" 15 years later and drew a connection between the characters.

8) Strange Luck-- this is my favorite show that I never saw. Well, I saw ten minutes. I read an article about it the summer before it came out and decided I was a huge fan. Then it aired on Friday nights (on Fox) and I kept forgetting to tape it (since I was out keeping stats for my high school football team on Friday nights). Then the series was canned. It sounded awesome though, about a guy who always had weird stuff happen to him.

9) Iron Man-- a cartoon- part of the "Marvel Action Hour" in the mid-90s. I would get up at 7 a.m. on Saturday mornings to watch it. Once a classmate of mine in high school said "I am Iron Man." I said, "Wow, do you watch that show too?" This was before I knew anything about Black Sabbath.

10) Muddling Through-- I saw one episode of this sitcom with my brothers. We made fun of it for years, long after we remembered anything about it at all. It was an obscure show that only we remembered. No one else alive had ever heard of it. Then I went on-line a few years ago to see if it in fact ever existed. Turns out that not only did it exist, but that Jennifer Anniston starred in it and almost turned down her Friends role in order to stay on "Muddling Through." Only after the show got canned did she become a friend. If Muddling Through wouldn't have been cancelled when it did, she probably would have never had to go through that whole thing with Brad Pitt.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Maybe a Belly Itcher Would Work Better

As I've said before, if I can do anything well, it is sit for long periods of time. This was proved true yesterday when I sat through a four hour Louisville vs. Seton Hall baseball game without at all realizing that it was an abnormally long game. It was the season finale, and it was worth every penny, particularly since admission was free. Parking was free and easy, hot dogs and soda were a dollar, Sara got a free T-shirt in the T-shirt toss, and I got the added entertainment value of seeing a guy walk around the stadium with a broom to celebrate the three game sweep of Seton Hall. I also got to enjoy watching the futility of the Seton Hall pitching staff in their 18-6 loss. Here is the line for the pitchers, taken directly from my score sheet:

Corey Young: 3.2 IP, 5H, 6R, 6ER, 3BB, 1HBP
Luis Fernandez: .1 IP, 1H, 1R, 1ER, 1BB
Mike Young: .1 IP, 2H, 4R, 4ER, 1BB, 1HBP
Pete VandenBout: .2 IP, 1H, 1R, 1ER, 1BB
Mark Irwin: .2 IP, 0H, 0R, 0ER, 2BB
Chris Basso: .1 IP, 2H, 3R, 3ER, 1BB
Greg Miller: 0 IP, 0H, 1R, 0ER, 2HBP
Andy McNulty the candy bar: 1.2 IP, 4H, 2R, 2ER

In total, that is eight innings, 18 runs (17 earned), 15 hits, 9 walks, and 4 hit by pitch. 28 baserunners in 8 innings against 8 pitchers. As I left the game, I speculated that this pitching problem was peculiar to college baseball. I reasoned that it is a similiar situation to small time basketball, in which guards dominate because big men, being a scarcity, are taken up by the higher levels. I thought that hitters dominate college baseball because anyone with half an arm is in pro baseball, particularly since given the uncertainty of arm injury, many high school pitching prospects opt for the money instead of college.

Then the Brewer game Saturday night helped me realize that maybe Seton Hall isn't the only institution a little short on arms.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Whoa, It's Jack White!

Those are the words my brother uttered upon Jack White taking the stage at the Modjeska Theater in 2002, just prior to the White Stripes taking off into mainstream popularity. The exact words stick with me to this day because I found it hilarious that he would act surprised that Jack White would show up on stage at a White Stripes concert. On the other hand, I can kind of understand that reaction. While one would never be surprised to see Richard Patrick at a Filter concert, there is something about the mythology of Jack White that makes his appearance as a real person a bit odd. It is the same kind of effect which causes me to be unable to type "Jack" or "White" when discussing him. He can be nothing other than "Jack White."

Obviously, much of the mythology is self-perpetuated. Call me naive, though, but I don't think the self-mythologizing is necessarily an attempt to generate publicity (in the vein of Marilyn Manson's self-mythologizing) but an authentic expression of an eccentric personality. For proof I point to two things. One, and again I must thank my brother for witnessing this, Jack White doesn't jaywalk. Even when there is not a car in sight, he will wait for the "walk" sign. This resonates with me because I have the same type of compulsion myself. I realize that it is not a normal impulse, and I've been accused of putting on an act of some kind when patiently standing at a crosswalk when a group I am with has to wait for me. However, this is not the case. Why do we (myself and Jack White that is) wait at crosswalks? Because in ceratain areas, we like to surrender control. As Jack White (I can't even type a pronoun in place of his name) told this month's "Spin": "I really don't like to be in control."

(Now before I go any further, I realize it is neurotic enough to have such a compulsion, but to claim that one understand's the mind of a celebrity, and to furthermore claim that such celebrity is like oneself, borders on a more severe neurosis. Perhaps it is, and I'll leave that for others to judge. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must point out something else. In "Fargo Rock City" Chuck Klosterman admits to favoring certain alcoholic beverages when he was in college because they were the drinks of choice for rock stars he idolized. I must admit to taking pride in drinking Coca-Cola/Cherry Coke after Jack White called it the greatest drink known to man and recorded a song special for a Coke commercial. In my defense I would argue that I am far from the only person to drink something on the basis of a social or cultural context rather than on taste alone. My reason might be more unique than most, but I don't this that makes it less odd. End personal digression).

The other reason I think Jack White's mythology has a degree of authenticity is because he is an honest to goodness seventh son. Though he brags about this in a song lyric, I don't think enough people realize the importance of this to his persona. Following the pygmalion theory (in which percpetion becomes reality), if one believes oneself to be mystically endowed, well, they just might have enough belief in their inherent powers to become the most talented rock n roller of their generation.

I also wish more people would discuss Jack White's one time status as an altar boy who aspired to priesthood. In general, I think the media overlooks the large number of accomplished secular rock stars who have been linked to Christianity because it doesn't fit in with rock's ethos of rebellion, but the majority of those have been Protestant (Van Morrison is one exception). In the same "Spin" article, Jack White said "Every day God throws a lot of things at you to test you." The author added his observation that "He still sees life as a quasi-biblical battleground between absitence and temptation, good and evil." These principles, particularly the one he expresses himself, are certainly more Catholic than Protestant.

As any reader of this blog knows, I am constantly on the lookout for a Hegelian synthesis. I see Jack White encompassing two of them. He combines the stripped down authenticity of the blues with the artifice of 1970s guitar rock (though you could make the case that this synthesis was so hard to sustain that he had to spin off into two different bands). He also combines the Dionysiun tradition of Rock with a Catholic (almost Manichean) tradition. (You could also argue that this responsbility was so demanding that he necessarily formed the Raconteurs to diffuse some of the pressure off of himself).

Because this seventh son has such a unique position in the rock pantheon, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that he is also a real dude, which is why it might be natural to express surprise when seeing him exactly where you would expect to see him. I think I'm going to go grab a Coke now.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Best Song Ever Revisited

Awhile back on this blog I wrote an essay proving that Five For Fighting's "100 Years" is the best song ever. I stand by that, but in light of my recent discovery of the end of the history of rock, it might be worth re-opening the discussion. Until Charlene ended rock's history, what was the best song ever? Following the same criteria I layed out in that essay, and analyzing what I call the "illusionary transcendence" that was the final leg of rock's project, I have a strong candidate: "Be My Baby" by the Ronnettes.

I may be a little behind the curve on this one, since Brian Wilson years ago called it the best pop song ever. Shortly after it came out in 1963 Dick Clark called it the "record of the century," which, if nothing else, showed how far ahead of the pop culture curve Dick Clark was by using the millenial rhetoric that would not become in vogue until the late 80s at the earliest. Bill Clinton was once moved to tears by hearing an older Ronnie Spector perform the song live (in front of a bunch of heads of state in Tokyo of all places).

I was once nearly moved to tears hearing the song. This was after I heard the song probably dozens of times without any emotional impact. However, the first time I heard the song's transcendence, as it was playing on an automated computer in the WTTN studios while an elderly engineer absurdely fiddled with the sound board, I was also aware of the song's immanence.

As I listened, I simply could not ignore the beauty of Ronnie Spector's voice or the majesty of Phil Spector's wall of sound. What really gave me chills, though, were the lyrics. As banal as the lyrics are on paper, she made me believe that she meant every word she was singing. She really wanted someone to be her baby.

No, I lie. That is not what I thought. I had skipped the stage of blissful ignorance that would have allowed me to project her narrative onto a nameless "someone." As I listened, I could only contexualize her "baby" in the form of the real life character of Phil Spector, who had recently been charged with murdering a B-movie actress. In the initial publicity surrounding the accusatin, details of their relationship emerged. (For the full story check out this article:

As much as I try to resist contextualizing works of art into autobiographical frameworks, I couldn't resist the dimension of pathos, the element of tragedy, that real life added to this rock n roll fantasy. Many people celebrate the song "The Day the Music Died" as an epochal hymn to the intertwinement of rock and tragedy. It is a great song, but Don McLean is trying consciously to draw these connections, while "Be My Baby" in all its majestic innocence, unconsciously makes us do that work. And that is why it is the best song ever up until the point where the history of rock ended.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The End of the History of Rock

Teleology is the belief that history is moving toward an end. Obviously, it's a pretty standard belief for religious folks, but secular philosophers have been teleological, as well. Most famously, Marx thought that history was inevitably a progression toward a utopia in which people will work a little bit and spend a lot of time philosophizing. His beliefs were an extension of Hegel, who also posited that at some point history would end. More recently, in 1992, a philosopher named Francis Fukuyama wrote a book called "The Last Man and the End of History." He argued that history was actually already over.

Obviously, he isn't using a layperson's definition of "history." His argument is that democratic capitalism is the pinnacle of human achievement, and we will do no better. The game is over. We may still have "events," but no new "history." Though not everybody lives under a system of democratic capitalism, Fukuyama's argument is that they inevitably will (though it might take centuries).

For a long time I've wondered if rock n roll has also reached the end of its history. A couple years ago Chuck Klosterman wrote a column for "Spin" arguing that the history of rock ended when Bob Dylan and Gene Simmons did a duet together. The ultimate Hegelian synthesis had occurred, and there was nothing left to do. I used to agree, but now I think that the history of rock actually ended in 1977 with the recording of Charlene's "Never Been to Me."

I heard this song a couple times since it was on the play list of a radio station I used to work for. This station played a lot of bad music, and this song was certainly no exception. I only recently re-discovered it (don't even ask me how) and realized its importance in hindsight. It was originally recorded from a male perspective, then made famous with re-worked lyrics from a female perspective. I think it is befitting the song's enormous importance that it goes both ways. Here are the female lyrics for your enjoyment:

Hey lady, you lady
cursing at your life
You're a discontented mother
and a regimented wife
I've no doubt you dream about
the things you'll never do
I wish someone had a talked to me
like I wanna talk to you.....

Ooh I've been to Georgia and California
and, anywhere I could run
Took the hand of a preacher man
and we made love in the sun
but I ran out of places
and friendly faces
because I had to be free
I've been to paradise
but I've never been to me...

Please lady, please, lady
don't just walk away
'cause I have this need to tell you
why I'm all alone today
I can see so much of me
still living in your eyes
won't you share a part
of a weary heart
that has lived million lies.......

Ooh I've been to Nice and the Isle of Greece
while I've sipped champagne on a yacht
I moved like Harlow in Monte Carlo
and showed 'em what I've got
I've been undressed by kings
and I've seen some things
that a woman ain't supposed to see.......
I've been to paradise,
but I've never been to me.......

Hey, you know what paradise is? It's a lie. A fantasy we create about
people and places as we'd like them to be.
But you know what truth is?
it's that little baby you're holding and
it's that man you fought with this morning
the same one you're going to make love with tonight
that's truth, that's love.........

Sometimes I've been to crying for unborn children
that might have made me complete
but I.....I took the sweet life
I never knew
I'd be bitter from the sweet
I've spent my life exploring
the subtle whoring
that costs too much to be free....
hey lady......
I've been to paradise......
but I've never been to me.........

I've been to paradise
but I've never been to me....

I've been to paradise
but I've never been to me..

If you do a google search on the song title and click on the first hit you can actually hear the melody, which has a very typical late 70s adult craptemporary piano melody with an awful spoken word coda. You can almost smell the record cover as you listen.

Why does this song represent the end of the history of rock? First, you might quibble that this song can't possibly mean that since it is not a rock song. Wrong. This was played by the same AM Top 40 stations that would spin "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," "You Really Got Me," and "Magic Carpet Ride," which morphed into "Hotel California" and "Go Your Own Way" and eventually "Muskrat Love" and this schlock. It is the heir of the rock tradition. I would argue that it wasn't Pink Floyd that created the Sex Pistols, but Elton John (though that is an argument for a different day).

It's actually not that hard to connect the dots from Elvis to Charlene. Rock started in the 50s as something to dance to. This was important because dancing (as opposed to waltzing) separated youth culture from older culture. The next step was for the music to supplant the dancing and become the most important thing. Therefore, though people weren't necessarily dancing to "She Loves You," by simply listening to it they were asserting a generational cultural identity. Of course, in time that is not enough either, so ideology must be introduced into the mix. This is when rock began to have ideological pretensions. A Hegelian synthesis between the Beatles and Dylan brought this about. Like most humanist transcendence projects, though, it was doomed to failure. Just like Melville came along and blew Emerson's project away with "Moby Dick," Charlene, though perhaps less deliberate than Melville, showed up in 1977 and put the final death blow to the idea of living a transcendent life of individual freedom and profligate hedonism.

Of course, with most significant historical events, it took awhile for the world to notice. Democracy and capitalism didn't emerge overnight, nor did "Moby Dick" become widely read until after Melville's death. Similarly, the original version of "Never Been to Me" peaked at #97 on the charts. A random DJ in Florida started playing it in 1982 for the heck of it (before terrestrial radio reached the end of its history, but I digress) and it caught fire worldwide and peaked at #3 (and #1 in Britain). This is interesting because musically, the song sounds much more like a 1977 composition. It was obviously the lyrics which had more of an impact in 1982, as by that time people realized that the jig was up, and though rock music may be made in perpetuity, the truth of the matter was that the history of rock had ended.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The NBA Conspiracy

It never fails to rear it's head. Every year about this time people discussing the NBA play-offs invariably discuss the probabilities of teams advancing based on the degree to which the league favors certain franchises or markets. For example, "Detroit is a good team, but I don't think the league would let them get to the Finals again," or "Now that Cleveland has LeBron, the league is more likely to let them into the Finals."

This is of course ridiculous. Never mind how difficult it would be to fix games with any certainty and not have that info leak out in some shape or form. The main reason this is ridiculous is that the risks far outweigh the rewards. If the NBA were ever found to be fixing games, the popularity of the sport would plummet lower than the president's approval ratings. The amount of revenue that would be lost would be staggering. As it is, I'm sure the league wants big market teams like the Lakers in the finals, but they are still a multi-billion dollar entity with the likes of San Antonio or Detroit duking it out for a title.

Which raises the question: Why do so many otherwise rational people buy into these ridiculous theories? Here are some possible explanations:

1) The casual fan doesn't understand how the NBA game is played. Basketball is simple enough on the surface, but like any sport at a high level, there are underlying complexities involved. Whenever I pay attention to color commentators, I invariably learn something new. I've seen hundreds of basketball games in my life, but I am still learning new stuff. That is incredible. The average person, I think, doesn't pay attention to color commentators. Sure, the occasional comment slips through the filters, but I think the vast majority of analysis offered is ignored. The result is that people paradoxically hold two competing beliefs. They believe that there is enough complexity in the game that officials can somehow manipulate outcomes without it being obvious, but they think there is such a minimal amount of complexity that officials can somehow manipulate outcomes. That makes sense if you read it enough times, I promise.

2) The NBA, like most multi-billion dollar entities, has a multi-million dollar marketing department. The purpose of this department is to manipulate public opinion and to appeal to people's emotions over logic. This department also chooses to promote certain players and teams over other players and teams. To the consumer, it may seem counter-intuitive that after all this money spent on marketing, they will leave to chance that the product will live up to their hype. Wouldn't it make more sense to alter the outcomes of games to ensure that the marketing of the league is consistent with the product? Of course, this ignores the bigger picture I spoke of earlier, but on the surface it seems logical.

3) Basketball seems more susceptible than other sports to these rumors. Why? It is still the new kid on the block when it comes to established American sports. Though the NBA has been around for a long time, it wasn't that long ago that the Finals were on tape delay on cable. The culture hasn't had as much of a long term investment in this particular sport. I also think there continues to a more of a cultural divide between athletes and fans in the NBA than in other sports. It's still a hip hop league that markets itself to older white guys. The cultural distance leads to greater suspicion. Finally, to some extent the NBA is a victim of its own marketing success. Other sports have allowed the product to take hold over time on its own merits, while the NBA, starting in the Magic/Larry era and blossoming in the Jordan era, sold itself. Because it's popularity is largely a product of its marketing, it creates more suspicion about the product itself.

And finally:
4) As a fan it is sometimes easier to blame the league rather than your own team. I heard this in 2001 when Scott Williams was suspended in the Eastern Conference Finals. Obviously, the league would rather Iverson and the Sixers make the Finals instead of the Milwaukee Bucks, went the thinking. Of course, if the league had it in for the Bucks they would have fixed the draft lottery last year and we never would have got Andrew Bogut. Unless that too was all part of the league's master plan, as they knew that drafting Bogut would result in the Bucks trading Desmond Mason and thereby decreasing their chances of beating the more favored Pistons in this year's play-offs. That must have been it.

Friday, May 05, 2006


Earlier this week I celebrated the end of the semester by going to a new Italian restaurant close to my home. I decided to order the "Taste of Italy" because I liked the promise of a sample of different dishes; I wouldn't have to narrow anything down. I ate the whole thing, which I do pretty much whenever I go out to eat. If someone sets something in front of me, I make it my practice to eat it. The waiter came up to me and complimented me on being the first person he'd ever seen who could eat the whole thing. I didn't really consider it that much of an accomplishment, though. I'm pretty good at doing anything that doesn't require physical exertion (In addition to my eating prowess, I have also found that I am very good at driving for long periods of time and sitting through three hour classes).

What struck me upon reflection, though, is that I have no idea what I ate. Sure, I know what spaghetti is, but other than that I have no idea what the other dishes were. (Might have been some lasagna in there, I'm not sure). As much as I enjoy eating, I am completely lost when people start talking about recipes and dishes and flavors. I am not at all a connosieur of food. I'm not even sure I can spell connosieur. But I wouldn't trade my ability to enjoy pretty near everything for the ability to have a discerning tongue. What fun would it be to stratify food when you can just enjoy it all? I find my avoidance of taste extends to other areas of my life, too. I remember once in High School English class when a teacher asked me if I liked a book. I replied honestly that I've never read a book I haven't liked. A dozen years and hundreds of books later that is still pretty much true. The publishers do a good job filtering out the really bad stuff. Anything that has been published has to have some redeeming value. In my adult life I've read the Complete Works of Shakespeare, and I've also re-read Choose Your Own Adventure books left from my childhood. I've read feminist avant-garde poetry and currently I'm reading a teen novel for girls about Spider-Man's girlfriend. Just like food, I'll read and enjoy pretty much everything put in front of me.

The one area where I have traditionally exercised discernment is in music. I have certain genres which I'm not at all interested in listening to. I am also more intereted in categorizing music than I am other art forms. A couple notes into a new song and I'm already trying to put a label onto it. Until last night.

I made a point of watching the end of Lettergeek last night to catch a new Pearl Jam song. It was pretty typical gruge for the post-grunge era. Eddie Vedder was thrashing around like a young man, but I found myself getting distracted and thinking about how Pearl Jam fits into the current milieau (this band carries a ton of cultural baggage). My thoughts wandered from their politics, their support of Ralph Nader, and finally to an episode of "Blossom" I saw ten years ago where Blossom talks about how unattractive Vedder was. I thought about the unliklihood that any sitcom will ever again mention Eddie Vedder, and just like that the song was over.

I absent mindedly flipped through the channels looking for the Lakers/Suns game when I happened upon Leno's musical guest. I had no idea who it was, but it was a dude with a guitar and an unusually configured band: two saxophones (looked like an alto and a barry sax), a stand up bass, drums, and a keyboard. As of today, 12 hours later, I have no memory of the song's melody or even the title. All I know is that as I watched I knew it was darn good. I also didn't feel the need to figure out what category this guy's music fell into. I didn't even know his name. I researched it and found that he was James Hunter, a British guy so obscure he doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry (I kept getting Catfish Hunter's page). I found his official website and he was described as "blue-eyed soul and R&B." That sounds like a genre I would avoid, particularly if a contemporary band used that label, but I found last night that I don't have to use genre as a crutch anymore. I'm acquiring a taste of my own. Hopefully this doesn't spread into other areas of my life. I'd hate to have to leave something behind at a restaurant just because I don't like it.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

I Support Vermont Public Radio

I don't really go through phases in my life. If I like something I tend to stick with it. When I was five years old I lived for the Superfriends cartoon. Now I live for weekly trips to the comic store, while I continue to watch superhero themed cartoons. When I was nine I became a huge Brewer fan, and after thirteen consecutive non-winning seasons, I'm still a huge Brewer fan. I think I was the only person who still watched the X-Files after Mulder left the show.

My brother on the other hand, is all about phases. His taste in music has gone from Top 40 to grunge to aggro-rock/nu-metal and now indy rock. He used to be a sports fan but then pretty much quit watching any sports. He used to love to play basketball, then he up and decided he liked distance running better (strangely that is one phase he hasn't grown out of). For a brief time, he went through a hilarious phase where he was addicted to acquiring free stuff. The Internet was in its infancy in the late-90s and he used to spend hours on line trolling for rebates, coupons, and most of all, freebies. The now-defunct was a personal favorite of his.

Although he tended to hoard the stuff, occasionally I was the beneficiary of some of his swag. Most notably, he once awarded me a bumper sticker that said "I Support Vermont Public Radio." Even before the hipster movement of the last few years popularized the idea of irony on T-shirts and the like, I was always attracted to all things ironic. I still have fond memories of a T-shirt I had in college in which I scrawled in black marker "I am a winner because I try my hardest." It was actually a slogan of my high school's wrestling team, but I found it deliciously ironic, much like the bumper sticker.

I proudly displayed this bumper sticker for several years, and it became somewhat frayed. In my eyes, if anything, this actually increased the ironic quotient and made it better. Then disaster struck. Once while I had it in for repairs at my Dad's shop, one of his 80-something employees decided he would be doing me a favor by removing it. My Dad knew I wouldn't appreciate it, so he pre-emptively told me about the incident and told me not to be mad at the employee. I didn't raise a fuss, but I couldn't put it out of my mind. Much like some people are haunted by an ex, I was haunted by the memory of how great my bumper sticker was. I first enlisted my brother to get another one, but the source had long dried up. I occasionally used the web to try to locate another, but with no success. Finally in August '05 I decided to contact VPR directly. Here is a copy of an e-mail I sent, laced with irony as a possible defense mechanism:

"About six or seven years ago my brother got a free "I Support Vermont Public Radio" bumper sticker online. He gave it to me and I displayed it on my car. Then, a couple years ago an old guy who worked for my Dad took it off the car and threw it away. He thought he was doing me a favor because it was slightly frayed, but I was devestated. Could you please send me a couple?

My address is:
Azor Cigelske
910M Mark Ct
Elizabethtown KY 42701

Azor "

I didn't try to mis-spell "devastated" but I'm glad I did. Made it that much more ironic. A few days later I got this response:

"Thanks again!


At 10:51 AM 8/24/2005, you wrote:
Hi Jean,
Bumper stickers are in the drawer at the typewriter desk behind you. You should send these to people free of charge whenever they request them.

Thanks, Jill"

Apparently, someone named Jill forwarded my e-mail with instructions to someone named Jean, who forwarded Jill's instructions and a note back to me. I took this as a good sign and waited for my bumper stickers in the mail.

Nothing happened.

A couple months passed and I responded to the e-mail and heard nothing back. Another few months and I tried again. Still nothing. Then a few days ago I tried again and made sure Jean and Jill were included in the e-mail. I included in my note something to the effect of:" As you can see by the date on the original e-mail, I am very serious in my desire to have some of these bumper stickers." I didn't hear back from either Jean or Jill.

Then today in the mail: a miracle. I held the envelope in my hand and shrieked when I saw that the return address was Vermont Public Radio. Inside was a mixed blessing. There was no "I support Vermont Public Radio" bumper stickers, but rather a half dozen smaller stickers that simply said "VPR." It's not the same, but it will have to do. Attached to the stickers was a one-inch by two-inch post-it note with the unsigned epigraph: "Thanks for your interest!" Persistence pays off. And my support of Vermont Public Radio has proven to be more undying than my brother's love for nu-metal or Internet swag.