Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fight Of The Century



When you have an opportunity to make a fight between two of the five best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet*, you have to take it. That's why even though I prefer to have cohesive, logical build-ups to title matches in the UFC, I have no beef with BJ Penn getting a crack at Georges St. Pierre's welterweight title. Sure, it means that Thiago Alves has to wait several months for his WW title shot. And it means that Kenny Florian has to wait several MORE months before he gets his long-deserved shot at BJ's lightweight title. But hey, on Saturday we're getting to see St. Pierre/Penn II, and that's a superfight by any definition.

* = GSP, Penn, Anderson Silva, Fedor, and Miguel Torres, not necessarily in that order

I've been going back and forth in my head to decide who's going to win this bout, while trying to keep my heart (which is obviously pulling for fellow Canuck GSP) from overly influencing my decision-making. Maybe it snuck in through a window somewhere since I am in fact picking St. Pierre to win. GSP won their first bout (a very close decision back in 2006) and his skills have only improved since then. His wrestling is arguably second to none in all of MMA, as St. Pierre has been able to dominate trained wrestlers like Josh Koscheck on the mat. His striking is crisper than ever, as Jon Fitch's face can attest. Logically speaking, if GSP was better three years ago and has only improved since then, he should be able to beat Penn now as well.

But the problem, however, is the same problem that crops up in any BJ Penn fight...namely, how much does Penn want it. BJ is like the A.J. Burnett of mixed martial arts. He has all the natural ability in the world and you get the feeling that if he ever properly harnessed it, he'd be nigh unstoppable. Now, Penn has a higher pedigree than the Yankees' soon-to-be-injured right-hander, since Penn has won championships and beaten a number of top-line guys to establish himself as one of MMA's best already. He could retire tomorrow and be a Hall of Famer. But Penn's issue has always been the lack of focus on training and cardio to really make sure he goes into every right at 100 percent. This has already cost him at least two defeats (he tired out in the first GSP match, and his blamed a third-round broken rib on a lack of fitness that cost him against Matt Hughes) and, as Penn recently stated in an interview, he felt that he had been wasting the prime years of his career. Now, since moving to lightweight and allegedly recommitting to training, Penn is 3-0 and has regained the LW title. So, theoretically, if GSP barely beat Penn three years ago and now Penn is committed, BJ will win on Saturday, right?

Nope. Penn's wins at lightweight were over Jens Pulver, Joe Stevenson and Sean Sherk; three guys who BJ should've been able to whip anyway. It would be like if, to re-use the analogy, Burnett came out and said he had a new focus on pitching and then threw a shutout against the Nationals. Well, great, but let's see how that focus works against tougher competition first. This is the first time that we've seen the 'new' BJ Penn face a guy who could legitimately beat him. There is no question that Penn is taking St. Pierre very seriously (as we've seen from his near-crazed interviews on the Spike TV specials to promote this fight), but it remains to be seen if Penn can truly walk the walk. Until I find that out for sure, I simply have to take St. Pierre to win via decision. I seriously hope this is the best fight I've ever seen....and that GSP wins.

Other UFC 94 matches....

* Stephen Bonnar over Jon Jones, submission R2. Kind of a tough one to predict. Bonnar should win on paper, as he's looked good winning his last two fights since joining Randy Couture's camp. The trouble is, those two fights took place in 2007, as Bonnar has been out with a knee injury for almost a full year. If he has any ring rust, up-and-comer Jones will knock it out of him. I'll tentatively pick Bonnar, but my support will switch is Jones enters the cage to my current favourite song of the moment, "Mr. Jones" by the Talking Heads. And this one came out five years before the Counting Crows, so suck on that, Adam Duritz.

* Lyoto Machida over Thiago Silva, decision. God, I want Silva to win this fight. But, he won't. Machida is MMA's answer to the 1995-2005 New Jersey Devils. Technically proficient, very skilled, and horribly boring as fuck to watch. Normally I'd find it unfair that the UFC keeps putting off giving a title shot to an unbeaten fighter, but in Machida's case, I'll make an exception.

* Karo Parisyan over Dong Hyun Kim, decision. This is contingent on Karo not having a panic attack before the match like he did at UFC 88, thus causing him to pull out of a match against Yoshiyuki Yoshida. Kim is a national hero in South Korea, but given that he barely and controversially beat Matt Brown, I doubt he has enough to beat a top-10 welterweight in Karo as long as Parisyan keeps his head on straight.

* Clay Guida over Nate Diaz, decision. I went with my head over my heart on the Machida fight, so I'll let the heart have a say in picking the always-entertaining Guida over the barely-literate idiot Diaz. Nate's a talented fighter, but every time he speaks, I feel like it's Billy Madison and we're all dumber for having heard him. Hopefully the judges award him no points and Guida has mercy on his soul. (Wait, am I calling Clay Guida a god? His nickname is 'the Carpenter' so that's kind of Biblical. Call it a wash.)

* Manny Gamburyan over Thiago Tavares, R1 TKO.

* Chris Wilson over John Howard, decision.

* Christian Wellisch over Jake O'Brien, R2 knockout.

* Matt Arroyo over Dan Cramer, R1 submission.

* Jon Fitch over Akihiro Gono, decision. In case you're wondering why this match featuring former #1 welterweight contender Fitch isn't on the main card, it's because Fitch is being punished for not quickly signing a video game likeness deal that briefly led to Fitch being fired from the UFC for a day. Seriously. That is some petty shit from the UFC. In Fitch's defense, the video game was actually an MMA version of Grand Theft Auto where Fitch's character would've been a coke dealer trying to make a shipment to Chuck Liddell before a big match. Anyway, Fitch should win. I'm mad this fight is on the undercard not because of Fitch's situation, but because it means even if it is shown, we won't get to see the fighter entrances, and this Gono guy allegedly has one of the flamboyant entrances this side of Ric Flair. Hell, maybe I should root for Gono just so he can get a main card fight next time.


----------------------

And, since I'm in a predicting mood, Steelers over Cardinals 24-18.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Why Would An Alien Even ASK About Rock Music?

The great Joe Posnanski is doing a poll on his blog to determine the ten most iconic songs of the rock and roll era. It's quite a task and quite a list of nominees, given that the trick is to pick the most 'iconic' songs, not necessarily the best songs. As Joe put it, these would be the songs you would play to an alien if you wanted to describe the last 55 years in popular music.

Here's my take on the nominees, with each of my picks bolded.


Alive, Pearl Jam — I love PJ, but this doesn't cut it

American Pie, Don McLean — An epic song, yes, but unless you wanted a quick way to describe Buddy Holly, the Bopper and Ritchie Valens all in one fell swoop, it probably doesn't make it.

Another Brick in the Wall, Pink Floyd — Tough cut.

Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen — If Joe had put We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions on the list, I would've probably voted for it.

Born to be Wild, Steppenwolf — Nope

Born to Run — I guess you could call this Bruce's most iconic song, but it's a tough call over 'Born in the USA,' 'Thunder Road,' or even 'Rosalita.' Okay, well, maybe not Rosalita, but it would've ranked high in a Bruce-fans-only voting bloc

Bridge Over Troubled Water — I would've picked Mrs. Robinson over this if I absolutely needed a Simon & Garfunkel song

Crazy, Gnarls Barkley — Maybe the oddest inclusion on Joe's list. Don't get me wrong, it's a great song, but I'm not sure if it belongs on a short list for the iconic songs of the century

Crazy, Patsy Cline — Nope

Georgia On My Mind, Ray Charles — Nope

God Save the Queen, Sex Pistols — You could make a decent case of this under the 'iconic' argument, but there are worthier choices.

Good Vibrations, The Beach Boys — Could've been a lot of Beach Boys songs on this list.

Fight the Power, Public Enemy — Nope

Fortunate Son, Credence Clearwater Revival — Obama should pass a federal law declaring that this song be played whenever George W. Bush enters a room

Freebird, Lynyrd Skynyrd — Tough, tough omission. Then again, how much of its lasting impact is due to drunks yelling requests for it at concerts?

Friends in Low Places, Garth Brooks — Speaking of songs performed by drunks, I'm pretty sure this has been sung at every karaoke night ever. People underrate Garth Brooks' impact. Do you realize he sold more records than anyone in the 90's? Add that to two very solid SNL hosting gigs, and

Hey Ya, Outkast — It'll be a few years before we can fully attest its 'iconic' status, but rest assured it'll make any Best Of Whatever We Call The Decade Between 2000-2010 list.

Hotel California, The Eagles — Nope.

Hound Dog, Elvis Presley — My first pick! Though it comes with an asterisk. I would've picked 'Heartbreak Hotel' as the definitive Elvis song, but really, any list of the rock era's most iconic songs absolutely needs an Elvis track, and this one is as good as any.

I Feel Good, James Brown — Nah.

I Love Rock and Roll, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts — Seriously? Weak entry on the ballot.

I Walk The Line, Johnny Cash — Another artist for whom it's hard to pick just one song. I love Cash, but I'm afraid I'll have to give this one a slight thumbs down.

I Want To Hold Your Hand, The Beatles — I'm picking this one too, solely on the 'there must be a Beatles song' logic. But while this might be their most important song due to it being their American breakthrough, you could easily come up with 20-25 more Beatles songs that could be judged to be more iconic overall.

Imagine, John Lennon — Tough no, but a no nonetheless.

Johnny B. Goode, Chuck Berry — It makes it as the 10th of my ten entries. So, when I say something like We Will Rock You would've made it had it been nominated, Johnny B. Goode is the song that would've been omitted to make room. That said, obviously, fuckin' Johnny B. Goode! One of the best songs ever.

Layla, Derek and the Dominos — I almost feel like this should be in just so Clapton could get a mention, but not quite. It would be in a hypothetical top 20.

Like a Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan — No-brainer selection, and a great pick by Joe as Dylan's signature song.

Like a Virgin, Madonna — Closer to making the list than you would think. If you distill Madonna down to her 20 best songs, that's a greatest hits disc that can stand up to almost anyone.

London Calling, The Clash — Geez Kyle, how'd you forget about this one to pick an album that you didn't even really like? If I had to pick a Clash tune, it would've been Train In Vain since it's one of my favourite songs ever.

Louie Louie, The Kingsmen — Nope

Mack the Knife, Bobby Darin — I'm resisting the temptation to reprint my third-year essay about Bertolt Brecht and epic theatre.

Melt With You, Modern English — THIS was Posnanski's pick from the New Wave era? Have mercy.

My Generation, The Who — The "I hope I die before I get old" lyric is what probably gave this one the edge over (better Who songs) Baba O'Riley, Won't Get Fooled Again, even Pinball Wizard. Then again, My Generation has yet to be absorbed into the crappy opening of a CSI show, so it's got that going for it.

My Way, Frank Sinatra — Sinatra probably 'should' be represented here, but c'est la vie.

Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang, Dr. Dre — Nope

Oh Pretty Woman, Roy Orbison — Nope. You could actually make a case for a Traveling Wilburys song just so you could get so many iconic figures onto the list as possible, but then again, "End Of The Line" isn't exactly one's idea of a rock staple.

Peggy Sue, Buddy Holly — I want to nominate 'Everyday' just because it's on the LOST mix tape. Someday.

Purple Haze, Jimi Hendrix — Good one, but not quite.

Purple Rain, Prince — Nope.

Rapper’s Delight, Sugar Hill Gang — Am I being a typical honky by picking this as the iconic rap song? It was the big major rap hit, I don't think I'm too far off.

Redemption Song, Bob Marley — Very tough cut. Maybe #11 on the list.

Respect, Aretha Franklin — Gotta be there. There are a lot of great Motown classics, but put it this way: approximately a third of all Motown compilation records include the word 'Respect' in the title. Nuff said.

Rock Around The Clock, Bill Haley and the Comets — I remember singing this in choir in second grade. We did a whole concert of 50's standards, including Blue Suede Shoes, Johnny B. Goode, and Heartbreak Hotel. I presume it was cute as hell, but my main memory of our concert was almost passing out in the sweltering Oakridge auditorium.

Satisfaction, Rolling Stones — Gotta be there.

Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana — The purest test of the 'iconic' test. I HATE this song and hate Nirvana in general. They're the most overrated band of all time. I find the Foo Fighters horribly average, and yet I would happily listen to every Foo Fighters record for a year straight rather than listen to any Nirvana. But I can't deny that it was iconic.

Stairway to Heaven, Led Zeppelin — No-brainer. I guess you could make a case for a couple other Led Zep tunes, but let's be honest, this is the signature song.

Staying Alive, Bee Gees — Best bass riff ever? Maybe so. Inarguably the best disco song ever. Wow, four songs in a row. We're rolling now!


Sunday Bloody Sunday, U2 — It kills me that I had to pick a Nirvana song and couldn't pick a U2 song. Fuck. I'm not sure if this is U2's absolute 'most' iconic track (With or Without You, One, Pride, Where The Streets Have No Name...even Beautiful Day might get a few votes when it's all said and done), but it's right up there.

Thriller, Michael Jackson — I literally can't believe Joe didn't pick Billie Jean. That is a jaw-dropping omission. Billie Jean makes it without a second thought.

Welcome to the Jungle, Guns N’ Roses — This or the other two of the GNR Big Three are all good contenders.

The Weight, The Band — Nope

Y.M.C.A., The Village People — Closer than you'd think, but no.


So here's the final list:
* Satisfaction, by The Rolling Stones
* Like A Rolling Stone, by Bob Dylan
* Smells Like Teen Spirit, by Nirvana
* Rapper's Delight, by Sugar Hill Gang
* Stayin' Alive, by the Bee Gees
* Stairway to Heaven, by Led Zeppelin
* Johnny B. Goode, by Chuck Berry
* Respect, by Aretha Franklin
* I Want To Hold Your Hand, by the Beatles
* Hound Dog, by Elvis Presley


Posnanski's notable omissions....

* NOTHING by Elton John? You could make a case for 'Your Song,' but 'Candle In The Wind' probably has to be Sir Elton's most iconic piece due to the Diana memorial.

* Piano Man deserved at least a mention.

* Superstition

* Brown-Eyed Girl

* Keep On Rockin' In The Free World

* Wonderwall's omission is inexplicable to me, but it may be due to the fact that Posnanski is American, and Wonderwall didn't have the same long-lasting impact in the USA that it did in Canada and in Europe.

* Freefallin'

* I feel like something by the Velvet Underground should be on the list, but I don't think they had one truly iconic song

* Same goes for David Bowie

* Same goes for AC/DC

* Blitzkrieg Bop

* ABC

* Enter Sandman

* Lose Yourself or Stan

* Every Breath You Take

* Any number of country, rap or adult contemporary-ish pop/rock songs I'm forgetting since I don't know the genres as well.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Conception Day!



Happy Conception Day, me! As I've mentioned before, one's Conception Day is the day that occurs exactly nine months before their birthday, as sort of a symbolic representation of the day that one's parents did the electric slide and Sammy Sperm met Edith Egg.

So what is the proper way to celebrate a Conception Day? Well, in my case, it's apparently to sit back and enjoy myself in the week leading up to my big day.


Last Saturday: Hung out with my pals to watch UFC 93 while enjoying a delicious pepperoni/tomato/chicken pizza (a.k.a. the Mark Special). It was far from being the most entertaining UFC event I've ever seen, but it was a good way to spend an evening. Watching the Shogun Rua-Mark Coleman fight was the first time I've ever seen two guys almost simultaneously keel over in the middle of the ring, so that was interesting. It was also the first time I've ever thought I had better cardio than a professional fighter. That's saying something, given how my cardio is roughly akin to Homer running after Marge but then stopping to catch his breath after about five yards.


Last Sunday: Watched two excellent NFL conference title games, and got my preferred Super Bowl result of Arizona vs. Pittsburgh. I was pro-Cards just because the franchise has been such a shitpile for so many years, and I was pro-Steelers because their victory would ensure that my brother's beloved Baltimore Ravens would lose. It was only fair --- my Packers lost in the semis last year, ergo Baltimore couldn't advance further for the sake of bragging rights. I wonder if this means my dad's favourite team will make the semis next season...oh wait, he supports the Browns. Never mind. I'd include my mother's semi-beloved Patriots in the mix, except that in the two games she's watched wearing her Xmas '07 gift of a Tom Brady jersey, New England has a) lost a perfect season in the Super Bowl and b) lost their franchise quarterback to a possibly career-ending injury. So there's clearly another, separate curse in effect here.


Last Monday: U2 releases their latest single. I finish an abstractly artsy but fairly entertaining book of short stories by George Saunders. My dinner is an utterly delicious chicken carbonara sub from Quizno's. And, I finish watching the first season of the AWESOME, AWESOME series 'Breaking Bad.' This one's been on my list for a while now and I ended up powering through the whole series in two days. It's a drama/dark comedy about a cancer-ridden high school chemistry teacher who becomes a meth dealer. Bryan Cranston is the chemistry teacher, and he gives as good a performance as you'll see in any show. I was surprised when Cranston won the Best Actor Emmy over such high-profile names as Michael C. Hall, Jon Hamm and Hugh Laurie, but it was a well-deserved honour. I highly recommend Breaking Bad --- the first season is only seven eps long, so it's easy to catch up before the second season premieres on AMC in March.


Last Tuesday: Pub trivia night with my buddy Trev and the rest of our team (our team name changes regularly, but most recently it was 'Werewolf Bar Mitzvah'). We didn't perform all that well, only placing once over the three rounds. Did you know that Easter Island was property of Chile? We sure as hell didn't. Also of note on Tuesday was Barack Obama's inauguration...you might've heard about it, it was mentioned once or twice on the news. If you Americans won't mind, could we pretend he's our head of state too?


Last Wednesday: LOST returned!!! Back-to-back mind-blowing episodes to start off Season Five. The time travel element that is now at the forefront of the show is arguably the most brilliant move yet from the LOST producers since it provides the best possible way of giving the audience answers to all of the mysteries about the Island's past. Over the next 15 episodes, I expect we'll flat-out see what happened with the Dharma Initiative, the Black Rock, Danielle Rousseau's team, the four-toed statue, etc. because Locke, Juliet, Sawyer and company will be time-flashed back to see these things take place. "Show, don't tell" is one of the oldest rules of storytelling, and since telling us the Island's history would take roughly a season's worth of expository dialogue, we're instead going to follow the characters along for the ride. This opens up plot options like you wouldn't believe --- every character and storyline that has ever been featured or even hinted at is now fair game to turn up in an episode. Hell, in the premiere alone we saw Ethan, Ana Lucia, Hazmat suit-era Desmond, Marvin Candle/Pierre Chang, Ms. Hawking and even the legendary Neil Frogurt. And if that wasn't enough, Sayid fucking killed a guy by tossing him onto an exposed knife in an open dishwasher. Sayid > Jack Bauer. Also on Wednesday: my 1984 fantasy baseball team started its season and promptly went 6-0. Then, I made a cocky post about it on my league message board, and thus pissed off the fantasy baseball gods, so my team is currently 7-5. Simulated computer sports are a harsh mistress.


Last Thursday: I head up to TO to cover Toronto FC's introductory presser for Dwayne De Rosario. It strikes me halfway through the press conference that DeRo looks like the love child of J.P. Ricciardi and LOST star Naveen Andrews. This fact doesn't make its way into my story. Afterwards I headed to the movies to catch one of the many acclaimed films that haven't opened in London yet (grrr....), and my choice of the evening ended up being one of my favourite films of 2008, The Wrestler. Just outstanding, outstanding stuff. I'll have more to say about it in a future post, but for now, let's just say that I'd get back into watching WWE if the Wrestlemania main event was Randy The Ram vs. the Undertaker. Does Undertaker still have that perfect record at Wrestlemania? (Quick Wikipedia check: yes, he does. 16-0.) And the day was topped off with a nice dinner and drinks with my friends Lori and Aron, as we gathered to celebrate/complain about our jobs, love lives, and lives in general.

You'll notice that I didn't note the Oscar nominations as a notable event of the day. That's because I'm waiting until I see a few more of the major nominees (The Reader, Milk, Revolutionary Road, Gran Torino) before I fully write them off as horseshit. Seriously, Angelina Jolie gets nominated for yelling the words 'My son!' about 49256 times over the course of 'Changeling'? The thoroughly average Benjamin Button gets 13 nominations? Bruce Springsteen's awesome 'Wrestler' song, thought to be the favourite to win, doesn't even make the short list? And, you knew this criticism was coming, but The Dark Knight gets shafted across the board except for Heath Ledger? Unbefuckinglievable. At this rate, I'm now worried that Ledger might somehow lose given how little respect the Academy seems to be showing TDK. This really dealt my Conception Day celebrations a setback; consider Dark Knight's snub to be the condom that nearly prevented Sammy and Edith from making acquaintances.


Yesterday: Read a magazine, watched golf and then stayed in to enjoy one of my favourite movies ever, Dr. Strangelove. This was followed by another fine film, A Few Good Men, that was airing on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network due to the fact that Demi Moore is apparently part Cherokee. I think you're stretching it a bit there, APTN. That would be like MuchMoreMusic showing "Back to the Future" just because Flea is a member of Biff's gang.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

L-S-T, I mean, L-O-S-T bloopers!




Season Five starts tonight! Will the Oceanic Six get back to the Island? Will the remaining people on the Island survive whatever the hell happens to them on said Island? Will Desmond and Penny lives happily ever after? Is Jin alive? Will that goddamn foot statue ever be explained?* Will this be the best season yet, or will the entire series devolve into a flaming pile of nonsense? Nonsense like, for instance, these bloopers?


Season One



Season Two



Season Three



Season Four


* = My friend Adam is a huge LOST fan, but for some reason he is completely fixated on the foot statue moreso than anything else on the show, and possibly anything else in his life. I mean, hey, I'm curious about ol' Footy too (a picture of the statue is, no joke, the current background screen on my PC), but Adam is about at the point where if given a chance to pick between finding out the answer to the four-toed statue or to finding a cure for ALS, there'd be a lot more sad Lou Gehrigs around. If the series were to end with every mystery explained in a completely satisfying fashion except for the four-toed foot, Adam would be flying to Carlton Cuse's office with a shotgun. (Adam would give Lindelof a pass since they're both Yankees fans...wait, why am I friends with Adam again?)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hot! Live! Music! (plus, the new U2 song)

Mister Tim, Kazoo Enter Sandman (Uh, his house? December 2008)



To answer your first question, yes, they're all the same guy. Even though he's only playing a kazoo for part of the song, and thus not totally in the spirit of 'Kazoo Enter Sandman,' my favourite is still by far the percussion in the bottom left-hand corner. He just looks so darn angry.


Talking Heads, Slippery People (Stop Making Sense, 1984)



Reason #84086 why 'Stop Making Sense' is awesome: the show starts just with David Byrne doing a solo version of 'Psycho Killer,' each of the other three Heads come on stage one-by-one with a song to mark each entrance. 'Slippery People' is the fifth song of the night, and by this time the percussionist and backing vocalists have joined the Talking Heads. The other backing musicians join for the sixth song and then things really kick into high gear, but 'Slippery People' is still as funky as hell. Dig that awesome keyboard melody from Jerry Harrison.


Johnny Cash, Sunday Morning Coming Down (New York, 1994)



I had a big paragraph written here about how it was appropriate that I was including this song since I was writing the post on Sunday morning...then I got bored and busy watching football, and now I'm finishing writing and actually posting the damn thing on Monday. And Cash didn't even have the decency to do a cover of Manic Monday at some point in his career so I couldn't just link to a version of that instead. Apparently Cash got into a lot of shit when he sang this song on his variety show since he included the "wishin' I was stoned" lyric. Man, couldn't he have as been as agreeable as the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the Krusty Komeback Special?


The Bangles, Manic Monday (San Francisco, 2003)



Ha! Screw you, Cash! (editor's note: please don't haunt me, undoubtedly-intimidating-ghost-of-Johnny-Cash!) This is probably the best live performance you'll ever see in a bookstore. I'm actually kind of surprised I found this clip, given that Prince is incredibly anal about any of his music (p.s. Prince wrote the song) appearing on YouTube. I guess he cut the Bangles some slack since it's "their" song to do with as they wish.


Bono and the Edge, Van Diemen's Land (Dublin, December 2008)



One of my few criticisms about U2, right between "the How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb album cover is awful" and "seriously, I can't belabor this enough, that Discotheque video was terrible," is that they don't put enough variety into their concert setlists. This trend has changed a bit in recent years, as U2 busted out some real obscure songs from the 'Boy' album during the Vertigo Tour. Bono and Edge's out-of-nowhere revival of Van Diemen's Land for a TV special about the opening of the new O2 Arena in Dublin is a good sign that the band is still in this mode. My dream of hearing a live version of 'The Playboy Mansion' still lives!


U2, Pride/City Of Blinding Lights (Washington D.C., January 18, 2009)



A double-shot of U2 today to mark the release of their new single. In hindsight, it's a good thing I didn't publish this Sunday morning as planned, or else I wouldn't have been able to include this clip. I beg your forgiveness, Angry Cash Ghost! 'Pride' still sounds pretty good after all of these years and 'City Of Blinding Lights' is already a top-five U2 live classic. I'm pretty sure we're going to be seeing this same duo of songs played in combination at, say, every single show on U2's upcoming tour. Not to nitpick, and I get what U2 was doing with the tribute, but is it really a keen idea to sing a song about a famous black leader's assassination at an Obama pre-inauguration rally? Also, Obama's inauguration has U2, Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, and a virtual who's who of contemporary musicians. Bush's inauguration had Ricky Martin. I'm just saying.

By the way, if you haven't heard the new U2 single yet, you can listen to it at U2's official webpage (I'll even provide the link since I'm such a nice guy. My first impression of 'Get On Your Boots,' grammatical nightmare of a title aside, is that it's both very catchy and kind of a fresh sound. Every U2 record contains a track that gives a hint to the musical direction of their next album (i.e. 'God Part II' on Rattle & Hum was the first taste of the Achtung Baby sound), and just from GOYB, it seems as if the hint track from 'Atomic Bomb' was Fast Cars. So cheers to the first song from No Line On The Horizon, jeers to the album cover!



Um, yeah! Seriously? That's it? A giant Equals sign superimposed over a line on the horizon, for an album called No Line On The Horizon? At least the HTDAAB cover (that lazy picture of the four guys sitting on a bench) made sense. If the band wanted to use a Hiroshi Sugimoto photograph, they should've gone with this one.



Now that's more like it. U2 even have a song on the record called White As Snow, so it would've fit. The album could've been called 'The Dharma Initiative.'

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The 24 Best 24 Villains Ever

With last week's 24 premiere still fresh in my mind, I decided it was time for a closer examination of some of those love-to-hate characters that Jack Bauer has spent so much of his time and effort worrying about these last six 'days.' Is your favourite villain on the list? Check and see!....though, probably, he/she is. It's a pretty extensive list. If your favourite isn't listed, just presume he/she was my 25th pick, so you can blame the producers for not calling the show '25.'



24. Marshall Goren (played by Carl Ciafallo)(killed by Jack Bauer)
Who? Well, you might not know Goren by name, but he is immortalized by one of the all-time 'holy shit' moments in 24 history. The situation in the S2 premiere was that Jack had to go undercover within a crew that was threatening to bomb CTU. The head bad guy in the crew was actually pending trial, with Goren at the top witness against him. Goren was CTU's only lead to the villain, but he managed to be such a dickhead in the ten seconds that Jack was interrogating him that Jack decided to shoot him at point-blank range and then ended up lopping off Goren's head with a hacksaw and presenting it to the head baddie as a sign of trust. Goren, if I recall correctly, was some kind of child pornographer and what really set Jack off was Goren taunting that due to the court testimony, he'd get a free pass on his crimes. Marshall, Marshall, Marshall...don't taunt Jack. What a mistake-a to make-a. Kudos to the actor for making Goren seem like such a hateable scumbag in just about a minute of airtime.




23. Philip Bauer (played by James Cromwell)(killed, presumably, by Jack Bauer)
22. Graem Bauer (played by Paul McCrane)(killed by Philip Bauer)

These two characters summarize the big letdown that was Day Six. The idea of Jack battling his family was a fresh one, since it had been only hinted in past seasons that Jack had some parental issues. I particularly loved the concept of Graem Bauer, who seemed to be as cunning with his manipulations as Jack was with his fists. In fact, I can point to the exact moment that S6 went downhill....it was the moment we found out that the mysterious Bluetooth phone-wearing mastermind from S5 was actually Jack's brother. That was the peak of S6's creativity, as Graem ended up being quickly sloughed aside by Philip Bauer...who then disappeared himself for about 12 episodes since James Cromwell had other filming commitments. Great planning, 24 producers. Then, just to irritate me more, they left the door open for Philip to return since as anyone who has ever watched a movie or read a comic book could tell you, any villain who 'dies' in an explosion is probably alive. How in the world do you cast James Cromwell as Jack's evil father and NOT have it turn into a great storyline? Talk about missing an open net.




21. General Cheng Zhi (played by Tzi Ma)(still alive)
I guess you could lump General Cheng under the umbrella of 'Season Six disappointments' as well. There was a great story to be told in Jack escaping from the Chinese or trying to battle an actual government-sanctioned military foe rather than just a rogue terrorist, but General Cheng really didn't end up with much to do. Actually, given how Cheng's most villainous act ended up being driving Audrey Raines to the point of mental breakdown and thus getting her out of the show....well hey, thanks Cheng!




20. Ryan Chappelle (played by Paul Schulze)(killed by Jack Bauer)
Some may question Chappelle's inclusion on the list, but that's because of the S3 "6 AM-7 AM" episode, which might pound-for-pound be the best overall hour in 24's history. The episode was so good in making you feel sorry for Chappelle (targeted for death by Jack's hands due to terrorist Stephen Saunders' demands) that you forgot about the previous two seasons of the show when Chappelle was a complete dick. Ryan Chappelle was the walking embodiment of red tape that kept CTU from getting their jobs done, as if there was ever a regulation that could be cited to interfere with an operation, you could be sure that Chappelle would find it. And since the CTU directors kept getting killed or maimed, Chappelle had plenty of opportunity to swoop in from Division and muck things up. For two seasons you wished Jack would just shoot Chappelle in the head...and then, when Jack actually is forced to shoot him in the head, you're suddenly sad about it. The peak was Chappelle's pathetic response when Jack asks him if he wants to make a phone call or anything before he gets capped. Ryan's response is that he isn't close to his family and that his only friends "are people at work." It would've been funny if the situation weren't so horrifying. Ryan Chappelle, we salute you. Oh, by the way, in case you're wondering why original CTU-head and pain in Jack's ass George Mason isn't on this list, he friggin' sacrificed himself to pilot a plane carrying a nuclear bomb over the Nevada desert. I think that allows him to escape a 'villain' designation.




19. Syed Ali (played by Francesco Quinn)(killed by Jonathan Wallace)
The terrorist mastermind behind the atom bomb threat in Season Two. He was pretty successful, as far as 24 villains go --- he made it through most of his day before he eventually felt the cold hand of death. Syed is perhaps best known for being fooled by one of Jack's most breathtaking stunts. In order to get Syed to admit where the nuke was, Jack staged the execution of Syed's wife and two sons. Syed held out until the second son was about to be shot before finally cracking. Ali, fabulous he, Ali of Los Angeles also gets added bonus points for the fact that after his plot was concluded, Season Two really kind of wheezed to a finish over the last six or seven hours.




18. Carrie Turner (played by Lourdes Benedicto)(still alive)
Carrie was a bitch. That more or less sums it up. Her crimes (trying to advance her career by ratting out Jack, Tony and her arch-rival Michelle in S2) are pretty minor compared to those of Syed Ali or the Bauer family, but man, Carrie was just really bitchy about it. One of the most notable of the "CTU is facing an international crisis and people are worried about this petty inter-office political bullshit?!" moments.




17. Ira Gaines (played by Michael Massee)(killed by Jack Bauer)
The major villain in the first half of Day One, and in fact he would've been the only villain had the series not been picked up for a full season. This is why the episode where Jack rescues Teri and Kim wraps everything up so nicely; that would've been the season/series finale. But, in hindsight, he was really like the Morton Koopa Jr. to Victor Drazen's Bowser Koopa. Gaines also inexplicably had a name that made him sound like an 1880's prospector. Fun fact about actor Michael Massee: he was the guy who actually shot Brandon Lee during the filming of The Crow.




16. Hector Salazar (played by Vincent Laresca)(killed by Ramon Salazar)
15. Ramon Salazar (played by Joaquim de Almeida)(killed by an exploding canister)

One of the running gags in every season of 24 is how major characters and developments in the early part of the day/season are completely forgotten by the end. For instance, the first half of S3 is all about the Salazars. If you took a shot every time the name 'Salazar' was mentioned, you would've been dead about halfway through the second hour. I rank Ramon ahead of Hector because Ramon was the bigger bad-ass of the two, and because he was played by the always-solid Joaquim "Don't Call Me Tony" de Almeida. Also, let's be honest, I'm always going to favor the older brother.





14. Andre Drazen (played by Zeljko Ivanek)(killed by Jack Bauer)
13. Victor Drazen (played by Dennis Hopper)(killed by Jack Bauer)

By all rights, Victor Drazen as played by Dennis Hopper should've been a shark jump for 24. We had spent all of the first season hearing about what an epic monster Drazen was, and when we're finally confronted with him, it's Dennis Hopper with a goofy accent. Hopper is one of those actors who just seems to invite parody and derision, but what people forget is that he's a hell of an actor, and more accurately, a hell of a villain in the right role. Drazen was the kind of guy who killed his old friend and the friend's daughter just in order to make sure Jack was still in captivity. Hopper played Drazen with malevolent gusto, and also gave my pal Eric lots of chances to use his 'Wave of the future, Jack? Eh? Eh? Nyah!" Hopper impression from Speed roughly 200 times over these few episodes. Backing Victor up were his sons Gallant (the cool and efficient Andre) and Goofus (Alexis, whose plan to seduce a woman in Senator Palmer's employ in order to get close to the Senator backfired when his girlfriend ended up killing him herself). So yeah, obviously Andre is the one who gets the higher ranking.




12. Abu Fayed (played by Adoni Maropis)(killed by Jack Bauer)
Fayed and his bald head of doom was, it could be argued, the most successful 24 villain. After all, he and his evil comedian henchmen Kumar and Shaun Majumder did in fact succeed in their mission to detonate a nuke on American soil. That's a pretty big notch in Fayed's belt. Even though he didn't get a chance to use the rest of his suitcase nukes, hell, using just one successfully puts Fayed ahead of every other terrorist in 24 history. So why did he fall out of the top ten? Part of it was due to the laziness of the S6 writing, which made Fayed into sort of an amalgam of past villains in the show's history (he hated Jack because he killed his brother, he used a nuke like Syed Ali, he was bald like...uh, Cal Ripken Jr). And, like most early-season villains, he was eventually revealed to be a pawn of greater powers later in the season, which lessened his overall impact. On the bright side, at least Fayed was a key part of S6's last great episode and moment, when he and Jack had a huge fight that ended with Jack killing Fayed via hanging him from a chain on a pulley. We were all pulley-ing for Jack in that fight! *rimshot* *crickets*




11. Miles Papazian (played by Stephen Spinella)(still alive)
CTU's has a history of being run, or at least temporarily run, by upper-level bureaucrats who are looking out for number one, but most of them (George Mason, Ryan Chappelle, Lynn McGill) turned out to be good at heart. In the fifth season, when Karen Hayes and Miles Papazian came over from Homeland Security to supervise CTU, this trend partially continued as Karen turned out to be a beloved hero. Miles, however, ended up being a piece of slime who decided to cover up Logan's involvement in the Palmer assassination in exchange for a job with Logan's administration. To quote Bill Murray from Ghostbusters II, "Oh Johnny, did you back the wrong horse." (Ironically, Murray says this to a character played by Peter MacNicol, who played Tom Lennox on Day Six). Papazian never got his comeuppance, but presumably he arrived in Washington just in time to find out that Logan had been arrested, and that Papazian's new job was President Gardner's official ass-wiper. But the joke was on Gardner --- Miles bought the rough, scratchy kind of toilet paper. VENGEANCE IS SWEET.




10. Marie Warner (played by Laura Harris)(still alive)
The 'Kate Warner suspects her sister's fiance is involved with terrorists' subplot was a bit of a yawner in the first part of S2, notable perhaps only because her bearded dad looked like Michael Gross from Family Ties, thus causing my friends and I to yell out lines like 'Gross negligence!' and 'Gross incompetence!' after almost anything he said. (Fun fact: Bob Warner was played by John Terry, better known as ghost/terrible father Christian Shephard on LOST.) However, the Warners' story perked up noticeably when it was revealed that innocent little sister Marie was actually the one involved with the terrorists and, to boot, batshit crazy. My favourite detail of this season was that Day Two was also supposed to be Marie and Reza's wedding day. Was it possible that Marie's lunacy was merely a really advanced case of Bridezilla-ness? I also can't help but think that this was a shout-out to Robert Cochran and Joel Surnow's original concept for the '24 hours in real-time' gimmick to be switched from setting to setting every season. So, Day One would've been stopping an assassination, but Day Two would've been something more mundane like a wedding day. This particular idea was used on another, much shorter-lived, real-time sitcom called 'Big Day.'




9. Christopher Henderson (played by Peter Weller)(killed by Jack Bauer)
The 24 writers flirted with the idea of an 'Evil Jack' villain with Stephen Saunders on Day Three, but the concept didn't take full fruition until Christopher Henderson arrived on the scene in S5. He and President Logan were the bizarro version of Jack and David Palmer. Like Jack, Henderson had the ability to outwit, out-tough and pretty much out-man everyone on the show, even tricking Jack himself a few times. Henderson was so stone-cold that he let his wife be shot in the leg by Jack rather than give up any information. He momentarily elevated himself into 24 history by 'killing' Tony, though the events of the current season have lessened Henderson's accomplishment a bit. Also hurting his case is that he was finally taken down by the ol' empty gun trick.




8. Mike Novick circa Day Two (played by Jude Ciccolella)(still alive)
I could've pulled a Chappelle/Mason here and given Novick an exemption for his villainous acts based on his morph into a good guy on Days Four and Five, but that would be doing a disservice to his wonderful role in S2. Maybe the fact that he's an otherwise good guy makes his temporary heel turn in S2 all the more shocking. Anyway, after being Palmer's right-hand man for the first season and a half, Novick decides to go all in with Vice President Prescott and try to force Palmer out of office. Lynn, Palmer's other chief advisor, learns of this and Novick decides to lock her in a room to prevent her from telling the President. Lynn escapes, but falls down a flight of stairs and is badly hurt. She is taken away in an ambulance, but as she's being loaded into the back, she raises her hand to point at Novick, in the vain hopes of trying to tell Palmer that he had a rat in his inner circle. Novick then grabs her hand in a "there there, it'll be all right" motion. Dick. Move. Even though Novick ended up redeeming himself in the rest of the series, his momentary turn to the dark side actually ended up being a clever way to generate suspense in future seasons. We no longer knew for sure that Mike was on the good side, especially given his deep involvement with the slimy Logan. And finally, as contractually obligated to do in any discussion of Jude Ciccolella, the man looks sort of like a turtle.




7. Stephen Saunders (played by Paul Blackthorne)(killed by Theresa Ortega)
Saunders --- 24's answer to "what would happen if Jack faced an evil James Bond? Okay, not one of the cool Bonds, maybe just a Timothy Dalton Bond...okay, fine, Bond would eat this guy for breakfast, never mind. But he's British! Ooohhhh!!" --- is best remembered today as a running joke amongst my friends. Literally, a 'running' joke. Near the end of S3, as Saunders is trying to reach his helicopter to make his getaway from the CTU team, he runs in a comically-upright running style. Imagine someone trying to run with a six-foot metal pole strapped to his back and you'd have the image of Saunders. Therefore, whenever we see someone with an awkward or 'proper' running style, we cite the name of 24's British nemesis. It's kind of a goofy tribute to what was otherwise a terrific villain. Saunders got Tony to turn on his mates, had Chappelle killed and nearly killed an entire hotel's worth of people. He was only stopped since Jack, after going through two years of people trying to get to him through Kim, finally realized that using people's kids as bait is a GREAT idea and took Saunders' (hot) daughter Jane into custody. Saunders then fell apart like a house of cards. It was enough to make the Queen herself shake her royal head in disgust. (I presume Her Majesty watches 24.)




6. Mandy (played by Mia Kirschner)(still alive)
Mandy would've gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for those meddling kids...and by meddling kids, I mean Curtis' right fist. The end of Season Four finally delivered on the encounter that had been built up since the pilot --- Jack and CTU against Mandy the assassin. She was responsible for bringing down a plane in 24's first-ever episode and for almost killing President Palmer in the S2 finale. Yet not only had she not been caught, she had never even been mentioned by CTU, let alone confronted. But Day Four finally brought Mandy down, as her habit of screwing and then killing her targets finally, uh, screwed her. Frankly, I was a little disappointed. It would've been kind of awesome to keep Mandy around for the entire series, continually being an unknown monkey wrench in Jack's life and acting as a symbol that CTU, for as much as they kept on top of things, were still in the dark about some threats. But, at least, Mandy went out with a bang. And by bang, I mean the sound Curtis' fist made when it slammed into her face. Not to sound like I support violence against women or anything, but that punch was a 'fuck yeah' moment if there's ever been one on 24. And when it's to stop an assassin who may have information about a nuke-wielding terrorist, a good punch is always necessary. All that scene was missing was Chris Tucker making a cameo screaming that Mandy just got KTFO. Tucker could've say, oh, say, Jack's long-lost brother.




5. Dina Araz (played by Shohreh Aghdashloo)(killed by one of Marwan's thugs)
On the downside, Dina has the least-notable killer of any of the dead villains on the list, even moreso than Stephen Saunders, who was killed by friggin' Gael's wife. Also on the downside, she spent quite a lot of her time on the show fleeing, injured, and actually not being villainous as she was turning on her husband and Habib Marwan while trying to protect her son. On the other hand..."Behrooz, I am so disappointed in you." BAD. ASS. Shohreh Aghdashloo's creepy voice and evil poker glare from hell are burned into my memory. 24 briefly turned into a horror movie during that episode where Behrooz doesn't kill his girlfriend and tries to hide it from his parents. As I recall, the episode featured roughly 59,205 shots of Dina suspiciously peering around a corner at her son, and it was creepy every single time. Mike Novick, as pictured above, was a master at sneakily peering around corners; with Dina, she peered in a way that made you feel like the end of the world was nigh. Dina was so evil that she even gave her son a name that she could intimidate him with by stretching it out to its maximum length --- "Behhrooozeeee...." Between Dina's evil, Navi Araz's more generic villany and Behrooz's incompetent boobery, the Araz family really carried the early part of S4. I guess you could say that Day Four could've been called...Arazted Development. (rimshot) (editor's note: that's not the first time Mark has used that joke.) By the way, in researching this entry, it turns out Behrooz's girlfriend was played by...Leighton Meester?! Wow, nice going Behrooz. He's pretty slick for a teenage sleeper agent.




4. Habib Marwan (played by Arnold Vosloo)(committed suicide)
Most 24 seasons feature at least three major villains, two of which are 'legwork' villains that cause most of the direct damage and pose a physical threat to Jack, and then a third villain who's operating things from behind the scenes. The one exception to this is Day Four, where Habib Marwan is the Big Bad --- ah, Buffy references --- for virtually the entire storyline. The reason for this is pretty cool; Marwan was originally going to be a secondary-level baddie, sort of the second phase of enemies in the day (the Araz family was step one, Marwan was step two, and who knows would've been step three). But because Arnold Vosloo was doing such a great job in the role, the 24 producers decided to just keep him around and make him the central antagonist of the entire season. While it was a little goofy that one guy had four or five different plots cooking on the same, Marwan was built up as such a bad-ass and such a capable plotter that it seemed almost plausible. Fun note: Marwan is the only major 24 villain who went to his grave thinking his plan actually succeeded, as he committed suicide rather than be captured by Jack. I'm glad I was able to find the picture of his great final scene, as he shoots Jack a shit-eating Joker grin before intentionally falling to his death. I'm sure Marwan was in for a big surprise once he got to hell, pulled up an easy chair and switched on the evening news.




3. Sherry Palmer (played by Penny Johnson Jerald)(killed by Julia Milliken)
In addition to the aforementioned 'three levels of villains' in a 24 season, each Day usually also features at least one bureaucratic manipulative villain that's trying to work things from the White House. Examples include Tom Lennox, S2 Mike Novick, Chad Lowe's character in S6...but they all pale in comparison to the Queen of Mean, Sherry Palmer. The picture above says it all: Sherry once killed a guy simply by screaming at him until he died. If you could combine Lady Macbeth, Hillary Clinton and Shrieky from Care Bears into one person, the result would be Sherry. Moreso than a lot of villains on this list that I felt could've lived another Day to continue to torment Jack, I feel that Sherry's death was the most unnecessary. Sure, yelling Alan Milliken to death probably crossed the line even by her standards and Sherry deserved to be punished, but getting involved in 24's blood-and-guts action scenes wasn't Sherry's style. She was the one who could corrupt things just with an understanding of her foe's nature, or by explaining her bullshit in a way that seemed completely logical to her target. Sherry deserved more than to meet her end at the hands of Jasmine from Angel. Just as an example, imagine how much Sherry could've improved S6 if she had been alive to weasel her way into Wayne Palmer's administration, and it was her in Tom Lennox's role or Regina King's role (not as Wayne's wife, of course, but speaking as the 'concerned' sister-in-law). BTW, David Palmer was well served to split up with Sherry after Day One, but is there any doubt that he missed out on some wild makeup sex?




2. Nina Myers (played by Sarah Clarke)(killed by Jack Bauer)
Nina is in many ways The Villain of the series. Her murder of Teri Bauer was 24's turning point; it was the moment that told viewers that the series wasn't going to finish in happy endings, especially not for Jack. It also elevated Nina into a realm of hatred rarely shown by viewers towards a TV character. My friend Eric, to this day, refers to her only as 'Fucking Nina' and will no doubt be horrified that I'm placing her anywhere but first on this list. I'm a little surprised myself, given that Nina was a great villain, perhaps the most important villain in the series, and I only just realized that Sarah Clarke looks exactly like a brunette Amy Poehler and I hate Amy Poehler. But the only reason Nina is ranked a step downwards is that I thought her appearance in S3 was, like the Indian's buttocks in Wayne's World II, a trifle unnecessary. Nina being finally killed was satisfying to see, but that's also something that could've been saved for (in my opinion) the series finale. Fun fact: Sarah Clarke met husband, Xander "George Mason" Berkeley while working together in S1. At one point in S3, a CTU video screen showed a driver's license featuring one of Nina's 'aliases' --- with the name Sarah Berkeley. There is no truth to the rumour that Clarke fell for Berkeley's pick-up line, "Hey baby, wanna have sex with the X?"




1. President Charles Logan (played by Gregory Itzin)(killed by Martha Logan)
A note about the picture: I really, really tried to find a pic of the look on Logan's face when Aaron Pierce totally owned him by calling him 'Charles,' but I couldn't track it down. Apparently Glenn Morshower didn't tell Itzin he was going to do that, so Itzin's reaction shot was one of legit surprise. C'est la vie. As I mentioned in my last 24 post, for all of the flack that 24 takes over being a right-wing show, it's interesting that the show's most significant villain was a) the President, b) a thinly-disguised caricature of Nixon and Dubya Bush and c) a Republican. Logan was an utterly fascinating character and a great departure from the heroic President Palmer; here was a president who was a spineless weasel, easily manipulated and seemingly unable to muster any kind of effective leadership qualities whatsoever. I almost wish that Logan hadn't been outed as involved in the S5 plot, since he would've been a great roadblock/nemesis for Jack for the rest of the series....so, if you're counting, that makes five of the top six villains that I wish were all still alive. In Logan's case, however, his continued life would've spared us his actual last episode, in S6, which ended up being both anti-climactic and ridiculous. I still cannot get over Gregory Itzin losing the Best Supporting Emmy to Alan Alda. Alan Alda! He of the closet full of Emmys from MASH and of the barely-half-the-season's worth of appearances on The West Wing. Complete and utter nonsense.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Baseball Stuff



With only about a month or so away from pitchers and catchers reporting, it's time to start talkin' 'bout baseball!

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So I logged onto Drunk Jays Fans yesterday, and what should I find but one of my old 'On Notice' pictures headlining a story about Rickey Henderson. I'm not sure how they came across the picture or if the DJF guys are readers of this site, but whatever, cheers and salutations to one of the best baseball blogs out there. Since now we're all buds and whatnot, hopefully they won't mind when I start my Sober Jays Fans blog dedicated to never buying one of those exorbitantly-priced Rogers Centre beers. Then again, I seem to be able to avoid paying for beers due to travesties of cosmic fate.

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Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice were the only two players elected to this year's Hall of Fame class by the writers, and I'm only 50 percent satisfied with the result. Rickey, obviously, was a no-brainer, and the 28 people who didn't vote for him should have their voting privileges revoked. The 'nobody has ever been a unanimous selection' unwritten rule is one of the five or six dumbest things in professional sports. To quote Bill James, if you split Rickey in half, you'd have TWO Hall of Famers --- there is no possible excuse for not marking his name down on the ballot.

Jim Rice, on the other hand, from what I can tell about the guy, was more or less a creation of Fenway Park. He is the definition of a borderline HOFer and I'm afraid that Rice's election will lead to more arguments for even more mediocre guys (mediocre by HOF standards, I should say) like Don Mattingly, Dave Parker, Harold Baines, etc. I can also pretty much guarantee that park factor aside, there is no way Rice gets into the Hall if he doesn't play for the big-market Red Sox. It's a shame that the big-name teams even get advantages in seeing their players go to Cooperstown.

If I had had a HOF vote, I would've selected...

* Rickey.

* Bert Blyleven. Ol' Be Home is hurting his case by complaining about being overlooked, but seriously, the man has a point.

* Tim Raines. Viva les Expos! Here's another case of market-size playing a role. If Raines had played anywhere but Montreal, he would've been voted in on the first ballot. I think Raines was one of those split Rickey Hendersons that Bill James was talking about.

* Mark McGwire. Everybody was on steroids. Why single out Big Mac?

* Alan Trammell, though I had to think about it for a few seconds and needed a double-check of his numbers on BR. Six seasons with an OPS+ between 130 and 155? Sold. What hurts Trammell's candidacy overall is that he had an odd habit of having an average-to-poor year for every two great ones. It's possible that some writers are holding this lack of consistency against him.

A few others on the ballot were close calls (Rice, Lee Smith, Andre Dawson) but ultimately I wouldn't call them the best of the best. I'm sure Kyle will get on me for omitting Jack Morris again, but my anti-Morris stance was sealed by a recent Joe Posnanski post that pointed out the startling comparisons between the career numbers of Morris and Jamie Moyer. Case closed.

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I recently started playing a historical fantasy league, since y'know, not enough of my time is wasted spent playing fantasy sports. The rules are simple; you go year-by-year (I'm joining in at 1984) drafting players from that particular year. Then you make your team, plug their stats into a simulator, and have an entire simulated season. It's a pretty fun way to 'manage' a team since you can adjust lineups, play the lefty-righty percentages a la Mr. Burns and Darryl Strawberry, and, perhaps best of all, get to pour over old statistics in order to find some of 1984's hidden gems.

While I was puttering Baseball-Reference.com checking on Ken Oberkfell's splits and weighing whether or not I should make Mike Young one of my six keepers for '85, I became curious about how my memories of my favourite teams of all time, the 1992 Toronto Blue Jays, of course, would stand up to modern-day statistical analysis.

In some cases, there wasn't much discrepancy. Going by OPS+, the best players on the 92 Jays were Dave Winfield (137), Robbie Alomar (129), John Olerud (126), Candy Maldonado (124) and Joe Carter (119). One interesting note about Joe; the 119 was his second-highest ever OPS+ score since, as I was surprised to discover about a guy who was known for being such a slugger, Joe almost never walked. His career OBP was a measly .306 and he never (not even once) cracked the 50-walk plateau in a season.

Players who were worse than I remembered were Devon White (90) and Kelly Gruber (72). Now, even as a kid I could recognize Devo's annoying habit of hitting a homer, then sucking for about the next week since he'd suddenly overswing everything thinking he's Babe Ruth. That being said, Devo's glove was so good that it definitely put him above the average mark as an overall player...but for the love of God, why did Cito put him in the leadoff spot? Devo was fast, sure, but when your leadoff man has a .303 OBP, it's time to look elsewhere. As for Gruber, good lord, he just flat-out sucked. Lousy against lefties, lousy against righties and while Gruber could wield a mean glove himself, his fielding wasn't stellar enough to account for his poor showing at the plate. Fun fact: Gruber and George W. Bush are longtime pals. I used to think this reflected badly on Kelly, but man, a 72 OPS+? Then again, Bush's PDMP+ (Presidential Decision-Making Percentage) was about 72 as well, so maybe they're kindred spirits.

As for the pitching staff, Juan Guzman led the starters with a 156 ERA+. Boy, you forget just how good Juan Guzman was from 1991 to 1993. He was one of the ten best pitchers in baseball. He and Olerud were the first rookie superstars that really blossomed around the same time that I began to really follow the Jays, so I always had a particular interest in their development. I'm still angry that Guzman got jobbed out of the 1991 Rookie of the Year Award by Chuck friggin' Knoblauch. What a travesty. Ol' reliable Jimmy Key was next with a 116 ERA+, and I'm glad Key went on to be immortalized by having his name associated with hot women everywhere. Also of note was trade deadline pickup David Cone's 161 ERA+ in eight starts as a Blue Jay, and the 102 ERA+ put up by our alleged ace, Jack Morris. It was a classic Morris year; has barely above-average numbers, but ends up with a 21-6 record thanks to a combination of run support and dumb-ass luck. It probably also helped Morris (and the entire Jays' staff en masse) that they only needed a lead after seven innings, thanks to the unbelievable combination of Duane Ward (210) and Tom Henke (181) to close things out. Good lord, that's scary good. The funny thing is, those two were so good that it obscured the fact that the rest of the Toronto bullpen was outright terrible. Only one reliever (Mike Timlin) ended up with an ERA+ as high as 100, and Timlin's was bang-on the century mark.

Also of note: Doug Linton finished the season with an 8.63 ERA over eight games. But he was money in The Doug Linton Game, which I happened to be in attendance for. Until the Dustin McGowan one-hitter, that was probably my most historic live game as a fan. God bless you, Doug Linton, wherever you are.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bauer Power




So far, so good.

I'm holding back a bit on my praise of the first four 24 episodes of the season, since I remember the two-night premiere of S6 as being pretty good too, before that season degenerated into a pile of garbage. (You'll notice how things went south after Kal Penn was killed off? Kumar = ratings.) But given that this new season premiere had to both erase the stink of Season Six and build on the mediocre 24: Redemption movie from two months ago, I'd say that things are looking up for the 24 franchise. S7's first four hours had some great action, some interesting plot developments and, most importantly, none of the characters appear to suck yet. You might think this would be a small hurdle to overcome, but given this show's propensity for stubbing its toe on casting decisions, it's a bit of a relief.

Case in point: in past years, the traditional 24 time-wasting subplot has featured the likes of Elisha "Sloppy Seconds" Cuthbert and Rick Schroeder. This season, however, it looks like Colm Feore will be doing the honours, and given how he has more acting talent in his left eyebrow than Cuthbert and Schreoder do in their entire bodies, it made First Husband Taylor's quest to find the truth behind his son's death into a plot I'm actually interested in seeing develop. And hey, it also gives screen-time to the very hot Carly Pope from 'Young People Fucking,' so thumbs up.

Feore's presence is one of those details that gives me hope that the 24 producers really did learn their lesson from S6, as the show's makers have readily admitted that the show needed to be freshened up. So now the show is set in Washington, and at least in the first four episodes, 24 has gone back to its roots of having Jack, Tony, Chloe and Bill as a central unit trying to battle both a set of villains and some good guys who are temporarily on the wrong track (the FBI agents). Part of me is upset that the much-hyped twist of Tony as a villain was apparently proven to be false just two hours in, but let's be honest: nobody wants to see Jack and Tony fight. They're like brothers, man. Tony's already had a rough year what with the Cubs being upset in the MLB playoffs, so the last thing he needs is an ass-kicking from Jack as well. There's also the chance that the Bill/Chloe/Tony team are actually villains (which would be the kind of epic twist that this show is known for), but honestly, maybe it's better that Jack at least has a few stable allies still going after seven seasons. Plus, if Chloe is evil, that would ruin my long-standing wish to have the series end with Jack and Chloe hooking up. Mary Lynn Rajskub has stated that she plays Chloe as if she's in love with Jack, but I don't think we've ever seen it portrayed as baldly as the hilarious scene where she compliments him for looking good on C-SPAN.* Between that and Jack casually apologizing to Tony for almost breaking his neck, it was a laugh-filled two hours on Monday night...well, maybe just those two moments in two hours, but still. Actually, the thing I laughed the most at was probably the random West Wing shout-out --- Tanner the sniper's lawyers from Gage Whitney Pace, the law firm that Sam Seaborn was working for before he joined the Bartlet White House. Does this mean that 24 is part of the West Wing-verse? Is President Taylor going to lose her re-election campaign to Jed Bartlet? I guess we'll know for sure if Taylor ever addresses this threat in Sangala by saying "African warlords...boy, I don't know."

* = Okay, I guess there's the small detail of Chloe apparently still married to Morris, but perhaps a later episode will reveal that Morris left her in order to star on half of CBC's lineup. Carlo Rota has a truly interesting acting resume. I'm also impressed that 24 went with another CBC star by casting Mary Walsh to play the presid....what's that? Cherry Jones? Seriously? Never mind.

I look forward to Chloe meeting the FBI's Bizarro Chloe, Janeane Garofalo. The FBI already seems to have Bizarro Jack (Renee, who's gone from rules stickler to terrorist-chokin' torturer in the span of four hours), Bizarro Ryan Chappelle (Agent Moss, or 'Moss The Boss') and Bizarro Milo (the other snarky techie guy, and it only just occurred to me now that it's the same guy played Billy the douchebag director on Entourage, a.k.a. the most obnoxious character on a show filled with obnoxious characters). I look forward to the FBI team totally devolving into devoted Followers Of Bauer over the next 20 hours. Renee is on board already, and Janeane Garofalo can probably be coerced into being a FOB if she's not the mole.

Bottom line: 24 seems to have gotten its mojo working again, so I think I can temporarily call off any ideas I had of dropping it from my watch-list. Jack had me at the moment he was threatening to stab the arms dealer in the eye with a pen. Sure, it was half-Joker's pencil trick and half-the ending of the famous Magnum TA vs. Tully Blanchard cage I Quit match from Starrcade '85, and it isn't up there with such classic Jack tactics as shooting a guy and cutting off his head, but still, it was enough to tell me that 24 was back.

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Here's a fun game to play some time....how much time has passed in the 24 universe? The show is in its seventh season and seventh 'day,' but if you think about it, it's actually been much longer than a mere seven years in show-time.

The easiest way to mark time is by the presidents. David Palmer was running in the California primary in S1, so just to make things easier to follow timeline-wise, pretend Day One took place in 2000. So Palmer is elected in 2000, and we know he only served one term as per his pledge in the S3 finale.

2000-2004: President David Palmer

2004-2006?: President John Keeler
This was the guy Palmer was preparing to debate on Day 3, the Republican senator played by Geoff Pierson. Can you imagine the uproar that would take place in real life if a sitting president decided so late in an election cycle that he was suddenly ending his campaign? What would the backup scenario even be in that case? Would the vice-president (Prescott) have stepped in? Talk about handing Keeler an easy win. But, Keeler's luck wouldn't last long, as he was killed when Habib Marwan (for my money, the most legitimately successful villain in 24 history) bombed Air Force One. I'm not totally sure of when Keeler bit it, but I'm guessing around 2007 based on logic you'll see in the Logan entry.

2006-2007: President Charles Logan
I'm basing this solely on a comment made during S5 that the election was 'a year and a half away,' which partially fueled Logan's desire to have the terrorist threat neutralized quickly so he could claim it as a personal victory for himself. Marwan, by the way, was the most successful villain in 24 history, but I'd call Logan the best villain in 24 history, narrowly edging out Nina and Sherry Palmer. Gregory Itzin, by the way, lost the supporting actor Emmy that year to fucking Alan Alda for his glorified cameos on West Wing. Emmys = angry Mark.

2007-2008: President Hal Gardner
Played by Ray "Satan" Wise in a classic 24 bait-and-switch of casting an actor known for playing mostly villains as a good guy. Gardner presumably took over as president once Logan was arrested, and frankly, I would've loved to have seen exactly how Logan's crimes were explained to the American public. His reappearance in S6 was shocking to me solely because I would've suspected that for his monstrous laundry list of crimes, Logan would've been executed more or less on the spot. Or, perhaps with an eye towards protecting the American public, Logan would've "died" in captivity, perhaps

2008-2009: President Wayne Palmer
Played in career-ending fashion by D.B. Woodside. I dunno what happened to ol' D.B. He did good work on Buffy, and did good work as Wayne in the third and fifth seasons. But much like the show itself, Wayne Palmer just totally went to shit on Day Six. His acting became even more insufferable after the attempt on Wayne's life --- Woodside delivered most of his lines in an agonizingly slow...and...ponderous....manner. He sounded like Mike Scioscia after he got radiation poisoning on the Simpsons. I'm guessing that S6 came early in Wayne's administration, given how it was hammered into our heads that Jack had spent 20 months in Chinese captivity in between Days Five and Six, so it's possible that Wayne's presidency lasted barely longer than William Henry Harrison's.

2009-2012: President Noah Daniels
a.k.a. the only bright spot of S6. Powers Boothe, we hardly knew ye.

2012-present: President Allison Taylor
And now that brings us up to the current day, since the 24: Redemption film told us that Taylor defeated Daniels in an election and that Jack had been traveling around the world for 'a couple of years.' So it's actually been 12 years since the fateful events of Day One. Now, the show's writers have always been careful to not actually mention a lot of dates or real-life events, as they've stated several times that 24 is in 'the perpetual now' and they don't want to break that illusion by having Jack, for instance, celebrate his 50th birthday or anything.

Also of note in this listing of presidents --- the Palmers and Daniels were Democrats, and Keeler/Logan/Gardner/Taylor are all Republicans. So even though 24 is often criticized for taking a very Bush-esque view of torture, habeas corpus, etc., it's interesting that the most heroic president (Palmer) was a lefty and the giant slimeball criminal president (Logan) was a Republican.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Amateur Dream Analysis

DREAM: I'm in a giant Twin Pines Mall-esque mall, going from 'The Beyonce Store' (which seems like a cross between Urban Outfitters and Wal-Mart) into an adjoining book store, though I'm not sure if it's an entirely separate store or just another section of The Beyonce Store. Anyway, I pull a book off the shelves and bring an entire wall of books down on me. I'm pulled out of the wreckage by Matthew Lesko, the question-mark suit guy from TV

ANALYSIS: This doesn't take a Frasier Crane to figure out. I reach for a book, get nearly crushed by a mountain of books, and am saved by a guy from TV. Or, a guy in a question mark suit, sort of like the Riddler in my blog profile picture. It's all a metaphor for how I've let my pile of library books stack up over the weeks while I've been filling my time both watching copious amounts of television and writing copious amounts of blog posts. The books are angry --- I must appease them. I'll finish that George Saunders short story collection by next week, I swear. Don't break my spine with your spines, my pagey masters! I don't know where the hell the Beyonce part comes in. Maybe my subconscious is telling me that I should buy the Sasha Fierce album. Or maybe it's saying I should find a single lady and put a ring on her.


DREAM: I'm in a Legion hall, specifically the one off of King Street in Toronto where I went for a Halloween party last October. But this is no party --- I'm there for a UFC event. And not to watch on pay-per-view, I mean the actual event is taking place at the Legion. The cage takes up literally half of the place. I'm sitting ringside next to UFC president Dana White and, oddly enough, L.C. from The Hills. The ring announcer (not UFC regular Bruce Buffer) is introducing the main event, first introing the unknown fighter who's already in the ring. The announcer then suddenly breaks out a slide projector and starts giving a lecture on ancient Rome. This brings out the other fighter (Chuck Liddell), who's angry over the delay in being introduced. He and the announcer get into a shoving match, and the main event is canceled due to the melee.

ANALYSIS: I'm at a UFC event at a bar and sitting next to the star of a reality series. Ergo, this means that the winner of the next season of The Ultimate Fighter will be a former bartender. Can I place a bet on this outcome in Vegas? Anyway, this dream is, again, pretty non-sensical. Maybe it's some sort of commentary about how the UFC fighters are today's modern-day gladiators, like the gladiators of ancient Rome. That's a concept that certainly has never been explored before....except on literally every single UFC broadcast with their 'gladiators' intro. Man, my subconscious is lazy. Wait a second. It's lazy, just like L.C.! She just sits around and shops, goes to the beach, goes on dates, etc. right? (I've never watched the Hills,* so I'm just presuming this is her daily routine.) Perhaps my subconscious is telling me that laziness is the key to success, as evidenced by L.C., and I should stop worrying about working hard to make something of myself. I should just sit back and let myself fall ass-backwards into fame and fortune! Great idea, subconscious! Usually being a layabout would mean that I would end up drinking at a bar, but as this dream shows, even the dreariest ugly duckling of a bar can be turned into a beautiful swan of a professional fighting card! Hot dog! This laziness is reinforced by the fact that I'm probably the one straight guy in the world who dreams about L.C. but in a completely non-sexual way.

* = I have, somehow, watched the whole first season of Laguna Beach. I'm still not sure I can piece together the chain of events that led to that happening.


DREAM = It's the world of Lost. The Island, it turns out, is actually a Truman Show-esque fantasy world set up for Ben to control the actions of the other characters. Everyone comes to terms with this (except for Locke, who is given a lobotomy), and the series ends with a big cocktail party for everyone involved. Things go sour, however, when the smoke coming off of one of the candles turns into the Monster --- the origin and purpose of which never was explained --- and everyone is killed. End series.

ANALYSIS = I think this one falls under the category of 'nightmare,' since if Lost actually concludes in such a shitty way, I'm going to fly out to Hawaii with a shotgun. That's the odd dichotomy of being a Lost fan; at this point it's certainly one of my favourite shows of all time, but if the series doesn't resolve itself in a satisfactory way, it will plummet down the rankings faster than you can say the Alabama Crimson Tide. It's a different situation than, say, when Buffy sucked during its last couple of seasons. That was just the natural result of a show that had stayed on past its expiry date and suffered the natural degeneration that befalls most programs. With LOST, however, a bad finish will hit much harder. The show has been building for four years and has created all of this mystery about 'the answer' of the Island, even to the point where it has become the only network show ever with a strict end date that the producers have promised us will streamline and focus the storytelling process. It would be like reading a mystery for 400 pages, really getting into it, and then it turns out in the last 100 pages that the killer was actually the dead guy's evil twin that nobody had mentioned in all of the previous chapters. Or, it would be like reading The Broom Of The System (sorry Kyle).