The Top Ten Single Greatest Moments of 2007

December 27, 2007

Here, in no particular order, are the top ten greatest events of 2007.

“We Have No, What You Call, Homosexuals Here.”
Tehran laments lack of popped collars, pastels in mosques

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the current leader of Iran, bravely stood alone in the single most hostile situation in which he could have been placed: a tie store. No, not really. He was at Columbia University. But seriously, I think the guy is afraid of ties or something. Or maybe he’s just a fan of open shirts, or just afraid of buttoning the top button. And they made fun of Ashcroft for fearing the dread calico cat. Anyway, he did stand bravely in front of a group of students on a visit to the United States and bravely declared that unlike the decadent states of Western civilization, Iran had managed to dodge the gay bullet, as it were, since there was not one single homosexual within the cultural borders of Persia. Which explains the poor syntax in the translation of Will & Grace on Al-Jazeera.

Mighty Casey At The Bat! And By “Bat” We Mean “On The Street Corner Buying Narcotics.”
Fans, Players, Management, Advertisers, Collectors, Sports Historians, Beer Vendors, Everyone’s Mother Just Shocked, Shocked! About Steroid Use In Baseball

The Mitchell Report was released not that long ago, fingering many major baseball figures as rampant steroid and HGH abusers. This comes as an absolute shock to those of us who haven’t noticed that Barry Bonds’s head is the size of a watermelon, which is no one. The end effect is that the baseball records are dotted with more asterisks than a TNT airing of Reservoir Dogs. Baseball’s rules specifically prohibit the use of performance-enhancing drugs, even though the most effective performance-enhancing drug is still legal, otherwise known as the luxury tax.

Thankfully, the Nobel Committee is a Controlling Legal Authority
Nobel Peace Prize Awarded To Former Vice-President For Inventing A Way For An Inconvenient Truth To Be Related Enough To Peace To Win The Nobel Peace Prize

Al Gore, whose eight years as vice president has been eclipsed by his tireless work as an advocate for global warming change and gaining about sixty pounds. He won the highly coveted Nobel Peace Prize, beating out Hugo Chavez, the reanimated corpse of Vladimir Lenin, and Clifford the Big Red Dog. But why is it when I create a PowerPoint presentation based on sketchily-attained research I did at two in the morning on the Wikipedia the night before the presentation I get a C, but Al Gore gets a Nobel Prize? That’s an injustice I hope the next Nobel Peace Prize is awarded for rectifying.

China Secures Lead In Toy Manufacturing
The Celestial Empire Is Apologetic, But C’Mon, How Often Do Kids Put Toys In Their Mouths?

Nearly every parent was alarmed to learn that of the sixty thousand toys they purchase for their child each year, probably about 100% of them come from China, and of those toys, approximately 100% of those contain massive amounts of lead. Popular characters such as Dora the Explora and Thomas the Tank Engine had to be recalled lest the lead seep into the children’s bodies and stunting their intellectual growth, consigning them to work at night shift at Denny’s or a scriptwriter on Lions for Lambs. China tried to ease the panic by promising that any lead-laced toys identified and found will instead be directed to children in Formosa and Japan.

Greatest Video Game Of All Time Released
Master Chief Heals Cancer, Destroys Evil, Does A Bunch Of Other Geeky Shit

The highly anticipated Halo 3 was release to wildly approving positive reviews and insanely large amounts of money. The release was met with long lines of devoted fans and endless laurels usually reserved for major motion pictures and papal visits. The Halo Series, for those who are uninitiated, involves an individual known as Master Chief who tries to save humankind from an alien race known as the Covenant by selling an overproduced Duke Nukem clone for $20 above MSRP. Or something like that. I was too busy playing Oregon Trail to really pay attention.

To Ignignokt Is Human
Lite Brites Based On Stoner Cartoon Threatens Democracy Or At Least Makes Us Late For the Celtics Game Tonight

Very few promotions have gone so terribly, terribly wrong ever since the Pepsi corporation crashed a Harrier jet into a puppy factory. The creators of the late-night completely insane cartoon Aqua Teen Hunger Force, about a band of food that does crazy things usually but not related to smoking massive amount of hash, decided that the best course of wisdom to promote their feature-length motion picture would be to place mysterious boxes with the figure of one of the characters flipping the bird on it in public places around different cities. This did well until Boston, a city so sober they threw away the tea not for political reasons but because of its stimulant content, mistook the ads for terrorist bombs and called in the SWAT team. End result: Ted Turner had to pony up about 2 mil in cash to the City of Boston, who will use the money not only for recompense for the scare but also to enlarge their population of pretentious, humorless pricks.

Fake Hockey Team Wins Fake Championship
Stanley Cup Now Anthropomorphized, Starring In Late Afternoon Cartoon

Hockey is a fascinating sport, not the least of which that real, true hockey should pretty much be played in Canada and possibly Detroit. But for whatever reasons the commissioners of the National Hockey League insist that such ridiculous places as Florida and Texas should have hockey teams, states with cities that couldn’t fill a stadium if they promised a free hockey puck with the Confederate flag on it, much less a playoff hockey game. Anyway, the relatively young Disney-created Anaheim Ducks of Anaheim won the championship, the first western hockey team to win since the Oregon Trail closed up shop. The Mouse has long since sold the team, and the Niedermeyers have brought the team to prominence, but the true staying power of the team will only be determined by yet another successful playoff run which will last approximately a year and a half.

Yes, We Have No Muhammeds
Unfortunately Named Teddy Bear Is Apparently A Big Deal To Those Sudanese No One Has Committed Genocide On Yet

The sad tale of Gillian Gibbons is one fraught with lurid tales of blasphemy, cultural intolerance, and a polyester bear stuffed with cotton. Gibbons, a British teacher in the Sudan, thought it would be a cute thing to name the class teddy bear, apparently a measure aimed at misdirecting the students from the fact that they had no microscopes or textbooks to name instead. The class chose the name “Muhammed,” which was also the name of pretty much every other boy in the room. Unfortunately, a school official found out about this crime against Islam and activists soon declared that she would be executed for insulting the state religion. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed, “cooler heads” primarily being the British diplomats who risked intolerant imams with protestors armed with the help of the army had to escort her back to the homeland, where she will face no intolerance greater than disagreeing with the toll structure of local throughways or the existence of Germany.

I’d Tap That
Gay + Senator + Airport Bathroom + Bruno Maglis = Unspeakable Hilarity

It’s an absurd scene in and of itself—homosexual individuals engaging in an elaborately staged song-and-dance routine to solicit sexual favors in random washrooms around the nation, a product of generations of underground social cues and taboo cultural mores. Absurdity defined is when you enter into the mix a reasonably conservative Senator from the unfortunate state of Idaho, caught on tape agreeing to his charges while standing palms up in total denial of his sexual orientation. Senator Larry Craig is still in office, despite his insistence that he is still wanted and needed in that chamber, a feeling almost as strong as his insistence that he is straight or not a hypocrite.

Mortgage Housing Market Crisis Continues
People Who Cannot Afford Homes Upset That They Cannot Afford Their Homes

Equal parts sad and enraging, the emerging mortgage crisis has gone through several phases. The first phase is called “The market has already corrected for the mortgage crisis” phase. The second phase is called “It appears that the market has not absorbed all the information about the mortgage crisis.” The third phase is called “The market has already corrected for the mortgage crisis.” The fourth phase is predicated to be “It appears that the market has not absorbed all the information about the mortgage crisis.” After that, it’s anyone’s guess. Wonder upon wonders what the next phase will be. It’s sad that people are losing their homes, of course, and it’s sadder yet that the government is formulating a plan that is more complicated than the statement “Rates subject to change.” If homeowners can’t understand that statement, I can’t understand how the bailout is going to go any better.

The Rank: Christmas Confections

December 23, 2007

Holidays are a wonderful time of the year, and it’s not only because of the general feeling of peace, goodwill, and harmony that is always present with the holidays. It’s also because, just like your birthday and Fridays, Christmas is as good an excuse as any to gorge yourself with ridiculous foods you’d pretend to not want to be caught eating the remainder of the year.

Sometimes, though, you have to take the good with the bad, and that’s sometimes hard to figure out. So here’s a convenient ranking of the standard holiday desserts and candy that you may find presented to yourself this holiday season.

7. Figgy Pudding: Ick. Seriously, who eats this, besides the British, who, not having a world empire to oversee anymore, love to pass the time away thinking up disgusting things to do with otherwise perfectly serviceable secondary foods? I mean, OK, figs aren’t exactly bar food, but there’s nothing wrong that 6,000 years of Middle Eastern horticulture can’t sort out on its own. But boiling the things and thickening the soupy remains and throwing some green sprinkles on it doesn’t exactly evoke the spirit of Christmas. It mostly evokes milk of magnesia.

6. Gingerbread House: I’m not a real big fan of food you have to work to eat, and the real rip-off for the gingerbread house is usually its construction requires ample supplies of superglue and macramé, products that have been scientifically proven to be less than disagreeable to the digestion. So I say, what’s the point? If I wanted to stare at delicious-looking food that I would never dream of eating, I’d go to Denny’s.

5. Candy Canes: I hate candy canes. Well, that’s a lie. There’s nothing wrong with candy canes that giving them to someone else as a Christmas “present” can’t fix. I’m not sure why I dislike them so much, either. I don’t dislike peppermint. I guess it’s the fact that there’s SO much sugar and peppermint to get through that by the time I’m done I want to brush my teeth with roughage. Also, it’s one of the few candies that is designed better for hanging on coat racks or swinging around on your finger than actually placing in your mouth to eat. Occasionally some company will try to make them fruityish-flavored, which is kind of like reupholstering a Schwinn and selling it as a Chevy Impala.

4. Eggnog: I don’t get most dairy drinks beyond milk, which at this point appears to simply be a nice, cold refreshing glass of BGH. I guess I’m skittish about eggs, since my psyche has developed an unhealthy paranoia about them in that I assume all eggs are raw and contaminated with salmonella unless I personally carry the egg from the hen’s butt to the frying pan. So I simply have to assume I’m drinking pure bacteria when eggnog enters my mouth. That said, the real selling point of eggnog is yet another excuse for adults to get drunk and hit on third cousins, since drinking half a bottle of Blue Label by yourself makes you an alcoholic, but drinking a dozen mugs of cognac-laced eggnog makes you the embodiment of the Christmas season. Salut!

3. Ribbon Candy: I’m not positive this is strictly speaking a holiday candy, but I seem to see it with increasing frequency during Christmastime. Basically, the evolution of mankind has somehow figured out that the shape of the candy cane is inconvenient for easy consumption, so it’s best to chop it up in little pieces and serve it that way, so instead of being a ridiculously-shaped moderately-pleasing candy, it’s simply a moderately-pleasing candy.

2. Candy That Is Exactly The Same As Regular Candy Only In A Green And Red Wrapper: Got to give it to the marketers on this one. It’s not a Three Musketeers; it’s a Christmas Three Musketeers, because the wrapper has a bit of holly in the corner. Mark that puppy up about fifteen percent. Still one can’t complain too much, since after Christmas, the exact same candy bar is now worth about a quarter of the market price. You’re finally gonna get sold, Christmas Necco Wafers!

1. Christmas Cookies: You really can’t beat a standard rack of nice, warm Christmas cookies. Thankfully, this is a pretty broad category, and it covered everything from chocolate chip cookies to Oreo cookies dipped in fudge to sugar cookies with cleverly colored sugar cubes on it to a large assortment of ethically-originated cookies that is simply every culture’s way of shoving sugar and excess flour into our mouths. And I can’t think of a better representation of the harmonious Christmas spirit than that.

Knowing when to deny yourself some horrific snack no one really wants to eat but everyone does because it’s the “holidays” will discourage those destroyers of holiday cheer from making it next time, making Christmas more pleasant for everyone. If we’re successful with that, next year we’ll work on carolers and Christmas cards.

Tonight There’s Gonna Be A Jailbreak Tonight

December 18, 2007

You’d almost think it was a movie.

Two inmates in New Jersey escaped from jail a few days ago. Prison escapes are hardly common, but you hear about them often enough to supply TNT with enough “Based on a True Story” movies for the rest of eternity.

However, in this case, the method of escape is worth noting. The inmates, jailed for robbery and manslaughter, managed to remove two cement blocks from their cell and crawl out, then scale a 25-foot fence to freedom, even if that freedom was, on first glance, New Jersey. And how did these two inmates manage to conceal their escape route? They covered the holes with posters of scantily clad ladies.

In some sense, one wishes these two were in jail for things like embezzlement or petty theft, because you have to hand it to anyone as inventive as, say, a Hollywood scriptwriter to make such a daring and convenient escape. It’s a shame not to throw a few kudos to these fellows, except for that whole killing someone thing.

Elaborate prison escapes are a staple of armchair tacticians and overly creative dullards, the stock plot of countless movies and detective fiction. Fox’s Prison Break is a hit show about just that. Well, about a long, winding and boring lead-up to it, and then a complex and artificial set of plot lines to prop it up for a few additional seasons, but, hey, when you’re in the clink, what else you got to do? But when one of the scumbags actually pulls off such a stunt, we’re all outranged because he might hide out around in the woods and disturb the livestock or something. But back in our minds, we just got to hand it to the guys for pulling off a fast one in a compound specifically designed to prevent it. It’s kind of like the guy who mistakes an unprovable proof on the blackboard as a homework assigned then goes home and solves it, only with a lot more gunshots and profanity and a lot less never getting laid in college.

Even in the world of music, prison escapes are a popular theme, somewhere between the ingestion of LSD and detailing the heroic efforts of the crews of sinking freighters in the Great Lakes area. Elvis has a hit with “Jailhouse Rock,” which raised some eyebrows at the time. It was bad enough he was thrusting his pelvis and putting pressure on guys world-round to buy more brylcreem, he was glorifying criminality and, by extension, trying to overthrow the Pope and put fluoride in the water. Even Johnny Cash was fond of prisons, garnering a hit song from “Folsom Prison Blues,” which he wrote in honor of the one thing he cared about the most—Reese Witherspoon’s ass. Thin Lizzy and AC/DC also have jailbreak anthems befitting their repertoire, though one is remarkably less than surprised about that.

Still, despite the repugnance that street criminals are roaming about after being justly convicted, many of us hold a kind of latent feeling of awe at the prospect. There isn’t a much more stark contrast between authority versus subject in society than prison, and many of us can relate. Sure, we’re only talking about how our bosses make us work late or how our mothers forced us to wear ridiculous things to school no one this side of the western world has ever conceived of wearing, but we can relate at escaping the fascist grip of authority from our lives. Most of us take a pee-in-the-swimming-pool passive aggressive approach to sticking it to the man, but you gotta have brass one to accept the Physical Challenge when you’re up against government-contracted masonry, Homeland Security-funded security systems, and guards with personality issues and lethal weaponry.

And so it goes with our love-hate relationship with the prisoner. On one hand, they’ve broken the law, and most of them are violent thugs with little regard for law, life or, more importantly, private property rights. On the other hand, though, many people feel that most criminals are simply victims of circumstance, creatures to be pitied and rehabilitated rather than mocked and dismissed. In psychological terms, these people are known as “pussies,” and will forever remain as such up until the point when someone siphons the gas out of their hatchback. Then all of a sudden it’s a clarion call to plug in Ol’ Sparky.

The two fellows who pulled the Shawshank certainly had something going on besides bucket-headedness and adrenaline-based excuses at failing life. Most prisoners, given to their own devices, would simply stage a riot, taser a guard, or throw food loafs at the warden, usually with the end result of getting thrown in solitary or be forced to live off of paint flakes and mouse urine for nutrition. The criminal element is not usually made up of potential Jeopardy contestants. And yet there has to be a certain level of cognitive genius to pull off an escape, so making a blanket statement probably is a disservice to, uh, criminals. Of course, the mark of a true genius is not to be put in jail in the first place.

The Gifts That Keep On Giving

December 15, 2007

Christmas time is just as much about giving than receiving, and every year there’s a handful of folks in your gift-giving circle that you, you know, just don’t have any ideas for. Thankfully, each year there is a nice, solid, generic gift list that is good every Christmas, year in and year out, that works no matter what, and works especially well if you don’t want to exchange gifts with that person ever again. Ever.

Fruitcake: I never understood either side of the opinions regarding fruitcake. On the one hand, it’s not this ridiculous confection, the result of a confluence of poor taste and bad design. On the other hand, it’s not exactly the gift-giving equivalent of the Hope Diamond, either. I’ve eaten fruitcake, and it’s…not good. But not bad. It’s not…anything. It just seems like there’s a fairly small market for people who are sitting around, bored and hungry, thinking quietly to themselves, “Boy, you know, I could go for a cherry, a strawberry, a banana, perhaps a bit of pineapple, and a tangerine, all at the same time, draped in a lathering of solidified high fructose corn syrup. That would just hit the spot.” Thankfully, science has evolved to the point where we can, indeed, enjoy them all at the same time, thanks to an innovative technology known as “mushing up enough sugar so the whole thing stays together and lasts longer than Joan Rivers, though fresher.” Fruitcake is primarily consumed by those who have little regard for the longevity of their pancreas.

Combination Anything: Any time two disparate gadgets of varying degrees of utility are combined into one piece of equipment, you know you have a winner on your hands. Usually the options involved are at least tangentially related, such as alarm clock and serrated knife. In fact, alarm clocks in particular seem to be a commonality in most combined gadgets, which to be seems a vast misapplication of effort. When I wake up in the morning, the last thing I want to do is anything, so whatever device is embedded in my alarm cock is mostly going to be wasted, unless it is a mallet with which I can destroy said alarm clock/mallet. But it’s all not alarm clocks, of course; a simple scan of random devices invoke electric razors, mirrors, thermometers, flashlights, cameras, binoculars, manicure sets, corkscrews, nail files, and HD radios. One can only dream.

Anything That Questions the Recipient’s Sexuality: It’s always productive and highly amusing you get your best friend, sorority sister, or creepy uncle that gift that playfully doubts what their sexual orientation is. And I’m talking about all lifestyle choices, of course. Inflatable sheep, spreader bars, flannel, and coffee table books about Austrian sex comedies all point a figurative finger, laughing heartily at the recipient’s discomfort. Alas, you always run the risk of getting a knowing wink and an “I’ll talk to you later about this” look from your intended target, so it’s always best to have a good backup plan comprised of a bubble hockey tourney or a ready subscription to HGTV.

That Singing Fish And Other Novelty Gifts: Seriously, these are the best kind of gifts to get, because anyone who doesn’t enjoy anthropomorphic seafood singing a low-fi rendition of “Rock Around The Clock” has no soul. Basically any kind of singing animal works, but so do gifts involving cartoonish men who do rude things when you press a button to put on your dashboard of your car to cleverly insult passers-by that cut you off in the vague chance that they may be able to see, through the rush of traffic, a six-inch-tall stuffed plush doll giving you the finger; a sound-activated figure, usually Santa Claus or Sammy Davis Jr., which will entertain young children for HOURS while they stomp, clap, and scream in front of the figure to get Kris Kringle to gyrate for a half second or so; and any sort of bank that forces the deposited coin in question to go through an elaborately artificial means to get to the kitty. This usually involves a Construx-type crane or a well-placed pitching plastic arm, but the Cayman Islands works just as well.

Stuff That Will Not Be Used After Jan 7th or So: This includes any kind of exercise equipment that will be gracelessly abandoned mere moments after New Year Resolutions are made. It will also include sports equipment for sports that will never, ever be played; power tools and garage apparatuses that are bought with good intentions, the good intentions being to sell them at a yard sale four years later at about a fifth of their market price; and any form of self-empowering products, from tapes and books to hard liquor.

Gift Card: Nothing says “Happy Holidays” quite like handing someone a plastic card that says “Handing you a big wad of sweaty cash is apparently just too crass, so I’m going to give it to you in the form of a card with a jovial snowman and a corporate logo on it while restricting what you can use it for to buy stuff.” Merry Christmas, thoughtless jackoff!

2007 Holiday Movie Previews

December 9, 2007

It’s almost Christmas time, which of course means that many of the big-scale movie releases are coming out in the next few weeks just in time for the holidays and, oh, I guess the deadline for Oscar contention is December 31st, as well. How peculiar! Anyway, here is some important information about many of these new and recent releases:

Alvin and the Chipmunks: One of the season’s many animated motion pictures, this is the latest incantation of Alvin and the Chipmunks, a massive financial undertaking in what is the long and winding evolution of a novelty recording gimmick come to its logical conclusion: Jason Lee swallowing his self-worth and poop jokes. Early reviews have not been kind, effectively placing it, humor-wise, between Hotel Rwanda and A Brief History of Time. But the Chipmunks have at least one thing going for them: at least it can’t possibly be as big a pile of horseshit as Lions for Lambs.

The Golden Compass: Add one part Chronicles of Narnia, one part Lord of the Rings, one part Harry Potter and one part selling the concept to children of destroying the idea of Jesus Christ as the savior which has guided the population of the world for over 2,000 years by having polar bears with machine guns muck about with dust and Nicole Kidman’s rack and James Bond and a whole mess of other junk some kindergartener made up whilst wiling away the day on the school bus. At least I have to assume that is what it’s about, because I’m not gong to either see the movie or read the book, because I am not in the target demographic for this movie. Which, apparently, are seven-year-old secular humanists with no imagination of their own.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets is the sequel to National Treasure, a hit movie that was released sometime back in the Truman administration. It stars Nicholas Cage and some Random Foreign Girl in a hunt for a massive treasure hidden away via a series of cryptic clues left by the Founding Fathers, as if they needed something to occupy their time between fighting the British and creating a nation. In this edition, Cage must locate the legendary “Book of Secrets.” This book is rumored to tell all of the nation’s most alarming secrets that no one has been able to figure out, such as “This is as original as anything Dan Brown has written in the past ten years or so” and “Nicholas Cage can act.”

I Am Legend: This post-apocalyptic sci-fi cannibalistic dystopian thriller is just the kind of thing to get everyone in the holiday mood. It stars Will Smith, an individual whose career path is one of those mysteries akin to the Oak Island Treasure no one will ever figure out. Rapper from Philly to sitcom star to sci fi lead. The story of I Am Legend has been adapted several times for both television and film, but this will be the first time that the movie is viewed in the backdrop of 1) an allegory of the War on Terror’s impact on the soulless drag on society and the role of the interaction of religion and science on our lives, or 2) some kickass zombie CGI.

Juno: This is the tale of a young teenage girl who gets knocked up. That, uh, appears to be it. She’s also kind of a bitch, but the sweet kind of bitch that only Hollywood could come up with. It has a lot of content about fate, personalities, taking responsibility, and finding true love, but mostly it’s about watching Michael Cera do that goofy-dork act which is incredibly funny but is gonna get old and Robin-Williams level absurd if he doesn’t find a new trick soon. It also has J.K. Simmons, otherwise known as Emil Skoda on Law & Order, which means he should be announcing his candidacy for president any day now. The movie was written by Diablo Cody, a journalist-turned-stripper-turned-author, a career path everyone can agree is a lateral move all around.

Sweeney Todd: Another adaptation of a classic story, Sweeney Todd details the life of a serial killer barber who cuts the throats of innocent victims with a straight razor, then (I assume) sings about his killings or his highlights or Helena Bonham Carter’s cleavage or something. Steven Sondheim’s musical was an improbable success, an almost completely song-driven plot about a peculiar murderer. The crimes in the movie are fairly sensational and the production values are thought to be excellent. The real crime in this movie, though, is that Johnny Depp is still getting work.

Enchanted: The Disney Corporation takes on the most sacred of holiday traditions: The Disney Corporation. In a simultaneously self-referencing and self-mocking tale of love, redemption, and a dearth of competition from rival studios afraid of going up against the Golden Compass, Enchanted scored big at the box office. It essentially tells a tale of a princess banished to the real world, where there are no happy endings to nonexistent fairy tale lives, where animals do not sing but rather like to jump out in front of your car and irritate the Nationwide Insurance Company, and problems aren’t solved by a grandiose power ballad or a deus ex machina in the form of a wand or random magical article of clothing. However, the real world does province the next best thing, which is a $34 million opening weekend.

Sid the Kid vs. the World

December 8, 2007

The arrival of Sidney Crosby in Western Canada, at least from media reports, seems largely akin to the arrival of the Pope, or the introduction of a new Tim Horton’s anywhere. It’s rather amazing, to me, to see him called an “ambassador” for the NHL. I guess it’s one of those things you don’t realize because it’s always in your backyard, sort of like how I’m surprised not everyone else in the world is 70 years old and considers french fries to be a standard sandwich topping.

I’m a late convert to hockey, and I won’t pretend it’s not because of the Crosby Crush. I mean, sure, I watched hockey back during the Penguin’s back-to-back Stanley Cup finals (as an aside, it is a legal requirement within the jurisdiction of Pittsburgh to, when mentioning the phrase “Stanley Cup,” to precede it with the phrase “back-to-back.”) and Mario Lemieux and the communist traitor Jaromir Jagr was winning games. But then the intervening teenage years prevailed, and hockey was ranked on my list of important things to worry about right above new Kool-aid flavors and right below choosing a new Trapper Keeper cover. And who knows? Had the network Vs. been around back then, I probably would have been a faithful follower of the NHL, at least if I wanted to listed to play-by-play announcers that actually made me feel smarter about myself the more they talked.

Hockey is the least watched of the four major sports, which is why hockey loves soccer so much. The strike a few years ago was, in many ways, the best thing to happen to the industry, since it allowed both players and owners to revamp the game into something people would actually watch. Hockey games in the late 80’s and early 90’s eventually descended into scoreless ties or UFC matches on frozen ponds, neither of which was very attractive to the parents of children that just spent ten thou on hockey equipment just to have them go to junior hockey camp to practice dodging left hooks and passing the biscuit back and forth with the second round draft choice for three twenty-minute intervals. At one point, all but a handful of hockey franchises were losing money each season, forcing them into the realm of business models equivalent of domestic car manufacturers.

It was into this situation that Sidney strode gallantly in, with all expectations by hockey fans, franchise owners, media outlets, and Malaysian garment workers making jerseys that he will single-handedly revitalize the sport, even if a little bit of help is needed from property tax forgiveness and the fall of communism. The first team to get the draft lottery the year he was eligible to enter was a lucky team indeed, since the anticipation of his arrival bordered on the orgasmic—the post-strike draft of 2005 was dubbed the “Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes.” Of course, the Pittsburgh Penguins were planning on this highly anticipated event, so they deliberately played about a decade’s worth of lousy hockey previous to the lockout to secure the draft pick.

Thus prepared, the Pens drew the first pick, and gladly plucked Crosby as their first draft choice. The previous year’s first draft choice, Alexander Ovechkin, was also a young, promising player destined to jump start the league, but the lockout prevented him from getting any ice time in the NHL. Consequently, both young players entered into sort of a competition as to who could be hockey’s savior and phenom. Crosby had a few distinct advantages to this friendly contest, notably 1) being Canadian and 2) not being Russian.

Much of the attention lavished on Crosby isn’t just about talent, of course. A lot of it has to do with age, something that he has common cause with in supermodels, where being young is, in fact, the actual talent involved. Crosby holds about a dozen major landmarks in hockey history, all of which start with “The Youngest Player To…” His youth doesn’t define him, one hopes, but it’s still amusing to realize that left wing Gary Roberts was drafted into the NHL a full three years before Crosby was even born. There’s a pairing that one suspects they can trade complexes over.

Crosby is currently on a three-game stretch of western Canada, the parts with more natural gas and whaling and less French-speaking separatists. It’s the last cities (Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver) that Sid hasn’t played in, so his arrival was met with frenzied media attention unparalleled in quite some time. Cameras followed him everywhere, reporters fought for exclusive interviews and he was treated with celebrity status throughout his trip, something he would only get in Pittsburgh if he had shot union agitators or ran over Ben Roethlisberger with a Hummer.

So far, he’s won two of the three scheduled games, both in dramatic comebacks late in the game. It’s tailor-made for sports drama, not quite to the level of the Miracle on Ice but at least better than Marc Crawford’s self-worth. Some may predict that Crosby will sweep all three games; most residents know he already has.

Kiss The Cooks And Make Them Cry

December 5, 2007

Emeril Lagasse’s “Emeril Live” show was recently cancelled by the Food Network, after ten years on the air. As required by law, I must point out that this kicks Emeril down a notch.

Celebrity chefs are nothing new; the history of television is riddled with cheap to produce, moderately-rated programs they can shove in the mid-morning when only housewives and unemployed script writers are at home. While most of the early TV chefs were strictly local affairs, hiring the producer’s sister or the wife of the leading used auto sales owner in town, the national exposure was too tempting to leave even the kitchen out of mass media. Soon, networks and syndicates scours the kitchens of America looking for top expert chefs that didn’t look like they just stepped off the boat from the Island Of People Who Put Their Face In Meat Grinders.

Now, me, personally, I find very little use for television chefs for two distinct and unrelated reasons. Firstly, I do not have the cognitive abilities to 1) watch television and 2) do anything else at the same time, least of all prepare food. I would have to watch the program, write it down, then prepare it, and at that point, why not just buy a cookbook? Then again, I might miss Rachael Ray’s cleavage if I do that.

The second point is that I have a very dampened sense of taste, in the sense that pretty much all quality or gourmet food is lost on me. I just don’t have a taste for it, so any type of preparation beyond a certain time commitment is wasted effort. Now, there is the additional benefit of preparing meals for friends whose palates are not quite as dull, but that would make the rather radical assumption that I have friends who are willing to eat what I prepare. Or, friends.

Of course, there are plenty of chefs that have translated the fine art of cuisine into a lucrative television deal. They have had an impact on many households, from the majority of women who spend so much time and effort making unique and tasty dishes to the men who sit down and ask “What on earth is this? I thought you were making tacos tonight.”

Emeril Lagasse: The New-Orleans based chef (who isn’t, nowadays?) is known primarily for his laid-back and explosive demeanor while preparing dishes, including “Bam!” “Let’s kick it up a notch!” “Spice it up!” “Holy cats, look at me!” “Did you know I’m from Louisiana? I haven’t mentioned it for almost ten minutes!” and “I’m adding something hot to this dish to deaden all other flavors!”

Julia Child: Child is known for French cuisine, introducing that style of cooking to a wide audience desperate for foreign recipes. I’m joking, of course. Anyone not five years old watching PBS already knew how to prepare French cuisine, primarily by telling their fellow traveler cook to prepare a French meal while they when to their monthly Communist Internationale meeting to introduce new ways to infiltrate fluoridation into the local water system and organize the local grocery baggers for the front line of the revolution. People loved watching Julia Child because she was about eighteen feet tall and talking like someone shoved rags in her mouth and shot her gums full of Novocain.

Martha Stewart: Ostensibly the chick that started the whole thing off, at least in the modern sense of having about eighteen different cable shows and access to insider information. Of course, Stewart was much more than food preparation and sexual efficiency, she broadened her base of skills beyond the kitchen, bringing an army of women who think they cook but in reality cannot into the fold of women who think they can make pleasant looking centerpieces from homemade glitter and pine cones but in reality cannot.

The Frugal Gourmet: A staple on public television and sexual harassment lawsuits, he became one of the few public figures who was just as much about culinary mastery as he was about presentation. Low-key and highly cultured, there wasn’t much he couldn’t present to you in a pleasing and simple manner, especially if you were a male between the ages of 22 and 30 and spent all day in the kitchen with him.

Rachael Ray: A younger, hotter, and presumably more fertile newcomer onto the scene, Ray has polarized much of the audience of cooking shows. Some see her as a fresh face that will increase interest in the culinary arts, while others see her as an eye candy tart finding ways to misdirect her deep-seated physiological trauma from being forced to spit on her husband’s feet.

Gordon Ramsey: This Scottish celebrity chef actively disdains the celebrity chef moniker as he stars in a series of celebrity chef television programs. He is probably most well-known for Hell’s Kitchen¸ a competitive cooking show where he combines the charm of Simon Cowell with the misogyny of Sean Connery.

Each chef has their own style and their own opinions concerning food preparation, but they all have a common bond: of wanting to commercialize mass-produced frozen dinners with their name on it at premium prices and call it haute cuisine.

Evel Knievel, RIP

December 1, 2007

Evel Knievel died a few days ago. Except for the parts of him that were plastic or titanium, he was 69.

Knievel pretty much created the modern version of the daredevil. Obviously, stunt men existed prior to his popularity, but they were primarily gentlemen riding their penny-farthings dodging U-boats and avoiding the Great Depression. Knievel made daredeviling sexy, exciting, and, apparently, a verb.

He grew up, as most famous men do, doing a mundane job—in this case, insurance salesman—in a mundane city—in this case, Butte, Montana. Of course, there was a roundabout way of getting to that point, since his previous occupations were poacher, burglar, hockey goon, and semi-pro Olympic swindler. When the dust that was Evel Knievel’s life was deciding which way it wanted to settle, it had a choice between insurance and riding motorcycles over a dozen Mustangs set on fire. Fortunately for forty-year-olds wanting to by overprices nostalgic kitsch on online auction sites, it chose the latter.

Some say Knievel was more a product of the law of averages than any innate ability. To be certain, most of his stunts ended in what most people would consider an unmitigated disaster, usually with a hip or a leg or a collarbone shattered. If that happened to me I would cry like a woman all the way to my insurance carrier. Then again, when your body is full of morphine and cocaine you tend to not notice such minor details as a bone sticking out a few inches out of your shin.

But that doesn’t negate the sheer brute force of Knievel’s method. Sure, he jumped a lot of Greyhounds and avoided a lot of flaming hoops, but just as often as not he ended up ass over teakettle with a $25,000 motorbike landing on top of him. Still, it didn’t matter so long as he was able to give the peace sign and a big smile while paramedics tried to locate all of his organs. In fact, audiences grew larger and larger not when he jumped one more car than he previously could, but when his concussion lasted another day longer that he previously did.

As any true talented person will do, it wasn’t so much the inherent skill required to pull off the stunts that was important; it was the marketing thereof. As such, Knievel’s trips throughout America and abroad were just as much about good television and sportsmanship as it was selling a brand. As such, Knievel’s persona, complete with the tacky faux patriotic jumpsuit and feigned bravado, made more money through lunchboxes, puffy stickers, and motorcycles than his shows did. In fact, after decades of bone-crunching injury, he still made mass amounts of money on merchandizing afterwards without setting foot one in a rocket, motorbike, or rocket-propelled motorbike again.

Towards the late 1970’s, after a few false promises of hanging up the ramps, he retired from the daredevil business. Astoundingly, his leaving didn’t really create that much of a gap, since no one has yet to take his place. Some would say that his death ushered in a golden age of “extreme” sports, so the thousands of professional snowboarders and skateboarders are, at least in spirit, taking over from Evel. If the street punk down the block from me breaks his nose apart on the pavement trying to do a third-grade kickflip on the makeshift half-pipe he made from plywood scraps long enough to stop stealing my newspaper, then I’m all for the spiritual succession theory.

Of course, as Knievel liked to ride fast, he liked to live fast, too. His post-daredevil life was full of booze and hookers, which ultimately ended up with his wife leaving him and his being estranged from his son. He was charged with assault and firearms charges due to what he insists were publicity stunts but were, as they always were, and old, broken man (in more ways than one) trying to life his former glory days through a series of meaningless misdemeanors. And all the money he made selling Evel Knievel washrags and dustbins went to procuring even more women and alcohol. Broke and no longer able to jump buses, he scraped by, making ends meet by not paying taxes. Knievel may have been able to soar over canyons, mountain lions, and flaming vehicles, but he certainly couldn’t evade the Internal Revenue Service.

Of course, it’s also true that Knievel’s talent not weigh with his stuntwork but with his high tolerance level. This minimizes his actual abilities—I can’t wake up and get off of the mattress without misjudging the distance from the end of my toe to that big metal thing that hangs down from the edge of my bed that I’m too lazy to find out why it’s there—but offers a rather lucrative outlet for failure. He found that pulse of marketing few are able to find: if he was successful and made the jump, he displayed skill and courage; if he failed, he displayed perseverance and tolerance. Either was, more tickets were sold. If only the famously uneven careers of, say, Kevin Costner or Bob Shrum could capitalize from that particular philosopher’s stone.