Saturday, April 22, 2006

Wizards Fever - It happens to me every year!

The title of this post refers of course to the 1977 Nils Lofgren tune, "Bullets Fever," a tribute to that year's NBA Champions. Could this be the year for a classic rerelease? See my first round NBA playoff preview at to find out.

Anybody have another favorite sports team championship song? Of course the Bears had the "Superbowl Shuffle," complete with the video so brilliantly lampooned by Saturday Night Live ("I am kicker, I kick touchdowns!"). The Redskins had a horrible riff on Hank Williams "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)" for one of their Super Bowl runs, and there was "Bully Bullets" to the tune of "Wooly Bully," which was awful. And didn't I have to hear some Red Sox dreck over and over again two years ago? Most of these songs are absolutely forgettable, but I still remember most of the lyrics for "Bullets Fever" ("they got by the Iceman ... Seattle was stunned). Anybody else want to nominate a particular favorite?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Back in the Bloggle Again

Alright, after a week plus of Spring Break and Easter celebrations, it's time to get back on the blog, if only to get Duke lacrosse off the top of the page. The whole situation in Durham is messing with my head, so let's move to a safer topic for now, American Idol.

AB in White Hall, Maryland, wants to know why AI has been so bad the last two weeks. His query email arrived before last night's show, which was an obvious improvement over the past few, but, that fact not withstanding, I had to point out the basic flaw in his question, his assumption that we should expect this show to be any good to begin with. However, if we are making a relative comparison, I think that the reason is quite simple. The show is bad when the contestants are not up to the level of the material, which is why Idol producers should avoid themes of great recording artists like Stevie Wonder and Queen. All those shows made me think was, "Boy, Stevie Wonder and Queen have recorded some fantastic songs over the years, and these people can't even come close to matching them." And because the performances are so bad, the younger generation that never heard the originals is even less likely to seek them out.

Now, you take a show with last night's theme, "American Songbook" as interpreted by that great American crooner, Rod Stewart, and you have something the Idol wannabes can sink their chops into. I mean, if you can't belt out a few bars of Cole Porter or George Gershwin, then you really have no business being on American Idol. Also, these songs have been done by so many different singers that there is not usually a definitive version that the Idols had to live up to.

But before I get to the contestants, a few words about Rod Stewart. He was great. Watching him leer over Kellie Pickler as if he were doing a quick mental calculation comparing her to his latest blonde girlfriend (the successor to Britt Ekland and Rachel Hunter among others) and hearing him strain to bite his tongue gave me several laughs that had my sons asking me what was so funny. I don't know how much he helped the Idols, but he was far more entertaining than Barry Manilow and Kenny Rogers.

Now to the performances. Chris added to his solid resume with a raspy yet soulful rendition of "What a Wonderful World." Singing while sitting on the stage steps spelled doom for former contestant Kevin Covais, but Chris has a pretty healthy rocker cred account to draw on, so he should be okay. I was happy to see him lose the eyeliner that he sported last week, I guess as a tribute to Queen, and, even as he cleaned up his look for the classic song, he still had the chained wallet to appeal to the Harley Davidson demographic.

Paris was also very good, probably good enough to avoid elimination this week. She didn't have to give a showy performance that forced her to act like someone or something she is not, and her hair was pulled back so there was no chance she could flip it across her face as she had done in earlier shows. Taylor took a little while to really get going on "You Send Me," but the song took off once he got his energy cranked up. I still think he can win, but only if he can turn in performances that blend the strength of his personality with his voice.

Elliott, on the other hand, never got into "It Had to Be You." This was our wedding song and I honestly think our band did it just as well. Elliott has a great voice, but he doesn't quite bring the showmanship, and, as the Doc said, "I like him best when he sings with the microphone in front of his face." Ouch, babe! Kellie was not much better, other than her segment with Rod Stewart. She did not seem to get the song, "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," and badly missed several notes.

I thought Ace would be similarly challenged by the genre, but he surprised me. In direct contrast to Elliott, Ace wrapped his limited vocal talent into a pretty package in "That's All," his best showing since he did George Michael's "Father Figure." Ace only has to sing well about once a month to survive because he reminds the Doc of a young John Travolta, and one of my younger sisters compares him to Rob Lowe.

Finally, to the surprise of no one, Katharine brought the house down with "Someone to Watch Over Me." When she stands still and sings, Katharine, much like Paris, gets it done.

All in all, last night's show was sort of like watching a Nora Ephron movie, complete with the soundtrack. If it's a good one, it's tolerable and even enjoyable. If not, it's torture. My prediction for tonight: Paris, Elliot, and Ace in the bottom three and Elliott goes home.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Duke Lacrosse

In response to the overwhelming outcry for my thoughts on the Duke University lacrosse situation, let me begin by saying that I would rather write about the great injustice done to Mandisa by the American Idol voters, the Wizards' steadily improving play as they approach the playoffs, the Orioles' stranglehold on first place in the American League East (which may have dissipated by the time I post this), or the curious fact that breakfast at my house routinely requires the opening of seven different boxes of cereal (eight if you include the Doc's oatmeal). But, as was pointed out below, I did spend 12 years working in college athletics, five at Johns Hopkins University, where lacrosse is a pretty big deal, and since I often expound at length about sports, it seems reasonable that I should tackle this horribly troubling issue.

So, what do I think? I think I am going to try not to get too hysterically carried away just yet. Sports plays a large but not dominant role in my life, and it always pains me when these types of stories bring forth attacks on athletics as an institution, with accusations usually made by people with a predetermined agenda bolstered by ignorant presumptions. The problems at Duke, like the recent scandals at the University of Colorado, Baylor University and the Naval Academy, just to name a few, tarnish the image of an experience that I and many others have valued for its positive impact on our lives. So, in light of the seriousness of the situation, I would like to try to avoid speculation and generalization and start with the specifics of what I know, and let's just see if I get around to what I think.

I know that the three captains of the Duke lacrosse team had a party for the team at their house during spring break, and they hired two strippers to perform at the party. Not surprisingly, underaged players drank alcohol at the party, and probably to great excess. College parties with underaged drinking and strippers took place when I was at Cornell University 20 years ago, and they were not solely the domain of varsity athletes. The hiring of strippers was not nearly as commonplace as the drinking, but it was not unheard of.

One of the women - both of whom were black - hired by the Duke players, told police that she was attacked and raped by three of the men at the party. The players deny that any sexual assault took place. A medical examination supported her claim of sexual assault. Ten days after the party, the 46 white members of the lacrosse team submitted DNA samples at the behest of a court order. The police obtained warrants to search the house, at least one vehicle, and the dorm room of one of the players. No charges have been filed yet. The lacrosse season has been cancelled, the coach has resigned, and one player has been suspended from the University. So, that's what I know as facts.

Mostly, this whole situation makes me angry. It makes me angry because someone is lying about a horrific crime and the resulting furor has brought out the worst assumptions and stereotypes about race, class and gender for both the lacrosse players and their accuser.

If the players are lying, and they are guilty, then they should be given the maximum sentence allowed, and if their teammates have withheld information, they should be prosecuted as well. No code of team unity should supercede basic human decency. Furthermore, no punishment will heal the wounds this woman has suffered, if she is telling the truth.

Rape is a heinous crime with lasting impact on the victim. Beyond my anger at the situation as a whole, my greatest emotion goes toward the alleged victim. It is extremely difficult for women to report sexual assaults in the first place, to admit that they have been violated, and even more difficult to endure the scrutiny that comes with such accusations. Because of the stigma of the circumstance, the authorities must vigorously investigate her report, and I applaud them for doing so.

If, on the other hand, the woman is lying, she has wreaked havoc on the lives of everyone associated with the Duke lacrosse program and, to some extent, the University. Even if the players are exonerated, tremendous damage has already been done, and its repercussions may never go away.

I have lived long enough that the veracity of either scenario would come as no shock, nor would it surprise me to learn that truth lies somewhere between the statements both sides have made thus far. So, either way, I am angry and disheartened, and not just by the people at the party.

The Durham district attorney made several statements in the Charlotte News and Observer that struck me as irresponsible to say the least. Perhaps he sees this as the best way to move his case forward, but he has come close to denying any presumption of innocence. He has also said that charges could be forthcoming next week. Until then, I plan to watch "The Accused," and reread "Bonfire of the Vanities" and "To Kill a Mockingbird." However, nothing could make me watch the movie "Bonfire of the Vanities."

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Fool me once ...

Alright, alright, enough April Foolery, let's get back to the business of the day, well, of my day anyway.

Grand finale?
Unless the editors found them unsuitable for upload, my reflections on the most boring Final Four I have ever seen should be up at

What is the "Deal?"
I am not concerned about the state of college basketball or the NCAA Tournament, but I am very worried about the rise of "Deal or No Deal," especially in my house. I rushed home from a meeting last night to catch the beginning of the Florida-UCLA game (and if you missed the first 10 minutes, you pretty much missed the whole game), but instead of Greg Gumbel, Clark Kellogg, and Seth Davis, I was greeted by Howie Mandel on my TV. The Doc and the boys sat entranced, a scene eerily reminiscent of when they were first hypnotized by "American Idol." Maybe sometime in the future, I will write about what a great show "Deal or No Deal" is and how much fun it is for the whole family, but right now, I have some trepidation.

First of all, I saw Howie Mandel perform live about 10 years ago and he was great. He had some funny material, of course, but was more impressive with some improvised bits and brilliant in shutting up hecklers. This kind of talent hasn't been wasted on a game show since Richard Dawson hosted "Family Feud." It hurts to watch, and let's not even discuss his creepy makeover. If we can find room on the dial for shows starring Hulk Hogan and Flavor Flav, can't we find something better for a legitimate talent like Howie Mandel?

Secondly, my six-year already negotiates items like bathtime as if he were a miniature Drew Rosenhaus, and I don't need this show to make dealing with him any more difficult. I can hear it now .... "Okay, Dad, one of these three boxes holds your car keys. The other two have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that I found at the bottom of my locker last week and the contents of the plastic bag you brought back from walking the dog this morning. I just got a phone call that informed me that I can offer you the box with the keys in exchange for a six-month advance on my allowance. Deal or no deal?"

I don't need this.

Gross Miscalculation
Well, the weekend numbers are in, and it appears I was off by just a tad when I predicted that "Basic Instinct 2" would edge out "Ice Age 2" for box office supremacy. According to, "Ice" went for $68 million while "Instinct" took in $3.2 million, also trailing other new releases "ATL" ($11.5) and "Slither" ($3.9). So, good job by me on that. I guess I should have warned you that the last time I tried to do this, I forecast a bigger opening weekend for the Coen brothers' "Intolerable Cruelty" than for "Finding Nemo." So I am consistent. We'll try again this Friday.

O's on Top
Speaking of big openings, the Orioles pounded four home runs in their 9-6 win over Tampa Bay yesterday. All the previews I read mentioned that the O's spent 62 games in first place before falling apart last season. So nobody should get too excited, but seeing as how there was a tornado watch in Baltimore yesterday, we should be happy they got the game in at all, and a victory in such conditions might just be an omen.

A Push West
The Wizards were just one last-second Antawn Jamison three-pointer at Houston away from a 4-2 record on their recent road trip, but 3-3 is a very satisfactory result. At the end of February, I missed badly when I forecast them finishing ahead of Cleveland, but with wins at Detroit, San Antonio and Phoenix this season, Washington has shown it can compete with the best teams in the league. Unfortunately, even though they are currently in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, the Wizards are only three games ahead of eighth place Philadelphia.

Politics Unusual
I try to steer clear of politics, but last week on NPR I heard conservative pundit Freddy "The Beetle" Barnes say that Geroge Bush should ask Condoleezza Rice to replace Vice President Cheney, thereby firmly establishing her as the next Republican presidential candidate. So this means we could have Condi versus Hilary in 2008? Meeeyow! Throw in Sharon Stone as a viable third-party entry and we're talking ratings bonanza!

It's country night tonight on Idol. Great news for Kellie and Bucky, not so good for Katharine, who found herself in the bottom three last week. Kenny Rogers performs tomorrow on Judgment Night, but the real contest will be to determine whether his plastic surgeon is as good as Barry Manilow's.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Sweet Pea

This is our dog, Sweet Pea. She will be one year old later this month. Isn't she a beauty? Now you can see why the Doc and I drag ourselves out of bed every morning, sometimes before dawn, to take her for a walk. I mean, how could you say no to such a face? Actually it's more the whining and the barking that get us up, but I digress.

People comment all the time about how pretty she is and ask what breed she is. Most of them think she is a Lab puppy because of her size and coloring, but, in fact, she is a 100% purebred Aleutian Wheathound.

If you have not heard of the Aleutian Wheathound, don't feel bad. It is not a breed recognized by the AKC or any other kennel clubs and is quite rare outside its ancestral home, the Aleutian Islands. The Wheathound gets its name not from its tawny fur, but from its role in the Islands' agricultural industry. Aleutian farmers rely on the Wheathound to patrol their fields, protecting the crop from vermin until it is ready for harvest. The Wheathound is not especially tall, about 22 inches at the shoulder, but neither is the wheat, due to the nearly constant fog and heavy rainfall that makes for one of the shortest growing seasons in the Northern Pacific Ocean region. Before modern farming instruments came to the Aleutian Islands, farmers knew it was time to harvest when the crop grew high enough to almost completely obscure their dog, leaving only the white tip of its tail showing.

American agricultural entrepreneurs have sought to bring the Wheathound to the United States, hoping that its unique ability to protect fields would reduce the application of pesticides and promote safer ecological practices, but they have been frustrated in their attempts because the Wheathound will eat only fresh saltwater fish, a dietary preference developed over centuries of living on the Islands. This peculiarity makes it impractical for large agricultural states in the American Midwest, which of course have no access to oceans.

The dog actually catches its own fish during the low tides, standing in the surf and flipping them out of the water into its mouth, much like a grizzly bear in a salmon run. We have tried to feed Sweet Pea canned and frozen fish, but she just turns up her pretty nose, forcing us to head to Baltimore's harbor for her daily meals.

The Wheathound's only natural enemy is the sea otter because of territorial battles over fishing areas. At one time, Russian fur trappers sought to train the Wheathound to hunt the sea otter, but the dogs proved unwilling to battle their enemies for more than their contested food source.

We acquired Sweet Pea when a college friend of ours was called up by the Foreign Service. He had served in the office of the American Consulate in the Aleutian Islands for 15 years until deactivating to reserve status and returning to the U.S. last May. Sweet Pea was a gift from the Aleutian government, who appreciated his intervention in the National Defense System, a controversial ballistic missile base that the U.S. is implementing in the northern Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, there was a coup in Gambia last summer and our friend's fluency in the Mandinka, Fula and Wolof dialects made it impossible for him to say no when the government asked him to intercede. In Gambia, dog is a delicacy, so he thought Sweet Pea's presence might compromise his negotiating strength, and, again, there would be no access to the ocean for Sweet Pea's food.

We have been quite delighted to have her, especially the boys, of course. I never get tired of telling people her story and am currently petitioning the American Kennel Club for breed recognition so that someday we can cheer for Sweet Pea's relatives in the Westminster Dog Show. She is already Best in Show in our eyes, but if you would like to help, please write to the address below: