Wednesday, February 28, 2007

American Idol, Safe for Work

Well, we buckled up and strapped in for 90 minutes of American Idol last night. No washing the dishes, walking the dog or flipping over to watch extended segments of the Michigan-Michigan State or Tennessee-Florida. Nope, just AI, full throttle.

Last night was Dedication Night, which can cause problems for the contestants. On the one hand, they get to make a nice little video before they sing, which enhances their appeal to the audience and is probably personally meaningful. On the downside, they usually choose a pretty corny song (with a few exceptions) to sing as a result, and most of them just are not talented or polished enough to bring it off. So, in order of appearance:

Philip Stacy: Missed the birth of his child for his initial audition and last night, with the perfect opportunity to make up for that, chooses instead to dedicate his song to his band (and was the only contestant to pick someone other than a family member or girlfriend). Probably not going to be invited to perform for Families First. Decent job on the song (John Waite's Missing You), but he moves on stage as if he is still wearing his double-starched Navy dress whites.
Status: Could be singing Anchors Aweigh next.

Jared Cotter: Did a fine job on Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get it On," an odd choice to dedicate to your parents, odder still when you consider that Gaye's father shot him to death. I wish I could find the black and white video of Marvin singing "Ain't That Peculiar" that I've seen on TV a few times. Very stylish and ahead of its time, I think. Instead, you'll have to make do with this version from the wonderfully named (fast forward through the ad at the beginning).
Status: Welcome back next week, Cotter.

A.J. Tabaldo: I know Feelings, Feelin' Alright, and Feelin' Groovy (okay the 59th Street Bridge Song, for you purists), but I don't know the song A.J. sang - Feelin' Good. Does it have anything to do with Applebee's Eatin' Good in the Neighborhood? Not terrible, but not much stage presence.
Status: Might be Feelin' Worse tomorrow night.

Sanjaya Malakar: This Michael Jackson thing has really gone too far. Last week it was Rock With You, this week the fedora and the ponytail. What do we get next week, the black and red leather from Bad or the aviator shades blue Sergeant Pepper jacket with epaulets? Emmanuel Lewis joining him onstage? He has a nice voice, but his confidence is pretty shot, a la Lisa Tucker last year. His choice of song (Steppin' Out With My Baby by Irving Berlin!) was very strange and his performance was modest, at best. Still, he will get the what I like to call the Ace Young votes from the teenyboppers, and he also benefits from the Yao Ming effect. What is the Yao Ming effect? Yao Ming is a very good basketball player from China who hlds the record for most NBA All-Star votes ever received in a single season, 2,558,278. China is the most populous nation in the world with about 1.3 billion inhabitants. India is second with about 1.1 billion. Sanjayah Malakar was born in the U.S. but is of Indian descent. Straight math, homie!
Status: Sayonara, Sanjaya? Not yet.

Chris Sligh: The grownups in our house like this guy, the kids, not so much. And the footage of his wife gave hope to every other songwriter who looks like an extra from Freak and Geeks as well. He sang Trouble, by Ray LaMontagne, a song that I did not know before Taylor Hicks sang it last year, but I enjoyed it then and again last night. If I buy this CD and like it, I will finally have to give credit to American Idol for providing something worthwhile to my life.
Status: Solid, in my book anyway.

Nick Pedro: The cool crooner does the 10,000th version of Fever. Okay, but nothing special and not very appealling to the kids today.
Status: Not enough votes for Pedro.

Blake Lewis: Another favorite of mine, Blake hip-hopped out of the box with Jamiroquai's "Virtual Insanity" and added a little "beatscatting" in the middle. Simon called it "mostly unoriginal," and he may have a point, but it was good and different in a good way from all the other performances. I'd like to hear him do Ben Harper's Steal My Kisses. Don't know it? Here you go.
Status: Blake don't fake the funk.

Brandon Rogers: Nice, but unspectacular on Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time. Could have been worse, could have been Shebop or Girls Just Wanna Have Fun with a cameo from the immortal Captain Lou Albano. I'm getting a little tired of the judges saying he has to stop being a backup singer, except that they are right.
Status: Mr. Rogers may not be in the neighborhood much longer.

Chris Richardson: Very entertaining, if a bit boybandish, version of something called Geek in the Pink by someone named Jason Mraz. Chris is from the same part of Virginia as Elliott Yamin, and while he does not have Elliott's vocal, he is far, far more telegenic. And when he stands next to Ryan Seacreast, Ryan looks like a tiny person, which amuses me. Only thing he needs is a more interesting name.
Status: No dis for Chris, he can't miss.

Sundance Head: Honestly, I think Pontiac made a better Sundance. Okay, he wasn't that bad, but mostly I thought he was wailing more than singing Mustang Sally. I'd rather watch the guy in The Commitments sing this one. Still, the crowd liked it, the judges liked it and he will get a lot of "awwww" votes for the dedication to his newborn son.
Status: A Sundance Festival.

Okay, that's it, gotta go rest up for another hour and a half of mostly mediocre singing.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Yesterday's News

I know Monday is usually Poll Day, but the Pinewood took precedence in many ways the last week. Of course, I submitted my votes before Georgetown lost at Syracuse last night, so just pretend that didn't happen yet. Maryland gets the big boost to #2 from its win over Carolina and Virginia tumbles perhaps a bit too much for losing at Miami. Lots of wins in the top seven, too many losses in the bottom three. Other than George Mason, I think all of these teams have a shot at winning their conference championship, so watching some of the early conference tourney games should be fun this week. Here's where I have them.

1. Georgetown
John Thompson calls Karl Hobbs, asks to borrow the term “overachieving.”
2. Maryland
Terps making a bigger comeback than Jackie Earle Haley.
3. Virginia Tech
Seth Greenberg stuns college basketball world by announcing that he is openly metrosexual.
4. Old Dominion
They have won 11 in a row, they beat Georgetown at Georgetown, and they are still three spots behind the Hoyas. This is why dead people get elected to Congress in this country.
5. Virginia
Miami’s proximity to Puerto Rico causes Cavaliers to stumble.
6. VCU
24-6. Yeah, that’s about where I had them this year.
7. GW
Domain name becomes available in a two-for-one special with
8. Loyola
After the Greyhounds beat the Golden Griffins, Jimmy Patsos makes good on his promise to take them to the Golden Arches.
9. George Mason
About as much fun to watch as Perry Mason.
10. American
Loss to Bucknell in Patriot League semifinals seems almost as inevitable as an Oscar for Martin Scorsese.

Pinewood, Part Deux

Happy Monday, everybody! We had a little moisture fall from the sky yesterday and some of it was still on the ground this morning, but the brave school officials of Baltimore County threw caution to the winds and decided to go ahead and open the schools two hours late. And they say there are no heroes anymore.

So, which major event of the weekend should we start with today? GW's third straight win? Georgetown's 11th? Maryland's huge bubblicious upset of #5 North Carolina? No? How about the big score by Scorsese at the Oscars last night? No, I'm talking really big. That's right, I'm talking Pinewood Derby.

You may recall that about this time last year, I published a long ode to my odious achievements in this annual Cub Scout event. At my therapist's recommendation, I'll spare you all the excruciatingly painful details, but again yesterday, I found myself seated among some 200 6-12 year-old boys and parents, all of us awaiting the swift and relentless judgment of race day.

We again had two entries, my older son choosing a very original T-bone steak design (complete with a USDA Prime seal of approval) and the younger boy vying for the Most Patriotic Award with an American-flag themed rectangular prism. Several observers noted that it had the appearance of a flag-draped coffin, but since none of the other cars had yellow ribbons affixed to their bumpers, no political arguments erupted. Besides, this is not a day for division, it's a day for unity in pursuit of the checkered flag at the end of a 20-foot wooden track.

The boys and I had worked harder than ever on the cars this year. We also worked smarter. After the designs were selected and initial drawings completed, we visited a friend who possesses tools and skills, and he generously assisted them in cutting their cars to the designed shape. Several afterschool sanding and painting sessions later, we were ready for the weight and the wheels, the most crucial elements of peak Pinewood performance.

I consulted a few websites ( - "Increase your child's self-esteem! Here's how... Design a Winning Pinewood Derby Car!" and - "I would say 'good luck' but, as you will see, luck has nothing to do with winning the pinewood derby"), and then leaned on another friend who knows all the speed tricks. I figured if I could do even half of what he told me, I'd be way ahead of last year. After yet another trip to the hobby shop - where they always smile when they see me walk in the door - I had five grades of sandpaper, a couple files and enough graphite to build new shafts for a Big Bertha driver and fairway woods. Six hours of work later, they weren't perfect, but I was pretty sure these cars would make it to the finish line, and maybe even faster than before.

The night before Race Day is sort of like a reverse Chirstmas Eve - I can't sleep, but it's not joyful anticipation. After church in the morning, another friend asks me about the legality of weights attached underneath the car. "Of course that's okay," I reply, but I am not sure, and panic sets in as I realize that the Flagmobile has about 1.5 ounces screwed into its undercarriage. Alternate plans swirl through my mind for the next hour until we arrive at the race site and find that we are well within the clearance limits. Whew!

The race scene is the same as always. Excitement, tension, and relief mix with the smell of steamed hot dogs and everywhere there are metallic gray smears of powdered graphite. We tinker with the Flagmobile, adding and removing tenths of ounces, until it hits exactly 5.0 on the official scale. Finally both cars are checked in and we can relax.

This is my favorite time of the day. We can do nothing more, we won't even be allowed to touch the cars until the races are over. At the same time, our record is unbesmirched and optimism prevails. I wander over to the stage and look over the other entries. There are several NASCAR facsimiles, the requisite Swiss cheese car with mouse atop, a Spiderman vehicle, a wedge of green-frosted birthday cake complete with a candle, a thin Mr. Goodbar, a thick, fatty slab of bacon, and a cellular phone displaying a picture of the owner's brother picking his nose. Sheer genius.

Flagmobile races first, and my first error rears its head. Apparently I mounted the weight toward the front of the car, against the experts' recommendations. Our four heats are decidedly unremarkable, and we finish somewhere in the middle of the pack. In a move toward a kinder, gentler Derby, there are awards for every car and my younger son marches to the stage to claim his Most Patriotic Car medal. I guess Best Unintentional Political Statement is not a category this year.

Steakmobile is up next, and the tension ratchets up a notch. My older son tends to be more rigid in his expectations, harder on himself and others in the event of failure. In Heat One, we clock in at 2.58 seconds, faster than any of last year's runs, but fourth out of four running. My son's accusatory reaction from five seats away is abrupt and a little louder than I care for. "You said it would race better this year. You liar!" Pointing out the incremental improvement doesn't seem to help much.

Heat Two is a lot better at 2.53, but unless you can post in under 2.5, you're not taking home a trophy. We are a very close second in Heat Three at 2.51. I am pleased enough with the performance that I can't remember Heat Four's time. I am also pleased that the Pack Leader has taken my recommendation from last year and does not display the complete standings on the big screen. The top three in each age group are announced and awarded, but nobody knows who finished fourth, or tenth, or dead last. I would guess that like his brother's, my older boy's car is in the middle, but nobody likes seeing his name at the bottom of the list, and I would know. Steakmobile wins the Most Imaginative medal, and suddenly, it's all over.

We watch the other age groups, and then the finals, and then the boys head over to some friends' house for the remainder of the day. I head home to start cleaning the kitchen counter that has been Derby Central for the last few days. Later I go to pick them up, and their friends' dad and I have a beer and watch the Terps' game. His sons are triplets, so he has to help get three cars built and then watch them compete against one another. He emphatically and quite convincingly describes Derby Day as the "most stressful day of my year."

This morning at breakfast, both of the boys want to know why our cars were "so slow." As an answer, I find one of the stopwatches Santa Claus left in their stocking this year.

"Your best time was 2.51 seconds," I say. "The winner's best time was about 2.45. That's a difference of six one-hundredths of a second." I click the start and stop button on the stopwatch as fast as I can, and after a few tries I can get it as low as 0.12 seconds. "That's pretty quick, isn't it?" I ask. When they nod, I remind them that it is twice as long as the margin of defeat. I can only hope the appreciate how close they really were.

Friday, February 23, 2007


Okay, as promised, let's take a look at the Academy Awards, which will be televised beginning Sunday night at 8:00 and ending sometime after the tulips bloom around my mailbox (it's 30 degrees with 45 mph gusts of wind today, but somehow, some way, the schools opened on time. Such courage in the face of adversity). But first, please bear with me as I dispose of a few obligatory cheap shots to clear my head. I read where Oscars host Ellen DeGeneres said she will be wearing a variety of tuxedoes during the show; what are the chances that one of them will be a NASA jumpsuit with a diaper on the outside? What's the over-under on how many times Britney Spears checks in and out of rehab during the broadcast? Finally, will there be a special tribute to Anna Nicole Smith? No? You mean to tell me that Academy will ignore the decidedly brief but indisputably searing genius of her performances in Skyscraper, To the Limit and the Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult? Okay, seriously, when they show the pictures and video of all the stars who died in the last year, will she be included, and if so, how will the crowd react? To me, this is much more suspenseful than any of the awards. Honestly, I don't think that DeGeneres would have made any jokes about her, but the judge in the matter of Anna Nicole's burial will prove to be too irresistible a target to pass up.

So what about the movies? Once again, just like last year, I only saw one of them (not counting the nominees in the best animated feature; I saw two of those in the theater with my kids). Last year, it was Crash, which won Best Picture; this year, it was Little Miss Sunshine, which I reviewed recently. Crash offered a very entertaining treatment of the "disparate narratives intricately woven together by the end" formula while LMS spun an offbeat remix of the "roadtrip begets life lessons" recipe. I liked it, but how can I so easily dismiss the other nominees? Just watch me.

Babel is a sort of Crash gone international, with its showy multiple languages and exotic locations and its high and mighty Biblical title. But just as National Lampoon's European Vacation didn't quite capture the magic of the domestic Vacation, Babel will fall short of the Oscar. I do think we will hear several different pronunciations of the title (babble, bayble, bab-EL) and numerous phrases of foreign languages in acceptance speeches delivered pretentiously by non-native speakers who win other awards for this film. And any day now I expect to see a YouTube mashup of this movie with some Anthony Perkins footage called Psychobabel

The Queen squeezed into the nominations after the Academy loosened the requirements of the Mandatory Biopic Rule (see Ray, Capote, A Beautiful Mind, etc), and because Rocky Balboa was released too late for consideration, but I think the title confused the voters because the movie is, in fact, about a queen. Much too literal. Voters prefer a title like Half Nelson or The Last King of Scotland, something that confuses them so they can spend hours speculating about its "real" meaning. Letters from Iwo Jima is actually a mistaken nomination. In a hurry to fulfill its contractual obligation to put a Clint Eastwood movie on the ballot, the nominating committee wrote down "that Iwo Jima movie" and got this one instead of Flags of Our Fathers. And I'll go along with most of the experts, who are saying that the violence at the end of The Departed will be too much for the Academy to tolerate, but they will make it up to Scorsese by finally giving him a Best Director Oscar.

Scorsese is a pretty easy call because Eastwood has gotten more than his just due, Paul Greengrass (United 93) and Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel) are first time nominees, and Stephen Frears (The Queen) is ready to be anointed the Best Director never to have won an Oscar (Dirty Pretty Things, Mrs. Henderson Presents, High Fidelity, The Grifters, Dangerous Liaisons, My Beautiful Laundrette - this guy is good and has been for a long time).

Okay, Best Actor. Tough, tough call. Sentimental pick for eight-time bridesmaid Peter O'Toole or the equally gifted tour de force that is Forest Whitaker? O'Toole was a riot in a recent Daily Show appearance even as he seemed to have no idea where he was, and I vividly remember every performance I have seen from Whitaker, going back to The Color of Money ("I never made that shot in my life!"), the Crying Game (there's another part of that movie I also vividly remember, no matter how hard I try to forget it), and of course, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (by the way, the answer to yesterday's trivia question is Sean Penn, duh, and Nicolas Cage, credited as Nicolas Coppola). Ryan Gosling needs to grow up into Ryan Goose before he gets serious consideration, Leonardo DiCaprio's two previous nominations wilt against O'Toole's slate and ditto for Will Smith's one. I'll say the Academy stays sentimental here and gives the award to O'Toole, whose acceptance speech will be hilariously profane but unbleeped by censors because it will also be largely unintelligible.

Best Actress? Wow, talk about your heavyweight catfight slugfest! Twenty nine total previous nominations with Meryl Streep contributing the lion's share of 14. Throw in three Brits (and what was wrong with Maggie Smith in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire?) and the hotter than habanero Penelope Cruz, and now you've got an international coalition we can all really get behind. Toss out Streep because this was more of a comedic role (and lets face it, she's no Marisa Tomei), Cruz because it's her first nomination, and Judi Dench because she won already for playing the Queen of England in Shakespeare in Love. That leaves Helen Mirren and Kate Winslet. Umm, I have an irrational hatred of Titanic (sort of a chicken-egg situation involving Celine Dion), so it looks like it's Mirren.

Okay, doggedly pressing onward to the finish. Best Supporting Actor. Marky Mark Wahlberg? Only if he agrees to accept the award after performing live in a reunion with the Funky Bunch. Eddie Murphy? Only if he agrees to sing Party All the Time in his acceptance speech. Djimon Hounsou? I think it's more likely that the Academy would reward industry veteran Pokemon first. Jackie Earle Haley? 27 years after Breaking Away and 31 after Bad News Bears, and a 13-year hiatus that included jobs as a limousine driver, furniture refinisher, security officer and pizza deliverer, I would love to see this happen. But I think this one goes to Alan Arkin because why wouldn't you vote for a heroin-addicted, porn-reading grandfather who teaches his preteen granddaughter a striptease routine for her beauty competition? (Oops, I think I gave away some plot there) This one is something of a lifetime achievement award as well. If you don't know why, it's worth your time to go rent The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming, Wait Until Dark, Catch-22, The In-Laws, and Glengarry Glen Ross. This guy has gotten it done.

Finally, Best Supporting Actress. Again this year, several actresses I have never heard of. Rinko Kikuchi? Sorry, I am better acquainted with the work of Officer Andy Renko of the Hill Street Precinct. Adriana Barraza? A quick Google Images search (best conducted with at least Moderate SafeSearch levels) reveals that she's no Adrienne Barbeau. Abigail Breslin? Liked the movie, loved her performance, but if she wins, she'll do that screaming thing and then probably thank her lawyers like Halle Berry, so, no. Cate Blanchett? She just won for The Aviator two years ago, who does she think she is, Tom Hanks? So that leaves Jennifer Hudson, in the Dreamgirls role I thought would go to last year's American Idol contestant, Mandisa. Somewhere Jennifer Holliday is weeping.

If it clocks in at less than four hours, that will still be less time than American Idol was on this week. Not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. And to give credit where it is due, the title of today's post comes from the commenter occasionally known as Andrew from Mandrew. Have a nice weekend.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Little Song, A Little Big Dance

Alright, what did I say we were going to do today? Oscars, AI, and NCAA Tournament. Okay, here we go, in reverse order.

College Basketball

Pinewood Joe (see below) wants to know if Maryland will get into the Tournament this year. Well, it's certainly easier to say yes after the win over Florida State last night, but they still have to finish well. The Terps are now 21-7, 7-6 in the ACC, with games remaining at Duke, and home against UNC and NC State. If they only win the NC State game, they'll need at least one win in the ACC Tourney to make sure. In that scenario, they would still be only 6-4 over their last 10 with their best road wins this year being at Illinois and Clemson, neither of whom is a lock to get in either.

Before the ACC fans start to bluster about how strong the conference is, let's take a look at the Illini: 20-9, tied for fourth with an 8-6 mark in the Big 10 (home of #1 Ohio State and #2 Wisconsin). Yes, they lost at Xavier, but they didn't let anyone as bad as Miiami beat them at home, and they have won five of their last six, just like Maryland. Illinois also lost at Arizona, who is 17-9 and sixth in the Pac-10 but had an out of conference schedule that also included UNC, Louisville, UNLV, Virginia and Memphis.

Or how about Notre Dame, which gave Maryland its first loss of the season? The Big East has five teams in the Top 25, including West Virginia, currently in seventh place in the conference standings. The Fighting Irish are tied for fourth with a 9-5 league record, 21-6 overall, with a loss at lowly South Florida but wins at Georgetown and at home against #5 Alabama.

The point is, you can't take five or six teams from all the big conferences. The Mountain West has three teams with 21 or more wins and the CAA has four teams with 20, and after George Mason's run to the Final Four, you cannot discount the lesser conferences so easily and limit them to only one bid.

If that sounds complicated, that's the point. Maryland is in pretty good shape, but they still need to win some games in the next two weeks .

Okay switching over to American Idol. For once,and hopefully this is the only time this will ever happen, I agree with Ryan Seacrest, who told us on Tuesday night, "If five hours of American Idol this week isn't enough for you, perhaps you should seek professional help." I have only caught bits and pieces, so I'm not ready to handicap or predict who will be sent packing tonight, but I do have one observation/question? Who is helping these people choose the songs? Knights in White Satin is a great tune if you have the backing of a full symphony orchestra and a gospel choir and even better if the audience is in the 50+ age demographic, but of all the songs you could pick .... And it's not as if that was an aberration. Last night, one of the girls sang Eric Carmen's All By Myself, which I hadn't heard in at least 30 years, and the only reason I remember it is because there was a girl in our neighborhood who used to cry every time she heard it. I cry also, but I think for different reasons. I learned today that Celine Dion has also performed this song recently, just another reason to hate it. Like I said, I haven't seen everyone, but my favorites so far are Lakisha, Chris Sligh and the Beat Box guy. If he hangs around a few more weeks, maybe I will learn his name.

With any luck, I'll have a full preview tomorrow before noon but for now, here's a little Oscar trivia for you, courtesy of my new friend Kevin: If Forest Whitaker wins for his performance in The Last King of Scotland, he will be the third member of the cast of Fast Times at Ridgemont High to receive a Best Actor or Actress Award. Who are the other two? The Godfather has four (Brando, Duvall, Keaton, Pacino), so one could argue that Fast Times is nearly its cinematic equal. One could, but one wouldn't.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Return of the TK

Snow days, ice days, school delays, federal holidays, I'm in a daze. Seriously, I am more confused than an NCAA bubble team today. I am looking outside. It's sunny and 50 degrees, but this morning, the schools opened one hour late. It was a little chilly and foggy when I was out early, but they went on time yesterday. To quote Tom Hanks in "Big", "I don't get it."

Okay, now that I have gotten that out of my system, let's turn to a significant and mildly disturbing event in my life (no, not my 40th birthday). Tuesday morning, Tony Kornheiser returned to the air at 8:30 on Washington Post Radio with a two-hour show immediately rebroadcast at 10:30. If you read this blog regularly or just glance at the subtitle, you know that this is a big deal to me, a reason to rejoice, but why is it disturbing?

Well, first, there is a slight format change. Washington Post Radio is not an all-sports station, so the show's format of sports, entertainment news, and whatever happens to be on Mr. Tony's mind fits a little more comfortably than it did at SportsTalk 980 and ESPN Radio, his two previous homes. Better fit = better show, right? No, not necessarily. Part of the show's charm was TK's outsider status, his stance that there were more interesting and important things to talk about than the Redskins' historical success with fourth-round picks or the RPI or the tire pressure in a NASCAR race. This was heresy in that world and was never illustrated better than when "serious" sports media personalities criticized ESPN for hiring TK for Monday Night Football.

There is still plenty of sports. The first two guests were Michael Wilbon and Bob Ryan, and John Feinstein is scheduled for tomorrow. But, now, Mr. Tony can veer off topic into a discussion about the crazy astronaut lady, Britney Spears or his dog, and nobody bats an eye. It's a fine point, I guess, but the flavor has been altered Not like Coke going to New Coke, more like the difference between the original Coke vs. Coca Cola Classic (remember, this is an obsession for me).

The new show also has a changed cast of characters. Sports guy Andy Pollin is still at his old station and Gary Bigtime Braun, who was a hilarious TK foil, has another job also. Instead, for sidekicks we get movie critic Joe Barber and Jeannie McManus, aka My Friend Nancy, who was one of Mr. Tony's editors at the Washington Post. Jeannie is fine, I guess, but it's not the the same as Gary, who was always willing to make the cheap, sexist joke. She seems to be more of a voice of reason when what you really want is someone who will nudge Mr. Tony over the edge into a full ranting rage, as Gary so often did. And Joe Barber was okay once a week on movies, but now he seems to be trying too hard, and he must get rid of that cackle. I don't know about you, but I cannot listen to a chucklefest. Nigel is back, which is fine, but he is good as an occasional touch, like a nice balsamic vinegar.

So, these are minor points and I should be able to adjust, but one of the signatures of the Mr. Tony show, and of most talk radio, is his feuding with those who have tread on his tremendously paranoid, large and fragile ego. One of his current targets would appear to be none other than Big Stein, my boy Dan Steinberg, whose work I have come to enjoy and, if I may say so, have contributed to with the local hoops poll. Now I really don't want to have to choose (why should I?), but this thing could get ugly.

For instance, yesterday, Big Stein had an item about Chicago sportswriter Sam Smith and his disrespect for bloggers, portraying them as illegitimate facsimiles of "real" journalists, like himself. The article goes on to show that in his colum this week, Smith cited two items first reported by bloggers. Not much love for Mr. Smith in the comments section, let me assure you. And who was a guest on Mr Tony's show today? None other than TK's good friend, Sam Smith.

Now, sometimes Mr. Tony's animosity is just a pose, as with his fellow WP columnist Mike Wise, but I think this could be a little more serious for him. Although Big Stein said nice things about Nigel this week. Anyway, who knows?

And, yes, "Bill in Phoenix, Maryland" sent an email that did not get read today, another strike against Mr Tony.

Now that you've had that little peek into my head, I'll try not to bring it up again. Tomorrow: Oscars, Idol and the NCAA Tournament

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Poll Must Go On

What a lousy sports weekend. After a week to prepare, GW gets crushed at home by Xavier. Ditto for the Wizards against Portland, but at least they can blame Jamison's injury. And the Pro Bowl was "played." Look for the NFl to boost ratings by adding a "Pros vs. Joes" angle next year, like the Grammys with Justin Timberlake last night. (No, I didn't watch the show, but here's what I thought of last year). So, it's Monday, and the Poll never sleeps, unless it drank way too much sangria the night before, but that, my friends, that is a different post, hopefully to come later in the day.

So, Georgetown stays on a roll and stays on top, upsetting Marquette for its seventh straight win. Virginia Tech dumps 12 feet of New York style blizzard on UVA's hot streak, and VCU's air of invulnerability dissipates like, well, air. Maryland's NCAA hopes are upgraded from critical to serious, and Old Dominion looks like it could give the selection committee another CAA headache this March. GW "foggy" bottoms out, and is very close to joining the also-rans at the bottom of the poll.

1. Georgetown
Hoyas dismantle Marquette, located in Milwaukee, pronounced "mill-e-wah-que" which is Algonquin for "the good land."
2. Virginia Tech
A.D. Vassallo outscores J.R. Reynolds 22-21 in Tech’s win over UVA, sets sights on B.A Walker for Bog Poll “Initials for Name” Top Scorer honors.
3. Virginia
Cavaliers’ 57 points against Virginia Tech their lowest total of the year, but only two fewer than they scored against Puerto Rico-Mayaguez.
4. VCU
Team distracted by possibility that Anthony Grant could be the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s daughter.
5. Maryland
Terps hand Duke their fourth straight loss. Cameron Crazies download couch-burning how-to’s from
6. Old Dominion
Old Dominion suddenly more fun than King’s Dominion.
7. GW
Xavier shows GW the meaning of strict Jesuit discipline.
8. William and Mary
The Number 8 spot is traditionally reserved for the third-best CAA team in the Bog Poll.
9. Loyola
Greyhounds lose to Fairfield twice in one week, thereby placing themselves on Bog Poll double-secret probation.
10. George Mason
Patriots clinging to the Number 10 spot like Wile E. Coyote clinging to a tree branch on the side of a cliff.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Friday FitzFix

Man, it's Friday afternoon already, and I got nuthin'.

Let's see ... I applied for a passport this morning. It was pretty painless. Expensive, but painless. Just went to a local post office with an application I had downloaded from a government website, showed my driver's license and birth certificate, and was in and out in less than 10 minutes. They even had a camera to take your picture. I was all set to write about waiting in line and the quirky characters there, but nope, nothing but polite, expeditious service. If I were a radio talk-show host, now I would begin to talk about how this is too easy for the terrorists, but, hey, I just appreciate the convenience.

What else ... Hannibal Rising is out this weekend, and I have no desire to see it. Some 15 years ago, I read Red Dragon cover to cover in an obsessive frenzy (the Doc has never let me forget how I even read while she drove us somewhere, not a long trip either). This might have been after I saw Silence of the Lambs, and I remember thinking, "If this stuff really happens, then the world is a sick place, but if it doesn't, then whoever thought it up is really twisted." Naturally, I also read that book in short order, but the whole franchise went south when Thomas Harris wrote the sequel, Hannibal. I was eager to read Hannibal, but unlike the first two, finishing it became a chore, not a pleasure. And the movie was even worse. Ridley Scott obviously has his gifts, but his only defense of this one is that he was handcuffed by a ponderous script. An review of Hannibal Rising in the New Yorker last fall succinctly covered this declension. And, yes, I am one of those snobs who prefers Michael Mann's Manhunter to Brett Ratner's Red Dragon, both of which take inspiration from the same source. I guess Harris has had a hard time letting go of Lecter, who has been his meal ticket (insert rimshot) but it might be time to go in another direction.

Anna Nicole Smith? Sorry, no. Pass. At least I will try to.

Oswego County, New York, is digging out from the nearly eight feet of snow that has fallen since Sunday and could get another four feet this weekend. And, according to the Dallas Morning News, most of the schools were in session on Wednesday. (Did you hear that, Baltimore County, Maryland, school officials who decided to close schools this week because there was less than two inches of accumulation? And thanks for dumping enough salt at the end of my driveway to brine an elephant.)

Blogging soundtrack for most of the week has been The Replacements' Don't You Know Who I Think I Was. Very enjoyable and lots of related youtube video to unearth, including a hilarious (to me) clip of Paul Westerberg singing Roadhouse Blues, lying flat on his back, hidden from the camera behind monitor speakers, as smoke from his cigarette drifts upward. I am not going to even try to say that I was cool enough to like The Replacements when they were big (and all still alive). I knew them from Say Anything, and a friend of mine included some Paul Westerberg on a mix tape he gave me, but for those of us who will be turning 40 soon (unlike Anna Nicole. See? I knew I couldn't do it), this music takes you back to earnest youthful angst and anger, the halcyon nights of Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. Fortunately, I guess, the schoolbus will be pulling up soon, expelling my children and launching me forth to 2007 and parental responsibilities.

Have a nice weekend.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Snow Day = Slow Day

Slow day for FitzFacts writing that is. Yes, actual snow fell from the sky on Tuesday night. And despite the fact that Tony Montana had more snow on his desk at the end of Scarface than I had on my front lawn yesterday morning, the county schools were closed. So the boys slept in and ate a late breakfast and then demanded that I take them to their school ... because that's where the good sledding hills are, of course. We arrived to find that most of the inch-and-a-half layer had blown away and one trip down the hill pretty much cleared away the rest. But they were happy to slide bumpily and muddily for about an hour before deciding that the hour of the hot cocoa was upon us. And so we went home.

Now, today, it's still cold, but the school bus arrived on schedule, so I should have time for a quick spin 'round the old blogosphere. Just hang on a second while I make sure I've got everything I need. Steel mallet, pepper spray, hunting knife, rubber tubing, adult diapers, okay, I think we're good to go. Alright, alright, I only have two questions about this whole astronaut thing ("Paging New Order, New Order to the stage please"). First, can we stop comparing her
NASA publicity photo to her mug shot? Yes, in her arrest photo, she looks like a cross between Heidi Fleiss and the Runaway Bride, but does anybody look good in a mug shot (I mean, besides Tom DeLay)? Second question, if you are going to drive 900 miles to confront a romantic rival without stopping for bathroom breaks, what music do you choose for the road? What, you don't have a Freakishly Organized Homicidal Rage playlist on your iPod? Actually, I think she went with one song over and over again, like, I don't know, Life is a Highway. And not the new Rascal Flatts version, but the original from Tom Cochrane's aptly-titled 1991 album, Mad Mad World? Either that or some Dr. Phil Self-Empowerment tapes.

Next in the news, former Penn State and NBA player John Amaechi has apparently decided to speak publicly about his homosexuality on an upcoming edition of ESPN's Outside the Lines. You know, I am not surprised by this. I remember watching him in college and thinking to myself, "
He's so articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." Alright, seriously, good for him and good for the NBA. Having spent plenty of time in sports team locker rooms, I think this is something that will take a long time for some people to get used to, and maybe some of them never will, but if someone is willing to talk about it, at least there is an opportunity for the rest of us to show some support, and already I have seen some interesting comments.

For instance, yesterday, I heard Loyola College basketball coach Jimmy Patsos reply to a hypothetical question about how having a homosexual player on his team might affect recruiting. His reply went along the lines of, "Well, how good is he?" The radio host snickered, but Patsos went on, saying something like, "If Michael Jordan was gay, I don't think that would be a problem for his team or his coach." Exactly. Judge your teammates by their performance on the court. And for all of you concerned about who might be watching you in the shower, listen up. People play a sport for a lot of reasons, but I'd be willing to bet that checking out your hot teammates has got to be pretty low on the list. For well-reasoned, thoughtful analysis of this issue (and everything else related to the NBA) listen to the wisdom of Henry at

Okay, what else? I guess I should apologize to Antawn Jamison. I've questioned his defensive ability in the past and argued that the Wizards should trade him for a more athletic rebounder and defender, but his current stint on the injured list shows just how important he is, and not just to Washington's offense. Since Jamison went down against Detroit, the Wiz have lost three of four and surrendered about 116 points per game, 10 higher than their season average. The best-case spin of this situation is that it's an opportunity for Andray Blatche to develop with some quality minutes, and first place in the Eastern Conference might not be so desirable anyway, with Miami making a drive for the playoffs behind a healthy Shaq and DWade. Should be fun to watch teams try to dodge that bullet down the stretch of the regular season.

I really tried to watch the Wiz last night, but somebody turned back the Spurs' clock a couple years and Parker, Duncan and Ginobili put the wood to Washington in a way that recently-deceased Texan Molly Ivins would certainly have appreciated. And then I was sort of enjoying UNC's win at Duke (not as much as Bog Poll voter Robert Lintott, who had this gem of a pithy comment, "Every time Duke loses an angel gets its wings... thank you UVA"), but what grabbed my attention and my remote control was American Movie Classics' showing of Starman. What an underrated 80s gem this movie is. Alien crashes into earth and assumes the form of the dead husband of a woman who helps him get back to his planet. Yes, it's heavy on the evil government scenario and there's much unsubtle Jesus imagery, but Jeff Bridges always makes me laugh and Karen Allen, well, you loved her in Animal House, you loved her in Raiders of the Lost Ark and you'll love her in Starman because she gets wonderful treatment from director John Carpenter. It would be tough to make this movie now, what with GPS and cell phones, and the idea that a state trooper would take orders from some antiauthoritarian science geek might be more implausible than the whole concept of alien visitation, but by that point in the movie, you are willing to see it through. I've never been tempted to pick it up at Blockbuster, but it's definitely worth a stop when it pops up onscreen.

I didn't watch much of the Idol this week, but I am told by my sons that my slam dunk pick Sarah Krueger has some competition in one Bailey Brown. When I asked them to make their own pick, my older boy wisely said, "It's too early."

And, finally, the Colonials, who followed up a nice win at Rhode Island with losses on the road to Dayton and St. Louis last week. They were in both games late in the second half but couldn't get the defensive stop or the crucial bucket when they had to have it. Diehards are clinging to a wisp of hope for an at-large NCAA bid, but first GW has to win on at home on Saturday against Xavier. The Musketeers have also lost three conference games on the road, so don't count on seeing the Colonials' 24-game home win streak in A-10 play come to an end this weekend.

Alright, that's all I got today. Can only imagine what tomorrow will bring.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Super Poll

Okay, it's Tuesday and I know what you're thinking. "Where is the college basketball poll? I mean, how am I supposed to get through my week without knowing how FitzFacts ranks the Top 10 men's Division I college basketball teams in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.?" Come on, I'm sure you had enough Super Bowl stuff to get you through yesterday, but since you asked (although it would have been nice if you'd said, "Please"), here's what I got:

Georgetown wins at Madison Square Garden and moves into the top spot. Admittedly St. John's is not what it used to be, but it is still better than St. Peter's, St. Bonaventure, St. Joe's (I think), both St. Francises, and Mount Saint Mary's. Virginia is hotter than the back of Joe Biden's neck and shoots up to second (Anybody with me on predicting a second-tier ACC finish for Duke? Could very easily happen.) The next four teams all lost at least one game last week. Old Dominion is suddenly trying to challenge the top tier, and the bottom three haven't changed much. Big Stein has them almost the same as I do:

1. Georgetown
JTIII credits trans fat-free pregame meal at Marriott Marquis Hotel for Hoyas’ victory at St. John’s.
2. Virginia
Dave Leitao must convince Cavaliers not to look past upcoming games at Maryland and Virginia Tech in anticipation of hated foe Longwood next week.
3. VCU
Hofstra leaves the gun, takes the cannoli, and ends Rams 10-game win streak.
4. Virginia Tech
Boston police department’s antiterrorist unit confiscates Seth Greenberg’s clipboard, citing suspicious drawings that resemble the basketball court located inside BC’s Conte Forum.
5. GW
Karl Hobbs asks official for a technical at St. Louis but doesn’t get that call either.
6. Maryland
Mike Jones held scoreless in win at Wake Forest as Demon Deacons confuse him by blitzing safeties and dropping down linemen into coverage.
7. Old Dominion
ODU players shake off chants of “O –D-US! O-D-US!” from clever George Mason fans, win fifth straight.
8. George Mason
Life comes at you fast, Jim Larranaga.
9. Loyola
Jimmy Patsos forced to defend himself against charges of making "Marist" remarks in postgame press conference.
10. Towson
If the Tigers keep this up, they’ll play themselves right out of the draft lottery.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Super Bowl Summary

So, how'd you like that game last night? (I know, I know, in the blogosphere it might as well have been weeks ago, but I had some stuff to do today, okay?) I thought the game was fine, nothing special, great if you're a Colts fan, lousy if you're a Bears fan, and reasonably suspenseful, in the sense that you wondered whether the scoreboard would ever reflect what a real blowout the game actually was. For the record, my nine-year old predicted a 28-17 Indianapolis victory. Vegas, baby, Vegas!

I guess I am happy for Tony Dungy, hard not to cheer for a guy like him. Peyton Manning certainly earned his place in history, especially on several throws where he had to absorb a defensive hit as he delivered the pass. The Colts' running game and defense were even more impressive, muscling the supposedly more physical Bears. And they wisely kicked away from Devin Hester after he returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Bears' QB Rex Grossman might have been more dangerous than Hester ... to his own team. Take note, Rexy: Trent Dilfer played a pretty decent game against the Giants when the Ravens won the Sper Bowl, and found himself off the roster over the summer.

For my Baltimore-bred friends and neighbors, of course, it was painful to watch the Colts bring a championship to Indianapolis. "Get over it," you might say, but once you hear some of the tales of middle-aged men pining for lost youthful dreams, you can respect the sentiment a little better. I won't embarrass them by repeating the stories, but just as having a team to cheer for and suffer with as you grow into adulthood allows you to become more rational as a fan, having your team ripped away can keep you stuck in the emotional jungle of a twelve-year old. Baltimore Sun columnist Peter Schmuck tried to give some
soothing perspective today, but it doesn't sound like many of the old Colts are any happier than their fans.

The Bears certainly had their chances but couldn't capitalize enough on Indy's early turnovers. Losing running back Cedric Benson didn't help, but they just got pounded into the turf by the Colts' running game in the second half. And when it was time for Grossman to make a play, he got sacked, fumbled, tripped and threw a couple really bad interceptions. I'm not sure what the future holds for the young QB, but maybe he could take the Kevin Federline role in next year's Nationwide commercial.

Speaking of the commercials, the Bud Light ax-wielding hitchhiker got the only big laugh in the room where I was watching. K-Fed was alright, but overhyped (Wow? Really? Gotta be a first for that guy, right?), and Oprah and Dave was very clever. The Snickers ad brought an awkward silence and then puzzlement as the actors did something "manly" by ripping out their chest hair. Okaaay ... And a big boo to Career Builders for abandoning the monkeys in the office for the savage office environment. It was an original concept, as was whatever that was Robert Goulet did for the nut company, but it just didn't quite make it for me. None of these commercials came close to Terry Tate, Office Linebacker, let alone, "Thanks, Mean Joe."

The on-field pregame show certainly was festive and very Miami, I guess, but the feeling I got was more of a watered-down Olympics opening ceremony from a European nation, sort of like when a Hollywood studio remakes a foreign film like "La Femme Nikita" or "La Cage Aux Folles." And now I challenge you to find another Super Bowl review that references those two films. Billy Joel did a very nice, straight-up National Anthem, but do you think Marlee Matlin ever gets tired of being the only deaf celebrity? Seriously, I think this is a real niche growth industry. Prince put on a good show at halftime, live or Memorex. And Jehovah's Witness or not, he still worked in some phallic imagery playing the guitar in silhouette.

So let's see, Billy Joel, Prince, lopsided football game ... are you sure we didn't somehow journey back to the 1980's yesterday?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Hoops Hangover

Pretty awful hoops last night. GW lost a winnable game at Dayton, the Wizards got a sound beating at Toronto and my pickup team blew a 7-4 lead to go down 13-10. And VCU, my top-ranked poll team for two weeks, went down at Hofstra.

Let's stick with the Colonials today (get your Wiz fix at hoopsaddict). Dayton is now 14-0 at home and 0-7 on the road. Even in college basketball, that is an absurd difference. Listening to the game on the radio, the crowd noise was remarkable, both for its' pin-drop silence during Flyer free throws and indignant volume on every call that went against the home team. Even though the final score was 84-69, I called this one winnable because the teams traded the lead throughout the second half and it was tied at 65 with about four minutes to play. Then things went terribly wrong.

After calling timeout, Dayton scored on three straight possessions, Karl Hobbs went ballistic on a no-call and got himself ejected and the Flyers closed out going 7-7 from the line. Now, I wasn't there, but this is a familiar scenario for Dayton opponents. Let's just say, you'd better have a big lead or make a miracle shot like Carl Elliott's halfcourt heave a couple years back, because down the stretch, the Flyers seem to have the darndest luck.

So where does this leave GW? Well, right now they are still tied with Fordham (!) and URI(!) for first place in the A-10, just half a game ahead of UMass and Xavier. Coming up this weekend is a tough game at St. Louis and a week later, a visit from the Musketeers . Very few of the remaining games look easy, but none of them looks impossible either. So the conference is wide open, but in terms of NCAA berths, I'll be very surprised if an Atlantic 10 team gets an NCAA bid this year.

I still like GW's chances. The starting unit has been the same all year; Maureece Rice has emerged as the primary scorer, with Elliott jumping up as needed. The frontcourt of Rob Diggs, Regis Koundjia and Dokun Akinbade have been more than serviceable on offense and defense and the reserve unit of Travis King, Damian Hollis and Cheyenne Moore has mautured and can make major contributions. Despite its lack of froncourt bulk, this team is tough to score on, leading the league is steals and third in blocked shots. They don't play at the same frantic pace as last year, but no lead is safe, for them or their opponents.

I would love to see Moore getting more minutes, but it's become clear that Hobbs can't use him much more than 10 minutes per game due to lingering effects of the stress fracture in his tibia. That and the arrested development of Noel Wilmore are the lone dark spots for GW in what has been a pretty good year and bears watching into March. I'd be more confident if they can pick up a win this weekend or another on the road at Charlotte or St. Joe's.