Monday, February 26, 2007

Eavesdropping at Pete's Henny Penny

I once wrote that I live in a Northern California town so blue that my city council is mostly green. That remains true, but it gives the false impression that everyone where I live opposes the war, believes in global warming, and distrusts Dick Cheney. That's simply not the case. Pete's Henny Penny which is actually in the next town south is one of my favorite places to eat at least once in a while, because it mostly stays untouched by the whole wine country-greenpeace cultural hegemony that transformed farming country into tourist destination.

Pete's is an old coffee shop that not only dares to serve mostly red meat, they used to have a hand-lettered sign outside that proclaimed "We raise our own cattle."

Their menu is unapologetically uninfluenced by California cuisine. There's no radicchio in the salad and no sprouts in the sandwiches. The desserts are baked with white sugar and white flour. The homemade soups contain only ingredients whose names most of us can pronounce with confidence. The countertops are formica and the floor under the carpet is linoleum. The only suggestion that Pete's has been influenced by Sonoma County's growing gastronomic sophistication is the fact that they display a few bottles of quality local wine on the counter behind the cash register.

Not surprisingly, Pete's is a hangout for the old time truckers, contractors, and dairy farmers who once were my county's "regular folk". Earlier today, I took a seat at one of the single seat booths just across from the counter and found myself amidst a bunch of men eating alone. While I was in my semi-professional work clothes, all the guys around me seemed to be in gallen-kamp boots, jeans, and those woolen checked shirts. There was a heavy set man sitting at the counter over a large plate of something covered in gravy wearing a dairy association baseball cap. Another older wiry-framed man sat in the corner booth between the door and the register. His folded walker leaned against his table.

Actually, this ued to be right where Pete, an old Greek man, used to hang out, drink coffee, and yell at his help in front of his customers. A framed photo of Pete remains right next to that corner. Several years ago, Pete was murdered by friends of his stepson's ex-girlfriend. Thinking no one was home, they came to rob his house and found Pete there so they stuffed him into a convertible sofa and sat on it. Pete had a heart attack and died. Some part of Sonoma County died with him.

Anyway, as I ate my lunch, I wasn't paying much attention to the conversation between the older men around me. I just don't know much about Peterbilt trucks or dairy machinery, but when they started talking about politics I couldn't help but listen.

"You know these guys coming back with one leg and stuff should be getting first class care...."

"I don't know what they're giving them."

"Iraq's not a war. They're not calling it that at least. Maybe that's why they're not getting first class treatment."

"Well, you know Medicare only pays for twenty one days of your stay. It doesn't cover everything. Hard to say what you get with anything these days."

"I kind of like what Barack Obama has to say about this stuff."

"You think he might have trouble getting elected because he's black?"

"Who cares? Even if he doesn't have much experience. Those guys who've been there aren't doing too well as far as I can tell."

"Yep, doesn't matter which side. They're just looking out for the deep pockets and the corporations who get them money. None of them are looking out for us."

"You know who doesn't have a chance?"


"It's Madame Senator."

"She's not speaking out and she's not speaking up for anybody."


"People call me all hours of the day for money. Last night I had to tell one of them that I wanted to finish my dinner first."

"I gave to the boy scouts, because I was a boy scout. This environmental group called me asking for money too. Can you believe that?"
Their conversation slipped back into less public issues, I got up and left, but this is the way I interpret what I heard. They did make eye contact with me as I walked past them on my way to the register like they knew I'd been listening to them and like maybe they wanted it that way.

A sample of two is hardly reliable even if your Molly Ivins checking out the talk at the local diner. My other warning is that while a number of the traditional farmers and ranchers in my county have signs on their land like "Get the US out of the UN now" and "Bush Cheney 2000" (yes, still), a lot of them still come from the progressive populist ilk of those who marry their economic well being to mother nature. In fact, Sonoma still has a reasonably active Grange.

That said, this is what I'm thinking.

1) If I've seen a sign that the war is dead as a public issue, this might have been it. A year ago, someone at the counter would have spoken up to defend it.

2) these guys are ready for Obama! Fascinating.

3) Hillary's problems have nothing to do with her being female. I wouldn't expect her to do well with the farm crowd necessarily, but she doesn't seem to connect with them the way Bill could. It's really interesting that they were much more comfortable with Barack and that it had to do with talking straight.

4) No one mentioned John Edwards. These are the voters the guy has been playing to. Why isn't he getting to them out here?

5) They think the current administration has made a mess of things and it's trust with them is almost completely broken.


There was a time in my life when I used to refer to places like Pete's Henny Penny as "Real"and these sorts of old guys as "real" as well. That's partly because they remind me of my stepdad who as a farmer is a lot like them except for the fact that he's Japanese.
They believe in common sense, hard work, personal responsibility, but they also have a strong belief in justice and fairness. For instance, if you serve your country, your country should take care of you. If you get sick, the system should make it simple for you to seek help.

They also want leaders who honestly look out for and speak up for them.

There's been a lot of talk that a lot of these voters went over to Reagan in the eighties because that was the rhetoric. I remember my stepdad once telling me back then, "The difference between what you believe politically and what I believe politically is that you think government should take care of the weak and those who can't or won't take care of themselves. I think it should encourage people to take care of themselves and reward those who do shoulder their own responsibilities."

My stepdad never finished high school, but he probably caught the philosophical gap better than I ever could have by trying to quote god knows how many articles and books on the subject. I'm getting the feeling that guys like my stepdad are realizing that the talk of "self-reliance and personal responsibility" was just that. The folk who were big on it didn't keep their promises and it's becoming increasingly obvious to them who the current administration has been really looking out for.

As things get a bit rougher in the next year or two, I have a feeling these folk are going to get angrier.

They invested in a coutnry where hard work and good will counted.
They want their country back and they're starting to look in some interesting places to make sure that happens.

I suspect the challenge for many of the Democrats in 2008 will be to figure out why Barack Obama is connecting with the guys at the counter at Pete's? John Edwards is going to have to get on these guys' radar. Once he does, I suspect he'll do well, but they clearly didn't give the former North Carolina senator a second thought. As promising a tool as it is, I don't think you get there through the blogosphere. Senator Clinton's going to have to find a way to get their respect if not their votes. To do that, she's going to have to take a risk some time soon.

Otherwise, this is Brack Obama's nomination to lose. To be honest, I'm a little surprised by that, but if you remember that Mondale campaign slogan, "Where's the beef?"


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Sunday, February 25, 2007

I'll take the Constitution for a Thousand Alex (Jeopardy American Style)

Did you know that there are more Americans who know how many different men have claimed to be the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s daughter than know the number of Iraqi civilians who have died during the war? Their two estimates are apparently strikingly similar. There was a recent poll that found that half of America thinks fewer than 10,000 Iraqi civilians have died since March 2003. They do have a much better handle on the number of American soldiers killed in the war (more than 3,000).

This isn’t new. It’s long been a fact of American media life that five people trapped in a mine shaft in West Virginia is a front page headline for several days while fifty thousand dead in a typhoon say in Indonesia winds up on the back pages somewhere. The poll result may also just be yet another example of American innumeracy. After all, it seems that every week there are at least three reports of at least thirty civilians dying in a marketplace bombing. Anyone following the news would quickly realize that a number below 10,000 is virtually impossible.

I think the simplest explanation is that Americans choose what they pay attention to exceedingly narrowly. For instance, there were two very high profile trials in the last three weeks. While I think I heard one or two mentions of the case of the United States vs. Lewis Libby, I have yet to hear anyone talk about the court martial of Ehren Watada.

I first wrote about the Watada case some six weeks ago and had assumed that the court martial would become a significant news story once it started in February. In case you’ve forgotten or more likely had your attention diverted, Watada is an Army lieutenant who refused his orders to go to Iraq and is using a Nuremberg defense. That is, he acknowledges that an officer has a responsibility to follow orders from superiors, even a wrong order, but when an order is immoral or criminal, he has a duty not to obey it.

Rather surprisingly, the Watada case ended in a mistrial. Even more surprising, the prosecution requested the mistrial. Think about it! How often does that happen? Also consider the fact that this wasn’t a civilian trial, it was a court martial.

So what happened? Watada’s defense was always clear. He has never disputed the fact that he disobeyed the order to ship out to Iraq. His defense has always been based on the morality of the war itself i.e. If the administration lies about why the war is necessary and that misinformation is later documented and revealed, does a soldier still have a responsibility to fight in that war? The defense intended all along to put the war itself on trial.

No sane prosecutor would ever want this of course. It’s always easier to present the elements of the crime and simply show that each bit happened. Prosecutors generally prefer not to get into questions of circumstances, state of mind, or other subjective factors. In any case, prior to trial both sides agreed to a stipulation on the matter of Lt. Watada refusing his orders to ship out to Iraq. The court martial started and the Army prosecutors insisted that there must be no discussion of the morality of the war itself.

The judge stepped in and said, “Sorry, it’s obvious to me that the defense would never have agreed to such a stipulation if it can’t do that. Otherwise there’d be nothing to try. No stipulation.”

The prosecutors, after the jury had been empanelled and after opening statements, then asked for the mistrial. This is about as unlikely as the defense attorney in the BALCO case leaking evidence that incriminates his own client to newspaper reporters.
What’s going on? Why would the army allow Watada an out via “double jeopardy”, the constitutional guarantee that you can not be tried twice for the same crime?

Why was the Libby defense so lacking in spirit?

Why did Republicans in the senate fight so hard to prevent a debate on the escalation of the war?

Why is Great Britain, our most stalwart ally in this conflict, starting to withdraw its troops just as the United States is adding forces in the region?

Someone is absolutely terrified by the prospect of anyone using a national forum to debate the war. Why?

Well if that happens, more than a few Americans will have to pay attention to the fact that it hasn’t been 9,000 Iraqi civilians killed in our effort to stop the proliferation of non-existent weapons of mass destruction. It’s more than likely over a hundred thousand people. At least one study believes it’s more than six hundred thousand.

Everyone understand that Anna Nicole Smith is that rare paternity case where possible Dads are coming forward because Anna Nicole’s daughter might be the heiress to hundreds of millions of dollars. If the Iraqi War gets debated in an open and sober forum, more American’s are going to understand that we let more than a hundred thousand people die for no clear reason unless it’s been to make certain people hundreds of millions of dollars.

The prosecutors in the Watada case have refiled their charges. While I am concerned that Lt. Watada is being subjected to double jeopardy, I’m more concerned that the soul of our nation remains in jeopardy.


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Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Natural Superiority of Women (American Idol 6 Review)

Sarah Vaughan

You know how Randy and Simon obsess on this business of “We want to see something new and fresh.”

Am I the only one who noticed that there was nothing about Melinda Doolittle and Lakisha Jones’s performances Wednesday night that couldn’t come straight out of some Motown review from the sixties? Well, Jones’s song came from the 1979 musical Dreamgirls, but that was Broadway’s attempt to incorporate soul music from the sixties into its palette so Jennifer Holliday’s take on Florence Ballard with “I’m Telling You” is really a sixties song written a decade after the sixties.

Here’s just some of the whole convoluted thing with Idol’s love-hate relationship with Jennifer Hudson and how many layers there are in the show giving the very talented Lakisha Jones the anchor spot with that particular song.

1. It was a little shot at Hudson who as Idol’s most honored alum has made it her signature song. Kind of like, hey look we got someone who might do it as well as Jennifer and this is just the round of 24.

2. It was a sort of vindication for Hudson. After Simon badgered her into losing sixty pounds and being the singer whom Elton John singled out for special praise, she loses out to Jasmine Trias and John Stevens. Now, Simon tells Jones who is more endomorphic than Hudson ever was, “Tell the other 23 to pack their bags.”

3. They bring in Fantasia, the winner from Hudson’s season, this very same week. Hudson got the part of Effie in Dreamgirls over Fantasia. Now after a mixed start as a recording artist, Barrino is taking a slightly different path by hitting Broadway as Celie in the Color Purple. Iirc Hudson’s post-idol was talked about as a possibility for the Broadway version of the Lion King. Fwiw Fantasia sounded quite good.

4. Diana Ross is going to be a guest coach this year. Dreamgirls essentially tells the story of the Supremes and Barry Gordy’s decision to go with prettier, whiter-looking, singer whom he happened to be sleeping with over bigger-voiced less conventionally attractive Ballard. In the process, Ross became Gordy’s first crossover star and moved the Supremes from “Soul” to “pop”. In short, Gordy was the one who taught Simon, Nigel, et. al. that whole “better to look good than sound good” thing about American pop music.

5. The song’s lyric runs “I’m staying, I’m stayin…..” and Fantasia’s song was “I’m here.” Mmmmmm….. further conflating things Lakisha Jones is a single mother. Fantasia is a single mother. No comment on the tattoo above her breast or Fantasia’s weight heading towards Hudson’s.

6. There was also an interesting positioning shift. Some were calling Lakisha Jones, “Mandisa 2”, last year’s belter who went from contender who was singing about the Lord to Shania and out in a week. Now, the former bank teller is some cross between Jennifer Hudson and Fantasia. It was either very canny on her part or some smart producer spotted the strategy and nudged her in the right direction. fwiw, Jones's control of vocal dynamics and on stage choreography are already much stronger than Mandisa's.

So, does this mean Simon et. al. are going to give on the assumption that you can’t be a big pop music star without looking like a movie star? Given the last photo I saw of Britney Spears as Persis Khambata, I’d say there’s at least one faded pop star who’s decided to agree. Pre-mtv, many popular singers wouldn’t have made it off the bus on MTV’s Dismissed. The whole look glamorous or no recording contract thing really took hold in the last fifteen years. Yes, there was Billie Holiday, Elvis, and Lena Horne before that, but Sammy Davis, Janis Joplin, Ella, Mama Cass, and Todd Rundgren all managed to get sizeable followings without conventional looks. In fact, many of the Idols America actually voted for didn’t fit Billy Crystal's "Fernando" mold that the judges always whisper about. Reuben, Fantasia, Clay, and Taylor don’t look like models. Maybe the show is figuring that out. One hint about where the judges stand now is the way they roughed up Antonella Barba for “just looking good.”

I have to say that the whole Barba hate thing is a bit weird. You have these Facebook type pictures of her in the bathroom. It’s not the same thing as posing for pictures for a professional photographer or being paid to be a nude model. With cellphone cameras, virtually everyone that age has embarrassing pictures on someone’s hard drive. If you remember, America’s greatest secretary of defense wisely banned cellphone cameras immediately after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. Unless the photos were of Barba making like Lynndie Englund, I just don’t see anything that Barba did on that count that bother me. That includes anything that might turn up behind the black curtain in your neighborhood video store. In the meantime, that young lady seriously needs better friends.

If for whatever reason, Antonella Barba is getting the bad edit from the producers and who knows whether the judges are trying to crush her or engage in reverse psychology, Melinda Doolittle is getting the Glenda edit. They show her crying when we learned that Amy Krebs couldn’t make America love her either. As mentioned above, there’s nothing original about Melinda Doolittle. Lakeesha Jones and the backup singer from Belmont College just happen to be really really good at what they do (at least so far). I kind of like it that way. Besides, was there anything all that original about Carrie Underwood?

My take on some of the females:

Stephanie Edwards: saved the season for me. After two hours of amateur singers with scrotums, (okay, I guess this gets me banned from elementary school libraries now, I’m so lucky) I was about to give up on the show if the women were equally dreary. Edwards sang like someone whose record I might actually buy. Nice version of “How Come You Don’t Call Me”. It was also the first of many times that night that it felt like the closeup camera was actually working. The men all seemed like they were just a part of the stage and that all overtones died in the microphone. Several of the ladies had the power to do the Norma Desmond thing with the camera.

Amy Krebs: Actually a nice voice. I won’t miss her necessarily, but one of those contestants who maybe didn’t get a fair shot.

Leslie Hunt: They’re keeping her on to break out the lupus story line. They talked about her doing Aretha, but the judges forgot that this was Carole King’s song first and I think she was after the same white girl with a little soulful tinge that King and Laura Nyro staked out way back then. Might explain the go-go boots.

Sabrina Sloan: She was really invested in the song. I’m actually not sure I like her actual voice that much, but “I Never Loved a Man” came off as an actual performance vs. all those guys who felt like they were singing the words off the teleprompter. Surprised that they put Aretha covers back to back like that, but it was pretty much an all Aretha all the time format for the evening.

Jordin Sparks: Some people have suggested that NFL Daughter might be this year’s chosen one. I thought Tracy Chapman was a very canny choice and she was yet another female who could both sing and perform at the same time. She’s from a long line of teenagers on a show whose M.O. is to build them up as prodigies then tear them down as “not ready”. Most of them have had remarkable poise in some way. I thought Paris did well last year. Jordin Sparks feels even more mature at a personal level. The question is will her singing find the necessary emotional depth. Again Paris came the closest of the Teen Idols and we just haven’t had the time to find out with this one.

Nicole Tranquillo: My wife commented that she really appreciated Paula Abdul when Nicole Tranquillo got booted. I have to agree. Paula prides herself in how supportive she tries to be. This was one instance where she did it in the most admirable way possible. I also happen to agree with Paula. Tranquillo was a better singer than almost any of the guys and many of the girls. I still didn’t like listening to her song. There’s hitting the notes at a gymnastic level, but there’s still the matter of phrasing and line. Chaka Khan, not a favorite singer of mine, never meandered like this.

Haley Scarnato: I’m wondering if her Idol run is being secretly sponsored by Frederick's of Hollywood or if the wedding singer thought she was auditioning for Miss America. It probably doesn’t help that I’m not a Celine Dion fan.

Alaina Alexander: If you’re going to cover the Pretenders, don’t pretend. Based on what I’ve seen so far, she should be checking dates to take the SAT. While Nicole Tranquillo wasn’t necessarily good, Alaina Alexander’s staying is a strong argument that screen time counts for something.

Gina Glocksen: If the point of the night was that women of color sing better than their white counterparts, Gina Glocksen was probably the best of the melanin-challenged Idolettes. She seemed really really pleased with herself at the end of the performance. I’m not sure how that’s going to play after Lakisha Jones blew her off the stage. It’s a bit like getting pumped up after hitting a three hundred yard drive and then having Tiger Woods step up and outdrive you by thirty yards with his three wood. It was good. It wasn’t terribly distinctive though and if this was the best she could hope for personally, she’s in trouble in terms of contending for the chance to sing the song America writes for the Idol America chose at the end of the season.

I know this is obvious, but this show works better when the music is good. The producers have any number of tricks to maintain at least some interest when the singers just aren't good, but this one had moments I'll likely remember. With Jones, it was towards the end where she was baby-stepping to the edge of the stage and went bug-eyed while dropping the volume and picking up the tempo all at once (hard to do in music imo), at that moment she had direct contact with both live audience and the camera. I was thinking, "Here's someone who knows how to shape her performance both musically and physically."

With Doolittle, I was reminded that really great pop singers make you want to dance. It's not because they necessarily move around a lot, it's because they get beyond the business of just being in tune and make harmony, melody, and beat interact. Doolittle's performance might have been old-fashioned, but it was thoroughly professional in that sense. She knew when to accent, when to gesture, and you never wondered if she was going too fast or too slow. As much as I liked Katharine Mcphee's better performances last year, I don't think she's all that close to what these two ladies can do with a song.

Mostly, I'm wondering when and how they'll break out the makeovers with both ladies. Doolittle seems to be a little hunched which makes her look at times either like an exagerrated Smokey Robinson or E.T. I actually like it. It gives her a uniqueness that I suspect would grow on me. Jones also doesn't have a Hollywood-issue body. I'm hoping they've learned the Jennifer Hudson lesson here that star quality can come from people who don't look like movie stars.

For those who remember Jimmy Cagney, Bogart, Bette Davis, Durante, Pearl Bailey, etc. It's kind of an old-fashioned concept, but it works for me. In those days, they'd take your quirkier physical features and make them your signature instead of grinding them off your face or body.

Jennifer Hudson just won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She did not mention the show in her acceptance speech.

Other Chancelucky Idol Reviews

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Homicide with Ryan Seacrest and the Boys (American Idol 6 Review)

George Huff would have been this year's best male singer and John Peter Lewis would have been second behind George

My pal Ryan Seacrest and I met up the other night so he could pick up some chicks. On our way down to the club, there was this guy surrounded by attractive young ladies and I turned to Ryan and said, “Wow, wish I were good looking like that.”

Ryan’s eyes went wide and he said, “I wouldn’t know about whether any guy looks good. Besides, you’re a terrible dresser and have no idea how to accessorize.”

I tapped Ryan on the shoulder for a moment and he jumped back,”Whoa, no way any dude touches the guy who did Teri Hatcher and Cheryl Crow.”

“Sorry Ryan, forgot. By the way, how was your pedicure this afternoon?”

Ryan nods “You know, the same old same old. Btw, Don’t you think that Simon Cowell is a fashion disaster? I just hate him so much.”

I quickly change the subject, “Did you see Gerald Green’s dunk over Nate Robinson last weekend? That was something else.”

“Nope, sorry was at the spa, but I sure love Kobe’s hair this year. Very today.”

Anyway, I was very excited about going out on the prowl with Ryan again tonight so I could get the inside scoop on the top 24, but Ryan decided to go hang with Ted Haggard this weekend to go shop for power tools and maybe go bear hunting after a little chicken dinner. After that, they’re using the power tools to remodel Ryan’s closet together. Apparently he had too many things to hang up and the guys from Queer Eye for the Straight Idol Host refused to help him out- some silly business about principle.

So sadly, I have no Ryan insight on whether Antonella Barba is hotter than Alaina Alexander in person or what he thought of Sabrina Sloan’s see through top. At the same time, I had the same reaction to the men that Ryan appeared to have. Ewwwww!

These can’t really be the twelve best male singers they found out of a hundred thousand people who tried out. I mean I’d remember what the best guy sang instead of the fact that Phil Stacy looked like Nosferatu and I wouldn’t be asking things like wow Blake Lewis did a pretty good impression of Sting with that Keane song so he might have been second best.

Clearly, the most talked about of the males at this point is Chris Sligh. Let me put this straight out. I don’t like the guy. It’s not his singing which isn’t that bad. It’s not even that he threw the tele-tubbies thing at Simon. It’s him or to be more precise the fact that I’m one of the people who saw his blogs before he made the semis.

I don’t have a problem with Chris Slime being Christian and I don’t think Christians have to go around praying all the time. Many of the ones I know are very funny even irreverently so, slightly rebellious, and certainly able to have a good time. Sligh’s blogs revealed that the guy’s moves on the show are very calculated as in “What persona do you think I should put on to get myself on the show?”

It struck me that he wants to be famous for its own sake. I imagine at some point after he’s gone a few rounds, he’ll play the spiritual card and likely play it better than Mandisa did last year, but there’s a certain hypocrisy happening here that starts with his set up with Ryan on Thursday night.

“I love Simon and I meant absolutely no disrespect with my remark about Il Divo and the Teletubbies?”

It’s a flat out lie. He obviously meant to get a reaction. It was part of his plan and if it wasn’t disrespectful, what in the name of anyone’s God was it? Sligh was just doing damage control and he chose the smarmy route, i.e. he was basically Peter denying Jesus when he actually had the opportunity to show some integrity. What kind of convictions does the guy actually have other than a desire to get ahead on the show?

Taylor Hicks might have played the Idol game extremely shrewdly, but he seemed to do so because he appeared to be very committed to his music. Kellie Pickler in all likelihood overplayed the bumpkin thing along with the sad back story last year at least partly because she was a better comedienne than she was a singer. Still, there was something ultimately honest and likeable about Kellie herself. She was doing it all with a bit of a wink. Chris Sligh is really closer to Richard Hatch, the first winner of Survivor. He’s doing it for the fame/money and it all strikes me as a bit cold-hearted and spiritually empty. If he loves the music, it hasn’t gotten across so far.

I should add that the Bob Jones University connection probably didn’t help. My wife and I aren’t the same race. I know not every student at Bob Jones University necessarily believes what its trustees believe. They’ve even had major civil rights leaders like George W. Bush and John McCain speak there during the South Carolina primary so it obviously tolerates a greater diversity of opinion than school policy would suggest. If you want to know what I mean, just ask Karl Rove a couple push poll type questions about Senator McCain’s family. I just figure that now that Simon’s laid down the gauntlet to Ryan about “doing the news”, I’d love to see Ryan ask Chris Slime something like,”Well, how do you feel about Jared Cotter or A.J. Tablado’s families,” or “I know you’re very uncomfortable with gay people like my pal Tim Hardaway and me, but could you say a little something about it for America?”

(added on 2/26/07) I came across one of Chris Sligh's blogs that still appears to be online. He does, in fact, make his differences with Bob Jones University and his personal views quite clear there. On this particular issue, I'm happy to say that I'm glad to have found out a bit more about him. He comes across as a thoughtful fellow in his blog, something different for a would be Idol. I still didn't find the apology all that sincere though.

Here’s my take on some of the other guys?

Rudy Cardenas: Simon treated him like he was Hugo Chavez. At the same time, Simon may have been right. His Free Ride cost him. Anyone else thinking Adam Sandler-Wedding Singer?

Paul Kim: he wanted America to forget William Hung and then managed to not even outlast Sway Penala. I was pulling for the Seoul Brother purely out of racial solidarity, but when you start the competition by telling everyone about your gimmick what’s that say about what you think about your own singing? I think he shot himself in his bare foot. Btw, I don’t have hdtv. When he was doing the sing out, it looked like he was wearing shoes. One other thing. You know those old Asian discos where everyone was maybe two or three years out of style. Why is it that Paul Kim set off that vibe? Oddly enough William Hung did too.

Sundance Head: He seemed so tiny behind that giant mike. It even shrank what I thought was a huge though apparently erratic voice. The show seems to be making him a villain of sorts. Vote for the Worst has already claimed him. He started as Taylor 2, but now he’s Scot Savol with weird facial hair. Poor family. Dad got knocked off the charts by the Beatles. Son gets knocked off of TV by A J Tablado and Nick Pedro? I do look forward to next week when Sundance does Electric Light Orchestra.

Sanjaya Malakar: Someone’s screwing around here. He wasn’t that bad and actually has a very good voice. Like many others, I’m a bit creeped out by the Michael Jackson vibe he has and worried that he’s just not ready, but I’m not upset at all that he’ll get at least one more chance to finish puberty while on the show.

Brandon Rogers: Another guy who can sing, but Michael Jackson? I find this very interesting. Idol has seen competitors try to cover any number of artists who are very good even iconic singers like Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Aretha (way too often, and even Elvis and Sinatra. Now and then though, someone covers one of those artists well enough to be memorable. Have you ever noticed that no one ever covers Michael Jackson memorably? I suspect that the King of Pop, pre-whatever he started doing to himself, was a much more extraordinary performer than most people think. Anyway, the Idols keep trying and I keep asking “Where’s the charisma?”

Chris Richardson: Justin Timberfake

Blake Lewis: Is my choice for the guy who’s playing the game the best so far. I thought he was pretty good with the Keane, but certainly not all that great on its own merits. Everyone was going, “Gee, he doesn’t have to beatbox. Wow.” He was also smart to come off as the first performer who didn’t seem to remember American Bandstand and Where the Action Is.

Jared Cotter: When I heard the name I was hoping this might be Jared from the Subway ads. When they brought him out, I was thinking, “Gee, maybe I should eat at Subway every day for the next twelve years,” and my pal Ryan was texting me “Now, that’s my kind of guy. You know as a buddy, of course.”

AJ Tablado: I have to like anyone who tried out five times. I wonder if he had his collar down the first four times? Paula, who spent the last two weeks as a remarkably dignified voice of hope and encouragement after all that speculation, may be right. AJ really has an appealing voice, but I’m not sure what to make of the rest of the package. How many male contestants have been that much shorter than Ryan?

Nick Pedro: Likeable guy, but if you look closely at his forehead, there's a big stamp on it that says "semi-final fodder". My guess is that he'll do the crooner thing next and he'll have to be better than good at it to stick around. I'm not talking Harry Connick or Michael Buble good either.

Phil Stacy: He’s a dad. He’s an active duty service man. He has pointed ears, looks like a bat at certain angles, and can’t start any song well possibly because he orients with sonar. He came the closest of anyone to sounding like someone who might be in the final 12. How miserable is that?

Dawg,man, I don't know. I just don't know. I got to be real here, but if they eliminated all 12 guys next week, I wouldn't miss anyone. Phone home Elliott Yamin...please phone home.

End of part one click for part 2

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Hollywood and Flow (American Idol 6 review)

After watching ten hours of auditions, I learned all these backstories only to find out that I don’t know who at least half the final twenty four are. And what do I know of some of the finalists? First off, there’s Sundance Head, the guy who started off as this year’s Taylor Hicks but with a better voice and a father who had a number one hit. He sounds terrible in Hollywood and then tells a heartbroken Tommy Daniels, “If I make it big in Hollywood, you can be my bodyguard.”

Do they seriously expect America to vote for Sundance Head? They might as well have had him quote Tim Hardaway while they were at it.

How about Antonella Barba, whose best friend forever, Amanda, appeared to take one for the team by playing head games with a teenaged Baylie Brown while Antonella said nothing. They made Color Me Barba even more appealing by placing her next to Marissa Rose who gets to sing well in her clip. In the meantime, Barba is shown having trouble with lyrics, the same sin that Baylie Brown got booted for.

Am I really supposed to like the fact that Paul Kim walks around Hollywood soundstages barefoot and wants to wear the same underwear every elimination day? What an image!
Anyone voting for him will be spraying their cell phones with hand sanitizer afterwards. Was it just me or did Rudy Cardenas’s version of Georgia sound like Bill Murray’s Saturday Night Live lounge singer?

Who am I supposed to root for? On the female side, I watched the auditions closely enough so I could do these reviews and I don’t know who Leslie Hunt, Sabrina Sloan, Amy Krebs, or Nicole Tranquilo are or where they auditioned. On the guys side, it’s better, but there are small matters like I never heard Beatbox Lewis sing, at least in an American Idol sense. They made Sanjaya Malakar out to be the world’s nicest teenaged brother, but you barely got to see him sing enough to make any judgment about talent.

I’m well aware of the fact that the Hollywood rounds are the bridge between two different American Idol shows. The steadily growing audition rounds are snarky and junior high cruel. In the midst of that, they drop in a handful of back stories of singers you might actually root for in the final twelve. The elimination rounds are this multi-layered guessing game. Did the judges get it right? Did all those teenagers with cellphones get it right? Did the performer play the wrong hand? Did I get it right?

For a couple years, the show was big on showing the interpersonal dynamics of the various candidates as they attempted to sing in a group. Though it was obviously heavily edited, this often felt like the most genuine snapshot of who some of the finalists really were. Two years ago, I remember how they used the group sings to have most of America asking if Scot Savol had some sort of mental problem. At the same time, Anwar Robinson got to come off as America’s greatest music teacher. Of course, Robinson was still voted off before Savol once the two cracked the final twelve.

I never did understand the musical purpose of the group sing - the show’s elimination rounds are generally based only on solo performances. Still it made for great reality television, sort of like Idol goes Big Brother. This year, they cut the Hollywood portion down to two one hour installments. In the second, you got to see Simon go “You didn’t…..” stupid long pause, “have to pack your bags, have to feel like you won’t see more of us, etc.” Basically though, you always knew how it was going to turn out because if the candidate got a long solo clip before you hopped in that elevator with the video camera, it got pretty obvious who was and who wasn’t going to be in. This year's group sing stuff was so compressed, that except for the Jersey best friends forever schooling "I was born for the city" Baylie Brown in real city ways I really had no idea why anyone was being kept or cut. The only lesson I could take from the very confident Jory Steinberg’s sudden elimination was that you shouldn’t make “I dressed like Paula jokes” once you actually hit Hollywood.

One simple theory for the choppy storylines of Hollywood week appears to be that the show’s ratings for this interlude have always been lower than either the auditions or the elimination rounds. A second reason appears to be the growing merger between Idol eliminations and As the message boards have gotten increasingly sophisticated, various reasons turned up for the more “shocking eliminations”. Second chance Ashlyn Carr had been arrested for putting sugar in her ex-boyfriend’s gas tank. Akron Watson, the shy cousin who actually could sing, had some sort of criminal history. Steinberg and Thomas Lowe may have had too much of a professional history. Tommy Daniels had been convicted for stalking and killing Sundance Head, or was it that he turned out to have a conviction for a hit and run? Jenry Berjarano had a Myspace page that made him sound like one of the President’s twin daughters.

Now, none of the audition rounds are live. They certainly have time between filming them to vette the individuals who get extensive stories. We know there are maybe hundreds of people who tried out who actually sing pretty well. Why in the world did they waste our time with segments on these folk who got eliminated for non-singing or undisclosable reasons?

There’s clearly an ongoing attempt to institutionalize the show. For instance, there are two candidates who have a history of having tried out and failed in Gina Glockstein and Nicholas Pedro. Were they making Baylie Brown an even more interesting story for Idol seven or eight? How many cowboy hats does Matthew Buckstein own? Are they showing all these people with criminal records so they can set up a Hustle and Flow story line for some future season? Will we see some hopeful kill Skinny Black in the back of a seedy nightclub just after the auditions then go out and sing "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen."

All I know is that I’ve been having this recurring dream. I die and they put me in an elevator equipped with a video camera. I think the other person in the elevator is either Osama Bin Laden or Karl Rove. It’s sort of hard to tell the difference once you see the two up close. We get out of the elevator and there’s Dog backwards himself, some proto-version of the Madonna, and Satan sitting behind a table while St. Ryan stands right outside the pearly elevator doors.

I’m feeling good because they’ve shown so much videotape of my backstory, but I don’t know for sure. Dog backwards says “So, how do you think you did? Karl Bin Laden shrugs and says, well I thought I did pretty well all things considered. There was a rough spot here and there. I maybe shouldn’t have killed all those people, but I tried my best.

Satan lowers his cowl steps and says, "Well, we can only send one of you to heaven and naturally the other one is going to hell. Karl Bin Laden, we're sorry to say...."

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Modest Blogprosal

"Milton's Areopagitica is Often Credited with being the first work to argue for the free marketplace of ideas" I have no idea if he would have a blog if he were alive today unless we offered him money to do it.

There seem to be any number of blogs and webpages that make the point that the more than 360 billion dollars we've spent on the Iraq War could have been spent on schools, alternative energy sources, cancer research, or on getting the Yankees back to the world series. That’s all well and good, but it’s clear that freedom and democracy in Iraq are much more critical than these other items. Face it, public schools aren't run by private enterprise and thus have no chance to ever by as excellent as say "Walmart or McDonald's". It can't be proven that global warming is anthropogenic (caused by humans), so obviously that means that we humans shouldn't try to do anything about it. If we didn't die from cancer, we're just going to die from something else. As for the Yankees,who knows?

My friend Pogblog is fond of (to the point of being perseverative) pointing out on my blog that the war costs $200,000 a minute. Another way of looking at it is that we could have given every single Iraqi fourteen thousand dollars to stop fighting without having to kill 600 thousand of them or more than three thousand of our own soldiers along with a couple hundred private contractors and twenty journalists. Of course, you know this already. So why am I bringing it up yet again? No, I'm not turning into Mr. Pogblog. Somethinge else occured to me.

Just the other day, these vindictive left wing bloggers started jamming Jonah Goldberg's e-mail box with reminders that two years ago the conservative blogger had attempted to bet war critic and Middle Eastern Studies professor, Juan Cole, that Iraq would not be at Civil War, be well on its way to democracy, etc. by February of 2007. Goldberg was certain enough that he offered to put a thousand dollars on the line or was it online.

Given that Jonah Goldberg's other claim to fame is his own unwillingness to put anything other than money on the line when it comes to his convictions, this was impressive proof of the sincerity of his belief in the War. Some would say not as impressive as say maybe enlisting himself, but Goldberg has made it clear that he has other priorities than ensuring the safety of America and bringing democracy to the world.

I should mention that he's also the son of Lucianne Goldberg, arguably the mother of the Linda Tripp part of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He does not appear to be related to the professional wrestler with the same name.

In offering the bet, Goldberg pointed out that a thousand dollars was a lot of money as far as he was concerned. It's a lot of money as far as I'm concerned too. I then thought to myself, if a bright-sincere fellow like Jonah Goldberg genuinely believes he has more important things to do with his life than to fight in the war he has so vociferously supported, I asked myself "Well what is he doing?" at least when he's not appearing on Larry King or questioning Alec Baldwin's intelligence? Jonah Goldberg blogs.

If the first amendment is the cornerstone of Democracy, is there any purer expression of the first amendment than the blogosphere? Michelle Malkin, Freepublic, and Powerline regularly have heated exchanges with Kos, Huffington,Truthout, and Eschaton. To the best of my knowledge, they have never attempted to blow one another up, though apparently Anne Coulter got close a couple times. Who would doubt that blogging is ultimately democracy in action and freedom on the march? What better way to promote democracy than to blog? I'm inclinded to believe that Mr. Goldberg has a point.

It's very simple.Instead of spending the 367 billiion dollars on Iraq, why not simply pay anyone in the world who wants to blog about the joys of Democracy, freedom, and the moral superiority of the free market say fourteen thousand dollars/year. Think about the last two weeks. Instead of having all these people writing stupid posts about Anna Nicole Smith, Lisa Nowak or other love-crazed space shuttle pilots in adult diapers , Ted Haggard's being declared safely-heterosexual, and Kim Kardashian's home movies, we could have thousands of individuals industriously extolling the virtues of free elections and free markets. I've heard that there was some guy who even blogs regularly about the television show, American Idol.

In the 2004 election, President Bush argued forcefully that No Child Left Behind was not only an education program, but it was also his crime reduction and job creation program as well. Perhaps the most impressive thing about his claim is that the President has been able to achieve these things at a bargain price. The program was expected to have twenty two billion dollars behind it. It got thirteen instead. Imagine how the market-based incentives of No Blogger Left Behind would impact literacy. Even though, it's clear that many bloggers wouldn't meet basic literacy standards, research does suggest that those who read and write on a regular basis do eventually master the skill, particularly if it's supplemented with phonemic awareness.

Can you imagine how No Blogger Left Behind will further impact both unemployment and crime? If paid, the thousands of bloggers who pretend that their blogs are their jobs will,well, actually have a job. As individuals who spend substantial percentages of their time online, bloggers are repeatedly tempted by illegal online schemes to help Nigerian princes, invest in unlisted stocks for undercelebrated technologies, and to purchase potentially dangerous non-pharmaceutical male enhancement products (Am I the only one who always thought the problem for most of us was finding a sexual partner and not performing to Olympic standards with the one you have?).

Consider Global Warming or as some call it "Global Climate Change". Bloggers unquestionably contribute to the amount of hot air pumped into the atmoshpere, but blogging itself actually reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the upper atmosphere. While it's not conclusively proven yet, yawning is likely do to an excess of carbon dioxide in the respiratory system. In the meantime, it has been conclusively proven that most blogging stimulates yawning for average people. Therefore, more bloggers more CO2 stored in people's bodies and brains instead of in the upper atmosphere. Even more helpful, yawning itself is highly contagious.

Thes are, of course, just collateral benefits of a proposal that happen to stand in marked contrast to the considerable collateral damage resulting from the current policy of invasion and occupation in the Middle East in the name of freedom and democracy. The direct benefits are even more exciting. For one, I suspect that this will serve to heal the red-blue divide among those who serve on the front line of debate. Second, a quick look at conservative and progressive blogs reveals a deep distrust of the mainstream media. This will certainly rile the special interest-fueled indignation of the corporatist media. Third, we won't have to wait for the senate to debate our involvement in the war. Anyone with a webspace can contribute to the solution. Think about it this way, even if it doesn't wind up doing anything to spread freedom and democracy, we'll still get a better return on investment than we've gotten in Iraq not to mention the small matter that this plan doesn't kill hundreds of thousands of people.

This is not a radical or new idea. Apparently, the Department of Defense and other government agencies have been paying for a free press from some time. No Blogger Left Behind would simply be cutting out the middleman in its attempt to bring together the moral imperatives of marketplace incentives and free speech/democracy.

It's been pointed out by some that I have a special interest in promoting this, because I myself have a blog. For that reason, I want to make it clear that I will refuse my foruteen thousand dollars a year as a matter of principle. I will, however, ask for a modest processing fee of five dollars/blog from every blogger who decides to get with the program to cover the expenses I have incurred in making this proposal. In the meantime, I have opened a paypal account so that you will not have to deal with the hassle of applying for approval as a qualifying blog by going through the U.S. Government, thus cutting companies like Halliburton out of the deal. I have set the handling cost at this special rate so that I will have the greatest incentive possible to approve as wide a variety of blogs as I can.

In the meantime, I'm proud to be doing the same important work as Jonah Goldberg. I'd bet a thousand dollars that he takes the money too.


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Friday, February 09, 2007

Go Back to French Simon Cowell (American Idol 6 review)

Be Ready for Marseillaise Week in Simon's Honor

Why is it that when anyone asks "Can I be honest with you?", no one ever has the sense to say "Well, actually, no. This isn't a good time for that in front of sixty million viewers."

Instead, we got Paula Abdul telling Ashley the 17 year old skating waitress (did she ever get a last name?) that makeup that comes with a free trowell might not be such a good idea. Ashley, who may have recently seen Memoirs of a Geisha did get off a very witty though possibly accidentally so riposte. "I understand, you're just giving motherly advice here."

Still, I'm sorry America didn't get to hear the rest of Paula's advice which would have been"Look at me, cosmetic surgery is far more effective than large quantities of makeup."

In addition, there was the terrific theater of Ebony Joynter, her pal, appearing to have real talent. Have you ever noticed that whenever there's a pair or group of auditioners that invariably the better or best singer just happens to be the one who goes last? Unfortunately for her, there's been some talk that a run as a lingerie and bikini model may have cost her a spot in the final 24.

In any case, I believe reality tv works best when the big moments unfold rather than get staged by the producers. An even better case in point was Bruce Banner and his cousin the Hulk, aka Akron Watson and William Green. It was Green who chose to fake "losing it" on his exit from his audience with the judges to punk his cousin and it was a genuinely funny and yet touching moment.

Yes, there were all these layers in the sequence. You could see a tenderness in the relationship. Green was there not only to support his cousin who actually could sing some, but rather cannily helped give him a little more personality or at least made him more memorable by contrast. It's too bad that the ultimate reality caught up with Akron Watson and the producers decided to revoke his golden ticket for some reason likely tied to a conviction of some kind. In this instance, it felt like it was the participants doing the staging, not the producers and the result was much more compelling.

In the same show, Ryan Seacrest scored some points with me. You never could figure out exactly what the judges were laughing at, but no matter how poorly Jasmine Holland sang they were unquestionably being both rude and unprofessional. She was perfectly justified in losing it for a bit. As for the bizarre show outside the double doors, Ryan's ad libs took the edge off just the right amount with "I think we'll have to send Simon back to British..." and "Hey, two of the judges are good friends of mine."

I'm not a big fan of Ryan in the elaborate setups, but now and then he's genuinely charming. Oh where have you gone Brian Dunkleman, a nation sings its lonely voice out for you?

Oh by the way, does it seem strange to anyone else that this week's Paula Abdul appeared so composed and professional? The auditions happened months ago, but last week they stir up the Courtney Love thing and show Paula doing odd things, then the next week Paula's edited to look right on top of things.

In the meantime, as the show's producers squeezed another two hours of network commercial time out of its auditions, I've been doing finger aerobics as I prepare to vote for Paul Kim. No, it's not because he was necessarily the best singer though he was at least pretty good. I'm an Asian male too and I want to see William Hung's fifteen minutes of celebrity ended. I figure this Soeul Brother has got a chance to do that. If only I can talk Elvis into helping me with the project.

One of the fascinating things about Idol-mania is that there is this whole realm of gnomes who come up with "spoilers" for the online discussion boards. Apparenlty, there are people who have more or less figured out who the top twenty four are. You've got to wonder why they do this instead of study say the stock market, but it's a fascinating phenomenon. I do wish one of them would put the same energy into maybe solving Global Warming or ending the war in Iraq, but who am I to tell anyone they're spending too much time thinking about the show?

One of the spoilers involves Bayley Brown, the young Texas lady whom Simon called commercial with a capital "C". It did strike me that she looks like Tiffany Rayne, but I'm not suppposed to admit to knowing that. I figure that I won't get in trouble because anyone else who sees the resemblance can't call me on it. I do, however, wonder how many young, blonde, attractive country singers from the country America needs? I much prefer seeing people like the woman with the ring in her lower lip, Tami Gosnell, the Denver Pedicab driver, who made like she was Bo Bice's sister on Whipping Post. I can just see them doing a bit with her hauling the judges in her pedi-cab while singing Bicycle Built for 4 for the cameras.

Anyway, next week we go from backstory madness to the soap opera of the Hollywood rounds. Can I be honest for a moment? There's really only about two hours of tv worth watching in all those auditions. I guess I'm Iddicted.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

AFC Dominance (NFL thoughts)

As I watched Peyton Manning fondle the Vince Lombardi trophy, I asked myself "Gee, when was the last time the NFC won the Super Bowl?"

The correct answer is Tampa Bay, five years ago against Rich Gannon and the Raiders. The NFC has won two Super Bowls in ten years. The Rams were the other. Prior to this ten year stretch of AFC dominance, the NFC won 13 Super Bowls in a row.

So in a sport that has inter-conference play, a common draft, and common rules, how is it that one conference gets this dominant? Back in the Joe Namath days of Super Bowl III, there was an arguable difference between the two leagues/conferences. The boring answer is that it's just random. Once in a while, you can flip heads 13 times in a row. You might even argue that the run of 8-10 for the AFC is just the law of averages in play over 40 trials. But what if it isn't random?

In baseball,the designated hitter is often cited as the source of differences between leagues. What might it be in football? My theory? The NFC has for some reason lost the arms race.

Even, if he didn't play his best game Sunday, most everyone acknowledges that Peyton Manning has been an outstanding quarterback for many years. The only question prior to "Slinging in the Rain in Miami" was whether his playoff frustrations made him Fran Tarkenton/Dan Marino great instead of John Elway great. Last year, Ben Roethlisberger was the youngest quarterback to win the Super Bowl. Should he fully recover from his head injuries, it's clear that he has great prospects for sustained stardom. Three of the AFC Super Bowls in the last 10 years were won with Tom Brady who still has a lot of mileage on his two minute clock. I'm not sure though which count is more important the Super Bowl wins (3) or the supermodel girlfriends (2).

Consider the quarterbacks for the NFC's winning Super Bowl teams in the last 10 years: Kurt Warner had a run of 3 excellent years, but his hand and career fell by the wayside post-Vermeil. Brad Johnson's career numbers are much better than most people realize, but which phrase fits better for the guy: "Hall of Famer" or "journeyman"?

There is one exception among the 8 AFC Super Bowl wins: the Baltimore Ravens won with outstanding defense and Trent Dilfer. Otherwise, the run is Manning, Brady (3), Elway (2), and Roethlisberger.

Let's look at who quarterbacked for the NFC in the 8 losses.

1) Rex Grossman, 2006 Bears. After two dropped snaps, two interceptions, and tripping over himself for a sack, he's now this generation's Tony Eason, a quarterback whose career was actually wrecked by getting to the Super Bowl too early. Eason had a tough day against one of the best defenses of all time, something every quarterback in the league including Montana had that year. For whatever reason, that was basically the end for him. Through the first 3 quarters, I thought Grossman made some plays.
Bottom line though, I saw Terry Bradshaw play and Rex Grossman is no Terry Bradshaw. I'm not even sure he's Jim McMahon.

2) Matt Hesselbeck, 2005 Seahawks. Solid quarterback, but no signs of greatness yet.

3) Donavan McNabb, 2004 Eagles. Another fine quarterback, but at this point a borderline Hall of Famer, barely. He's closer to John Brodie, Rich Gannon, Randall Cunningham than he is to Plunkett or Jim Kelly.

4) Jake Delhomme, 2003 Panthers. Still relatively young, but no one projects him for multiple return trips to the Super Bowl.

5) Kurt Warner, 2001 Rams. Great story, great run...but a short run.

6) Kerry Collins, 2000 Giants. His name's seen in the NFL dictionary under "mediocre starting quarterback."

7) Chris Chandler, 1998 Falcons. Just like Kerry Collins, only older and more injury-prone.

8) Brett Favre, 1997 Packers: The exception that proves the rule.

How about this? The AFC final four consisted of Manning, Brady, Rivers, Steve McNair. Vince Young emerged in his rookie season and nearly got the Titans to the playoffs. Three of the five are probable Hall of Famers. Rivers and Young both appear to have very good shots at great careers. Compare that to this year's NVC final four of Grossman, Garcia, Brees, Hasselbeck. Also consider the most discussed young quarterback in the NFC, Eli Manning. You can throw in Alex Smith, Matt Leinart, or Tony Romo if you want, but I have yet to hear anyone project a Trok Aikman type career for any of these field generals.

"Dynasty" teams tend to have a stable combination of starting quarterback and head coach- Montana-Walsh, Bellichick-Brady, Noll-Bradshaw, Aikman-Johnson (yes I know about Barry Switzer), Lombardi-Starr. I don't really know which is cause and which is effect, but when the coach-quarterback partnership shifts, it tends to be much harder to sustain success. Consider the defense dominant teams that won the Super Bowl, the Bears and the Ravens. Neither team got back to the Super Bowl.

It's not an ironclad rule. 2 coaches have won Super Bowls with different quarterbacks. Joe Gibbs has actually won 3 with 3 different quarterbacks and Parcells (2). The only quarterback I can find who won or at least played a significant role with 2 different teams was Earl Morrall who is an odd case of a guy who wound up in the right place at the right time (injuries to Unitas and then Griese)more than the charismatic leader who carried two different franchises. I would guess, however, that the dominant conference in these runs will always have more identifiable coach-quarterback pairings than its counterpart.

So try this. Name the most stable current quarterback-coach combination in the NFC. It's probably a tie between McNabb-Reid and Holmgren-Hasselbeck. It may not be an accident that those are the two NFC teams that came very close to winning the Super Bowl. The tougher question is name a third longtime pairing of coach and quarterback in the NFC.

Now let's try the same thing in the AFC. Dungy-Manning and Brady-Belichick jump right out. There are also emerging pairings with Carson Palmer-Marvin Lewis, Vince Young-Jeff Fisher (Norm Chow), Jay Cutler-Mike Shanahan, and Phillip Rivers-Marty Schottenheimer, all "franchise type quarterbacks" with reasonably secure (for now) coaches.

It's not like the NFC doesn't know this. Manning, Smith, and Vick were all the first overall pick though somehow none of the three got matched with an offensively-minded head coach. Perhaps the NFC lost the arms race because during its run it had so many such pairings for so long e.g. Aikman-Johnson, Montana-Walsh, Favre-Holmgren. This may have inhibited the development of new franchise pairs. It is worth noting for example that Favre is still going in Green Bay and Hasselbeck had to come to Seattle to get a chance to start.

Two possible reasons come to mind. With the exception of Al Davis, think about the more egregious owners in the league. The NFC has meddling ownership in Dallas and Washington, semi-competent ownership in San Francisco, who knows what was going on in Minnesota. I'm not going to anaylyze every owner, but my hunch is that if you rated it on a 1-10 scale, the AFC would do a lot better. Note that the most stable owner-coach relationship in all football is in AFC Pittsburgh which is one of 3 franchises to win 5 Super Bowls. All 5 49er Super Bowls came with the same owner as well though I don't necesarily want Eddie D. back for other reasons.

Stephen Gould, the late anthropologist, once wrote an article that applied the theory of natural selection to popular phenomena like the extinction of the .400 hitter. Gould argued that the sport had forced the extinction of the truly bad pitchers and fielders. The very best hitters might have been equally good, but without the bottom feeder pitchers it became harder for the very best players to fatten their averages. In the NFL, my guess is that bad ownership prevents natural selection from doing its thing. Weaker NFC ownership may have both left weaker teams in the conference and prevented effective coach-quarterback partnerships from forming. It certainly disrupted the relatively successful pair of Garcia-Mariucci. As a sidebar, there were two cases in which a prima donna wide receiver was allowed to emerge as the face of the franchise-Terrell Owens in San Francisco-Philadelphia-Dallas and Randy Moss in Minnesota. It wasn't healthy in any of those cities and arguably affected coach-quarterback partnerships in each one.

Second, I think part of the fallout from the 13 years of NFC dominance a decade ago was that some NFC franchises simply got out of the habit of developing successful coach-qb partnerships. The reasons have been different, but the last decade of NFC qb-coach marriages has been telling. Just start with Daunte Culpepper and Joey Harrington.

Even more worrisome, the NFC already has red flags going up around its better young quarterbacks. Alex Smith may be on his 3rd offensive coordinator in 3 years. Michael Vick and Jim Mora is at the bottom of the water bottle. Coughlin's relationship with Manning almost got him fired. Dennis Green was fired in Arizona before he could have a second season with Leinart. I'd argue that the most promising NFC marriage is Sean Payton (former qb coach) and Drew Brees (AFC reject). If my theory of qb-coach marriages being the key to Super Bowl dominance is right, then the NFC is going to be suffering for at least three more years.


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Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Decline and Fall of Super Bowl Ads

The first Super Bowl ad this year consisted of two guys deciding something via rochambeau and one of them actually throwing a rock at the other one’s head instead of symbolizing one with his closed hand. That was followed by the image of people jumping off a cliff, street muggings, scores of men taking off their clothes in a city street, a survivor like camp for was it job seekers?,an axe wielding hitchhiker, and two mechanics in a ménage a trios with a Snickers Bar. There was one inspirational type black history ad, but there was a technical problem so I never caught the punchline. I know that the Super Bowl is mostly watched by guys and guys younger than I at that, but talk about post-literate culture! It was as if every account executive at every major ad agency had seen only two movies, Mad Max and The Matrix.

For 2.6 million dollars a minute, I thought someone would come up with imagery or story that I’d remember. Instead, the state of the art in thirty second storytelling is to do endless takes on Roadrunner episodes come to life.

It’s probably that I’m just getting old, but it seemed like everything that was being advertised was crud. Doesn’t it make any difference that they’ve banned cigarette commercials and ads for hard liquor. Most of what they were selling was beeer, Doritos, soda, or non-competitive vehicles. I give Chevrolet credit for having one of the few non-violent ads, but what’s it tell you when they run nostalgia commercials for their cars? You watch those ads and I would short any stock I owned in Detroit-based product. In the old days, they used to brag, sometimes erroneously, about having the most advanced technology on the road. Now GM wants you to remember whatever you were driving when the Beach Boys were in the top 40.

The most famous Super Bowl Ad of all was twenty years ago when Apple took on Big Brother. Even though the Mac wasn’t all that new, the ad projected a confidence in our capacity to do things better. Perhaps the days of the “informational” approach in advertising are long past. Perhaps too, we have gotten past telling stories in ads that have little to do with the product, but at least appealed to our better instincts. The current wave of Super Bowl ads attempted neither (with the possible exception of the Coke ads), they sought little more than to jolt the viewer into some primitive reaction. For instance, does anyone know what does?

It’s almost as if each time the technology moves forward, the content turns more primal. I could easily see someone recovering a disk of Super Bowl 2007 ads and seeing clearly that this is a country at war, in the midst of recklessly destroying its own environment, neglecting its children, and steadily becoming less civilized. Even the sexual references, long a mainstay of advertising felt off center. Compare some of the torso shots from this year to say Gunilla Knutsen’s Noxzema ads from a generation ago. The people who these ads were made for are mean-spirited idiots living in a culture in obvious moral decline. If this is capitalism at its apex, why do our politicians speak of the free market in such hallowed tones?

At one point, I did consider the fact that the current ads weren't aimed at people my age. Not only did it make me feel really old. It just made me feel worse. About the only consolation was that it looked like CBS had to run more ads for its own shows, possibly because they couldn't sell more time at their prices. Maybe the companies with a more positive message about their own customers just stayed away.

Oh, about the game. I can see why All State Insurance passed on putting down its 2 million dollars for time in the first half. The “good hands” game this was not. I’m very glad for Tony Dungy. What a year for that family! The guys been one of the best coaches in football for many years and had to suffer through having people say he couldn’t win the big one after he built Tampa Bay only to be removed on the brink of a Super Bowl. Peyton Manning too had paid his dues. He’d watched his father spend a career as the quarterback who never had the surrounding cast to win the big one. The son spent his career as the quarterback with the big numbers but not the big wins. It felt like the family curse got lifted. Even though it was a rough game to watch for any non-Colts fan and it was hardly a storybook game, the team had a storybook back story.

The game seemed to be telling a story about the value of hard work and patience. I just hope those values still matter.


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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Is Paula Being Replaced? (American Idol 6 review)

Face it, the Birmingham and LA auditions were duller than Becker reruns from a contestant standpoint. Who's really going to get excited about Kellie Pickler 2.0, the young lady with the t-shirt that said "blue-eyed blonde bombshell" right around the place where male eyes were most likely to arc and the backstory that seemed lifted from Queen for a Day. It went something like, "I just want to buy my grandmother a one story house because my father shot my lying-cheating stepmother then shot himself."
It also turns out that Jamie Lee had tried out previously without the back story.Apparently the story is quite true though and it is very sad, but if she wasn't good enough without the back story then...

They did dig up an interesting contestant in Chris Sligh. He had non-Idol looks,joked about David Hasselhoff, and could sing just enough to sell the package. He's also a blogger and had you Googled him just after the Tuesday show, you might have had a chanceto read about this being his third attempt at Idol, his ambitions to be a Christian rock star,etc. One of the great past times of Idol fandom is to try to track down myspace pages and websites for contestants before the show makes them shut it down. Chris Sligh's now closed blog on his AI experiences pre-last week detailed how he'd been working on a "persona" and even suggested nicknames for himself to get himself noticed. I got a glimpse of the man behind the curtain and have to say "Sorry Mr. Al Franken lookalike."

Still, contrived or not, it was just nice to see someone in the auditions who could be funny without playing the fool.

The Los Angeles auditions were even worse. The only thing I'll remember was Sherman Pore,the sixty four year old man with the petition and the barbershop quartet voice. Funny, how Idol slipped in this "kinder-gentler" interlude after their failed Seattle parody of the Ringer .

Otherwise, after about the five millionth crazy tone deaf person, the differences stop mattering. You've seen one middle-aged lady in a yellow bird suit, you've seen them all.

The single most interesting thing about Idol this week had little to do with any of the contestants. If the show had any pulse it came from the subtext about Paula Abdul. They spent half the Birmingham audition doing extra closeups of Paula making odd faces, wandering the room, and dropping in loopy comments. In the second half, she abruptly disappears to go home to LA to take care of unspecified family matters. In the meantime, a story comes through via Courtney Love's publicist that the show has approached his client about possibly replacing Paula Abdul as a judge. Yeah, that makes sense. Paula Abdul is acting unstable so we're bringing in Courtney Love. Not only does the widow Cobain have a better documented history of substance abuse, she's also one of the few well known singing celebrities who maybe sings worse than Paula Abdul.

A couple days later, Nigel Lythgoe denied the story and Courtney Love's publicist apparently admitted that it might have been a hoax. Talk about CIA disinformation campaigns. They managed to damage both Paula and Courtney's reputation with one story, get the show even more publicity, and seemingly endorse Paula all at once. Of course, whenever sports team owners say they back their coach or manager a hundred percent, we all know what happens next.

Last year, rumor had it that Paula was going to be replaced by Brittney Spears or Jessica Simpson. The year before that, it was Corey Clark's claim that Paula had dresesd him for private judging sessions. Wasn't this the plot of the movie Network? The crazier Peter Finch behaved, the more the ratings jumped. At some point, you just know they're going to interrupt maybe one of the Wednesday night results shows to stage a full on intervention with Paula. Maybe they could have the doctor from House lead the intervention for the ultimate tie in.

I've personally avoided the tv interview footage where Paula had to tell the press "Ive never been drunk in my life." I rather like following tabloid stories, but if Paula's actually sick in some way even if self-induced, I find watching it in youtubed glory too ghoulish. If she really has some condition that's either medical or self-medicated, the producers need to step forward and handle it in humane fashion by giving her a leave of absence, making sure she gets treatment, etc. Otherwise, we're in full-on Circus Maximus mode. I don't find watching someone self-destruct entertaining unless it's Rush Limbaugh who I understand was putting together a boy band in the Dominican a few months ago.

btw, Did Olivia Newton John say anything interesting the other night? "Let's get critical, critical." Do I remember any pieces of Jewel's commentary from the first week? I could argue that Paula seems like Roger Ebert compared to those two guest judges.

It did strike me that auditioning for judges might be far more fun than more hours of auditioning singers. Should they replace Paula (come to think of it why not trade her to Dancing with the Stars?) most people think it needs to be another woman. I'd argue that at the rate Simon's boobs are growing, if they wait a season or two that might not be so necessary. He is, after all, the guy who keeps making drag queen comments. Is Simon trying to tell us something? Anyway, let's restrict the possibilities to the definite females. Sorry Ru Paul, you would have been terrific. Here are some candidates.

1) Oprah- unbelievable synergy from the Harpo productions and 19E. Oprah music club, AI magazine, Oprah hour long specials with the last four finalists.

2)Cher- she once had the number one show on television. She could match toughness with Simon. During auditions, they could have endless variations on Cher impersonators. Who better to talk about performing attitude, etc?

3)Madonna-you know I was going to make some jokes about this one, but might actually be really interesting. Her last tour did a bit too well though for this to actually happen.

4)Condaleeza Rice- knows music very well. would give the show an air of class and to be honest, I'd rather have her in this job than her current one.

5)Faith Hill- no one on the panel knows country. She could tell stories about her family to make the judges seem a bit more wholesome.

6) Alanis Morissette-would give the judging panel a more contemporary edge. Capable of the ironic commentary in this context that could be genuinely fascinating with all these jagged little pills thrown Simon's way.

I'm sure there are even better possibilities out there. I should say that I'm perfectly happy having Paula Abdul as one of the judges as long as she's healthy and I won't speculate about that. What I would say is that the sad thing is that far more people will talk about Paula leaving the show than will talk about the loss of one of the best judges of our culture we'll ever know, Molly Ivins. Now you want to talk about a real American Idol.

Other Chancelucky Idol Reviews

Sir Linksalot American Idol articles


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