Saturday, May 30, 2009

When Comedy Becomes Cruelty

Last night, I finally got around to reading Joe Posnanski’s “Cleveland Rocks!” cover story for Sports Illustrated last week. Posnanski’s truly one of the best in the business, and I say this not because I actually read any of his writing, but because lots of other people say it, so if I cosign him in the haughty language of a grizzled old pro, perhaps I’ll sound smart.

(Note: this is how bad sportswriting perpetuates itself and someone like Bill Plaschke becomes famous enough to land a spot on Around the Horn. Exciting stuff.)

But in Posnanski’s case, he does seem like a pretty great writer, so I really can’t fathom why he chose to willfully court the SI Jinx and risk putting his city on the cover. He’s got a job, right? It’s not as though he has something to prove? But that’s exactly what he did. Jinxed his entire fucking city.

Because to be clear, the Sports Illustrated story was not a Lebron James story or an NBA Playoffs story, but more like a city’s memoir, with sports anecdotes interspersed. I’d just finished watching the Roast of Bob Saget on Comedy Central when I read the story, and I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between Cleveland and its lone “star,” Drew Carey.

Let’s imagine cities as comedians. I’d say Chris Rock is Brooklyn. Woody Allen is Manhattan. Dennis Leary would be Boston. Dave Chappelle? Washington D.C. Bob Saget reminds me of Pittsburgh—dirty and irrelevant, but proud of it in some way that makes it okay. Dane Cook would be… Orlando, because both are completely fake and suck. Jeffery Ross would be Milwaukee, as both are irrelevant, but nonetheless underrated if you’re into completely unhealthy behavior. Sarah Silverman would be L.A. just because I think she’s hot and needed to mention her. But Jay Leno is probably a better fit for L.A.Think about all of those people and then look at that picture.

Every city has its own personality, and Drew Carey really does seem to fit Cleveland perfectly. He’s not crass in any way, and he’s not exactly hilarious, but at least from what I know of the guy, he just seems like kind of a goofy, kind-hearted oaf. He had a brief turn in the spotlight, but even then, it’s not like he ever hit the jackpot on celebrity. Nothing special, nothing horrible.

And that’s Cleveland—except that instead of being allowed to reside in the comfortable obscurity that Drew Carey occupies, they have to masquerade as a big city, a role that doesn’t exactly suit them. I’ve only been there once, but what I remember are a bunch of really kind people, attractive, suburban-type neighborhoods, and a downtown area that’s biggest attractions were two stadiums.

Which is the other problem. In its awkward attempt at being a big city, Cleveland’s most convincing claim to relevance is that it has 3 major sports teams—the Indians, Browns, and Cavs. All of them suck. And as a “city” otherwise, Cleveland sucks, too. It’s a place built on industry in a time when domestic industry really doesn’t make sense anymore. So there’s something depressing about it all if you’re looking for the any of the attractions you’d typically find in a place like Chicago or New York or even somewhere like Houston. If you’re looking to raise a family, go to Cleveland.
Everything looks cooler in black and white. Even Cleveland.
If you’re looking for a lively nightlife, great restaurants, and a bunch of excitable young people, probably better looking toward Chicago. There’s just not enough money being generated in Cleveland to make that stuff worthwhile.

That’s why it’s so easy to make fun of Cleveland. It’s sort of a depressing place, and yet everyone that lives there insists that it’s the greatest city on earth. Because if you grew up there, it probably is. But to anyone that grew up somewhere that doesn’t have a dying economy, a high crime rate, horrendous winters, and three sports teams that haven’t won a championship since 1948, “mistake by the lake” sounds about right.

And from a writer who’d grown up there but moved on to broader horizons, the SI story provided almost a hybrid of nostalgia and broader perspective. Some excerpts:
Cleveland was America's punch line. That was not long after the Cuyahoga River caught fire, not long after Mayor Ralph Perk's hair also caught fire at some ribbon-cutting ceremony. This was when Lake Erie was so polluted that people talked about walking across it to Canada, when Mayor Dennis Kucinich had to wear a wee bulletproof vest to throw out the first pitch at an Indians game because of death threats, when Cleveland became the first city since the Depression to default on loans. The efforts to save Cleveland then were earnest and touchingly misguided. I remember when the city's image makers decided on a new slogan: New York's the Big Apple, but Cleveland's a plum. ...
Then, for a burst in the late 1980s and early '90s, Cleveland had a renaissance. America's comeback city. Construction. New restaurants. New sports stadiums. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened. People were flocking to downtown, the scene on the Flats -- a bar and restaurant district on the Cuyahoga -- was hopping, the Indians were winning, Cleveland comedian Drew Carey was starring in one of the biggest shows on television. Cleveland rocked.
Now things have turned again. Downtown fights for breath. The Flats are dead -- "A Scooby Doo ghost town," according to a gag "Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video" you can find on YouTube. Cleveland, like many other cities in these times, is being ravaged by foreclosures and unemployment. ....
I pull my car off to the side of the road and look out at the empty spaces where Richfield Coliseum used to be. The sky is Cleveland gray -- even now, I find that I feel happiest on gray days -- and rain falls on the windshield. Cleveland has never been a basketball town. Even as the playoffs rage, the talk-radio shows go on and on about Browns quarterback Brady Quinn and Indians manager Eric Wedge. ...
But maybe not -- maybe not this time. I think about the Hawks game, when LeBron had the ball on the baseline. He looked at his defender, and his face had this beautiful expression. It looked as if he was saying: "How do you want me to do this?" Then he looked left, cut right, spun, found himself under the basket, came out on the other side, scored.
Let them tell their Cleveland jokes. Right now, we are Hemingway's Paris, we are Shakespeare's London, we are Caesar's Rome. James runs back up the court to cheers that sound like rock and roll.

Note to editor: Please put Cleveland on the cover of Sports Illustrated. That's exactly where my hometown belongs.
Isn’t it sort of heartbreaking to read all of that and then think of the utter collapse the Cavaliers have undergone in this Orlando series? Hemingway's Paris? Caesar's Rome?

Like, they were the clear-cut favorites to win the NBA Championship. There’s really no debate about this. And suddenly, everyone on their team except Lebron got tight sphincters, their fans started to panic, and the whole thing mushroomed to the point where Hedo Turkoglu now strikes fear into the hearts of Cleveland's fans and players alike. What the hell happened?

Making a Cleveland joke at this point is just plain cruel. Like making fun of deaf people or something. Because from everything I’ve read, and the people I’ve met, the people of Cleveland seem to be genuinely decent. Again, kind of like Drew Carey, just a ho-hum bunch of people that are not out to ruin anyone’s fun, but just genuinely love their sports teams that much. Because as a city, that’s really all they have.

So anyway, who cares if Cleveland pretends to be a big city and its people get defensive any time you make fun of their home? “Mistake by the lake” is accurate in some sense, but it still seems like an awesome place to grow up. They definitely deserve some of the ridicule. But not this.
So here’s hoping that Lebron and his Cavs teammates (a group that I’ve been conditioned to HATE after 3 years of Wizards losses to them in the playoffs) can pull it together over these next few days and snatch victory from the jaws of yet another soul crushing Cleveland collapse. Watching the Lakers bowl over the Magic would just be depressing, especially because they’re not that great of a team.

At least if Cleveland wins, we can watch Lebron and Kobe go at each other’s throats for 5 or 6 games. Right? I don’t know if I can handle another six games of Mark Jackson and Mike Breen salivating over “Kobe doin work.” If Cleveland can pull this off tonight, and then win Monday, we get the matchup we've wanted all year long, and NBA fans can rejoice right along with a city that desperately needs some semblance of athletic success. Wouldn’t this be a good thing?

(Actual quote from last night: “That’s just Kobe doin work.” Mark Jackson. And he said it in normal conversation, not joking. Not as if that was just the title of heavily promoted ESPN movie or anything. That’s just Mark Jackson torturing me.)

But I’ll be honest: I don’t really care. Mostly, that article just made me feel really guilty after making fun of Cleveland for the past 10 years of my life. So go Cavs, ya know? Lebron, win this series, and make the rest of us feel less guilty for making fun of your dirty, depressing city. Do the impossible, 'Bron. Make Drew Carey cool.

Superstars, Myths, and NBA History

In the NBA, superstars come in all shapes and sizes, with personalities that fall similarly all over the map. This is part of why pro basketball is so great. At the college level, save for the occasional Big Baby at LSU, or insufferable JJ Redick ESPN segment, individuals are muted by the outsized reputations of their respective programs and coaches. For whatever reason, a star player at Duke appears differently than he would at UCONN, for example. That’s just the way it works.

In the NBA, those barriers disappear, allowing someone like Dwyane Wade to transform himself from a scrappy underdog at Marquette to the suave baron of South Beach, modeling for Sean John and such. Every NBA superstar develops into a unique entity. And as the years pass, more and more of their personality emerges. It’s an aspect of the NBA that distinguishes the sport from its peers, as the NFL and Major League Baseball feature stars that are relatively vanilla compared with the likes of Dwight Howard, Lebron, Kobe, Carmelo, etc.

Whether it’s presumptive or not, and regardless of the role corporate marketing plays in all this, by the time an NBA star hits his fifth or six year, we feel like we know him. Even among these last few teams, we have Dwight Howard the goofball, Lebron the teammate-come-superstar, Kobe, the assassin that has learned to embrace his teammates (a little), and Carmelo, the wayward superstar that is just now putting it all together. The added intimacy with these and other stars (theoretically) gives fans a greater stake in the narratives that unfold over the course of their careers.

This then raises the stakes for whatever happens in the playoffs, the great barometer by which we measure their relative growth as players.

Should Dwight Howard and the Magic prevail tonight, it’s an unmistakable leap for him, personally, into the highest stratosphere of NBA stardom. Previously a top 5-7 talent, suddenly the arguments that he’s the MVP will start to gain credence.By the same token, should Lebron lose tonight, his aura of invincibility will quiet a bit. After carrying his team to a first-place regular season finish and a nearly perfect record at home, Cleveland was the rightful favorite to win the NBA Championship. Things haven’t gone quite as planned. And rightful or not, his mythic status will suffer—at least momentarily—unless the Cavs can mount a comeback in this series.

It’s part of the NBA to look at these things on a historical scale. Lebron and Kobe are already competing with history as far as their legacies are concerned. Dwight is competing to earn that right. Carmelo lost last night in his bid to do the same.

And again, the eccentricities embodied in these various stars makes the games themselves that much more interesting. Lebron vs. Kobe is something like “Band Leader vs. Soloist.” If Dwight can win, it’s also a victory for gentle giants of the world. When Lebron lost in years past after passing up contested shots in favor of open looks for his teammates, it was also a defeat for that sort team-above-all philosophy.

But there’s something else worth considering alongside all this metaphorical stuff. Because for all the differences in style between NBA superstars, there’s one player prototype that’s been duplicated over and over in the past few years, and one which seems to constantly prove its value in the NBA—the athletic swingman that can play defense and make 3s.

James Posey played this role last year Celtics, and then a few years earlier with the champion Miami Heat. Stephen Jackson once played this role for the Spurs dynasty, before giving way to a more sober version, Bruce Bowen. And this year’s postseason has been no different. Over the course of the Eastern and Western Conference finals, you can’t help but notice two role players continually making key plays for the West winners L.A. and the East leaders, Orlando.Mikael Pietrus and Trevor Ariza are the basically the same player, right? They both have long arms, quick feet, and their chief role is to harass the opposing superstar as much as possible, while on offense hitting whatever open shots the come across, usually three pointers. And it may be a coincidence, but both players have had a knack for making little plays down the stretch that have translated to wins.

With Ariza, there is the obvious game 1 steal, but there have also been a number of big 3’s, 4th quarter steals, and three-point-plays that have helped the Lakers fend off and ultimately beat what was probably a more talented Denver team. He’s not scoring as much as Pau Gasol or Kobe, but his minimal contributions have come at crucial times, making him arguably L.A.’s third most important player.

Pietrus is more of the same. Orlando has a whole bunch of guys that can knock down open shots, but only Pietrus is a good enough defender to mount a real challenge to someone like Lebron.
Obviously, Lebron’s not exactly struggling, but Pietrus has made him work hard enough over the course of the series so that in the past few games James has gotten sloppy toward the end. That, and time and again, Pietrus has found a way to knock down open 3s in the fourth quarter.
Cleveland and Denver, on the other hand, have nobody that fits the bill. The Cavs have struggled the entire series to find any swingman that’s athletic enough to matchup with Orlando’s rangy forwards. And while Denver’s used Dahntay Jones to mimic this type of Posey-ish player, their best candidate is JR Smith, a guy with all the tools to excel in this role, but who’s still struggling to define himself as a player.

None of this is meant to be some Moneyball-like revelation for the NBA. To do that, I’d have to look up stats, or something. But it is, on the other hand, a reminder that for all the significance we put into the performances of someone like Lebron or Kobe, and for all the historical implications their success carries, a player like Pietrus or Ariza or James Posey could be the ones that actually tip things one way or another.

Often times, championship teams rely as much as these types of players as they do on their stars. (Tayshaun Prince for Detroit comes to mind, as well.) They all play with the same sort of faceless dedication and generally go overlooked, but in a league full of quirky superstars busy writing their own histories, it’s worth considering that maybe these types of players are the ones that truly decide how these stories end.

Even Michael Jordan, who's career had the most spectacular arc of anyone, had Scottie Pippen, a player who, for all his talents, was essentially just an otherworldly talented version of Ariza, Pietrus, Posey, etc. His superior athleticism made him a hall-of-fame caliber player, but he also understood his role quite clearly alongside Jordan, and it allowed them both, along with the Bulls as a team, to become great.

And if J.R. Smith happens to read this article and becomes the greatest blue collar swingman since Pippen, well, perhaps Carmelo’s story will turn out better than anyone ever expected.

Could Andray Blatche be another Scottie Pippen? Or James Posey? Or even Trevor Ariza? (Slitting wrists...)

Friday, May 29, 2009

But Adam Morrison is on the Lakers!

The Evolution of Hypocrisy

AsI’ve noted before around here, sometimes I’m a bit impulsive with my opinions. As my mother encapsulates: “you have a problem with contempt prior to investigation.” This is because it’s much easier to deride something from afar than to make the investment necessary to really understand it, whether we’re talking about a TV show, a rapper, a movie, or some random website. Eventually though, I’m generally open-minded enough to change my mind if something’s truly awesome.

My relationship with twitter follows this pattern. Sort of.

It all began about three months ago, when this “Twitter stuff” began to emerge as a legitimate cultural force. Dubbed as “micro-blogging” and endorsed by legions of Mac-wielding, free thinking technology nerds, it seemed like the tipping point for the internet’s legitimacy.

Blogs are generally frivolous, poorly edited, and often times incredibly superficial in their observations, but at least there are some loftier ideals underpinning everything: subverting mainstream media, a landscape founded on meritocracy, a vetting mechanism for the powers that be, etc.

Twitter just is frivolous and superficial, and as for editing, half of the words were stupid little abbreviations like “H8” or “Gr8.” It’s like someone held a symposium on the future of the internet and decided, “Screw it, let’s just conform to what everyone thinks we are.”

Even worse, after missing the boat entirely on the movement toward blogs, mainstream media outlets pounced on the opportunity to capitalize on this apparently revolutionary medium. Discourse was devolving before our very eyes in the form of innocuous “tweets”; but because it gave old media establishments the chance to show how evolved they’ve become, everyone seemed to be fine with it.So I griped and moaned and cowed about the end of civilization, feeling comfortably superior in the notion that if we were all going to be so stupid, I, at least, would trot in a different direction, ridiculing them as I rode my high horse toward some pontificating utopia.

Every time someone mentioned Twitter, I would sneer and talk about the decay of civilization.
Then I would make fun of the seemingly random 140 character limit, the fragments used in various “tweets” I’d seen, and whatever else I could find that would help me be a sarcastic asshole. The thinking being, if I criticize twitter, then by definition I’m NOT frivolous, superficial, and illiterate.

Which is bullshit, of course. I'm all of those things and worse.

And here’s where my newfound Twitter obsession (and blatant hypocrisy) is emblematic of more than just my ignorant contempt for all that’s unknown. Where I was quick to deride it in exchange for some perverted ego boost, the truth about Twitter is both more complex and less controversial than any of the backlash would suggest. Twitter’s not exactly meaningful, but it doesn’t really need to be.

Its value depends on who you’re talking to. Among the aforementioned older media types, having a twitter account appears to be some sort of badge of honor, a sign that in this evolving internet climate, they are “with it.” To the people straining to get on board with the Next Big Thing, as well as the site’s creators and most invested users—both of whom sort of need it to be the Next Big Thing—Twitter is going to revolutionize the way we get our news.

That’s just not true. Twitter is not some grand harbinger of change in news media. The only “tweets” that are truly “informative” are the ones that provide links to interesting books, news stories, or video clips. In other words, it’s just another way to e-mail articles or pass along funny links.

Any attempts at substantive updates on twitter are too brief and self-evident to be of any real value. Mostly, it’s just funny to watch someone try to use Twitter for these ends. See @RosenhausSports:Then there are the celebrities. Mostly, it seems these people are content to indulge in Twitter as way of perpetuating their own fame and/or proving how cool their lives are. Follow @IamDiddy, @The_Real_Shaq, or any number of other bloviating celebs to get a taste of how this works. A warning, though: it’s pretty fucking repetitive.

Still, beyond the celebrities in love with themselves and the people determined to make Twitter a news source, it’s also just a fun collection of random thoughts and videos and links. This doesn’t have to be some grandiose war about cultural values.

Most people I’ve talked to think Twitter is just a sad variant of facebook’s status updates. They call it completely ridiculous and a huge waste of time. Fine. But isn’t that the definition of the internet?

For all the talk of “the world is flat” and “connectivity,” like ninety percent of what I do on the internet is completely mindless and an utter waste of time. I discovered this website the other night, whosampled.com, and I was up till 4 a.m. mindlessly clicking on youtube videos of old Dr. Dre samples. What up Donny Hathaway?And I’m not alone. We all waste time on the internet, whether you admit it or not. The holier-than-thou opposition to Twitter, then, is as stupid as my pathetic objection on intellectual grounds. It’s not any stupider than rest of the nonsense we use to waste time, and really, in some
cases, it’s kind of awesome.

Still there’s the caveat: the people that claim some journalistic virtue in tweeting are idiotic. Use twitter to waste time, find funny stories and videos, etc, but alas, the tweets of NBC’s David Gregory are not going to change your worldview. Sorry.

My perspective is about the same as Garry Trudeau (Doonesbury, below), who loathes the Twitter movement in journalism but simultaneously “Tweets” multiple times a day, satirizing the whole thing using a fictitious Fox News reporter as his Twitter personality. It’s hilarious and obsessively updated, and yet, he keeps everything in perspective.

So yes, I was an idiot for ridiculing Twitter. Not a complete idiot, because the Twitter-as-news thing is still completely ridiculous. But I now check it compulsively, so I deserve to eat some measure of crow for this one.

Twitter's ready-made for anyone that enjoys funny links and inane thoughts, and I mean, if there were a mission statement for what "The Ham Sandwich" seeks to be, “ready-made for anyone that enjoys funny links and inane thoughts” would be pretty much perfect. So maybe I’m not such a gigantic hypocrite, after all.

With that, instead of contradicting myself any further, and because it’s “follow Friday” at Twitter (ok, so that sounds completely lame), here are some people that have been fun to follow over the past weeks, now that I've sold my soul and become an illiterate drone, playing right into the hands of Twitter’s master plan.

In no particular order...
@FreeDarko: Random musings on the NBA, life, music, and whatever happens to pop in the minds of the Free Darko folks. But yeah, mostly NBA stuff.

@jeskeets
: One of my favorite basketball writers and a full-fledged twitter addict. Good to have around during the playoffs.

@thatdjgallo: Twitter is really the perfect medium for DJ Gallo, the creator of SportsPickle.com, and an awesomely sarcastic writer of headlines and fake articles.

@drewmagary
: Random thoughts on life, with dick jokes.

@DarrenRovell1: I never liked Darren Rovell until I started reading his Twitter feed, but I have to say, he's pretty informative, not too nerdy, and occasionally pretty funny. All around enjoyable.

@Wale: Day-to-day musings from someone who's in the midst of becoming a star. Kind of cool.

@KevinDurant35: Same as Wale, except more gibberish thrown in the mix. Still, I'm not going to apologize for feeling some weird excitement seeing Wale and Kevin Durant tweet back-and-forth about some barbecue they attended last summer. Or making fun of TJ Ford.

@sportsguy33: About two weeks after I caved and became a hypocrite, Bill Simmons followed suit. Made me feel a lot better about my decision.

@unsilent: D.C. sports, general thoughts on life, links galore. Unsilent Majority founder (I think?) Jack Kogod keeps it real.

And of course, @AndrewSharp: Just started "tweeting," so not sure if I deserve a blurb. Expect contradictions, though.

Jesus this internet stuff has gone too far.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Back in Business

It was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it?

A month ago, today’s greatest drama would be whether to skip philosophy class to watch today’s Manchester United-Barcelona matchup (“The Soccer Super Bowl,” ESPN says). In fact, I would almost certainly still be asleep until about 12:45, rising only because hunger demands it, at which point I would amble over to our kitchen, microwave two oatmeal packets, and settle back down in front of my computer to passively comb the internet for whatever seems like the most interesting time-waster. If I could manage to sit through a 45-minute class later that day and then work out for 40 minutes, the day was a roaring success.

If not, no big deal. After all, it’s college. I’m not supposed to be productive.

Though upon review, that could be a big myth. When I was sitting in cap and gown at graduation, with the New England skies all-too-appropriately pissing a cold, gray rain, the one thing that interrupted my sleep deprived misery was noticing that a shocking number of my classmates had a cum laude next to their name. All these little asterisks suggested that perhaps I had missed something in the course of my four years. Then again, Kurt Vonnegut thought that asterisks look like assholes.But now it’s all over. I’m literally sitting in my mother’s basement, and no matter what, my day will be a failure because I’m unemployed and there’s not a chance that someone’s going to hire me by the end of the day. Best-case scenario, I find a promising lead on CraigsList, or something. Preferably something beyond the erotic services section, but by July, who knows how desperate I’ll be?

So with that in mind, I may as well pass the time by racheting up my output on this site. Kind of like some of my peers and their startup businesses that are “in the growth phase right now” and “gathering investors, and such,” I like to think that TheHamSandwich is building toward something bigger down the line. I also like to think that all of those young entrepreneurs will fail miserably, as a consequence of karma for being wildly douchetastic and condescending to directionless folk like myself. Take your grassroots marketing and go get fucked, ya know?

After two weeks immersed in the utter chaos of graduation, for the foreseeable future this is my job. Get excited, refresh the page often, and tell your friends God damnit!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Wale Ovechkin

Wale on First Take from Elitaste on Vimeo.

Wale is pretty fucking awesome. And not just because he made the same wrestling/hockey comparison that I did three days ago. I feel like I should write something more meaningful here, something about how he's the antidote to the dearth of creativity that's enveloped music over the past few years. Something about how his sports references prove that not only is his music great, but that I'd almost certainly love hanging out with him. Something about his hybrid of go-go and conventional hip-hop that's finally putting D.C. on the map. Something about Nike Boots, or something.

But I'm lazy, and I'm way too preoccupied with being fired up for his concert in Boston tonight, so that video and the following freestyle will have to suffice.

Wale: Some people might not get what you're truly about, so slowly take us through every line... Because it's seriously insane.

Seinfeld Freestyle - Wale


Cavity ni***s I am takin down ya plaques, Wale Ovechkin the capital is back, Socratic wit the rap, type a questions ni***s ask!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Mixed Emotions

  1. How awesome is Twitter?
  2. It could very well be ruining the world.
  3. I'm basically a passive participant in the sweeping erosion of meaningful culture (appropriately narrated by P. Diddy and Ashton Kutcher).
  4. How great is it that it's 7:30 AM and Kevin Durant was going to sleep two hours ago? And Slim was gone off that pokemon.
  5. Because of Twitter, I get to start my day wondering what Kevin Durant was doing going to bed at 5:30 AM and whether Slim made it home okay. Awesome.
  6. Oh wait, it's 7:30 AM.
  7. I'm studying and drinking monster (dinosaur piss). Starting my day sucks regardless.
  8. And Durant was on the west coast. Not that awesome, I guess.
  9. I don't know.
  10. I hate my life?
I am, however, eating a ham sandwich right now.

Hope or Hopeless?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Caps-Pens Running Diary


One reason I’m glad to be graduating college: my dorm room currently has no toilet paper, about thirty-five mouse traps that have so far proven ineffective at curbing the mice population, and a kitchen that reminds me of Iraq. I should be studying for my final exam of college right now, but the Caps and Penguins are playing, and it’s OVECHKIN VS. CROSBY (ON VS.), so I have an excuse to delay my studies.

Without further ado, an obvious rip-off of Bill Simmons’ running diary format, only without the benefit of Tivo, so there’s probably going to be a bunch of holes in the narrative. Screw it, I’m bored.
_____________________

I’ve been watching the whole game, but we’ll pick things up with 15 minutes to go in the 3rd period.

15:06: Ovechkin just got hit with a penalty. I have no idea what, exactly, he did, but let’s kill this penalty! Stand Up and Shout, from Mark Wahlberg's "Rockstar," is playing in the background. Hockey is so.... white. Also, "Rockstar" reminds me of hockey as-a-whole, for some reason. Or maybe "The Wrestler" is a more apt comparison. Ironically, I think "Major League" would be the movie equivalent of the NBA. This deserves more thought.

14:00 Power plays are completely fucking terrifying. As an ignorant hockey fan, I have no concept of “strategy” for these situations. I find myself just staring blankly ahead and hoping nothing goes wrong.

12:10: Ovechkin just looks different on the ice. Like he’s moving on a different surface or something. Reminds me of Lebron on a basketball court, except Ovechkin isn’t a contrived douche. (That would be Sidney Crosby).10:00: We go to commercial break with a shot of Varlamov denying some Pittsburgh guy’s point blank attempt on a breakaway. We out?

10:00 Domino’s Bread Bowl Domino’s Bread Bowl Domino’s Bread Bowl9:24 A “screamer” of a shot goes out of play for the Capitals. I love hockey-speak. I feel like there’s a lot of potential for someone to dub over a porno with hockey announcers. Like how my friend Ed calls Marc Andre Fleury’s rebounds “juicy biscuits.” You don’t think there’s potential there?

8:32: “Malkin with a blast. Oh Varlamov! He’s the shiny penny in this one tonight.” Come on, who’s with me?

6:59: NHL ’95 gets a lot of love in mainstream, with the wrap-around move, in particular, receiving a lot of romanticizing. But seriously, I haven’t seen one successful wrap-around in these entire playoffs. Did Gary Bettman make this illegal or something?

6:17: Between the unending Michelin commercials during Versus commercial breaks and the closeups of Bruce Boudreau’s doughy face, I want some marshmallows. And some cigarettes, but that’s the Ritalin talking, I think.

5:02 Ozzy Osbourne as World of Warcraft spokesman. Hmm. Who makes these decisions? Michael J. Fox should be a spokesman for Twitter?

5:22 ANOTHER power play. Evgeni Malkin sounds like a bond villain, and Sidney Crosby sounds like a Vegas lounge singer. That wasn’t funny and Malkin just scored. Fuck me.

4:50: His shot “trampolined off the twine.” Even announcing an opposing goal, I love these guys.

3:43: Are we sure that Evgeni Malkin isn’t better than Crosby? By the way, it’s been 45 minutes since the Caps last scored.

2:53: Ovechkin hurls himself at Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik, who went to Boston College. Probably the most underrated aspect of his game is Ovechkin's hitting. The most talented player in hockey also actively seeks contact and collision. God he’s awesome.

2:23: Caps power play!

1:50: And a power-play goal! “Just a flat out incursion,” apparently. I have no idea what just happened but FUCK YEAH. Backstrom got the goal, Semin and Ovechkin credited with the assist.

00:00. After the horn, a Penguin player shoves Backstrom, just to remind us all that THIS IS HOCKEY. Fuck yeah! Anything goes, goddamnit.

Oh, and also, OVERRRRRRRTIMEEEEEE. More excuses to procrastinate.

Intermission thoughts:

I’ve watched this entire game, and save for two lucky goals, the Washington Capitals are getting obliterated on every front. Without Varlamov and a few lucky bounces, this is a 4-0 Pittsburgh win. As it is, I’m pretty positive that Washington’s going to lose. I’m not exactly a hockey savant, but even I can see that the Penguins look more comfortable out there.

Or, in the words of a Versus announcer: “The Capitals are playing like sandpaper right now, and the Penguins are just a lot more fluid. Washington needs to get some more vasilinity going.” Sandpaper, Vaseline, fluid. Umm… I’m here for the orgy?

Introduction to overtime: “These things can end really quick, or they can go for a while.” And it’s important to remember your “safe word.”
18:46: Whenever Ovechkin gets the puck, I’m expecting something to go right. Every other player makes me feel uneasy. Am I crazy, or does the rest of this team kind of suck? Backstrom, Varley, and Semin excluded, of course.

17:45: Power play for the Penguins. Uh… LET’S CLEAR THE PUCK! Does that sound right?

16:33: Timeout Pittsburgh. What happens during a hockey timeout? Is it just an opportunity to rest? How much strategy can there possibly be? I’m showing my ignorance, here.

15:45: “5 guys in the crease.” I need to get my mind out of the gutter.

14:45: Spearheaded by Ovechkin, the Caps show signs of an attack. Power play is overwith. Momentum shift? Fuck I’m clueless.

111:00: Everyone looks tired, Crosby just got pancaked (do they keep track of those in hockey, or is that just a Madden statistic?), and a closeup of Crosby just revealed a magnificently wispy mustache. Is that his version of a playoff beard? Is Sid the Kid hitting puberty? Seems about right.

10:11: Text message from Ed, my hockey friend: “Can we talk about how icing has changed the defensive game?” Um, yeah.

8:06 Things get chippy during a stoppage. Ovechkin gets shoved by two Penguins players and immediately hits them back. Again, the best player in hockey also loves to hit people. This wouldn’t be noteworthy if every other great player in hockey hadn’t been such a pussy (Gretzky, Lemieux, and now Crosby), but it’s more proof that Ovechkin is one of the coolest athletes in all of sports.

6:00 Pittsburgh scores. Game over. Let the record state that it was a fucking ricochet goal, and that even though Washington had two lucky goals and didn’t even deserve to make it to overtime, that win was bullshit. Or something like that.

As far as I’m concerned, Washington’s still got control of the series, and if nothing else, this game just serves as further proof that Simeon Var-LAH-mov is incredible. The Caps played about as horribly as they could have tonight, and they still had a chance to win. I’m going to look on the bright side with this one.

Ballin and Rhymin'

The links between hip-hop and the NBA are undeniable and inextricable. Whether it’s the Fab 5 wearing black socks or the countless basketball name-checks that pepper the verses of someone like Jay-Z, cross-referencing between basketball and hip-hop is so pervasive that mentioning the symbiotic relationship is almost redundant.

Still, to state the obvious: both feature a disproportionate amount of wealthy African-Americans that are prone to brash behavior. And partly because of that last fact, both are incredibly polarizing among the mainstream in a way that comparable fields—say, rock music or the NHL—just aren’t.

Nobody HATES the NHL, for instance. They just don’t watch hockey. But plenty of devout sports fans don’t watch pro basketball because they “HATE the NBA.” By the same token, it’s not uncommon to find a music fan who “likes everything” but refuses to listen to any rap. The racial factor (the elephant in the room during any discussion of any of this) underpins a lot of the controversy over these perceived pillars of counterculture, and elicits a whole bunch of vitriol from both sides of the argument.

But lost in all of these super-duper-serious sociological discussions—which mostly end up with some prominent black academic standing in as the cultural authority that either damns or defends this counterculture—is that both hip-hop and the NBA are partly awesome because they’re fucking hilarious. Watch:

The world is full of people that take themselves too seriously. Like Bill O’Reilly, for instance—a sphincter personified, bloviating for an hour each night like some cultural pope. Of course, as O’Reilly’s sexual harassment scandal proves, most of these purported icons of integrity are full of shit. Read:
“Defendant [O’Reilly] then stated that he was going to Italy to meet the Pope, that his pregnant wife was staying at home with his daughter, and that he was looking forward to some extra-marital dalliances with the “hot” Italian women.”
(And whatever you do, please please PLEASE read Bill O’Reilly’s attempt at phone sex.)

It’s can all be pretty depressing, at times. Anyone who follows culture closely quickly gets used to crushing disappointment—whether it’s Chris Brown’s freakish turn as a wife beater, Michael Vick’s surreal dogfighting operation, or your friendly neighborhood congressman, and his molestation hobbies.

That's when someone like Cam'ron becomes so indispensable. He doesn't pretend to be some morality icon, and frankly, he doesn't care enough to worry about what we might think. You madddddd.

To hip-hop fans or NBA fans, there are never any illusions of infallibility. Interspersed with the moments of transcendence—last year’s Celtics-Cavs game 7, this song—are completely absurd moments like Cam'ron-on-O'Reilly that can’t possibly be taken seriously.

Stephon Marbury plays every night with his shoe logo tattooed on his cranium. Young Jeezy is releasing a mixtape this month called “Trappin Ain’t Dead: The Motion Picture.” Collectively, hip-hop and the NBA force us all to just lighten up.

They can be serious, too. Hip-hop has been perhaps the greatest instrument of racial progress this side of Martin Luther King, and the NBA has provided some of the most sensational moments in sports history. But for me, at least as enjoyable are the moments that everyone points to in their criticism of hip-hop and basketball.

NBA players are "lazy primadonnas" and rappers are "ignorant and depraved," I hear. But whether it’s the tangible laziness of players openly ignoring their coaches during timeouts, or the intellectual laziness of a rapper making a song about drinking and hangovers—they are all hilarious diversions in a world full of melodramatic assholes.

Can you imagine Tom Brady openly ogling cheerleaders while Bill Belicheck jabbers in his ear about San Diego’s secondary? Can you imagine Bono singing about Bobby Boucher and Bubba Gump in consecutive lines (see below, download)? Thought so.

Go Hard - Young Wayne Carruth

So, anyway, the Song of the Week is Jadakiss’ “Hangover.” (Download here). It’s not “good” in any way, really, but it’s a completely ridiculous ode to drinking and hangovers, complete with a hip-hop prerequisite: the nameless backup singer crooning ridiculous lyrics for a chorus. As an added bonus, “I-i-i-I got a hangover” would cheer me up if I was singing in the shower while hungover.

If it makes sense, this song encompasses nothing of what makes hip-hop “good” in an artistic sense, and everything that makes it awesome.

Hangover - Jadakiss

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Lay Some Treats on Em

You know, in a slightly more subtle way, you could make a pretty decent argument for YouTube being just about as annoying as Twitter. Besides music videos, old commercials, and movie clips, we're pretty much talking about a soul crushing cultural vacuum. Replete with rapping babies and LMAO water skiing squirrels, but still. It's mostly a waste of time--and one that everyone feels compelled to pass along to their friends three times a week. Check this out!

I would elaborate, but I'm pretty sure I'm in the minority on this one, so there's no point in being a party pooper.

I'll just say that given the feelings stated above, and the general disgust I reserve for most youtube videos, it says a lot about the following video that I watched a full 9-and-a-half minutes without even batting an eye. Youtube or no youtube, the title says it all.

So fuck with it. Definitely worth the commitment, even if you're a youtube malcontent like me:

I wanna violate that. Stretch marks and everything. WORD.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Read This

Check the socks. Sean Taylor had swag.
Exams have come and gone—sort of. I still have a math exam left, but the goal there is a D+ or higher, so I feel like an exhale is in order. Four long years of middling performance, sleepless nights spent halfheartedly grinding out term papers, and unconvincing self-delusion that any of this had long-term implications. And I finished with a bang!

My final two assignments were term papers for both “Philosophy of the Person” and “Gender Roles and Communication.” The latter was a discussion of 30 Rock, where I somehow drew a parallel between the feminist movement and disco. The former centered on George Orwell’s 1984, culminating with my fairly strained analogy of philosophy as “practice” for the “game” that is literature. In the end, as long as we’re “playing”, everybody wins. Right, guys? Right?

It seems appropriate that from this point forward any hackneyed metaphors of mine will be confined to this irrelevant medium, comfortably insulated against any secondhand criticism. Because, well, nobody should read this.

But you should.... Read This! WOOOOOO. (Officially time to come up with a new name for this).

Swagger's last gasp.
White People Ruin It for Everyone (Again)
Was perusing twitter the other day when I noticed the following "tweet." I hate myself. But I digress.

From Free Darko's Dr. Lawyer Indian Chief:
An excerpt from the link:
“Joakim Noah's swag is phenomenal. His swag is crazy. His swag is super funky.

These are his words, his truths, because if there's one thing Noah loves to talk about, it's his varieties of swag.

Swag, of course, is Noah's shorthand for swagger, Noah-speak for cool. It could be anything from his seersucker suit on draft night to the way he sneers and belts out a scream after a big play on the court (or a not-so-big play), even if no one is really scared of his scream, because, in truth, he's not very scary at all.”
Those are the first three paragraphs from Jon Greenberg, and what follows is an article praising Noah and using variations of swag or swagger every two or three words, effectively murdering any credibility the word had left. Think “Hollywood Divorce,” in which Big Boi, Andre 3000, and Lil Wayne lament the ways in which the mainstream mines the black community for various hip phrases that then lose any of their original appeal. This was inevitable, really.

It’s sad, too. Because at its best, swagger is a term that captures that ineffable quality held by only a minority* of those in a given profession. The ones that separate themselves from their peers without ever really trying. Just by being themselves.

*(Or, only by minorities, depending on your levels of weeping self-hatred for your white ancestry.)

Allen Iverson sucks at basketball now, but hey, the boy got swag. That ain’t gonna change. He walks onto any basketball court in America and he’s instantly the coolest person on the floor. Unless Michael Jordan’s there, because hey, even though he’s pretty much the complete opposite of Iverson, he got swag, too. Furilldo. Jordan may even swag harder than young AI. Too close to call.It’s all pretty vague for an outsider to try to comprehend, but then, it captures the ineffable. It’s fucking hard to describe, okay? One thing’s for certain, though: Joakim Noah does not posses swagger, swag, or any hybrid therein.

There’s probably some academic term for what Lil Wayne and Outkast describe in Hollywood Divorce—like “cultural larceny,” or something—but for now let’s just go with this acronym: W.A.R.E. Whites Always Ruin Everything.

And in that case, it’s pretty appropriate that the death of swagger came in article praising Joakim Noah, the ultimate failed experiment in biracial heritage. Is it racist for me to say that?

An overview: He has numerous effeminate features, is prone to forced outbursts of emotion that annoy everyone in his vicinity (including teammates), and is even known to sport a wispy mustache which (one assumes) exists solely to quash any speculation regarding his true gender. Then there’s his nagging tendency of “trying” at all times, which, paired with his otherworldly athleticism, makes him serviceable, despite gangly-eighth-grader levels of coordination that undercut his team’s offensive sets throughout the game. He’s an eye-sore in every way. And then he talks, and somehow makes it all twice-as-bad.

There’s really no way to sugarcoat something so nakedly repulsive, so, “Hey,” Jon Greenberg thought, “why not just throw that new ‘swagger’ term in there and hope that fans forget he’s the most infuriating professional basketball player since Reggie Miller.” Right.

As usual, the whites take things too far, and now it’s all ruined. Wish I could say it’d be the last time.

"No Pork on My Fork, I'm Too Fine for Swine"- Clinton Portis

Blah blah blah swine flu blah blah blah. It appears that this whole swine flu-pandemic thing is a biological imperative. Every twenty years or so, a new strain of bacteria emerges that baffles our antibodies, and there are massive deaths that ensue before we can all safely adjust and the doctors among us can develop a vaccine of some sort. Does that sound right? I’m pretty sure like eight of the words in that sentence were sort of wrong, but on a broad level, that’s what this is, right?

Like Outbreak. Except with pigs instead of monkeys. And without a medical savior as hot as Renee Russo, because, well, that person does not fucking exist.

Anyways, about Clinton Portis.
"With the swine flu going around, this water could have some swine flu in it, then all of us gonna be dead." Portis said during a group interview session with reporters on the field as it rained. "You should cancel minicamp, especially in bad weather. Right now in Mexico, they canceled all sporting events. They need to do that in the U.S. ... This is a scary, dangerous situation."
His mock-horror is a pretty transparent attempt to get out of minicamp, and I, for one, heartily approve. What a legend. Really not much more to say on this except that Portis is one of the funnier athletes in my lifetime, and whether he was serious or not, this just further cements it.

As for the swine flu, one more thing: I really wish the media would stop running such terrifying pictures of pigs. It’s not just some flip figure of speech when I say they’re haunting my dreams. Actually, that’s a complete lie. It was just a flip figure of speech. But those pictures are still pretty disturbing.

And it’s not surprising whatsoever that Cam’ron was the first rapper to make a swine flu reference. I used to get it in Ohiooooooooo.

Millionare Martyrs for Freedom of Opportunity Suffer the Consequences
Just about every week I do this “Read This” feature, I end up with four or five stories from Bethlehem Shoals—awesome pseudonym, btw—that I could use. He’s funny in a dry sort of way, but more importantly, his NBA analysis offers the sort of rigorous, intellectual perspective to which I lazily aspire and inevitably fall short.

I don’t really know what to say except that he’s awesome, and if you like the NBA and are interested in feigning intelligence, you should read his stuff on The Sporting Blog and FreeDarko.com.

In the article above, Shoals highlights an aspect of the prep-to-pros debate that is only now becoming news. Namely, that all the players who went straight to the NBA out of high school are beginning to get old. And now that we have some real, career-wide perspective, there’s room for speculation as to what kind of impact their decisions had one their bodies.

Look at some of the players that turned pro out of high school. Tracy Mcgrady has been the most injury-plagued player in the NBA over the past few seasons. Jermaine O’Neal went from one of the league’s premier big men three years ago to being an eminently pedestrian footnote on Dwyane Wade’s Miami Heat. He's 31 and suddenly, he makes Udonis Haslem look good. Jonathan Bender had to retire at because of injuries when he was 25. Kevin Garnett had been a force for what seems like forever, but at 33 years old, he’s now hobbling around like a 40 year-old Patrick Ewing on the Sonics.

This is tricky, of course. None of the above case studies provide definitive links to some larger trend with injuries for high schoolers-turned-professionals. For every McGrady, there is a Kobe. For every Garnett, there is, well, Kobe again.

There are (is) exceptions. Even if they are only named Kobe or Lebron. The argument for early entries is that by entering the NBA early, they are entering their rookie contract at a younger age, thus eventially giving themselves more years of exposure to max-level contracts once they finish out their rookie deals. But if turning pro at an early age comes at a physical cost, doesn’t that negate any longterm benefits?

One would think. Then again, you could also argue that NBA Gm’s are dumb enough to continue paying huge salaries to erstwhile superstars like McGrady and Jermaine O’Neal, so from a financial perspective, it still makes sense.

Either way, the NBA is headed for a lockout in two years, and I can guarantee that David Stern will be pushing for a 20-year-old age limit, and that the longterm-physical-toll argument will play a prominent role in selling it. And watching Jermaine O’Neal waddle down to the block on two gimpy knees, you have admit: he may have a point.

Rasheed went to college. Sure enough, his muscle recovery is much better than the average player.
But seriously, they are called the BLAZERS. Duuuuude. The BLAZERS.

Ronald Reagan was a Great Fucking American
I try not to delve too deeply into politics, mainly because the more I read, the more I find myself becoming morbidly depressed and convinced that God hates all of us. Ignorance aside, though, the whole 100 Days barometer for presidential success seems a bit contrived, doesn’t it?

People that are failing in life and/or perceived as crazy will generally invoke “perspective” to explain themselves. As the drunk guy in the corner might say, “One day, you will all be sorry for doubting ME.” With Presidents, though, there’s more truth to the claim.

It takes generations before historians can properly assess the impact of certain policies. For instance, Ronald Reagan had higher approval ratings than the aforementioned “God” figure. Only later did we realize how crippling his fiscal strategies would be. Back then, though, he was like America’s Gandhi. In other words, in the moment, we don’t know dick.

And there’s nothing more in the moment than the first 100 days of a presidency—full of vague promises for the future from the presidents, himself, venomous detractors finding fault with every possible decision, and starry eyed supporters that think the world is actually on the verge of changing for the better (idiots).

Given that Obama is (trumpets) THE FIRST BLACK PRESIDENT, all of this is even more exaggerated. I say we hold off for a while before we declare success or failure. And besides, he’s black. Even if he fails, affirmative action necessitates that we deem him a Success.

(Come onnnn. That was funny! I can joke, right?)

All of which is to say the above article/chart is the most appropriate measuring stick I’ve seen for Obama’s performance thus far—lighthearted, self-consciously superficial and meaningless, and also kind of cool-looking. Any dissertations on Obama’s executive strengths and weaknesses would be overwrought, anyway. Give him time to define himself. In the interim, how ‘bout those new Facebook features?!

Once I get a real job, I’m buying these every damn month. Go Wizards.


The Race Card and the New York Times: "It's all in the game."
Nothing too important, here, except that the above review is an example of why I hate liberals. “Obsessed” is a lazily-titled thriller about an inter-office stalker, or something. It’s noteworthy only because it stars Idris Elba—a.k.a. The Wire's Stringer Bell—and Ali Larter—a.k.a. really hot—and it’s kind of sad that neither of them can find better roles. Hollywood can be tough, I guess.

As for the review, the critic finds the movie fairly underwhelming, giving a rough sketch of the plot, etc, before ending with this:
The movie’s most disturbing aspect, of which the filmmakers could not have been unaware, is the physical resemblance between Mr. Elba and Ms. Larter to O. J. and Nicole Brown Simpson. It lends “Obsessed” a distasteful taint of exploitation.
Umm… What? First of all, it’s entirely possible that yes, the filmmakers WERE unaware of any resemblance because, you know, Idris Elba looks nothing like O.J. Simpson. They are both black? And even if they were aware. Who, exactly, are they exploiting? All the black people that identify with O.J. Simpson? Isn’t Elba the one getting stalked? Didn’t OJ stalk Nicole? What the fuck?

Ending a review with that little addendum is a pretty strong statement, and the placement was obviously intentional. And I’m sure it made a lot of New York Times readers feel secure in their notions that the world is full of chauvenists and racists and only they are the enlightened ones but… um, it makes no sense whatsoever.

Perhaps I’m just na├»ve, but that made me really mad for some reason.

Finally, the two most interesting things from the past two weeks.

Red Bull Gives You a Placebo Effect; You Can Fly Without It

More things I’m not qualified to discuss! Here, a discussion of fatigue, and how its origins are generally derived more from the brain than our muscles. Witness:
According to a new study, we can push ourselves harder when we expect to get a boost of energy from sugar, but long before those carbohydrates are actually absorbed.
In other words, an energy drink will have tangible effects on our productivity levels before the Red Bull ever kicks in. We think we’re getting a burst of energy, so we start getting more productive even before the sugar hits our bloodstream.

In addition, a correlative conclusion is that someone who works out regularly will be more prone to finish a race than someone who works out sporadically, even if their fitness levels are the same. Basically, if you think you’re in good shape, you’re more likely to workout without feeling like a fat mess, even if you are a fat mess. The opposite is true, as well: a great athlete can lapse in training, and even though his physical fitness remains at a high level, mentally, he is likely to trick himself into decreased performance. Kind of interesting.

This explains why, if I’m smoking cigarettes, I inevitably have more trouble running five miles. Because the effects of cigarettes are mental, you see. That’s what this means, right? Right?

And one more article.

So Wait, How Does This Relate to Facebook?

Particularly pertinent during exam time on a college campus, Margaret Talbot examines the implications of the increasingly widespread use of Adderal and other “cognitive stimulants” among persons without A.D.D. There are all sorts of implications involved with this development, and a lot of questions to be answered.

Are we raising a nation of pill popping drones? Does this close or widen the gap in education inequality? Do these drugs enhance productivity at the expense of creativity? If other countries have more relaxed prescription regulations for these drugs, is the United States at a disadvantage? Does my friend sell Adderall? Is Michael Jackson black or white? What would happened if Tiger Woods hosted the ESPYs?

Oh, umm... My Ritalin just wore off. I’ll have to come back to this one.

For now, I’ll just mention that it’s a thoroughly researched article and a prescient subject choice by Talbot and the New Yorker. Basically, this is what journalism should be. It’s also long, though, so perhaps a twittered version would be preferable.

RT @_America: Adderall brain stuff performance anxiety aging blackberry culture Harvard medical studies experimentation neuroenhancement cosmetics stuff. Follw me!

God Twitter sucks.

I’ll have more later in the week. For now, just enjoy Taylor.