Friday, December 31, 2004

How did the animals survive?

One of the most interesting sidelights to the southern Asia tsunami tragedy - though it feels a bit strange to be writing (and reading) about sidelights to this awful story (120,000 deaths and counting)- is that many animals in Sri Lanka somehow managed to get to higher ground and avoid the tsunamis. No animal corpses have been found among the dead. Did a "sixth sense" enable these animals to sense the impending tidal waves?

According to Christine Kenneally in Slate, "animals have sensory abilities different from our own, and they might have tipped them off to Sunday's disaster." Maybe they heard the quakes before the tsunamis reached shore. Or sensed ground vibrations (known in the scientific community as Rayleigh Waves).

Interesting stuff. So if you live near water and see your dog running for the hills, maybe you should follow him or her.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

R.I.P., Jerry Orbach

My friend Matt was first with the news yesterday afternoon, e-mailing me about Jerry Orbach's death from prostate cancer.

I haven't been a regular "Law & Order" watcher in years, but its endless reruns on cable are a dependable stand-by whenever there isn't anything else interesting on TV. And I always enjoyed the quips from Orbach's character, Det. Lennie Briscoe. A cop scene on the show didn't seem complete until it was wrapped up by one of Briscoe's one-liners. (Dana Stevens wrote a nice tribute to them and Orbach in yesterday's Slate. One nice example: After finding a university ID on a murder victim, Briscoe said "She can forget about midterms.") From what I've heard, the show isn't the same without Lenny Briscoe, and many fans seemed to be hoping for his return (despite him moving to a new "L&O" spinoff, "Trial By Jury.")

I had no idea Orbach was originally a song-and-dance man until a few years ago. It's difficult for me to imagine the grizzled Lenny Briscoe lighting up Broadway in "The Fantasticks," "Annie Get Your Gun," or "Chicago." (I wonder if a musical episode of "Law & Order" was ever considered. Probably not. But Jesse Martin was in "Rent," wasn't he? And if he hasn't already, I'm sure Sam Waterston has a showtune within him, just waiting to be released.)

You'll always live on my TV set, Jerry. Here's to you.

The tsunami death toll


I'm not sure what to write regarding the massive devastation earthquakes and tsunamis have wrought on southern Asia. Each day, the death toll keeps climbing. I stop and look at the headlines every time I pass by a newspaper vendor, and then shake my head. Those numbers (77,000 as I write this) are almost impossible to comprehend. The Red Cross says the deaths could eventually reach 100,000.

Several photos of the damage can be found online, including some of bodies washed ashore, which I'm ashamed to say I couldn't resist looking at. They're awful.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Where was this at Christmas?

I found this via the Brian Michael Bendis message board at (Bendis is one of my favorite comic book writers, and his forum is a fun place to discuss all kinds of pop culture.) Here's the link to the article, but I think you have to register with the St. Paul Pioneer Press's website to read it, and I remember that being a pain in the ass, so I'll just try to include all I can here.

According to Richard Chin's story, a Hawaiian inventor and his Iowa business partner have created an underwear called "Flat-D, the flatulence deodorizer" that "[deodorizes] gassy discharges or groin and menstrual cycle odors." Put another way, these undies prevent your farts (and, well, other things, apparently) from stinking.

A man named Brian Conant
got the idea for Flat-D while performing chemical warfare training drills as a member of the Hawaii Army National Guard. During the drills, he wore a protective suit lined with charcoal fabric and whenever Conant would let one rip while in the suit, he noticed his natural gas didn't smell bad. (Maybe you want to hold those farts in during chemical warfare drills. Just a thought. You never know what can happen when certain gases mix.)

Inspired by his gassy wife who wished for an underwear that could hide the odors, Conant created the stink-preventing underwear and patented it. Eventually, the patent found its way to
Frank Morosky of Cedar Rapids, IA (land of corn and pork, mind you), who'd harbored similar hopes for fart-shielding charcoal underwear. It must've been like that moment in the old Reese's Peanut Butter Cups commercials where the guy with the chocolate bar collided with the dude eating out of a jar of peanut butter. Synergy!

So the next time you find yourself surrounded by gassy relatives (And of course, it's never you - it's that Uncle Ed who likes the bologna or your lactose intolerant Aunt Millie), hopefully you'll have prepared for the occasion and ordered something from (Seriously, check it out. And look at the earnest expression of the physician in the top left corner.)

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Manga or (wo)manga?

Manga (Japanese comic books) got some attention in today's New York Times. I don't know if this is a regular or recurring feature in the Times, but this is the second article on comic books I've seen from George Gene Gustines recently.

According to the article, "manga sales were $50 million to $60 million in 2002, and climbed to $90 million to $110 million in 2003." Wow. After reading that, my first question is why American comic books don't pull in anywhere near that kind of revenue. (Or do they? I seriously doubt it. I don't have any sales figures on hand, unfortunately.) I'm sure there are several "no, duh" answers that aren't occurring to me this early in the morning, but I think my viewpoint is too localized (a forest-for-the-trees kind of thing) to really figure out what's going on. (And American publishers like DC and Marvel are probably scratching their heads, wondering what the hell to do, too.)

The biggest reason for that discrepancy in sales seems to be female readers. Again from the article, "Manga often celebrates strong female characters in adventure yarns or stories focusing on love and relationships." Walk into a comic book shop and it's doubtful you'll see too many American comic books cater to that demographic. As I'm sure you already know or may have guessed, it's a nerdy sausage fest in there.

So maybe manga vs. American comic books is apples vs. oranges, but I'd love to see this rising tide lift all the boats. (Two cliches in one sentence? I can hear my writing professors wince.)

Writing won't get me chicks - or will it?

I'm a week or so behind on posting this; it must've gotten lost underneath all the snow. (And as a result, I'm not sure the link works anymore. Sorry about that.)

Yet again, I'm reminded I'm not nearly as smart as I think I am. Another scheme has been foiled - again. (Curses!) Curtis Sittenfeld, a Iowa Writers Workshop alum (who's written some great essays for Salon) with a novel on the way, exposes the true, shallow agenda for many of us writers:

"...they had become writers in order to attract women. I believe the word they used was 'babes,' as in, I'm in it for the babes."

Well, yeah. I mean, why else do a book tour? To sell books? Oh, I suppose. But whenever an author of any acclaim visits Iowa City for a reading, I wonder if he is hoping to score with young, nubile college girls. (And notice I said "he," not "she." As Sittenfeld also writes, "has any woman writer -- ever, anywhere -- had a groupie?") Hell, that's why I went back to school...

But the essay reminded me of something I should work on this semester, besides putting together portfolios, and sending out clips, resumes, and cover letters: My look. Apparently, the "slobby-cool aesthetic" is in vogue; "the slacker rock star literary guy who shows up in his AC/DC shirt and hasn't washed in a couple days," according to Sittenfeld. I think I can pull that off. Though I'm more of the "prefers to wash regularly and still dresses like a 12-year old - or acts like one when he is forced to wear a suit and tie" image.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

On second thought...

All that nice shit I said about snow an hour ago? Forget it. Trying to be a good son, I volunteered to drive my mother to work at the University of Michigan hospital, so my father wouldn't have to navigate through the snow-covered streets. What I should've done, however, is drive his battleship station wagon. My little Honda Civic was having mucho trouble trying to push itself uphill through the snow. It wasn't happening without me building up some major momentum. So unless I had a mile's worth of steam heading toward a not-even-steep incline, I was getting stuck. I managed to get out of most of these clogs by going in reverse, then putting the pedal to the floor to slowly inch forward. What is usually a 10-15 minute drive turned into a 45-minute slog, either because of getting stuck or having to take different routes to avoid hilly roads. (Ann Arbor certainly isn't, say, San Francisco, but it has more hills than you might think.)

I'm gonna attack that white shit with the snowblower later on. And hope that the city has the streets cleared by the time I have to drive back to the hospital to pick my mother up. (Or maybe I'll volunteer my father for the return trip.) In the meantime, I ain't leavin' the house. There could be lots of blog entries today...

Oh, the weather outside is frightful...

©2004 G.B. Trudeau

It's been snowing pretty heavily since midnight or so here in Ann Arbor. I'm no meterologist, nor do I have a ruler handy, but I'd be willing to bet we got 2 inches or so by the time I got home from the bar. Forecast says we're getting 5-8 inches by noon today. If Christmas weren't this week, I might complain about it. But when the white stuff coats the ground for the first time, untouched by tire tracks or footprints, unsullied by dirt and auto exhaust, it's beautiful to look at. (Maybe I can snap a photo later on.) Even better when it's nice and quiet at night.

My appreciation for snow was renewed by my buddy Pete, who lives in Austin, TX now. Ol' Petey hadn't seen the white stuff in a couple of years and was thrilled to have it crunch under his feet as we looked for a late-night munching spot. (But not too thrilled by the frigid temperatures, eh cowboy?)

Another thing I love about the snow is that it means I'll get to use my parents' snowblower. I LOVE THAT THING. A household chore has never been so much fun - especially when I "accidentally" spray passing cars.

I never would've thought of this

Found this in the 'Popbitch' e-mail newsletter, whose gossipy goodness is available via subscription here:

"Following the Kobe Bryant case, male celebrities (especially rappers) are adding a 'Sex Witness' to their entourage. The witness watches them shag groupies, to verify that sexual acts are performed without coercion. (FYI: Mike Tyson pioneered this trend)"

So which NBA team or record label will be the first to offer this perk in a talent contract?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Movie review quote of the week

From Manohla Dargis of the New York Times: "With 'Meet the Fockers,' Mr. De Niro continues his decadelong campaign to destroy his legend by sending up the ferocious screen persona he constructed with [Martin] Scorsese."

Yeah Bob, what is up with all the comedies lately? But the Casselberrys have already committed to a post-Christmas family movie excursion for this one. Nothing makes a big holiday meal go down easier than watching Ben Stiller tortured.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Jingle bootlegs, jingle bootlegs...

Christmas has come early for me this year, thanks to a generous gift of DVD bootlegs from... let's call her a generous benefactor. No? "Brooklyn Bootlegger"? "Bootleg Betty"? "Santa Paws"? Four movies I either wouldn't or couldn't have seen in theaters - "The Machinist," "Birth," "Saw," and "Alexander" - are now sitting on my desk, waiting to be viewed with a bowl of popcorn. Wherever you are, my DVD diva, my movie mistress, I thank you.

And I didn't even get her anything for Christmas. What a Scrooge.

The New York Times reported on this probably-not-too-recent phenomenon in Sunday's edition.

Another angle on Christmas

Shannon Wheeler takes a different look at Christmas in his "Too Much Coffee Man" strip, which can be seen here. It's the most depressing time... of the year... sing along, kids!

D.C. catches baseball

Last night, Washington D.C.'s mayor, Anthony Williams, and the D.C. Council reached an agreement on a ballpark funding proposal that meets the criteria outlined in the city's original deal with Major League Baseball. Basically, the city wanted to cover its butt if the stadium wasn't finished in time for the 2008 baseball season. On the surface, it looks like Linda Cropp buckled on her demand that 50% of the ballpark be funded with private money. Where is that money going to come from? Apparently from curbside parking. Say what? Hopefully, the city has more in mind than parking meters. That'd be a lot of quarters, as Tony Kornheiser jokes in his column.

Now if only I can get a job with the Nationals...

Monday, December 20, 2004

So this is Christmas?

Over at his blog, my friend Chris wrote about something else over the weekend that piqued my interest: conservatives trying to bring back the "Christ" in Christmas. We stand on opposite sides of this debate, but I think it's interesting to look at the different viewpoints.

Do we need to be reminded that Christmas is a celebration of Christ's birth? Is that getting lost underneath an avalanche of consumerism? I think the holiday season has been this way for a long time, and I'm wondering why conservative Christians feel the need to pick a fight about it now. Did the election results, with their supposed "moral values" mandate, give them an inflated sense of entitlement?

In Raleigh, NC, a church shelled out almost $8,000 for a newspaper ad imploring Christians to only support merchants that say "Merry Christmas" in their advertising and signage. The pastor of that church, Rev. Patrick Wooden, was also profiled by the Los Angeles Times, where he let this little nugget slip:

"There's one group of people who get bullied all the time, and that's Christians," said Wooden. "I know what it is like to be bullied. It is apartheid in reverse — the majority is being bullied by the minority."

Wow. Maybe I'm taking this quote out of context, but did the reverend (who's black, by the way) just compare the "plight" of Christians in this country to apartheid? Did I miss the moment where Christians became an oppressed majority in the United States? I wonder how Nelson Mandela feels about this?

Maybe I'm not getting it, but I don't see what's wrong with trying to be more inclusive during the holiday season. Is it P.C. overkill? Maybe. Are retailers trying too hard not to offend anyone? Surely. Is this really a bullying tactic to Christians? Considering the prominence of Christmas in this country - regardless of whether the religious origins of the holiday are addressed - I find that hard to believe.

Happy Holidays, everyone! The culture war continues.

Day 1 of "Reading Expectations Gone Wild"

I haven't touched Middlesex yet, but the day is young. Once I get my ass out of the house and into a coffee shop, I think I'll get some reading done.

For now, however, I'm nursing a headache and wasting time reading about the Detroit Lions blowing their game against the Minnesota Vikings. The Lions came back in spectacular fashion to tie the game - except they still needed to make the extra point kick (almost a formality). Oops. I'll pimp my friend Chris's blog for a funny account of this embarrassing debacle. I think he captures the pain of being a Lions fan quite well.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Holiday reading (wish) list

Okay, I have almost a month off between semesters, so I'm hoping to tackle some of the many books - either loaned to me by friends or purchased myself - that have accumulated in my apartment. If I read at the pace I have to keep up for my classes, I can do this. But I'd rather this not feel like work. However, I shouldn't become totally lazy either. So what do you think? Can I do it? I've always wanted to be a "voracious" reader. This should do it. Maybe this will be my version of Nick Hornby's "Stuff I've Read" column in The Believer.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Sideways by Rex Pickett

It's a Bird by Steven Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

And maybe I'll add a collection of Hornby's Believer columns - The Polysyllabic Spree - to the list, as well.

It's home for the holidays time, so I'll be broadcasting from Ann Arbor for the next two weeks. (Thanks to for the images)

Friday, December 17, 2004

$queeze Play?

I love baseball, and I think the nation's capital should have a Major League Baseball team. The image of a summer night game in a ballpark with the capital building or Washington Monument in the backdrop holds a lot of romance for me. So when MLB reached an agreement to move the Montreal Expos to D.C., I got excited. Bring on the Washington Nationals. This was going to be a very cool thing.

Emphasis on "was," at least right now. Baseball might not be coming to D.C., after all. At the last minute of negotiations, D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp introduced legislation that called for half of the $530 million (!!!) stadium project to be privately funded. And that is a deal-breaker, as far as MLB is concerned. Pissed off by the last minute bait-and-switch, MLB has shut down operations in D.C., cancelled promotions, and offered refunds to new season-ticket holders.

I'm guessing D.C. sports fans, excited about getting baseball for the first time in 30+ years, are mad about this. But the citizens and taxpayers of D.C. that would've had to foot the bill for both the renovations to the Nationals' temporary home, RFK Stadium, and the new, yet-to-be-built ballpark? They might be relieved and eventually grateful to Cropp. The madness of sports teams owned by billionaires demanding money from cities for stadiums has to end somewhere.

Stadiums can be built on private money; SBC Park in San Francisco - home of steroid poster boy Barry Bonds - was funded entirely with private resources. Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch is footing the bill for a substantial amount of Comerica Park's price tag (though his debt on his share of the ballpark might eventually lead him to sell the team). Right now, Cropp looks like the bad guy (, but I think she should be applauded for standing up for her city.

The Washington Post's Michael Wilbon agrees with me - at least in spirit. His colleague, Thomas Boswell? Not so much.

And here I was, hoping to apply for a job with the Nationals after graduation. Oh well.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Killing time

Oy, humbug!
Nothing makes me feel more bipolar than Christmas shopping. One moment, I feel good because I'm buying gifts. Finding the right present for someone is a nice feeling, isn't it? But then the next moment, I want to strangle my fellow shoppers. Like the morons I encountered at Best Buy today who blocked up entire aisles with shopping carts. Unless you're buying a TV, computer, or washing machine, why the hell do you need a shopping cart at Best Buy??? These people had a couple of CDs and DVDs in the compartment where your kid would sit. Then there was the guy who stood reallyclosetome in line. You know what, pal? You're not getting out of here any faster if you spoon with me, okay? Back off. And if you're trying to hit on me (and hey, I'd love attention from anyone at this point - homosexual or not), come up with something witty when we're both reaching for the same DVD. Us guys love romance - y'know what I'm sayin'?

Twelve is the New Eleven
And despite the lukewarm reviews, I saw "Ocean's Twelve" today. (Free time = movies, baby.) I'd challenge almost anyone to explain the plot clearly to me; there were a lot of tricks and double-crosses as the story wore on. It was fun to see all the Superfriends get back together, though a few of them really had nothing to do. (Poor Bernie Mac.) And the new additions, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Vincent Cassel were good (and good-looking) too. A gag subplot involving Julia Roberts was pretty funny; I imagine it would've been even funnier if Stephen Hunter hadn't blown it for me in the Washington Post.

Manohla Dargis of the New York Times said that Steven Soderbergh had to challenge himself to make this interesting, and I think I agree with that. Quick edits, freeze frames, quirky camera angles, different film stocks and lens filters - he pulled a lot of tricks out of the bag to keep this interesting. Actually, I thought it was Soderbergh's homage to one of his heroes, Richard Lester (an admiration clearly expressed in the book "Getting Away With It"). Many scenes reminded me of "A Hard Day's Night."

It's been nauseating and eye-rolling to watch Clooney, Pitt, Damon, and the rest of the gang pimp their movie on every show imaginable, and talk about how much fun they had together. But that fun is certainly apparent on the screen, and makes for an enjoyable flick. But maybe we don't need to see "Ocean's Thirteen," okay? Soderbergh should be frying bigger cinematic fish next time.

Fly the Wireless Skies
I caught this in USA Today this morning at the coffee shop: airlines will soon offer high-speed internet and cellphone service on their flights. I've always been hesitant to bring my laptop with me on flights, mostly because of the delays they cause with security. But if I knew I could check my e-mail or surf the web - especially on a long flight - that would be great. However, I'm not sure I want to sit next to some dope yakking away on his or her cell phone during a long flight.

"Oh yeah, we just got on the plane... No, we haven't gotten any drinks yet, we haven't even taken off yet... You know what, I think I want a pillow, I just leaned against the window and it's cold... So where are you right now? Oh yeah? Mmm, coffee sounds good right now... No... No, they won't bring the drinks until we take off... Oh, I think we're taking off now, the stewardess is doing the put-your-seat-belt-on-your-oxygen-mask-is-here thing... You know, I wish I could afford first-class, these seats are tight... maybe the guy next to me can find an empty seat after we take off... Ha ha! Yeah, people should lose weight... I bought 'Digital Fortress' for the flight... Dan Brown... Yeah, I loved "The Da Vinci Code," I told you, you have to read it..."

On the bright side, I'd have internet access and could immediately complain about this jackass on my blog...

Another Reason I Should Bring My Camera Everywhere
But where I should've been today is at the Iowa City Sheraton Hotel. "Hi, my name is Ian. I'm a photographer."

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Bad writing - oooooooh, soooo bad

Here's something else I can aspire to after graduation. Reading through Andrew Sullivan's blog, I tripped over this. Tom Wolfe won this year's Literary Review Bad Sex award.

Check out this beauty from Wolfe's latest opus, "I Am Charlotte Simmons":

"Hoyt began moving his lips as if he were trying to suck the ice cream off the top of a cone without using his teeth..."

"Slither slither slither slither went the tongue," is another titillating nugget. And I had the nerve to wonder why the hell Wolfe would write a nearly 700-page novel about "the college experience" (i.e, a girl losing her virginity in college).

But Bill O'Reilly still has Wolfe beat in his attempt at fiction, "Those Who Trespass":

"He gently teased her by licking the areas around her most sensitive erogenous zone. Then he slipped her panties down her legs and, within seconds, his tongue was inside her, moving rapidly."

Hoo boy, I'm typing this entry with one hand. (Should I have just told you that?)

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The face! Look at the face!

I'm a little bit late on this, but the news programs keep following up on the Viktor Yushchenko story - complete with pictures - so I have to write about it. For those who don't know, Yushchenko is a Ukrainian presidential candidate who, this past weekend, was revealed to have been poisoned with dioxin. That would explain the drastic change in his physical appearance. Don't believe me? Check these photos out. He went from a square-jawed stud to a Lord of the Rings character.


Look at that. Is that the same person? His face looks like it's made of clay now. (This condition is called "chloracne," a sure sign of dioxin poisoning.) And someone did this to him, most likely lacing a bowl of his soup with the poison. Even just a drop of the stuff could've done this to him. Horrifying.

Here's more about dioxin and the Yushchenko story, courtesy of Slate.

Monday, December 13, 2004

The local snooze

Maybe we should all stop with this blogging thing. Well, no - because I've had too much fun with it. And I've pulled a couple of friends onto the wagon with me. But in today's Washington Post, Howard Kurtz writes about "open source journalism," which is so-called news written at the neighborhood level. People would write about really local news on these sites, such as animals that have been tearing through garbage bags, great lawn-care tips, or little Suzie on the corner now selling Girl Scout cookies.

This is starting in Reston, VA with a site called, but could soon be on its way to a neighborhood or community near you. Where did the idea come from? Blogs, my dear Watson.

My favorite quote from the article? The founder of, Mark Potts, licking his lips at the possibilities these sites could create. "What happens if two people go to the same council meeting and write two different accounts of it?" he said. "Fantastic. Controversy is great."

The great thing about blogs is that they can be anything the writer wants. We all think our own lives and thoughts are interesting enough to justify this forum. I just hope stuff like Backfence never finds its way into my life. I'm thinking about conversations I've had with my uncle's friend who thinks the drama among members of the management committees in her condominium community is so interesting. "I should jot down the conversations for you, Ian," she's said. "You could make a book out of them." Yes, I could write stories of that bitch Lois around the corner who made a face at Margie because she hung wind chimes on her patio. Or the whispers Gloria receives because her son might have ADD.

I'd rather plunge my head into a toilet after I've rid myself of stomach flu. It's bad enough I have to hear that shit over coffee at Tim Horton's because I chose the wrong time of day to visit my uncle.

What would John Cheever do?

Ice Station Iowa City

It is FUCKING COLD here in Iowa. As I write this, the wind chill is 11 degrees. Of course, it is December, so I probably shouldn't be belly-aching. I can't remember how long it took to get this cold last year.

I ran out of coffee in my apartment yesterday, so had to leave the warm, cozy confines of my cinder block cell this morning for some much-needed wake up juice. I knew it was windy outside - my windows had been rattling all night - and I knew it would be cold because of the weather forecast, but when that wind hit my face and the gap of skin between my gloves and the end my sleeves, it felt like I was being gouged with needles. I almost turned around to go back inside, but the prospects of a caffeine withdrawal headache was enough to keep me going to my car. The display on a nearby bank said it was -15 degrees. Christ, I almost dipped my fingers into that hot coffee once I got it. Waiting for the bus a couple hours later was not fun. (Some dumb-ass wasn't even covering his head. I fully expected to see his ears fall off. Then I would've picked one up and yelled "What's the matter with you?" into it.) I should've driven, since all I had to do was drop off one of my final portfolios on campus. I'm sure I could've found a parking space so early in the day.

The Weather Channel says it could be in the mid-40s by Wednesday. Are you kidding me? Midwest weather, baby - ain't nothin' like it. Has 45 degrees ever sounded so warm?

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Saturday sports stuff

image from the AP (Scott Audette)

I know I'm testing the patience of the few who read my blog by writing about sports. Thanks for sticking with me.

Simply the Best?
University of Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards won the Biletnikoff Award Thursday night, given each season to the best receiver in college football. I'm biased, of course, since I'm a Michigan fan and watched more of their games than any other school's (including, sorry fellow Hawkeyes, Iowa), but this was an obvious choice. This past season, no other wide receiver had more of an impact on his team's games than Edwards. If it's possible for a receiver (who, remember, needs the quarterback to throw the ball to him) to win a game by himself, then Edwards did that against Michigan State. Deserving as he was, however, I still did a double-take at this quote from Edwards:

"I can honestly say that I feel that I'm the best receiver to ever come to the University of Michigan."

The young man certainly doesn't lack confidence. (Of course, that's probably what makes him so good.) I'm sure Dad and I will discuss this while watching Michigan play in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day. Is Braylon Edwards the best receiver Michigan's ever had? As long as I've watched Michigan, they've never had a receiver who could not only catch the long pass well, but also go over the middle for shorter catches where he was sure to be hit by defenders, and even turn those short plays into long runs for touchdown scores.

Dad will probably side with Anthony Carter, whose playing days I remember, but barely. From what I've seen (on tape), been told, and read, Carter could do all of the above, as well. Even more impressive is that Carter set every Michigan receiving record in an era when coach Bo Schembechler was hesitant (to put it kindly) to throw the ball very often, preferring the safer, more conservative, more controlling method of handing the ball to the running backs instead. Had Carter played in the more creative offense Michigan plays today, who knows what he could've accomplished?

It Was Nice to Dream
My Detroit Tigers are losing out on some of the free agents they were targeting this off-season. Yesterday, 3rd baseman Troy Glaus signed with Arizona and centerfielder Steve Finley chose to play with Anaheim. Oh well. I was surprised Detroit was in the hunt for those guys in the first place. But the Tigers made a splash when they signed Troy Percival a couple of weeks ago. And I still feel the need to convince myself that Ivan ("Pudge") Rodriguez, maybe one of the best catchers ever to play, chose to play in Detroit last year.

But there are still plenty of good players available. And now that they see Detroit seems to be serious about putting together a good team (especially with the Major League All-Star Game coming to Detroit next summer), a couple of them should fall the Tigers' way. At least I hope so. It was fun to be excited about the Tigers again last summer.

That Ship Has Sailed

I should write something about the charges that Oakland County prosecutors filed against five Indiana Pacers players and five Detroit Pistons fans, in lieu of last month's "Malice at the Palace." But I've already blown a lot of gas on that stuff. I do think it's interesting, however, that the prosecutor laid most of the blame on the jackass who threw the cup at Ron Artest. It's hard to argue with that after watching the footage, but I think a lot of people would've guessed that the prosecutor would try to make a name for himself and go after the millionaire professional basketball players.

One More Thought

If the National Hockey League has suspended play because of a labor dispute, yet no one seems to care (media, fans, etc.), how much trouble is that league in?

The Detroit Red Wings' Brendan Shanahan put it perfectly in a column yesterday by Mitch Albom: "There are plenty of other people who will entertain the audience if you pull yourself out of the entertainment market."

As much as people love sports, once they figure out there's something else to do, they usually do it.

Friday, December 10, 2004

The knives are out

My favorite movie review quote of the week is from one of my favorite critics, Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post:

"Watching 'Blade: Trinity' is like being rolled down a marble staircase in an oil drum."

Ouch. My expectations weren't too high for this one, though I did enjoy the first two 'Blade' films. (However, I like the first one less each time I see it, as I complained to a friend last week after watching it on TNT.) It'll still get $5.00 (matinees - gotta love 'em) from me next week after I finish my final portfolios for the semester.

Stephen didn't care much for 'Ocean's Twelve,' either:

"The whole thing is a piffle of fluff or a fluff of piffle."

Yet I'll probably be spending $5.00 on this one, too. Steven Soderbergh's one of my favorite filmmakers.

'Tis the Season

Anyone notice that Jesus seems to be everywhere these days? (And I'm not asking that in a "have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior" kind of way; please, open the door again.) All of the news channels seem to be doing their own one-hour specials and documentaries on Jesus, with maybe some Mary and Mary Magdalene thrown in for time's sake. And both Time and Newsweek have cover stories on Jesus (or more specifically, his birth) this week. I know Christmas is coming up, so Jesus is an obvious topic at hand. But I don't recall it being quite like this. I think it's Mel Gibson's fault.

(I'd also say the election and "moral values" had something to do with this - and I'm sure it does - but these features and specials were surely being produced or already produced by the time the election rolled around.)

Thursday, December 09, 2004

The jig is up

© 2004 Darby Conley/Dist. by UFS, Inc.

Whenever I visit home, a lot of people ask me what the writers do at the University of Iowa. Well, here it is. This is what we sit around doing (when we're not tearing each other's work apart). My book is tentatively titled "The Curious Incident of Reading Lolita with the Five People You Meet in America: The Code." (And if you get that without looking at a bestsellers list, you have my gratitude.)

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

It. Was. Sweet.

"Writers Gone Public" at Shambaugh Auditorium was a big hit last night. (No photos, unfortunately. I didn't want to be the one dork snapping pictures and lighting up the room with his flash.) There was music, food, drinks (non-alcoholic, of course), and reading. The turnout was actually pretty good at the beginning, near my predicted 50-60 people. But many writers left after reading their work on stage. Selfish bastards. Actually, I should've joined them. We all had work to do last night.

So the crowd gradually thinned out. But I would've hated for a bunch of people to leave before I read my piece (which I should post here), so I made myself stay for the whole thing. And I'm glad I did. (Not just because that meant I got more cheese for myself, either.) The writers here, as you might imagine, have all created interesting stuff - some good, some great, some not-so-good - but none of it was boring. And some of it was even uncomfortable, in a good way. I'm just glad I didn't have to follow anyone who wrote a devastating piece about a dead relative or friend. ("Hey kids, time for some jokes! Uncle Ian's gonna tell you about all the times he's gotten pulled over while playing 'Norwegian Wood' on his car stereo!") The night took on a natural rhythm; there was a good balance between serious and funny work.

How'd I do? I KILLED, baby! No, it was extremely gratifying to have the audience laugh when I meant them to laugh. They even laughed in places I wouldn't have expected, which was a pleasant surprise. No one told me I was twitching nervously. My voice didn't crack. My hand didn't shake while holding the microphone. And I didn't hold it too close or too far from my face either. Actually, I was VERY relaxed. Maybe that was because I was largely among peers. We were all very supportive of each other. It was a great experience, but kind of a blur in my memory. I hope I get to do it again very soon, and I will make sure to appreciate everything much more.

Thanks to Amy Leach for "volunteering" me to participate. I've learned a lot from her this semester and she trusted me enough to give me a long creative leash, which is exactly what I wanted and needed. And I didn't know this until last night, but she is a hell of a violin player!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Live! From Iowa City!

I will be reading in front of a live audience tonight. (!!!) I, along with a couple dozen other poor suckers, have been roped into presenting some material for the University of Iowa's Nonfiction Writing department. I have no idea what to expect. (Other than cheers, screams, flowers, panties, and post-reading groupies.) I've been doing the math in my head (not my strong suit) and figure there will be 50-60 people there. So I'm nervous about that. Of course, there will be many little fish in that big pond. I'm not sure whether reading for a crowd largely composed of fellow writers is a good or bad thing. Hopefully, we'll all be supportive of each other.

7 pm @ Shambaugh Auditorium. If I can get a picture or two (and if I'm not too self-conscious about flashing a camera), I'll post it here.

Fortune smiles

This never happens, so it seemed "blog-worthy." Thought I had a big paper due today. Busted my ass over the weekend and last night (okay, mostly last night) to finish it in time. Get to class and find out - it's due Thursday.

Frustration? Well, I would've gotten more sleep last night. Procrastination? Absolutely. That's what got me here in the first place. Elation? Hell yeah, now I don't have to worry about it for Thursday.

I will be sleeping all day tomorrow after my afternoon class. Thank you and good night.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Will I ever grow up?

Warner Bros. released a teaser poster for the new Batman movie, coming out next summer.

I think it looks damn cool. And I can't wait to see this in June.

Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever outgrow the kind of excitement I feel for something like a new Batman movie. I'm probably too old to be reading comic books, but I still love 'em. And maybe I'm getting too old to eagerly anticipate a movie with a man dressed as a masked flying rodent. I'm sure this indicates some sort of arrested development on my part. But hey, we love what we love, right?

Friday, December 03, 2004

Say it ain't so, Barry

Barry, Barry, Barry...

image from

And on the second day, the San Francisco Chronicle has grand jury testimony from Barry Bonds. (Who the hell is leaking this stuff to the press? Think it's happening because the president of the company that supplied these drugs - BALCO - is appearing on ABC's 20/20 tonight?)

In that testimony, Bonds admitted using the same "clear" and "cream" products that Jason Giambi said contained testosterone - in other words, steroids. Bonds, however, said he didn't know those were steroids and claims his trainer - remember, the same guy who supplied this stuff to Giambi - told him the "clear" was flaxseed oil and "the cream" a rubbing balm for arthritis. Apparently, Bonds is Alfred E. Neuman: What, he worry?

Then federal prosecutors informed Bonds that he'd been taking a lot of performance-enhancing drugs: Human growth hormone, Depo-Testosterone, insulin, and something called CLOMID, a female fertility drug that probably caused that pituitary tumor in Giambi. The man is a virtual medicine cabinet.

Five other players testified to the grand jury also, the most prominent of them being Giambi's New York Yankee teammate, Gary Sheffield. According to the Chronicle report, however, Sheffield only said he was given "the cream" and "the clear" by Bonds. He didn't say if he took them. (I'm almost willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, since he's not a bulging hulk like Bonds and Giambi. But there's already so much smoke here.)

There could be asterisks all over that baseball record book soon.

(And the Chronicle is going to win a Pulitzer for this stuff. Place your bets now!)

Thursday, December 02, 2004

If it walks, talks, and quacks like a duck...

(I was going to title this "Where there's smoke, there's fire," but I've already written enough about fires.)

I can't say it's a huge surprise that baseball player Jason Giambi admitted to a federal grand jury that he took steroids. Besides judging his physical appearance and performance on the field (which I suppose isn't entirely fair), Giambi had a stink on him the moment he was called in to testify to that grand jury. That stink turned into full-blown odor when he showed up to spring training less bulked-up. And that odor became rancid this past season, when Giambi missed half the season with health problems that were eventually attributed to a tumor in his pituitary gland.

Giambi will have the Major League Baseball Players Union behind him and probably has nothing to fear from MLB's impotent steroid-testing policy, but his team - the almighty New York Yankees - might decide that a player whose skills have declined since he stopped taking steroids (and who damaged himself by taking them in the first place) isn't worth the $80 million dollars (!!!) still remaining on his contract. (Jayson Stark explains the "legal-ese" of this at

But Giambi is just the first step in what could become an outright scandal. He scored those steroids from the personal trainer of fellow baseball player Barry Bonds. You might remember him from that one time he set the major league record for home runs in a season with 73. He's also 53 home runs - one, maybe two seasons - from breaking Hank Aaron's record for career home runs (755). What if Bonds broke that record, but was later found to be using steroids? Bonds denies he uses them, of course, but taking one look at his physical appearance and gargantuan home run totals can't help but raise suspicion. And, oh yeah, HIS PERSONAL TRAINER SOLD STEROIDS TO OTHER BASEBALL PLAYERS!

Ultimately, is this a big deal? I guess it depends on how big a baseball fan you are. Also, how much does cheating matter to you? It could be argued that fans really don't care how those home runs are hit; they just want to see those baseballs fly out of the ballpark. But for those of us who watch sports because we admire athletic gifts and physical prowess far greater than our own, I think it matters. When great feats are achieved and records are broken, we want to know that it was done legitimately. And as long as there's a question about that, it's just not as easy to love baseball.

The roof! The roof! The roof is on--

Here's a picture from today's Iowa City Press-Citizen of yesterday's fire.

Well, it's really of the firefighters, isn't it?

According to the report, sparks from a welding torch set a tarp on fire. Since the work site was mostly filled with steel beams, not too much damage was suffered.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

I wish I'd had my camera

So I'm walking toward the bus stop in downtown Iowa City and, from a block away, I notice flames coming from the 2nd floor corner of the Old Capitol Mall. Is that what I think it is? That's fire! Why don't I see any fire trucks? Why don't I hear any sirens?

That corner of the mall is currently under construction, however, which lead to this dumb thought going through my head: Is that fire intentional? Maybe the contractors are trying to get rid of something.

What a moron. Flames were shooting out of a hole in the wall! Who sets a fire that is a few gusts of wind from blazing out of control intentionally? (Unless you're an arsonist.)

I must've approached the corner just as the fire started. At this point, there were barely any gawkers or bystanders gathering around. Finally, I heard sirens. And crowds began to gather at the corner of Clinton and Washington streets. I could see many of them thinking similar thoughts to mine as they approached; "Hey, is that a fire?"

It looked like firefighters doused the blaze and got it under control before it could spread to the rest of the mall and cause serious damage. Once the hoses sprayed water on the fire, I went back to "Selfish Ian" mode and wondered where the hell my bus would go, since the police had closed off traffic for a one-block radius. (I finally found a bus about two blocks away, near the main library, if you're concerned. And thanks if you were.)

If I can find any pictures, I'll post them. But I don't think any news photographers were on-hand when the fire was at its worst. They got the aftermath, the charred corner of the mall.

24 days until...

I get my hands on those 'Seinfeld' DVDs. (Not that I'm telling my little sister - who drew my name in the family Christmas list exchange - what to get me...)

Oh yeah, that Christmas thing is coming up in 24 days too. Happy holidays and stuff.

Front page to sports page

Color Him Resigned
So Tom Ridge is resigning as director of Homeland Security. My first thought - which is an easy shot - was that this man's legacy will be a color-coded terror alert system and imploring people to protect themselves with duct tape and plastic sheets. But hey, I know that's unfair and reductive. It looked like Ridge wasn't doing a good job because he had an IMPOSSIBLE job. Would anyone in the same position have succeeded on any level? Watch or read the news - homeland security isn't anywhere close to expectations. Airports don't have enough staff and screening equipment. Sea ports and border crossings are still too leaky. It's kind of horrifying to think about. I'd resign too.

The Firing Irish
And the University of Notre Dame shoved its head football coach, Tyrone Willingham, off the bus. Why is that significant? Out of 117 colleges that have major football programs, only two of them now have black head coaches. Willingham was the first black coach for any of Notre Dame's athletic programs. Despite its recent run of mediocrity, Notre Dame's football team still has a tremendously high profile and is among the most famous in the country. A black coach holding the head coaching position there was a big deal. Willingham's overall record wasn't great (21 wins, 5 losses), but is three years on the job enough time to rebuild a football program? (Most coaches would say no, but of course they'll say that.) What stinks about the whole thing is that Willingham is a good coach and will very likely be snatched up quickly by another school.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

A String of Awkward Ads

Anyone see the TV ad for “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” that has a tie-in with AFLAC insurance?

Not exactly a Happy Meal promotion, is it?

Kids will soon be asking their parents if they can get that insurance - you know, the one with the duck? They’ll throw a tantrum when Dad says he’s a State Farm kind of guy…

Monday, November 29, 2004

Well, it is almost December...

Got some light snowfall here in Iowa overnight. According to the local weather dudes, we could get as much as an inch if the temperatures stay cold enough. But it will probably turn to rain later this after noon.

Pardon the blurry photo. I'm not very good with my digital spy camera. Plus the photo was taken from behind a window screen, so that might've messed with the image a bit. But I think all the white in the picture might give you an idea of the snowfall.

Bah, humbug!
On a perhaps somewhat related note, one of the few local radio stations I can tolerate has switched to all-Christmas music, all the time. This temporary format change probably took place after Thanksgiving. I forgot the same thing happened last year. I tried to erase it from my memory.

This stinks. For the next month, the only radio I'll be listening to is NPR and sports talk. But it could be worse. My sister told me radio stations in Charleston, SC started playing 24-hour Christmas music right after Halloween. And they don't even get snow down there. I'd jump into the Ashley River off a tall bridge, man.

Years of working retail probably destroyed my tolerance for Christmas music. I can take it for one week, leading up to Christmas. And even then, there are only a handful of songs I want to hear. 'Jingle Bell Rock,' 'Do They Know It's Christmas,' and Bruce Springsteen's live version of 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town.'

Friday, November 26, 2004

Highlights from home

Has it been a week already? Back to Iowa City and three more weeks of fall semester. What'll be the best part of the drive? Listening to the rest of David Cross's new comedy CD, 'It's Not Funny,' on the way home.

• I missed listening to my parents converse with each other from different parts of the house. Dad sits at the former dining room table, which he turned into his desk after retiring, and talks to Mom, who's downstairs watching TV.




• My dentist told me I need to floss more. He gave me the news with a spoonful of vinegar by pointing out that I'm at an age (between 30 and 40) where gum disease really begins to set in.

• 'Sideways' really is as good a movie as the critics have been saying. It stays true to its characters and never goes for a cheap laugh. I love Alexander Payne's films. He hasn't made a bad one yet. And no one plays a schlub better than Paul Giamatti. Any independent filmmaker or short story writer should look at the ending to this film and aspire to the same. It hit just the right note.

• Everyone's having kids and/or getting married. My friend Eric and his wife Mary Beth had their first child two weeks ago. Didn't get a chance to see her yet. But my childhood buddy Mike and his wife Lori had their third child on Monday. I saw him today.

Lil' Nate was like a loaf of bread in my arm. Wow. Some butter and I could've eaten him. No, c'mon - I'm kidding. I wouldn't eat a kid. Especially on the day after Thanksgiving, when I'm still burping my dinner.

Best part of holding Mike's new baby? I handed him off to his mother mere minutes before he unloaded in his diaper. How can such a little thing leave such a big... never mind.

And another childhood buddy, Chris, is heading off to Vegas next week to get married. Are all the kids and weddings making me reconsider my life? You bet. I've mapped out all the vasectomy clinics between Ann Arbor and Iowa City. Mike's kids are amazingly cute and smart (especially in comparison to other, older kids I know), but I'm glad they're his kids.

• My Detroit Lions showed a national TV audience just how terrible they are, losing 41-9 to the Indianapolis Colts. I like to think it's to make up for the fight between the Pistons and Pacers last Friday. Let the healing begin.

• Thanksgiving dinner is a lot of fun when you have shoe-sole-low expectations. I thought getting together with my dysfunctional extended family would be nightmarish. But most people seemed happy and ready to embrace a new phase of their lives. Unfortunately, others are stuck on the same treadmill of mediocrity and meaninglessness. Wine helps you listen to people who talk a lot but aren't actually saying anything.

See ya, Ann Arbor! Back in three weeks for Christmas vacation. Have some snow for me when I get back.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

But I really wanted fries with that

This is the Virgin Mary? Really? In a @#$%-ING GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH??

But hey, the lady holding onto this sandwich for 10 years got $28,000 for it on eBay, so who's the sucker?

That looks more like Marlene Dietrich to me. It's a good thing I wasn't with Diana Duyser when she ordered that sandwich. Not too many unfinished sandwiches sit around when I'm at the table.

How did the thing never get moldy? Brendan I. Koerner, who's scratched so many of my intellectual itches, explains all in his outstanding Explainer column for Slate.

You know, I've always thought my aunt's stuffing was heavenly. I'll be looking for Moses in every spoonful tomorrow.

Heartbreak a Stranger

It looked like a serendipitous situation. I was coming home to Ann Arbor on Friday, and Bob Mould, one of my favorite musicians, was playing at the legendary Blind Pig. The man is – and using this term makes me wince – a rock god to me. My roommate at Michigan State introduced me to Husker Du, and it was a musical awakening. My tastes changed forever after that. Later, I found Mould’s solo stuff, which was moodier, but beautifully introspective. The melancholy guitar riff on “Heartbreak a Stranger” can stop me in my tracks. And I “discovered” Mould’s next band, Sugar, at Tower Records (Ann Arbor location, R.I.P.) when their CD “Copper Blue” was played in the store. The blistering guitars from “Helpless” yanked me over to the information desk to ask who was playing. They were probably my favorite band of the 90s. I saw them in concert three times, and when Mould visited Detroit on his own between Sugar albums (at least twice), I went to those shows too.

So when I (inadvertently) found out about the November 19 concert on the internet, I was thrilled. What a beautiful coincidence! After dinner with my parents, I’d go downtown and wait in line. Going to the show was a no-brainer!

Then I remembered I don’t like Bob Mould’s new musical direction. He put down the guitars for his last CD, “Modulate,” and embraced electronica instead. I remember my face being frozen in disbelief while I drove home from the music store. I even took the CD out of the player to make sure a wrong one hadn’t accidentally been packaged in the jewel box. Synthesizers? Drum tracks? Loops? Beats? What the @#$%? Where were the guitars? Where was the ROCK from Mould that I had blasted in the car for years? The only thing this stuff made me want to do in my car is drive it off a bridge.

I thought I should give the CD another chance and be more loyal and supportive to an artist whose music I’d loved. But I never listened to it again. (I’m not even sure I own “Modulate” anymore; my collection’s back in Iowa City.) In the two years since, I hoped that Mould would return to the guitar-driven rock I loved for his next album, but he apparently hasn’t.

In an interview with the Ann Arbor News, Mould said he’d continue to play with synthesizers, samplers, and vocoders. He did throw a bone to those perplexed by this new sound, however. “Now that I’ve been working in that style for a couple of years,” he said, “and being more educated in the history of electronic music, I feel more confident in integrating that with guitar music.”

So I opted not to attend the show. And I feel a tinge of regret about that. The Blind Pig is a great venue for live music. I would’ve loved to see the “old” Bob Mould play there. Part of me wishes I wanted to see the new version, but electronica feels so soulless to me. If I met Mould, I’m sure he’d ask me to give his new stuff a chance. An artist stretching him or herself is something that should be commended by fans and critics, even if it runs outside the artist’s previous body of work. But ultimately, we like what we like, right? I have no idea whether I’ll buy his next CD, “Body of Song," but I'll always be glad Bob Mould's making music.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Have you seen this man?

The man who ignited Friday's brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills has been identified by Oakland County prosecutors. Dude has a sterling record, too: three DUI convictions, prison time for writing bad checks and carrying a concealed weapon, escaped prison, and has also been previously charged with assault. Nice. And if that was beer in the cup he tossed at Ron Artest, it's a violation of his current probation.

I miss Donkey Kong

I love video games. I love them so much I refuse to play them. I know if I were to get a Playstation 2 or X-Box and buy a copy of the latest John Madden football game, you could turn out the light, turn off the phone, and come back to see me in a month. I’d never get anything done, flunk out of school, and probably develop tendonitis in my wrists from pushing those buttons with my thumbs.

So I definitely see the appeal. And the media is coming around, finally noticing the huge sales games like “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” and “Halo 2” generate. (Of course, that’s also served up with a spoonful of “Oh my God, look how violent these games are! The children!”) Video games are a fascinating form of entertainment that is growing and evolving every week.

But maybe video games based on “The Passion of the Christ” and the JFK assassination is taking things a bit too far. At the risk of climbing on a moral high horse…

There’s an article in the Washington Post today about a game called “JFK Reloaded,” in which players – for an entry fee of $10 – can attempt to re-enact Lee Harvey Oswald’s shooting of John F. Kennedy. Whoever re-creates creating the exact shot, angle, timing, etc. of the assassination will win a grand prize of $100,000.

I’m out. I could never even save the princess in “Super Mario Bros.”

But even better is a game based on Mel Gibson’s biblical whip-fest. I discovered this one via Andrew Sullivan’s blog. Unfortunately, there's no mention of what the game will actually entail. I have a feeling the game won’t allow you to flay Jesus with whips and tear his flesh with nails and broken glass, as seen in Gibson’s film. But those video game guys are clever. Who knows what they'll come up with next?

Monday, November 22, 2004

Young men, you're in trouble

The NBA handed down some major suspensions in response to Friday night's brawl between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers.

Ron Artest received the harshest penalty, getting suspended for the rest of the 2004-05 season - a total of 72 games, at a cost of $5 million in salary. Even though he arguably ignited the incident by charging into the stands, I have to think Artest's track record of dangerous behavior ultimately factored into this decision. This is a seriously troubled man who needs some time to fix himself. I've probably seen this brawl replayed 20 times on TV now, and besides the violence, what's most disturbing about Artest is the relatively calm look on his face as he's throwing punches and running around. There's no anger in his expression. Something just isn't clicking in his head.

Stephen Jackson, whom Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post argues should've received a larger suspension because he ran into the stands to fight fans without provocation, is out for 30 games and almost $2 million. And Jermaine O'Neal, probably Indiana's best player, will miss 25 games and $4.5 million worth of paychecks.

Any aspirations the Indiana Pacers had toward dethroning the Detroit Pistons as NBA Champions can now officially be kissed goodbye. And all because Ron Artest couldn't control himself when he needed to. Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star is refreshingly objective about the whole matter.

Next, I'm sure the Oakland County prosecutor will be putting in his two cents, pressing charges against all those fans full of liquid courage on Friday night. I'm sure he'll go after the players too.

Did the Pistons get off lightly? Ben Wallace, who started the on-court portion of the fracas, was suspended for 6 games. Considering he wasn't in the stands punching fans, that seems appropriate (though I'm hardly objective, as a Pistons fan). An interesting question is whether the Pistons organization should be somehow penalized since its inadequate security and to-the-final-buzzer beer sales contributed to the situation. I'm not sure what can be done, though. Cutting beer sales earlier in the evening is a no-brainer. What about ticket sales? Can the NBA make the Pistons play in front of an empty arena for one or two games? Or take away one or two home games? I doubt that'll happen.

This ain't over yet...

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Panic in Detroit

I thought it would be just a quiet night back home in Michigan. The parents went to bed, and I sank into my dad’s armchair to watch the end of the Detroit Pistons-Indiana Pacers game on ESPN. And that’s when everything went crazy on TV.

Professional basketball players running into the stands (which were virtually deserted because Detroit was getting their asses kicked) and punching fans. Beers getting tossed at the players from all directions. Fights breaking out on the court and in the courtside seats. More players punching fans (who have made their way onto the court), coaches holding their players back, players holding their teammates back, fans tangled up with each other while throwing punches, slaps, and elbows.

It was a near-riot situation at the Palace of Auburn Hills – easily the ugliest outbreak of violence I’ve ever seen at a sporting event. (No, I don’t watch European soccer.) And I’m horrified that it happened in Detroit. I can’t wait for the rest of the country to jump on the pile and throw the usual “Detroit is a hellhole full of hooligans” garbage.

You know what? Auburn Hills is 35 miles from Detroit. The fans involved in the fighting - the ones who were hurling beers at the players - were affluent, suburban white guys. This wasn’t some “urban” riot.

It started with Detroit’s Ben Wallace overreacting to a hard foul by Indiana’s Ron Artest, and shoving him in the neck. Apparently, there was a lot of rough play throughout the game, and it could be argued that in a game where the outcome was likely decided, a hard foul (with a little shove, seen on slow-motion replays) wasn’t necessary. So Wallace was sticking up for himself and playing tough guy. No idea what may have been said on the court, but Big Ben seems to have started the fight.

But Artest is hardly a choir boy. He has a healthy history of crazed, irrational behavior in his NBA career. (Just last week, his team suspended him because he asked to leave the team so he could promote a rap album.) The man has anger management problems. And after he got a beer thrown at him, Artest RAN INTO THE STANDS to go after the asshole who threw it. (TV reports say he likely punched the wrong guy, too.) That’s when things blew up.

It’s hard to blame Artest for wanting to attack the guy, but he’s a professional athlete. He cannot go after fans, no matter what they say or do. Let security escort the guy out of the building, press charges against him, etc. (Security was seemingly nowhere to be seen during this entire brawl, by the way. But those poor guys were probably lost in the melee.) There will be fines, suspensions, arrests, and most definitely lawsuits coming from all of this. It’s a total mess and a huge embarrassment.

Basketball games used to have cages around them, you know…

Friday, November 19, 2004

Emptying the jar -- 11/19

Don’t know much about business

So here’s a thought: How the hell does K-Mart buy Sears? I’m sure the merger is good business (big corporations get bigger through acquisitions) and I don’t even know anything about business, which I’m about to demonstrate. How does a company that filed for bankruptcy acquire a national retail chain (which I thought was much bigger)?

Apparently, this is all meant to take Wal-Mart down a peg, which would be fine with me. If I wanted morality dictated to me, I’d go to church.

Will the right-wing media eat itself?

This article by Paul Farhi in Wednesday’s Washington Post might keep me warm throughout the winter. Now that George Bush has won re-election and Republicans have majority control of the House and Senate, what will right-wing talk show hosts (Hannity, Limbaugh, etc.) bluster about? They can’t play the underdog card anymore; their guys have won. And since their guys won, where will future anger be directed?

I’m sure they’ll think of something (Hillary Clinton, the “liberal media”), but how about taking on themselves? Conservatives might end up going after other conservatives who aren’t right-wing enough. They could all beat each other up in the process!

So who’s the underdog now? Who really has something to be pissed off about now?

Off to Michigan

The University of Iowa gives us the whole week off for Thanksgiving, which is the best idea EVER! So I’m off to Ann Arbor to eat at all the places I’ve been missing and see all the cool movies that don’t make it to Iowa City. And I can’t wait to listen to the new Interpol, PJ Harvey, and Wilco CDs in their entirety during that 450-mile drive east.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Tigers on the prowl

I apologize for the trite title, but it seems to fit so well. Baseball season just ended, but it's exciting to see my Detroit Tigers not waste any time in signing top-tier free agents to bolster their team and give themselves a chance to win. They aggressively acquired pitcher Troy Percival, an outstanding reliever who liked Detroit so much he cancelled his visits to three other teams, including the Cubs and Indians (both of whom had better records in 2004 and might've offered more money). Percival is older (35) but experience has brought him skill to go along with his athletic ability, and he was among the top five relievers in the American League last season with the Anaheim Angels.

The Tigers' new approach started last season with the inexplicable signings of catcher Pudge Rodriguez and pitcher Ugueth Urbina, two players who won the World Series in 2003 with the Florida Marlins and were arguably among the best at their respective positions. This served notice - not only to Detroit but the other teams in Major League Baseball - that the team's previous penny-pinching ways were over.

Now the Tigers have possibly one of the best bullpens in baseball, with two top-tier pitchers who can shut down the other team at the end of a game. (Though Urbina will probably be traded now that he won't be "the man" in the 9th inning.) And Percival might persuade his buddy and former teammate, third baseman Troy Glaus - who led the American League in home runs in 2000 - to sign with the Tigers, as well.

No, Detroit probably won't win the World Series in 2005. But they could make the playoffs. And considering they finished 2003 with a historically bad record (119 losses!), this is an exciting turnaround.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Desperately seeking controversy

Now that the election is over, and the red state vs. blue state feud over so-called 'moral values' has been established, are people so desperate to pick a fight that they're taking a trivial issue like the 'Monday Night Football' opening and making much too big a deal of it?

So here's the story: ABC ran a pre-taped segment which depicted Nicollette Sheridan's slutty character from "Desperate Housewives" wearing nothing but a towel and seducing Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens in a locker room before a football game. She drops the towel (exposing - cover your eyes - her naked back!), Owens says 'Hell yeah" (or something along those lines) and decides to skip the game, she jumps into his arms, and... well, I assume a touchdown was scored somewhere.

Kind of clever, kind of funny, especially for a program that emphasizes entertainment and wants to attract more than the typical football fan. But was it too bawdy for a prime-time sports broadcast? Apparently, some prudes think so and flooded ABC with letters, e-mails, and phone calls to express their displeasure. But this just isn't being discussed on ESPN and sports-talk radio now; the regular media is picking this up too.

The most ridiculous quote? Michael Powell, the president of FCC, was interviewed on CNBC and wondered if "Walt Disney would be proud" of this. (ABC is part of the Disney company, if you didn't know.)

The funniest thing about all this? This supposedly controversial segment - so "inappropriate," so "disgraceful" - is being replayed ENDLESSLY all over TV (network morning shows, cable talk shows) right now. So for all those crying that their children shouldn't have seen it, they've probably seen it again on another channel - and again.

The next funniest thing? The National Football League - the same NFL that signs off on numerous beer (with those TWINS!) and boner drug ads flooding its telecasts - is righteously indignant with ABC for allowing another Janet Jackson-esque incident to pollute its product. Never mind that the NFL seems fine with the same TV coverage ogling the skimpily clad cheerleaders on the sidelines before every other commercial break.

Meanwhile, ABC is apologetic - at least in public. Privately, I imagine it's pretty damn happy with all the attention. Ratings for "Monday Night Football" and "Desperate Housewives" will surely be helped.

One more thing, and this is a much uglier debate than whether or not we’re too Puritan as a society these days: On his national ESPN Radio show, Colin Cowherd suggested that there’s a racist undertone to much of this uproar. A white woman jumping into a black man’s arms on TV might’ve ruffled some unenlightened feathers. I don’t know if I completely agree with that, but Cowherd insists many of the e-mails he received on the subject prove otherwise. I’ll take his word for it, but I hope he’s wrong. I’d much rather make fun of prudes than shake my head at racists.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Something (sort of) New

As a kid, my uncle Mike gave me several of his Beatles LPs. Unfortunately, they were all scratched up (which is probably why I got them), but I always had affection for those albums - 'Meet the Beatles, "Something New," and "Beatles '65' - and wanted to buy them on CD. I always wondered why I could never find them in stores. But now I know I wasn't a moron - they weren't available on CD in the United States!

That is, until now. EMI and Apple (the Beatles' company, not the computer manufacturer) have released a set called 'The Capitol Albums, Vol. 1,' which includes the three albums I nostalgically yearned for. Sweet news - except I have to watch my pennies for the rest of the year.

Hey, isn't Christmas coming up...?

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Nearing the end

© 2004 by NEA, Inc.

This is how I've felt through most of the Fall term. Now that it's nearing the close (and I'm on the verge of my final semester at Iowa), I wonder if I've been doing enough. But good chats with advisors and instructors over the past week have lessened my angst. That light at the end of the tunnel might not be an oncoming train.

That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.

Some schools play football games for trophies like Paul Bunyan’s axe, little brown jugs, spittoons, or buckets. Iowa and Minnesota play for a pig.

That is “Floyd of Rosedale.” It represents a bet made back in 1935 between the governors of Iowa and Minnesota. (See what you have time to do when you don’t have to worry about issues like gay marriage?) That is a trophy, my friends. And grown men are happy to win it.

Iowa held onto Floyd yesterday, by the way, beating Minnesota, 29-27.
College football – ain’t nothin’ like it. Here’s a ridiculously comprehensive site that lists the many rivalries in the sport and the trophies that are at stake.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Football - Sorrow & Joy

From a Roar To a Whimper

Last Sunday, my beloved Detroit Lions lost to the Washington Redskins, 17-10, and I failed to be a man and answer for that to my friend in Maryland, who's a big 'Skins fan. All season long, I'd been talking trash, taking joy in the fact that my Lions were playing well while her Redskins were struggling. A win for Detroit seemed assured, which I made clear. Unfortunately, the Lions played one of their worst games of this season, and after a surprising start have now fallen back to their typical inept play. One would think I'd learn after all these years.

So since I didn't send an e-mail to take my medicine, Stephanie, I'll do it here on my blog. My Lions stink. The Redskins are their daddy. I will now go back under my rock and sulk.

Nothing Like the First Time

And I haven't written about my first University of Iowa football game last week vs. Purdue. The weather was great: sunny and 70 degrees. Mother Nature wanted me to have a good time. The game didn't disappoint either. Purdue made it close at the end, but Iowa generally dominated the game and won 23-21. The only thing I missed out on was eating one of the famous "Big Ass Turkey Legs." (The sign on the food stand actually says that.) They looked good, but I didn't want to carry around a giant drumstick of meat. Maybe some other time, when I can share one...

Did I take this photo? Yes, I ran onto the field, snapped this and ran off, quick as a flash. Coach Kirk Ferentz wants to sign me up as a running back for next season. No, all the photos I took with my spy-sized digital camera didn't turn out very well. I'm a terrible photographer, especially with a camera so small that it's affected by my slightest movement. All you could tell from my photos was that I was outside and that someone with a giant head was sitting in front of me. Too bad, because I would've loved a record of the experience. (I really wanted a picture of "Big Ass Turkey Legs," too.)

My sister will hate hearing this, but the Iowa fans are a lot louder and much more enthusiastic than the Michigan fans. Some say the design of Michigan stadium, with a bowl that stretches back farther, lets more noise escape. Maybe that's true, but I do think Michigan fans are quieter. They sit back and expect their team to win. Iowa fans feel like they can influence the game with their cheering. It makes a big difference.

I've become an old man when it comes to attending football games. (Baseball games are different to me. Someday I'll write about why that is.) "Oy, it's too crowded and uncomfortable. I hate being wedged in between people - what if I have to go to the bathroom? And I can see the game much better at home on TV." But a college football game has a lot of atmosphere that can only be appreciated in person. The variety of fans (the old-timers, the students, the townies), the marching band playing fight songs (I still have to work on learning Iowa's) and rallies, school colors, and raucous enthusiasm - ain't nothin' like it.

One more thing about Iowa football: I know this will sound goofy, but two years ago, I visited Minneapolis, thinking I'd move there. It was difficult to find a place to stay because the hotel rooms were all taken by Iowa fans, in town to see the Hawkeyes play Minnesota. But once I did find a room (and desperately paid a ridiculous amount for a room bigger than my current apartment), I met some Iowa fans in the lobby and was impressed by how nice they were. And I was impressed that so many of these people had made the five-hour trip to cheer on their school. I missed being in an environment like that.

(After Iowa won the game, by the way, those fans ran onto the field - at the other team's stadium - to celebrate winning a share of the Big Ten conference title. Those crazy kids tore down one of the goalposts! I would imagine Minnesota is still sore about that.)

I'm not going to say that I decided to go to Iowa that day, because that's just not true. But for a guy that was looking for a sign to tell him which direction to go, I sometimes wonder if the seed was planted that day. On the drive back to Michigan, I'd decided that I wasn't going to move to Minneapolis. Shortly after that, I remembered that Iowa had a great writing program. The rest could be history...

Friday, November 12, 2004

Emptying the Jar

I’ve been “Saved!”

I feel a bit better about the “cultural divide” in the country after watching “Saved!” a couple of nights ago. It’s essentially “Heathers” set at a Christian school, with Mandy Moore as the great bitchy villainess. I’m sure some devoutly religious people could watch this and think their beliefs are being made fun of (and they probably are), but I think the movie astutely casts light on how religion can be used to push selfish agendas, fear, and intolerance. It also skewers the attempt to make religion more “hip” for the kids. (Martin Donovan’s “Pastor Skip” is hilarious when he tries to get his students “down with the G.O.D!”) It’s a smart movie.

“Saved!” might not really make you feel better about the wedge between the “religious right” and “secular left” that exists because the differences seem so tangible right now. But this will help you laugh about those divisions. And sometimes, I think that’s all you can do.

Jolt Gum?

Anyone still have nostalgia for Jolt cola? As if we weren't annoying and hyperactive enough back in junior high, we had a drink with "all the sugar, twice the caffeine." I remember when I told my dad about it after finishing my paper route and he asked, "Why would you want to drink that?" Such a buzzkill.

But because enough people fondly remember this speed in a can, Jolt is being brought back in gum, according to the New York Times. Sounds like a good idea to me, especially when you need a quick boost in the middle of the day and you can't bear to drink more coffee or Diet Coke. But getting caffeine in unconventional methods doesn't seem to be too popular. Is that Water Joe stuff still around?

"Saving Private Ryan" banned?

Didn't take too long to see what the next four years would be like. Several TV stations around the country cancelled ABC's showing of "Saving Private Ryan" last night - on Veteran's Day - because they were worried that the excessive violence might result in heavy fines from the FCC.

Seriously? First of all, Janet Jackson's boob is nowhere to be seen in the movie, so these measures seem a little drastic. But this is such a gutless decision. Would the FCC really risk the public relations disaster of fining a station (or an even bigger target, ABC) for showing "Saving Private Ryan" on Veteran's Day? And if the FCC president, Michael Powell, signed off on such a move, do you think his father Colin might have something to say about that?

Unbelievable. I'll have to watch some porn tonight just to cleanse my palette.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Ramen noodles = gourmet food?

I can hear myself now: “"So I went to New York over the weekend, and had a bowl of Ramen noodles. Oh, and I stood in line for three hours for it, too! It was great!"”

I’'m glad to know that at least once a week, I’'m eating a popular national dish - prepared in my own kitchen! Ramen noodles don’t represent poverty, my friend! No, no - in Japan, people wait in line for hours for this stuff. And now, they’'re doing it in New York too, according to the New York Times.

"How much? You know, I can make this stuff at home for 25 cents!"”

Okay, enough “"wise-ass American"” from me. Actually, I would like to try one of these restaurants. It would be nice to know what a bowl of “"real"” Ramen soup, prepared with ingredients other than fried noodles and a foil packet of MSG powder, tastes like. What do “"fresh"” Ramen noodles taste like? What do they feel like in your mouth? With all the other ingredients - real broth, a boiled egg, a fish cake, some ginger, and seaweed - I’'m reminded of a gigantic bowl of soup I had once in Toronto'’s Chinatown. For breakfast.

Now, if I can just find a place that serves Spaghetti-O’s and Beefaroni...

What a difference a new hairstyle makes

Was that Julianna Margulies on “"Scrubs"” last night? 'Nurse Carol Hathaway'’ from "“ER”"? She looks like a completely different woman with her curls straightened out! Hubba hubba!

(And apparently, a phone number given on this week’'s episode - 916-CALL-TURK - is real, created by the show’s producers. If you try the number, you’ll get a cell phone and will either get a voice message or might actually talk to one of the show’s writers, directors, or actors. [I got the message when I tried.] Pretty cool gimmick.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Regrets? Here's one

Last night, I read that First Avenue, the legendary Minneapolis music venue, had to close its doors last week after filing for bankruptcy. I never did get to see a show there, which was something I always wanted to do. I almost moved to Minneapolis two years ago, which probably would've given me the opportunity. Even after deciding to move to Iowa, I was only a five-hour drive away. I'd often thought about making that drive to see Liz Phair, PJ Harvey, Wilco, or Paul Westerberg, but ultimately talked myself out of it. Now I wish I'd have pushed myself a bit harder.

Some of my favorite musicians got their start at First Avenue, bands like Husker Du and The Replacements. Prince, too - he filmed "Purple Rain" at First Avenue. One of my favorite scenes in Wilco's documentary, "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart," takes place backstage at the club, as Jeff Tweedy attempts to explain to music writers exactly what his band's album "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" is all about.

The world seems less cool today without a place like First Avenue. But according to the article I read, maybe the death knell hasn't been sounded quite yet. I'm sure there's a tangle of lawsuits to fight through before the club could ever open again, and I have no idea if improvements need to be made to the building or anything like that, but if it's mostly a question of finances, I hope the musicians who gave First Avenue its place in rock music's history somehow manage to play a role in keeping it alive. And if it does re-open, I'll make damn sure to see a show there.