Saturday, December 27, 2008

Commercials - #11

Only highlighting a couple commercials this time around, though it's all about quality, not quantity. Can I get an "Amen"?

To preface, I don't necessarily have a problem with this service, but rather the inherent stupidity of its Luddite target market. It's a cellular phone, with an accompany service, both of which are intended to appeal to the old timers who can't "figger out these gosh-darned, blasted buttons and blips and bloops" on normal cell phones. As for the phone itself, the buttons are huge, as if meant for infants in a playpen. Handy buttonin' for those shaky, poop-encrusted fingers, I tell ye! Cue the old man voice :

"No hat wearin' skateboardin' punk is gonna have a cell phone nicer than this one! To hell with ya rapscallions, ya miscreants, ya ruffians, with yer pacman and Dan Fogelberg! I got me a cell phone too! Nuts to you! I can send one of those text messages anytime I wanna...and another thingzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz."

Ok, we're back. Another feature of this dumbed-down phone is its screen, featuring insanely HUGE letters and numbers. Great for them old timers and their bifocals. I can only imagine how insanely loud the ringer and speaker must be for this phone, it's got to be NASA loud.
These things I've yet to investigate, and fortunately I'm not old enough to need such features.
As for the service, it's basically advertising the company's ability to coddle their leathery, raisin-mouthed clientele. These poor bastards working in the customer service department. The commercial shows, for example, a service representative confirming that yes indeed, he can add a new contact to the customer's phone. Huh? C'mon, Gramma Myrtle, there's a god damned "Contacts" option, press that with your Mixmaster finger, then after that 20 minute battle, you'll see an "add new contact" option. All phones have something similar. It's like a three step process! You're so decrepit, you have to call someone to have them add the new number? What a sorry old buzzard. Plus, if they can't manage the "add new contact" process on their own, how are they going to have the wherewithal to find the customer service phone number, and dare I say, figure out how to dial that tricky phone? The Jitterbug reps probably have to dictate verbal messages and turn them into text messages too. Now that would be a fun job, assuming it was time to get fired. Example:

Say Gramma Myrtle calls and wants to dictate a text message to the nefarious customer service rep, Simon Barsinister. Myrtle asks Simon to send the following text message to great-great-great-great grandson Barry...

"Merry Christmas, honey. Thank you for the happy card!" which point, Simon the nefarious costumer service rep decides to translate it to:
"Barry, kiss my ass, sonny. Fuck you, I crapped in your yard!"

Sure, Simon gets fired, but oh the pranks. The whole hand-holding service makes me wonder how many more of such services are out there. A company for helping Gramps program one of those dag-blasted video tapin' machines? I can imagine the extent of the stupid questions the Jitterbug reps must get from the extra senile:

"Can you find me the Lawrence Welk Show?"
"Will you come over and help me clean the mess in my trunks?"
"I'm lonely."
"It feels like I'm sitting on my apple pie. But I don't remember making one...did I make a doopsy?"
"Can you help me find my way out of this voting booth?"
"Where are my butterscotch candies?"

Ok, this pin head is starting to get on my nerves. He wears a futile, apparently decorative, headset while on camera, as if he's hawking his product at an contextually inappropriate trade show. The guy just looks creepy anyway. That said, this latest miracle product is supposedly the latest great reusable cloth, meant to clean up monstrous amounts of spilled liquid, and to soak up five million times its own weight in whatever urine or other noxious spills might plague the consumer. A quick clean up, and it lasts forever! I've seen mixed reviews about its functionality, but that isn't necessarily for me to decide, as I won't deign to order this and be sucked into that "buy an extra one, and just pay processing and handling" scam. What bothers me most, from this type A barker, is that he says "It's made by the Germans, so you know it must be good." Great, now we're selling out the Germans. Sounds eerily familiar to my rant about Heat Surge recently (which drew a response from the company itself). The it must be good? The Germans tried to wipe out a race of people, plus they took on the entire planet in a war...they must be good! Germans are good at a couple things; beer and cars, and I'm not even sure about the latter.

Billy Mays (sigh, again)
I was amused by
this page about Mister Mays. The only props I'll give him is that he recently parodied himself for an ESPN commercial. The spot featured him loudly, as usual, extolling the virtues of ESPN360.COM for its web-based broadcasts of otherwise unviewable sporting events. He says something like "Look! The sports come through this little wire!" Fair enough.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Commercials - #10

Cooking With Nintendo
The latest Nintendo DS ads have dusted off the star-nonymous Lisa Kudrow. A new commercial promotes software for the very portable DS system, with the ability to provide step by step instructions for "whipping up" an exotic dish in simple fashion. Kudrow and her daughter (where's the man?) decide on Chinese food, somehow by touching a particular geographic area of the DS's world map. The recipe is verbally dispatched, and boom! They just happened to have green onions handy. And chicken. And a wok. It's just that easy! Being Nintendo, I was figuring little Mario would interrupt and say "ah come on-uh, you no wanna make-ah no ah pizza pie?" Then a barrel would hit him over the head.

First of all, what a dismal name for a company and brand. All these "Fathead" things are gigantic, life sized "stick-on" posters of athletes that dateless, gourd-humping sports fans can hang on their walls. What red-blooded male wouldn't want to come home to a seven foot, two-dimensional likeness of a scary football player looming over his tacky furniture and empty beer cans? And the ladies! Come back to Joe Lunchpail's bachelor paradise, and listen to him pitch woo while Peytonzilla looms over his drooling, beer-scented mouth! Fathead. The first product line that was named for its consumers.

Heat Surge
I'm slightly disturbed by the apparent exploitation of a religious/cultural group. Heat Surge is some type of fake fireplace which safely acts as a heater. Fine. The advertisement becomes strange when the announcer touts the fact that these wooden faux fireplaces are made, by hand, by the Amish. The commercial goes on to show typical Amish-looking men (never women), with suspiciously fake-looking beards, hammering away at the product, as if part of a human assembly line. The worst part is when the marketeer claims that the deal is so appealing, "the Amish" have requested that each customer be limited to two "fireplaces" per order. The Amish? They make it sound like they can't speak for themselves, are basically "oompa loompa" creatures from the Willy Wonka factory.

A classic example of a middle aged woman writing the copy for this product, packed with some of the most annoying, waspy phraseology anyone could devise. It's basically a blanket with sleeves, and somewhat a cross between a blanket, robe, and sweater. According to their rhetoric, blankets are just oh so cumbersome, and restrict your arms from doing anything. What? It's a blanket, not a straitjacket. Move hand out from under blanket, grab remote, use remote, shut the hell up. The irritating soccer mom doing the voice over intimates that "bwankets be so bulky wulky, and can weed to cold footsie wootsies". Makes me sick. Then this incredibly effiminate product (and promotion) is purely targeted at old women, yet they show men wearing it while "grabbing a snack" (oof) and attending sports events. Any male wearing this hideous thing would be beaten to a pulp before halftime.

Obama Coins
Much like Sports Illustrated's "Champion of the month" promotions, now the greedy coin people are jumping on the "historic" election of Obama. His typically troubling visage is being pasted onto various alleged "coins", as if they were being produced by the U.S. Mint itself. Let's just cut to the chase here. The U.S. Mint does not make coins for slick, newly elected candidates with ugly color likenesses. Nobody's out recalibrating all the vending machines for the influx of the $20 Obama commemorative coin. It's not a coin. It's a piece of scrap metal, melted into something resembling a disc, tickled with a color-by-numbers likeness of the supposed new savior of the western world. Might as well be a poker chip. Sure, buy the coin now, and savor it during his first political scandal around mid 2009. Don't make me say "I told you so" again.

Now these advertising wizards are vacillating between the typical caveman adventures (in which now he seems to have a hot blonde girlfriend) and newer, disturbing promotions involving a stack of money with eyeballs perched on it. First of all, nobody, and I mean nobody, should ever believe that the hairy grouchy caveman idiot would ever bag a girlfriend, let alone an attractive one. The advertisers just had to antagonize the male viewing public by conceiving this whole "Beauty and the Beast" subplot. Not buying it, or your lame insurance. The gecko was irritating enough, but this beats all. It's even more disturbing than the latest spots, which showcase a personified stack of money, intended to be all the money we could save by switching to Geico. Trust me, I've done some web research...they aren't always going to save us money. My policy is nice and affordable the way it is, thank you, and isn't (and never will be) with Geico. I have a low rate from accident-free driving and never having been cited for a moving violation. (Personal message to one dear friend of mine: Shut up you!)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Reality Show Ramblings #2

The saga of reality shows continues, with a few more from the cable channels...

There are two versions of this series, one from England and its uglier, more interesting North American sister. As for the latter, it chronicles the daily meanderings of Southwest Airlines' customer service staff. One word I think of when I see "customer service staff" : complaints. And plenty of them. Clearly, the executives from Southwest took a gamble with allowing this amount of television exposure. On some occasions, we'll see immersive human interest stories about emotional reunions or staff tribulations. On other occasions, we'll see an employee going the extra mile to assist one or more of the following:

- The dizzy 200 year-old prune of a woman who can't find her way around and shouldn't be travelling anyway
- The rowdy unshaven drunk guy, usually on his way to Vegas, that has been denied boarding and can't understand why
- The super fat guy that needs to purchase nine extra seats to accommodate his Robert Earl Hughes frame (and the subsequent load balancing problems)
- The idiots who try to check a 1200 pound suitcase
- The creepy people from third world countries who try to check things that don't even resemble baggage, and invariably have bugs crawling out of them (both the creepy people and the baggage)
- The rest of the idiots that aren't around the gate when the final boarding call comes, or those that can't understand the definition of "standby passenger"
- The questionable people who try to come on board with knives, guns, gasoline, etc.
- The bitter, angry jerks of passengers who claim discrimination because they are fat/black/middle eastern

Sure, it's likely good public relations to show Southwest handling these situations, generally involving dialogue that begins with the phrase "Sir/Ma'am, we can't..." That said, a vast majority of the segments focus on the airline's screw-ups. Lost bags, lost passengers, lost pets, cancelled flights, late flights, overbookings, and other miscommunications between the airport staff and the infamous reservation center. These situations seem to far outnumber the "feel good" moments of the show, and simply illustrate that the airline is rather incompetent in allowing these constant problems to rear their ugly heads, like a whack-a-mole game from hell. I'm sure that the other airlines make quite a few mistakes as well, but they are all smart enough to keep them off a nationally broadcast reality show. I'm sure the show has, in the end, done more harm than good to Southwest and its reputation.

Iron Chef (Original Japanese version)
The oddly disturbing and off-putting predecessor to Iron Chef America, this show was the beginning of the reality cooking competition frenzy. The show features two chefs, set into "battle" in which each chef needs to create dishes based on the episode's secret ingredient. Most of the time, the secret ingredient is an obscure fish or creepy sea monster, none of which are even remotely familiar to the culinary fans from the western hemisphere. A "challenger" chef, generally snatched from a strange restaurant in Japan, takes on one of the four "Iron Chefs", who are deemed to be the best in their particular cuisines. There's one who specializes in Chinese cuisine, another for Japanese, another for French, and the perennially forgotten fourth chef, who specializes in Italian. First of all, there is the amusing aspect to the two chefs who are supposed experts in Italian and French cuisines, because they are both Japanese. C'mon, there's just a question of authenticity here. Why couldn't they dredge up a chef from Italy to be "Iron Chef Italian"? Same for the French thing. If I saw a Japanese guy preparing my spaghetti, I'd be running for the hills. Sure, there are great Italian restaurants in the United States, and while this isn't Italy, the people behind these restaurants probably, at very least, have an Italian heritage. I don't expect too many Japanese people to have Italian blood in them. The "Iron Chef Chinese" is Chen Kenichi, a Chinese person. Fine, at least he's from the right country. My favorite, Morimoto, charged with all things Japanese, is from Japan. Fine again.
As for the ingredients used, they are always disgusting. Fish roe, lobster brains, squid ink, you name it. When they have ducks around, they don't use the meat, like normal humans. Out come the beaks, feet, kidneys, heads, eyes, and similar offal. Where do these savages come from? Can't these people use things that don't induce vomiting, like vegetables, rice, and things that aren't so gooey? I know Japan is a seafood nation, but really, grow some damn asparagus and keep the show from looking like an unedited episode of Quincy.
The commentary is amusingly dubbed into English, for us thick American viewers. The voice actors that replace the original dialogue always go overboard. Really, do we need things like laughter to be redubbed into English? It sounds incredibly embarrassing. The original lead commentator, Kenji Fukui, is constantly, constantly, constantly, interrupted by a supposed roving floor reporter named Ohta. Ohta constantly breaks into the running commentary by saying "Fukui San?". I've counted upwards of 50 interruptions during the course of 40+ minutes of program time. If Ohta's interruptions were to be turned into a drinking game, I'd be plastered by the 20 minute mark. I invite others to try it, but I know I wouldn't last. It's painfully oppressive. I'm also suspicious of this Ohta guy even really being on the floor during the competition. I've never seen him out there on the cooking floor during the competition, only during interviews.
Upon the completion of cooking, the plates are submitted to the judges for commentary. The judge's panel is normally comprised of local Japanese actors, actresses, artists, and some crone introduced as a "fortune teller". Upon the tasting, the judges overuse the words "flavor", "salty", or "spicy". After the tasting, the winner is determined - or not. Sometimes, there's a tie, and guess what - that means they go into overtime! Worse yet, the overtime isn't edited into the original episode, it comes in a later broadcast! Thanks for leaving us hanging. Shut up and eat your sea urchin.

Storm Chasers
A new favorite show of mine from the Discovery Channel, it chronicles the ongoing quests of several tornado chasing teams as they traverse the featureless terrain of tornado alley during the summer storm season. Season after season, a poor bastard named Sean Casey tries to drive his tank-like "Tornado Intercept Vehicle" (TIV) into the middle of a tornado, with the intention of finishing an IMAX film, into which he has already sunk oodles of money. Unfortunately, Casey's TIV is guided by the apparently hapless tornado scientist Josh Wurman, who, despite his doctorate and years of expertise, can't seem to successfully guide Casey into that ultimate moment of intercepting a tornado. Come on already, Wurman's got a doppler radar unit in his vehicle, and he still can't lead Casey into a tornado after five years? Something must be said for the level of expertise here.
Conversely, a "rival" team of chasers, who merely seek to film tornadoes and sell the footage to news stations, is headed by an ambitious guy named Reed Tiller, who was actually one of Wurman's students. This team can't seem to miss tornadoes, in that they find themselves trying to escape them more than find them. Wouldn't Casey's IMAX project be best served by following this team? I don't get it. Regardless, I keep tuning in each week to see if Casey might finally get his ultimate tornado footage, though it seems like a destiny unfulfilled. Now the season finale is upon us, and I doubt he'll get his wish.

The Girls Next Door
Yes, yet another disturbing reality show. This one showcases the three (soon to be booted) blond girlfriends that live as sycophants, concubines, and attendants to the old and dirty Hugh Hefner. Some males hate the show out of jealousy, because the ol' bastard has everything he wants in the world, including his harem. Other males like the show, perhaps to live out personal fantasies or something. I have yet to figure out why anyone would want to watch an old fart have unlimited sexual access to young girls in a mansion that most people couldn't afford to see, let alone visit or purchase. Now Hef has roped in a set of twins, though apparently the original three girls, while they are likely out of the Hef bedroom, have signed onto another season of this tripe. I don't understand it, like it, or care about it, and frankly can't wait for Hefner to just finally die. I mean, really, this guy looks like an ash tray after a long poker night. I can't even say "Dry up and die already", because he's already completed step one. Let's go with step two.

More to come, as always...

Friday, November 28, 2008

Reality Show Ramblings #1

I've stumbled upon a ticklish little corner of television known as the Fox Reality Channel. While probably not available in all markets and on all systems, it is a strange cousin of yet a stranger channel, called "TruTV". Though these channels are devoted to the world's obsession with reality based shows, many other channels dip their lanky fingers into this cauldron of "humansploitation". Discovery Channel, Food Network, the Fox Network, MTV, VH1 and Bravo are leading finger-dippers in this area. The depths to which these networks have sunk has steadily increased. Since there are dozens of reality shows worthy of commentary, I only intend to touch upon a few at a time.

A parting thought - we have the Fox Reality Channel - how about the Fox Realty Channel? Could be spicy! Foreclosures, bidding wars, overzealous agents, and those people that use the bathroom at open houses! Juicy stuff. As Radar used to say..."Wait for it!"

Hell's Kitchen
This one tops the list, and while not necessarily a pioneer in the field, it has the most exposure, thanks to Fox and heavy promotion. It features the cantankerous Gordon Ramsay, a bitter, foul-mouthed bastard of a Briton, who looks like he grew up in a cigarette factory and has the disposition to match. I reserved judgement on his misanthropic behavior as long as possible, until I started watching him in other shows; suffice to say, he just isn't that nice a fellow. Like most shows, Hell's Kitchen begins its season with a group of aspiring chefs, all hoping to win the final prize of running their own restaurant. Each week, the group is presented with a "challenge", and throughout the episode, the group is demoralized as if they were boot camp recruits. I never could imagine someone being called a "piece of shit" for overcooking a scallop or adding too much pepper to a dish. I can understand Ramsay singling someone out for stupid mistakes, but does it need to go to that point? He's slammed food into people during a tirade, and thrown food at contestants for messing something up. When it gets into character assassination and physical acts like that, then a level is being crossed that just doesn't belong in the culinary profession. I have no idea how contestants from past seasons have been able to exercise restraint from simply hauling off and attacking the abrasive ass. I'm not one to fly off the handle, but I wouldn't have lasted through any single tirade of his without jumping him. Unfortunately (and it's a big "unfortunately"), stupid people like myself are entranced by the fear that encircles the contestants, and the layer of eggshells on which they dance. Ramsay's abrasive nature, the wide-eyed contestants, and the high ratings, simply prove that we viewers love to see people being abused. Hell, we're sitting in a warm living room watching people suffer, and like sex itself, suffering sells.

Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares/Kitchen Nightmares
The former is the BBC incarnation of the show which ultimately burst upon the North American markets as simply Kitchen Nightmares in the wake of Hell's Kitchen. The premise of the show involves Ramsay coming in as a "consultant" (with all the subtlety of Godzilla) to rescue and reorganize a failing restaurant. Apparently "consulting" involves yelling at the managers and owner, avoiding any element of civility in pointing out their misgivings, and cursing every fourth word. I'd submit that the "nightmare" isn't the failing restaurant itself, but rather the insane manner in which Ramsay attempts to, um, help the place. Again, it is a successful show, for the same "suffering sells" reason as with Hell's Kitchen.

Real Housewives of Atlanta
I briefly watched this show, and couldn't understand the point. I easily could figure out why the show was created, since almost all participants were self-entitled, finger-waving black women, full of the "mnuh uh!", "talk to the hand" and "don't go there chile!" aphorisms. Why, therefore, do we need to focus on elitist Oprah-wannabe women, if we have the technology to show some real black housewives? How about "The Real Single Mothers of (anywhere)". Show them chasing their kids around... "Advil, get over here!" "Tylenol, what you doing in the oven?" Bravo seemed to pass on such ideas, and show the Cosby families, not the Good Times families.

The Osbournes
Yes, I understand that this show is already passe with the populace, but it appealed to me for basically one sad reason - the meandering life of all things Ozzy. It would be inaccurate to say that watching him was like seeing a train wreck; rather, it was like watching a train still wobbling along, with missing wheels, its locomotive on fire, and most of its cargo stolen by bandits. I could always be entranced when watching poor ol' Ozzy, the supposed "Prince of Darkness", cleaning dog crap, taking out the garbage, or trying to figure out where the refrigerator went. Sad and funny at the same time. Worse yet, seeing his children exploit his finances to death was enough to create plenty of personal ear-smoke. A bit of an aside - why, in current commercials, does Ozzy claim he's been the Prince of Darkness since 1979? His music career started many years before that. Just curious. Did quitting Black Sabbath earn him the title? Must have been a promotional move. Be a solo artist now? Well you're a prince of something. Prince had his "Revolution" group, then he was a prince by becoming Prince. Then a symbol. Now even I'm confused. Bad aside. Aside from bad asides...

Hogan Knows Best
A VH1 production, the show captured the viewing public's interest for various reasons. Some were ardent "Hulkamaniacs" from his glory days of the 1980s, and sought anything related to the Hulkster. They never grew out of the classic Hulkster era, and his famous three "demandments" (train hard, say prayers, and eat vitamins). Others simply were hooked on the notion of watching the goings-on of high profile families, known as the "Osbourne Effect". Then there were the rest, who simply wanted to ogle Brooke, the bright-eyed, blond, bimbo daughter. She was this century's answer to Kelly Bundy. People who know me well enough will likely throw me into this category. Fine! Consider me thrown. Anyway, the recent sequel Brooke Knows Best is slightly less compelling, as she's already starting to resemble her withered mother, and that the element of the family epic, post divorce and his son's arrest, has dissipated. That said, it was good for its time.

Trading Spaces
Ah, to long for the glory days, lo these many years ago, when reconstructing a room wasn't punctuated with that annoying phrase "Move that bus!". Great catch phrase. I'm sure that will unseat "Where's The Beef" in no time. But then again, that is a different show. As for Trading Spaces, the era around 2002 had a small, yet predictable cast of interior decorators (two per episode) who offered their expertise and personality while helping a couple redo a friend's room. The men featured the ambiguously gay Frank and Doug, with the more palatable Vern as one to round out the crew. The girls featured Hilde, a glamorous brunette with strange sense of design, and the bubbly blond Genevieve, pictured at right, who's my favorite (again, those who know my type...). Like the Brooke Hogan syndrome, many of us red blooded males were hoping the episode would feature one of the ladies, as the rest were too annoying. Speaking of annoying, host Paige Davis was ever intrusive, and one we'd all hope would just go away. Didn't help much when she returned to the show years later.

I'll stop here for now, but there are more to mention! Hope you all had a good holiday!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Winter and Chicago Sports

There were times, years ago, when Chicago's winter professional sports teams were exciting to watch, and captured our attention. These teams, specifically speaking, were the Bulls, Bears, and Blackhawks - the dreaded three B's. Their greatest moments have since been permanently emblazoned upon the cold bronze that is the city's sport fan community. Allow me to recapitulate:

The Bears brought immense anticipation and enthusiasm to a fervent Chicago crowd, starting around 1984, when they were forming a prominent defensive presence, and playing competitive games against the best teams in the league. It was an exciting season, and a sign of more to come. All of the pieces of the puzzle were in place, and I recall quite a bit of excitement for their victories that season, and for the season to come. The season to come, well, came. 1985 brought forth a dizzying, dreamlike autumn for Chicago football fans, with a run of 12 impressive wins in a row to start the season. The only elements that spoiled this potentially indefatigable season were the dreaded notion of broadcast television, named Monday Night Football (which thus disrupted the team's rhythm and momentum) and a talented quarterback named Dan Marino. I remember, as a 14 year-old fan of Bears' seasons good and bad, literally crying as I realized that the bastard Dolphins were about to defeat the Bears that dreaded Monday night during week 13. If there was ever to be a greatest football team ever, this was it - and it was to be spoiled on national television. I hated hearing the howls of the suntanned idiot fans in the Dolphins' home stadium. Miami didn't deserve that win, but tried to make a mockery of the hardest working team in recent history. Miami, the city that deserved a football team as much as Elvis deserved his black belt.
The Bears, that season, regained their composure, and played a strange, presumptuous card by recording their "Super Bowl Shuffle" song well before the end of the regular season was even in sight. The Bears held true, however, and steamrolled their way through the post season and provided ardent fans a long-sought Super Bowl title.

The Blackhawks were an exciting team in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They made it to the Stanley Cup finals in 1992, and around 1989-1990, I went to most of their home games, having a friend who invested in season tickets. There was nothing quite like the environment of hockey in the Madhouse on Madison, being Chicago Stadium. Everyone was drunk and rowdy, and during games against local rivals, fights on and off the ice were common. It was a paradise for the typical male sports fan. When at those games, the team was agressive, exciting, and every game was a close one - fortunately, with the Blackhawks often gaining victory. Again, in those years leading up to their Stanley Cup push of 1992, there was an element of excitement, anticipation, and progress. Nothing seemed stale, and every season seemed promising. Even though they didn't win it all in 1992, they were still champions to most, if not all, of the old school Blackhawk fans out there.

The Bulls were mostly a joke in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Management was abysmal, draft picks were local jokes, attendance was amusing, and media exposure was nil. Even in the late 70s, I remember promising players such as Reggie Theus, Artis Gilmore, John Mengelt, etc. Nevertheless, the coaching of such legends as Larry Costello helped keep the Bulls away from the pressures of playoff contention and participation. Finally, things took a turn for the better in 1984. Yes, that's when the Bulls drafted Michael Jordan, a #3 pick. People seem to forget that the team wasn't instantly better with Jordan's addition during his early professional seasons. Jordan was still a thin, lanky punk, and his game was not polished at all. He was, however, exciting to watch, and while his game was nowhere near what it ultimately became, it drew crowds, more money into the till, and ultimately, the power to acquire stronger players in upcoming years. The true unsung hero leading to the Bulls' eventual dynasty was the coach of the team in the late 80s, named Doug Collins. At this point, all things about the Triangle Offense and other strategies involving Jordan were being set in place - and the assistant coach was a nobody named Phil Jackson. Strategic geniuses named Johnny Bach and Tex Winter were also on the coaching staff during those anticipatory late 80s runs, and their contributions not only led to the Bulls' ultimate Championships, but Jordan's "best ever" performances as well. Once again, those late 80s seasons were exciting to me - something was building. Pieces of the proverbial puzzle were steadily added into the mix as attendance figures (and finances) improved. Scottie Pippen was added in 1987, then Horace Grant, and ultimately Bill Cartwright. John Paxson's steady shooting and court wisdom (that which could be compared to John Stockton) stabilized the on-court presence. Jordan was finally a piece of the greater puzzle, rather than the savior of the team, even though his scoring dominated every game. It was inevitable that the Bulls would become a title-ready team, and once they pushed themselves past the dirty tactics of the Detroit Pistons, the NBA championship was theirs for the keeping. 1991 was their first NBA title, and rather poetically, a passing of the torch from an aging Magic Johnson to the peaking Michael Jordan. The dynasty to follow was something beyond most fans' expectations, and the Bulls could arguably have won eight straight NBA titles if Jordan hadn't abandoned all things basketball for his attempts at minor league baseball. Unfortunately, we Bulls fans got accustomed to the annual championships and the great breakup of late 1998 was all too sobering. The coach left, Jordan (for the moment) retired, and Pippen was poised to leave the team as well. But one of our winter teams was exciting to watch, and gave us thrills right into the early summer's post-season competition.

These days, the fans of the three cold weather teams in Chicago are left with a bad taste in their mouths.

The Bulls are showing nothing promising, even with the lucky lottery opportunity to have the first draft pick, in Derrick Rose. Rose is somewhat like a young Jordan, unpolished, not yet the savior of the team, and about four years away from true prominence. The fan base has worn away, media coverage is fleeting, and coaching changes happen with the flipping of the calendar. Joakim Noah (the previous year's wasted first draft pick) is an embarrassing member of the team. He's an arrogant, pot-smoking dork that rarely contributes anything other than personal fouls and missed lay-ups. I'll never understand why anyone drafted this bozo, and as I watched the NBA draft on live TV, I screamed out loud "WHY?!". The Bulls won't be much to watch for several years to come, at least. It's a shame to say that, but trust me, it's not must see TV. They are bottoming out, and it won't be long before they are playing in a 1/4 filled United Center.

With the Blackhawks, it's the same old story. Constant personnel changes, and seasons that might have been. WIth good coaching and passion, they could've made the playoffs last season, but seemed to give up the ghost in the final couple weeks. Except for goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, who is by far the biggest name on the team, nobody is interesting to watch. To make matters worse, their games in the early part of the season have been frustrating at best, with them unable to hold a lead in the late minutes of the game. The other team would tie the game, and eventually win a shootout. Nikolai can only do so much.

The Bears - forget it these days, though I was excited for them during their 2006 season. There were two reasons why the Bears fared so well that year - Thomas Jones, the running back, and their receivers. Jones always could provide first down runs, seemingly no matter what yardage was required. They unfortunately didn't win the Super Bowl, and the geniuses in the front office decided to dispense with Jones during the ensuing off season. Everyone knows that a strong running game is critical to keeping options open for a more effective passing game, and Jones was the reason why the Bears quarterbacks could complete passes with reasonable reliability. Since 2006, the Bears chose to pass (pun intended) on grabbing a "real" quarterback over and over again. They have become much like the Cubs, opting to trade away established superstars for one or two supposedly promising rookies. The Bears are once again, a joke, with too much media exposure and nothing to show for themselves. They're destined for a 7-9 season, missing the playoffs, and a new round of "wait until next year" rhetoric. As such, I don't watch their games, because in a rare case, it's the car accident that I don't slow down to observe.

The winter is depressing enough for a climate such as Chicago's. The summer baseball teams at least show promise, talent, and excitement, but then again, it's summer - everyone is out of the house, enjoying the weather. During winter, when Chicagoans are trapped in their living rooms on cold days, the teams that offer escape through televised sports are nowhere to be found. Sadder still, I don't see the trend changing anytime soon. It will be even worse when the Cubs and Sox lose their stamina and revert to 4th place teams in their respective divisions.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Night At The Opera, Part Two

After a full day of being herded through endless mazes of confusion, heat-induced delirium, and cyclic fatigue, the long journey through the basement of Cook County was nearing an end. It felt like it was midnight, but unfortunately, it was only 6pm, based on the spurious guesses of fellow incoming thugs. We entered the area where a strange, futuristic three dimensional x-ray machine scanned the body completely, presumably looking for stashed goods. It was an odd, plexiglass phone booth, in which several rings moved around the person and presented a live image of the body incarnate. Back to bullpen twelve. About two hours later, it was time to be entered into the computer system. We sat on the cold concrete floor, in a long line, while data entry personnel howled last names from our herd to be logged into the computer. The computers were, appropriately, frighteningly old and outdated, still using a DOS based system to enter newcomer's names, addresses, next of kin, and phone numbers. After the irritatingly redundant process of being entered into the system, we each received our "number", in black marker, on the forearm. The thoughts of being a Nazi concentration camp inductee unfortunately crossed my mind. If anyone takes exception to that comparison, first of all, fuck yourself, and second of all, remember (or find out) that many modern prison intake procedures were directly "learned" from Nazi methodology in this era. That said, we were physically branded with numbers.

We then were herded back to a bullpen, cramped shoulder to shoulder, until someone called a few of our names to check in our property. Mine was already checked in, but we all still had to get in line, confirm what we had, and suffer a few screams of "stand up straight, muthafucka!" from the stormtroopers patrolling the floor. After I confirmed my possessions, the guy stamped my arm with something else, some type of indiscernable symbol to show I'd been through this station. Back to the bullpen. I heard my name again, and was told by a dumpy, loud, near-sighted black guard, I need to see one of the people on the other side for "psychological evaluation". I found an empty booth, and sat down.


Gave it.


Gave it.

"Ok, do you have any psychological problems?"

"No, but I did get..."

"Ever try to commit suicide?"

"Well, not really but..."

"Ever think of doing it?"
"Well there had been times..."

"Ok, put your right arm out."
Faceless data entry person writes a "P" in marker on my now heavily branded forearm...
"You're done...go to the end of the room for a picture and your ID."

That was my psychological evaluation. I had now assured the fine bunch that I wouldn't harm myself or that I had any psychological problems in the past. I'm sure the virtual forms were filled out for me long before sitting down with this highly trained individual.

Off to get my picture taken for my formal ID, inasmuch as my entire identity, wallet-wise, was in the possession of some profanity obsessed asshole behind the protection of chain link fence and other similarly scourged co-workers. The picture taking was the easiest of, two, three, and very DMVish. I signed off on my picture and was directed back to the original bullpen stuffed with the usual hostile, hungry, vocal, thirsty, hungry, and fatigued mortal frames with which I had endured the previous multiple hours' journey.

At this point, I found out it was after 10pm, and we had been enduring this process for over 10 hours. Standing in cramped cages, enduring screamings and guard abuse, wishing for a drink of water and ultimately, a bunk in some cell to collapse. Fortunately, at this point, I had a comaraderie with many of the fellow incoming "monsters". 80% of them in our group were massive gang people, many who knew each other, and they all thrived in the roughest parts of the city. I had a pretty intelligent conversation with a guy about how I thought Obama was a fake, and he was leading the blacks on. His "posse" was right there with me, agreeing completely. Turns out two of those guys were picked up on warrants for murder, and another one just was given $750,000 bond for gun possession and armed robbery. These folks were my talk buddies. I didn't care - I was pretty scary looking myself, and had already earned the nickname "Big Man" during the process. Oddly it would stick. I was myself - not scared, just tired and pissed. This whole process would be a badge I'd have to earn, and I was gonna earn it. When I wanted a drink from the occasional functioning faucet in the bullpens, I'd line up and take my time. Nobody would mess with me because I had nothing to lose. I was super tired and desperate for a place to lie down.

We all found out, while stuffed into that caged bullpen, that it might be about three more hours before we get to the point of receiving uniforms and being assigned to a cell. That's all we wanted - a place to lie down - we wanted our cell.

Finally, fatigue got the best of me, and after midnight, I realized that I could lie down on the cold tile floor underneath one of the benches that lined the walls of the bullpen area. That said, I crawled under people's legs, who were sitting on the bench, and found my little dark solace underneath the bench. There was garbage, roaches, grime, and other debris underneath this bench, but now I had floor space on which to lie down. I took both of my shoes and used them to rest my head upon, and despite the noise, dirt, cold, and uncertainty, I was able to catch a nap.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Night At The Opera, Part One

I had a rough October, with issues from the past having caught up with me. The state of Indiana had some legal issues with me, some that ultimately were never resolved, though the impetus of these issues came from an era of unstable decisions several years ago. That said, things didn't get cleared up, and eventually, the State of Indiana decided they were very interested in seeing me...thus leading to an ugly Sunday in October when a few local officials were ringing my doorbell:

"Hi sir, it looks like your car out front might have been damaged last night - can you come out and check it? We just noticed it passing by..."

Stupidly, I bought this one, and came out wearing only shorts and socks...

"Nope, looks fine to me, thanks for checking though..."

Officer Friendly suddenly took a different tack:

"Have you ever been in Indiana, like a couple years ago, maybe [name omitted] County down there?"

Shit. All I could do was shake my head "no" and try to get back into the house.

"Are you sure you were never in Indiana, maybe got taken in for anything? If not, we can go to the station and clear up the mistake..."

I knew it wasn't a mistake...panic mode. I cooperated...

"Ok, well let me run in and get a shirt on, and a jacket..."

"No you can't go back in there...we'll get a shirt for you."

The "bad cop" out of the good cop/bad cop pairing was now blocking my front door, with all the subtlety of a freight train. I knew I was toast, and that it would be a long long week. I also knew right away, I was destined to be extradited to Indiana, and just admitted that I did have a legal run-in down in southern Indiana a few years ago. It was too late to keep denying things, computer records don't make mistakes! Yeah right!

They put me in their car, didn't read me Miranda rights, and off we went.After a night in the local holding pen, I was whisked off to the place I fear the most... Cook County Jail. I would have castrated myself right then and there to bargain my way out of spending even one night in a place that is normally referred to as "the worst place in the country". Unfortunately, there was nothing I could say or do to avoid being shipped there while waiting for officials from southern Indiana to pick me up. I figured, fine. Those folks will come for me in the afternoon, I'll be out of Cook County in less than a day, assuming the Indiana folks were to send someone to pick me up immediately. Or so I thought. Off to Cook County I went, and was soon sitting in a large room waiting for a hearing which allowed me the right to fight extradition - something I wanted to summarily waive, so the Indiana folks could pick me up and rescue me from this hell hole. At 6:30 in the morning, there I sat in this large room, waiting for my 11am hearing. Nothing beats trying to sleep, in a panic, on hard benches for 4 hours. Around 7:30 am, a friend of mine, who happened to be a Cook County Officer, had heard I'd be there, and he took me aside to talk. He was always a dear friend from my dart/bar days, and it was nice to see a friendly face. He, in an eerily stoic way, directed me into a side room. Nevertheless, it was nice to see a familiar face, after having dealt with harsh, faceless soldiers of justice.

"What happened?" he innocently asked.

I explained things, and that I was just hoping to not have to spend the night in this place, and that ideally the Indiana people would be here in hours to retrieve me. Then my heart sunk as he started to speak, with an element of resignation.

"Well, they have 30 days to come get you, so you may be here for a while."

The panic meter went beyond the red zone in my torso. All I could do was nod, ask if he could help keep me "safe" while there, which drew the "I can't help ya, buddy" response. I was hopelessly alone. Alone amidst a labrynth of cinder blocked walls, cold cement floors, graffiti, screaming, roaches, and uncertainty. After a relative eternity (first of many to come), I was given my moment in front of the judge to say I would be waiving my right to fight extradition. Hell, I could be fine in a small, southern Indiana county jail, the sooner I got down there, the better. Unfortunately, after the news about potentially being trapped here for a month, I didn't know how soon was "sooner". By 11:30, I was already beginning the process of being processed. I was stuck into a group of 200 people who were also due for being processed into the system, all of which were destined to spend at least one hellish night there. All 200 of us were loudly ordered through various stations along the process, and were held in caged "bullpens", which had room to seat 50 at most. Hours at a time would go by, being stuffed with others in these bullpens, forced to stand, for lack of room to even sit on the floor. Most of the fellow incoming deadbeats were really dangerous types, reciting gang tales and the like. Some were too dope-sick to stand up. I almost fainted twice from the lack of oxygen, water, and sheer fatigue. Little did I know that we'd be shuttled through 15 of these bullpens over the next 14 hours, and that I wouldn't eat anything or lie down in a cell's bunk until 2:30am. Thus, the night at the opera continued, and little did I realize that my adventures there would last another 3 days. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Resolve Things

I doubt it would have been hard to notice, but after my 100th post, I had a bit of an extended absence. As such, I should address the reasons for the sudden leave of absence. It's of a personal nature, and without divulging too many details, I'll wrap things up in a neat little package, with a moral of the story as well.

I had to take some time to resolve some icky legal issues with the state of Indiana, those of which I put off handling, and eventually, it simply made things worse. During all of the months when these loose ties went untied, I couldn't rest comfortably at all. There was no such thing as peace and quiet at night. Slumber was kidnapped by nerve-induced cycles of sheer panic, offset with self-assurance that the complacency needed to end soon. Having such things hanging over ones head is simply too much for a person with copious amounts of time to think. Over the course of many months, the logic became "live to fight another day", instead of much more substantive logic, dictating that it would be best to clean up any unresolved issues and face the music. I knew, by then, that I was incapable of facing said music. It became too convenient to slip into the cycle of simply not taking care of things hanging over my head, but to rather attempt to ignore them and self confirm that I'd handle it later on. Then the bad dreams took form, almost on a nightly basis, to the point where I was afraid of falling asleep, despite the fact that pure unfettered rest was exactly what I needed for the moment. Nightmares became recurring - of being on a plane about to crash, being kidnapped, drowning, etc. While all of which were too easy to analyze, the bottom line was that they were a result of continual anxiety about things not having been resolved. More recently, I let a dear friend down by, again, putting things off, when I should have been building up a web site with sufficient support and promises of things to come.

Moral being, get things resolved now! Few things are worse than having unfinished business hang over one's head on a daily/nightly basis. It grows to constrict, confine, and distract. If you have tax returns to file, face the music! It won't be pleasant, but the burden will have been lifted. Make that uncomfortable phone call you may have been putting off. Personally, I think a moment of discomfort beats an indefinite period of avoiding the inevitable.

Friday, October 03, 2008


Finally, I've arrived at the long-anticipated 100th article. It's a watershed moment, and I don't mind saying, I had every intention of it being self-celebratory. It's a time to take stock of what I've written, what I've said, where I've been and where I'm headed. It's been a long time coming. I'm proud of the body of work I've laid out here, and what you'll see is basically a "best of Mikey" highlight reel, replete with links to my past works. That said, bear with me throughout the celebration.


In the summer of 2004, many people approached me with the idea that I should have an outlet for my writing, and that my thickly worded emails often went to waste. As such, I sought out a means for writing my thoughts, and ultimately decided that I could serve myself well with an outlet, so to speak. At that point, I had been working on a musical project, and was sufficiently frustrated by all things external. In the end, I decided upon using blogspot as a host for any of my writings, figuring that since it's endorsed by the almighty Google, it wouldn't dissolve and thus take my works with such dissolution. Without much deliberation, I decided it would be called "The Vapid Voice". Being inherently self-deprecating, I wanted to intimate that my words are vapid, or without any more value than anyone else's opinions, comments, or observations. My writings would not be declarations; they'd merely be a mixture of my thoughts about the world around us all, and without any intention of implying self-importance. The word "Vapid" implied a sense of emptiness, and as such, my thoughts carried no weight other than the theoretical ink on which it was printed. With a name selected, I was off to the races; and after posting a rant about Howard Stern, which was subsequently removed, on August 3, 2004, I posted my first article. Innocuous enough, it was an observation about the burgeoning poker boom, and at the time, likely abortive. Knowing that the title of my site wasn't necessarily restrictive, I posted serious posts as well as comical ones. Most of the time, the humorous ones drew the most reaction from the early adopters. I'll cover the best of those below. The second post began a ten article series called "Relationship Injustice", and was a suitable outlet for all things wrong with relationships around me, including those of my own. While serious in nature, it drew quite a response and, dare I say, helped some people out in a therapeutic way. From there, the ball was rolling. I'd write humorous observations, cathartic, serious essays, and throw them out there for anyone to digest. Fortunately, many took to them right away, and I grew to love the positive feedback. I'll be forever grateful to all of you who regularly checked in to see if I posted anything new, and without your collective feedback, I would not have bothered continuing this literary voyage! That about sums up my historical perspective; I've been through a lot during the four years of Vapid Voice's existence, and I hope it's been entertaining, if not insightful.

The Vapid Voice FAQ

Questions that have come up during the last few years...

Q: Why do you put the starting word of a paragraph in a bold font?
A: Style, just thought it would be a unique thing. It was also a nod toward 19th century works and publications, which often printed the first word or letter of an article or paragraph in a large font.

Q: What do you prefer writing, the funny stuff or the serious?
A: Overall, the serious stuff. The humor angle gets the most response, and readers always loved it. But the serious things were most cathartic for me.

Q: Is the "Relationship Injustice" series done?
A: Yes. I am a fan of the number 10, and preferred to call it upon the 10th post.

Q: Have you considered seeking a publishing deal?
A: Yes, I've submitted content, but to date, no takers.


I'll provide the links to some of my best stuff, hope you enjoy the articles as much as I did writing them...

The Relationship Injustice Series

I was surprised this series drew so much acclaim, as I figured I was speaking into the ether. Most of the time, the articles were a result of personal frustration, but often they were observations of another injustice happening around me. For the first time in world history, all the links shall be presented to you, dear reader, in one convenient place!

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 -Part 7 - Part 8 - Part 9 - Part 10

Religion/Philosophy Posts

Without question, my most contraversial article came from an angry moment in which I, shall we say, lashed out at Jesus, God, and all things religious. It drew the most ire, and I debated about removing it, and ultimately decided in favor of keeping it up there, for sake of offering a snap shot of my mindset at the time, and the frustration therein. It's the only article I never wanted to show my mom. Some people in my life just didn't need to see this:

An Open Letter To Christ

Eventually, there were a couple more notable philosophical essays that came to pass...

Reduction and Realization

After posting this one, there were a lot of odd ghosts floating around me for a few days. No I'm not crazy, just sensitive to all that paranormal stuff.


People loved my little rants, and here are several of the best...

I Hate Driving
I Hate The Store
I Hate Restaurants
Where's That Equator?
Generic Rant Time!
Parking Lot Rant


A couple of my more amusing lists...

My Two Personalities
What A Difference - Far and away my funniest one...
Stupid Stupid Commercials

The Spam Review Series

I did a series of 10 (there's that number again...) postings in which I'd review spam emails and comment appropriately... here they are all in one place (I'm so sweet...)

Spam 1 - Spam 2 - Spam 3 - Spam 4 - Spam 5 - Spam 6 - Spam 7 - Spam 8 - Spam 9 - Spam 10

That about sums it up. This is Vapid Voice, and I hope you all continue to read the best and worst of my future articles, and perhaps delve into the archives as well. I'm glad I made it to the 100th post, and look forward to #200. Who knows where I, or you, will be when that landmark moment comes around. Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 22, 2008


In recent weeks, through the means of Facebook, I've been able to catch up with a lot of old friends from high school, electronically, telephonically, and physically (the last not being in the biblical sense, thank you). It's been almost 20 years since I've seen these people, heard from these people, or caught up with their lives. I, being the eternal bachelor, was admittedly a bit bummed from seeing the pictures of classmates' families, spouses, and the like. Perhaps it's simply a case of "life envy" and rather unfounded, as we all choose are own paths in this little journey, but then again, the grass is always greener. Reunions invariably conjure up a sense of self-examination; comparison to others who, many years ago in high school, were at the same starting gate, with the same opportunities and future. For the most part, the process of being back in touch with high school classmates has been great. A few of us have already met up to rehash old times, revisit old memories, and see how everyone looks.

The same people I occasionally envied for their establishing families have also occasionally been ones to send me messages complaining how burned out they are from shuttling kids around to various activities. While these apparent renditions of domestic bliss might be compelling, there is always another side to having a family, and it envelops 90% of one's time. I have yet to do the family thing, and sometimes, in the face of my advancing age, I regret it. A lot of my fellow classmates trumpet pictures of their kids, and that merely shows the good, not the uglier moments when kids are puking all over, getting suspended from school, or wrecking the car. To that end, I console myself by realizing that having kids and a family is tiring but rewarding, and that the facade presented on Facebook might be just that - a facade. It's been very strange to be out of touch with people for 20 years, then to pick up and talk again, after so many years of change. Many of these people have sons and daughters in high school, which is still mind-blowing to me. One old friend is even poised to be a grandmother. Comprehending all this, having known such people when they were kids themselves, is at best, a challenge. On a positive note, I've realized that most of those classmates never moved out of the metropolitan area, and as statistics dictate, a vast majority of people live their entire lives within 50 miles of their birthplaces.

Many times, pundits have said how people don't change. I find that to be very inaccurate. Most of the people I've reconnected with are of a different mindset than from the days of high school. The years after high school are most likely to define one's character, goals, and philosophy. High school is merely a starting point, not a defining point. I've seen so many classmates change radically after 20 years, and why should I be surprised? It's been 20 years of the most volatile times in an adult's life. Many of the close friends of mine from those days are now completely different people, in appearance, ideals, and status. Some have risen to greatness, some haven't. Personally, these reunion moments have been enlightening and depressing in the same moment. It's a time for wishing I did more over 20 years, but also a time for renewing old friendships that should have never ended in the first place. Everyone has changed; time and life experience does that to everyone, but revisiting the days of youth, even for a moment, can be invigorating itself. Never be afraid to reach out and find that old friend. It's rewarding in the end.

A few final notes. I still hate the Vonage commercials, but they've finally tapered off, and there's even a new one floating around which is far less irritating and obsessive. Secondly, this is my 99th post! Next one is the biggie! I've been working on it at times, and all I can say is that it will have some highlights from my better postings, and basically celebrate the achievement. I'm hoping to get that done in a couple weeks (or less). Thirdly, congratulations to the Cubs! Very happy they are playing well again. See you at number 100! Maybe I'll rope in some special guests!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The 2008 Olympics Part Two

I've written my initial thoughts about the Olympic Games in the previous essay, and I had a bit more to say. Thus, here comes part two. Sure, there are more political meanderings (and I hate politics), but there are always exceptions.

I mentioned before that I didn't really pay much attention to the opening or closing ceremonies. Everyone else seemed to watch them, and all can draw their own conclusions. I'll just say that it was a job well done, despite the penalties potentially incurred upon any Chinese citizens that didn't cooperate. Hats off to those that volunteered, perhaps under penalty of death. Sure, it was nice to see that, as a Led Zeppelin fan, Jimmy Page played "Whole Lotta Love" in representing the upcoming London Games of 2012. A nice gesture, but couldn't the rest of the surviving members of the band have taken the time to participate with Page in this worldwide ceremonial moment?

That said, it was amusing to hear that the Chinese government found some type of way to magically clear all of their earth-killing pollution haze in anticipation of the Games to come. China was every bit of that unflappable kingdom that, in its view, could do no wrong, and still decided to clean up the air and act as a warm host for the two weeks of propaganda to come. Their efforts to westernize were admirable. My dad even noticed an interesting thing, in that the Chinese even wore uniforms, in many events, with the English word "China" emblazoned upon it. Quite amusing, since the Chinese language doesn't use letters, period, just a mess of lines and symbols. It showed that China is finally getting it; despite not being a continent, they are truly the definition of the "dark continent", well behind the times, and desperate to catch up to the rest of the dreaded "western" world. The country is barely catching up to the world of the internet, and even that (pun intended) "connection" has been slow in its expansion. They've resisted vehemently to join the rest of the world, but finally its big cities show signs of westernization. Hopefully these Olympics will show that dreaded government, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Sure, it's convenient for the rest of us lazy Americans to know that everyone on the planet will need to adopt some forms of English, but that's simply based on rules of the commercial majority. They may have the most populous country on the planet, but us English speakers control the commerce with which the Chinese people ultimately need to survive. The subplanet that is China has politically painted itself into a corner, and it's up to that same stubborn entity to join the rest of the globe and adopt English as a language and participate in westernized idealism. China put their Olympic pawns out there, and they were affable pawns. People amongst the Chinese teams hugged teammates, hugged the American opponents (in the case of the culmination of the gymnastic events) and acted, well, human. Chinese people seemed friendly but guarded; it's up to their overlords to release the grip on the remaining elements of humanism that have kept them so contained and distanced for centuries.

I watched the competitions, most notably swimming and gymnastics. Having already commented on the swimming achievements, I will say that despite my normal ambivalence toward gymnastics in general, I was quite excited by the USA's successes as a team and their appropriate individual efforts. Sure - in the swimming world, Michael Phelps, as I mentioned, performed well, as did Jason Lezak during important four person relay events. Nevertheless, I was particularly impressed with Nastia Luikin from the gymnastics team. Her father was an Olympic medalist for Russia, and not unlike Maria Sherapova, she eventually was raised in the United States and groomed to succeed. While one of the darlings of the Olympics, she seemed to lack the cutesy cuddliness that Mary Lou Retton belched during the 1984 Summer Games. Nastia is a great gymnast and invariably poised to be the next Maxim cover, but she maintained that typical Russian-born coldness that all too many expatriated athletes brought to our soil. As a result, many of the network interview shows tried to crown gymnast Shawn Johnson as America's next darling, but I doubt it will stick. Conan O'Brien's show has already used her in a comedy bit, comparing her to a picture of "Howdy Doody". Very cruel and undeserved, she didn't ask for that level of publicity; she merely wanted to perform well. That said, I suppose Nastia is the "cutie" and Shawn is the "doody". Where's the justice? Shawn Johnson was a great competitor, and seemingly a sweet person, so leave her alone. She's just a kid.

During several of the team competitions, especially with gymnastics, I noticed another depressing use of a human being by the Chinese empire. Wherever the various gymnastics teams' "benches" were for sitting and warming up, a Chinese girl had to hold a sign up designating the particular country's name. Couldn't they have used a metal pole for this purpose? I understand that there are 1.3 billion people over there, but are humans cheaper than poles? (Insert your favorite ethnic joke here). Bad jokes aside, they seemed forced to hold up this sign for the duration of the events. Inasmuch that team gymnastics took hours to complete, I truly felt sorry for the poor (perhaps literally) girls that had to hold various team's signs up throughout the duration of the events.

Continuing with the review of the gymnastics competitions, may I humbly ask why Bella Karolyi was asked to sit in with the always arrogant Bob Costas during the aforementioned gymnastics events? All Karolyi did was utter unintelligible aphorisms, accuse the Chinese of using underaged competitors, and abjectly root for whomever was up next in the competition. While I appreciate his history as a gymnastics coach, his emotional comments clearly never passed the "I shouldn't say that" filter. He's a typically creepy guy with former coaching achievements, and that's it - he was never fit to be a commentator. What little that could be discerned from his broken English was largely jingoistic and embittered. It must explain why his wife was out there doing the actual coaching, rather than himself. Sure, he's retired. Uh huh. I further enjoyed his passive thoughts about the usually prominent Romanian team, since Romania was his country of origin.

Another sham event - the "Beach Volleyball" competition - was so horribly westernized, it showed that the Chinese government was simply trying too hard. During breaks in the action, music was blaring from the P.A. system blaring sadly outdated "western" rock music. I heard 80s songs by Europe, AC/DC, et al. For some reason, this "event" needed some pathetic rock and roll attitude to it, and it was so artificial, I couldn't stand keeping my T.V.'s volume up any further. With both indoor and outdoor volleyball competitions, the Cuban teams kept coming up. Could they have been any darker skinned? Those Cubans looked peculiarly African to me. Sheesh.

I was incredibly amused when Bob Costas, back in the studio over there, casually mentioned that his guest for the current segment was this guy named George Bush. Since Bush Jr. is an idiot anyway, the lack of build-up for the supposedly "casual" interview was all the more gratifying. So George Jr. sat in, with his relaxed persona, and fielded questions from the typically verbose Costas. My favorite moment came along when Costas preceded a question with "given all the problems in the United States right now...". It was amusingly fielded by Bush, responding with "Well, Bob, I don't think there are any problems in the United States right now." Economic crisis? Gas prices? Hello? A sad, pathetic answer in front of millions of people. Hell, he has no reason to say the right things any more (when did he start?), being months away from relinquishing his post, but he was an incredible dullard in the "casual interview" role, despite passive attempts by Costas to avert attention from the comedy of his guest.

In the end, the Olympics allowed a nice attempt by China to show their human side. They did a good job, overall, and this dark region of the earth showed that brightness can still exist. I loved the achievements of our country's best athletes. Several people have asked me if I wanted Chicago (finalist) to earn the rights to hosting the 2016 Games. Yes, it's my home, and it would be two weeks of insanity during the fortnight. Technically, yes, I do want Chicago to win the bid. A significant competitor to this bid is Madrid. Why go back to Spain? The Summer Games were just recently in Barcelona (1992), and Chicago deserves the chance. The city has hosted various expositions before, granted they were over a century ago, but it's about time. Regardless of Los Angeles and Atlanta's games of 1984 and 1996 respectively, I'd love to see the world turn its attention toward a city like Chicago. It would be all too amusing to see the Rowing event take place on the Chicago River; first team whose boat doesn't dissolve is the big winner. Seriously, it's a nice city to host the Games, and I'll be far too old to care anyway. Anything but Madrid. Those dusty Spaniards stay up too late anyway.

One more article until #100! The 99th article might be just another essay, but that 100th - what will it be? Stay tuned. Thanks for the support.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The 2008 Olympics Part One

The Olympic Games from Beijing have come and gone. Several have even wondered when I would comment about them. With all due consideration toward brevity and a salient overview, I decided to wait until everything was finished before vomiting my usual arcane thoughts. As such, the time has come. I've ingested the Clorox, and it's time to induce vomiting. Where is Mister Yuck! Some of the more ardent readers might expect a verbose tirade about all that had transpired, and I'll be sanguine enough to say that it wasn't all that bad. On with the show...

Upon the Games' commencement, multiple NBC commentators noted that this was the first Olympic Games on the Asian Mainland. I knew this was an incredible inaccuracy, but recently cited the Moscow Games of 1980 as a predecessor. A devoted, yet occasionally irksome reader correctly noted that Moscow was actually part of the continent of Europe, being west of the Ural mountains. I won't whine, but a continent was traditionally defined, in the archaic sense, as a "continuous tract of land", and that technically speaking, there were four continents : North/South America, Europe/Asia, Africa, and Antarctica. They were significant land masses defined by cartographers as being unique entities, even though, geologically speaking, Asia and the Americas are connected by a land bridge (submerged by shallow water) and that Africa is barely connected to the Eurasian land mass. Per the University of California Press: "Continents are understood to be large, continuous, discrete masses of land, ideally separated by expanses of water."
Continents shouldn't be divided by arbitrary means, like mountains. So technically speaking, Europe and Asia share a common land mass and Greece hosted Olympic games ages ago, but I won't complain any further. Bottom line is that NBC was wrong, since Seoul hosted the Olympics back in 1988. I'm right, and can happily call "foul" on NBC's inept researchers, despite my past references.

There couldn't have been a more frightening, intimidating, anarchonistic place to host a world event than China. This place has developed itself into a different planet for thousands of years; arbitrarily cut off from the rest of the world, and historically intent upon defining its own laws, religions, languages, regimes, and subcultures. The wizards from the International Olympic Committee may as well have held this year's games in the Amazonian jungle. At least the air quality would have been better. Anthropologically speaking, it seems like the Chinese people (all 390 trillion of them) were ridiculously sweet and hospitable, and I'll even wager that their wonderful nature wasn't at the forceful behest of their totalitarian leadership. Oddly, thousands and thousands of Chinese people volunteered for the Olympic ditch digging, and most of them cited national pride as the reason for doing so. Plenty of stories (that made it past the censors) revealed how commoners like cab drivers and Olympic volunteers spent years learning basic English in anticipation of the Games. Their zeal seemed sad and wonderful at the same time - full of warmth and hospitality, but (cynically speaking) under the forceful insistence of the omnipotent and frightening government. The government clearly wanted to show that China is a warm, humanistic nation, but one can only assume that the citizens were bullied into "playing nice" to fulfill national jingoistic ideals. Again, without question, the Chinese people seem to be a wonderful bunch, but the overlords were always manipulating their strings. I'm not one to speak about political topics, but this entire fortnight was a well planned, ten billion dollar propaganda bomb, detonated to the "real" people of planet earth. China wants us to leave them alone, but still trade with them, and give them plenty of our money.

I have to admit, I did not bother to watch the opening or closing ceremonies. I'm sure they were incredible and likely to overshadow any future Olympic spectacles, but then again, when a government has over a billion people at its disposal, I'm sure the show would be flashy. Eventually, China admitted to doctoring up some of the apparent pyrotechnics with computerized effects, and it was a miracle that such a stoic bunch could even own up to such falsification. China's sleight of hand continued with debates that members of their powerful gymnastics team were under the age of sixteen, the minimum age for participation. The jury is still out on this simmering controversy, and likely will never be put to rest. I'm sure a brutal government can hunt down a few fake IDs for some girls...who of us hasn't back in our college days? I heard that Jimmy Page appeared for London's part of the closing ceremonies (in anticipation of the 2012 games), which is very cool, being a Led Zeppelin connoiseur and afficionado. The mere notion of "Whole Lotta Love" echoing into the China sky brings ironic joy to this poor soul.

As for the Games themselves - of course, I'm happy for Michael Phelps.

Who isn't? I watched all of his races, and, not being a swimming fan, still found much excitement and gratification in his achievements. The best had to have come early on - prior to the 4 X 100 relay event, the French team said they would "smash" the American team. The anchor swimmer, Jason Lezak, came from behind to beat those jerks. A wonderful moment, and another medal for Phelps. Phelps seems to be a bit of a dork, with bad teeth and a dumpy mother, but his medal record deserves special note. Mark Spitz was ticked off that he wasn't invited to the Games, and he just seemed like a bitter has-been from days past. It was all about him not being there, not the support of other swimmers.
I rather enjoyed the swimming races, perhaps mostly for our country's dominance. As I mentioned before, some of the dramatic clips aired by NBC were longer than the races themselves, but I suppose it's understandable. I noticed that 1988 Olympic swimming hero Janet Evans was going to be appearing on some weird reality show. Yet another reality show. I was her grade school classmate in 1982, and everyone picked on her because she was allowed to leave school early every day to practice swimming. Poor kid, well, she did fine for herself, I suppose.

A North Korean athlete was disqualified because he failed a test for doping (a nice way of saying "steroids"). While not surprised that somebody would fail such a test, this guy was competing in shooting. Shooting? Who the hell needs "juice" for shooting? That's like taking steroids for a chess match. For that matter, I'm sure it's happened before. Put an asterisk by Kasparov's name....he hit that chess time clock a little too hard some times.

Stay tuned for the next installment. Only TWO (2) more articles to go until #100!