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!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Commercials - #9

I call this "part 9" because I have no idea how many times I've whined about commercials. For those who care, I had a very quiet, do-nothing birthday. Nobody? Fine. Sure, I get it. Just wait for Mister Wacky to write another pile of poop for the next break between incoming sales calls. Sure, just call me Mort Walker. Pry open the "funny pages" and expect more wild adventures from Beetle Bailey. Mn'uh huh. Nobody ever thanks the bloggy guy. Well, someone did, but she was referenced in my previous posting. Anyway, yeah yeah, commercials. Grumble. Yeah yeah, three (3) posts to go until #100. I mean #100! Acting excited. On with the show.

Creepy Wendy's Cartoon Character

In retrospect, I wasn't very impressed with the tiresome campaigns of the 80s and 90s, in which Dave Thomas himself insisted on "acting" in the commercials. For some odd reason, people took to the old dullard, and I suppose that was good enough for the strong economic times. Eventually, dear old Dave bit the burger, so to speak, and like the conundrum presented by Orville Redenbacher's demise, the marketing geniuses needed to come up with a new main character. In a positive light, Wendy's didn't make the same mistake as with the Redenbacher people, when they feigned Orville's reanimation with a creepy impersonator. With Wendy's, it wasn't reanimation, but just plain animation. They took the supposedly lovable caricature of "Wendy" with her red hair and pig tails, and made her into a cartoon character for the newest ad campaign. Now she frowns and has a creepy Hanna Barbera visage going. It's just plain disturbing to see the formally staid "logo" become a two dimensional, living, breathing cartoon girl. They, of course, decided to use a cutesy teenaged girl voice for the narration of said commercials, and the tone carries all the charm of a New York stock broker. Snotty, bratty, self-ingratiated, and oh so burger-licious.

Olympics Marketing

Ah, the Olympics are back, and since I don't watch the Winter Games, I can honestly say that enduring the marketing campaign every four years is frequent enough for my tolerance level. For starters, NBC's melodramatic promotional clips are driving my head into the desk. They've been running ten minute, dramatic montages, leading up to a one minute swimming race. Too much! There should be a rule that the sappy montage shouldn't ever be longer than the event itself. Then again, if following that rule, NBC could run a feature length film for the marathon event, or even the 10,000 meter race.
For additional inaccurate amusement, the promotional wizards claimed this was the first Olympics on the Asian Mainland. Hello? Does anybody remember Moscow in 1980? Perhaps I'm just jaded and dated.

Life Alert

Yes, I'm sure it's a good thing for all of the lonely old bastards that have to sit in their temperature uncontrolled hovels and count daily poops. Basically, it is the emergency electronic locket that was made famous with the old bat saying "I've fallen, and I can't get up!" This old crone was also featured in a commercial for "The Clapper". Clearly, she got up. Somebody butter her stairs, please. Anyway, there's a new ad campaign featuring C. Everett Koop (apparently nobody is hangin' with Mister Koop) and another old bag of bones. The latter is mumbling so incoherently as she says "All senior citizens should have life alert", they have to subtitle it. That's just patently humiliating; when English is your first language, and they still have to subtitle your mumblings - very sad. That said, the company sunk to a new low when, during their "out" screen, with name and address, they literally printed "The 'I've fallen and can't get up' product" or something similar. Nice job, make a mockery out of a mockery.

Computerized Animation - With Animals?

There are all too many commercials which now, through computer enhancement, show the animals mouthing plain english words, while a desparate voice-over artist fills in the funnies. I won't be the first to say this is a disturbing image, and I certainly won't delve into the creepy aspects of, with similar computers, making babies talk/sing/form harangues.
Recent anti-flea commercials have featured puppies singing dopey songs like "oh there ain't no bugs on me..." while the wonderful world of computerized animation forms the hapless animals' words in selling the pitch. Not exciting, and as I said before, patently disturbing. Things that shouldn't be animated, well, shouldn't be animated. I just finished making such a proclamation in the above Wendy's campaign complaints.

Royal Carribean

Another bunch of marketing geniuses that decided to use Iggy Pop's "Lust For Life" as the catchy, happy and bouncy soundtrack for their commercial campaign. Bear in mind, this campaign has much to do with a surly tween girl, suddenly cracking a smile during a family cruise. That's great, except for the fact that "Lust For Life" refers to a guy full of liquor and drugs. Nice try. Hope the tweeny doesn't catch on.

Progressive Insurance

Someone please carry out a hit on "Flo", the all too gregarious, bubbly dingbat who brandishes her "I Love Insurance" badge as she blurts out wacky aphorisms with all of the subtlety and timbre of Olive Oyl. The company dangles precariously close to the ledge, as it were, off of which Geico fell a long time ago, thanks to their Cavemen and gecko. Don't be next. Kill Flo. Come on, I don't watch that much TV, and if I do, I'm busily dodging the Vonage commercials, please don't make me dodge another painful campaign (wow, painful campaign, that's a gut shot alliteration straight!)


Cheerios is now pushing this "challenge" for people to, using Cheerios, reduce their cholesterol by 4% in 6 weeks. 4%? Holy hell, I can set up my lawn sprinkler once a day and lose more than that. If I sat in the same room with a bulb of garlic, I'd lose 4% in 6 weeks. To boot, I'm sure the requirements for this "challenge" involve never eating, drinking only water, climbing Mount Everest, and pummeling that damn Subway guy into submission. Subway submission! Sounds like a Saturday night robbery downtown. (Ok, Chicago only has a few miles of subways, but play along. What, no? Oh that's, it, I'm leaving, then. Oh man, forgot about the McDonald's rant. Fine...)

Mack Donald's

I love the newest campaign. "Mickey Dee's" has never made any apologies about marketing toward the black folk, and it's becoming more and more egregious every quarter. Now they're marketing this southern-inspired chicken slab of death on a greasy biscuit, and my arteries clog just by seeing the promotional spot. Additionally amusing that you won't find a white (or, as it were, non-black) person in the commercial. I suppose they figure that they have the demographic pinned down, might as well kill them with kindness. For the record, yes, I say "white" and "black". Anyone that was not born in Africa is not African American, they are American. Otherwise, I suppose we'd all be "Pangean American". So you're black, I'm white, we're American. Shut up and eat your biscuit, McDonald's says so.

Need I say more? I shan't.

Stay tuned for more fun from Beetle Bailey!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Cards Everywhere, Part III

The third in the series devoted to televised poker...

Time to move into the world of the poker professionals - the otherwise rank-and-file players who've turned into characters on the boob tube. I present to you Snow White and The Seven Dwarves of Poker! Bratty, Catty, Frumpy, Dumpy, Sneaky, Creaky and Spooky. FOUR (4) more posts until #100!!!

The Dwarves...

Phil Hellmuth - "Bratty"
A player that endeared himself to the nickname "Poker Brat", even though he's hardly the youthful sprite that won the World Series Main Event back in 1989. He's played up the "brat" characterization, but he's not actually all that bratty. More accurately, he's just a sore loser, plain and simple. He tends to be rather mercurial and loquacious when the going is good, such as when he wins a hand or a tournament. Phil writes a lot of checks that his performances can't cash, like when he reminds everyone that he's the greatest Texas Hold 'Em player in the world, and that he has the most "bracelets" (awarded to the winner of any given World Series of Poker event). Now larger than life, he's turned himself into a merchandising machine, marketing shirts, hats, and endorsements for, which is nothing more than just another poker web site. Either larger than life, or too big for his britches (as he has become a bit doughy), he's a staple for the merchandising machines that drive poker's continual prominence on the web and late night cable channels.

Annie Duke - "Catty"
The sister of the eternally creepy Howard Lederer (he would be the eighth dwarf), a red-headed "spitfire" of a woman who tries her best to be a sexy, independent E.R.A. type woman of the new millenium. She always hugs and cuddles with anyone she knocks out of a tournament, and seems truly sorry to win any given hand. She almost cried once when she knocked her own brother out of a "Tournament of Champions" event; she went on to win the event, and seemed consistently apologetic in the process. She's a mother of four kids, however, and I've been told she isn't the nicest of people when dealing with the lowly general public. I can't confirm it, so don't send the law my way, Barney Fife.

Jennifer Harman - "Frumpy"
This chick shows up to every poker show imaginable. She has a constant frowny face, and seems a bit too mopey for all the television exposure she receives. Kinda reminds me of Ellen DeGeneres, but only in voice and demeanor. She's a decent player in terms of success, but having blonde hair, some circles decided that she must be one of the very few "poker babes" in such a male-dominated "sport". I just don't get it at times. That said, I will give her big props for her having dealt with plenty of health problems and never complaining about them, so I'll merely give the "frump" tag to her for her facial expressions, not attitude, per se. Frumpy in the nicest way.

Mike "The Mouth" Matusow - "Dumpy"
Again, in any other walk of life, he'd just be a dumpy boob with too much to say. His nickname of "The Mouth" came from constant harrassment of other players while butting heads during a particular hand. As with Hellmuth, his mouth wrote many checks that his card playing couldn't cash, and he'd wither away with small stacks of chips after suffering a humiliating loss. Matusow gained prominence on the airwaves by mere legend, far more than his success at winning tournaments.

Daniel Negreanu - "Sneaky"
A poisonous type of clever fellow who talks too much and has a nefarious sense of what cards are in another player's hand. His demeanor is affable, well mannered, and appreciably sociable. That said, his non-stop chatter is an effective weapon, pancaked upon his ability to figure out, based on "tells" and the like, what the other players have in their hands. He's the definitive example of the friendly neighbor that will loan you a cup of sugar, help rebuild your staircase, and then sleep with your wife. Again, a nice guy, but there's just something about him...

Doyle Brunson - "Creaky"
The great-great-great-great grandfather of so-called "modern" Texas Hold 'Em poker. He's approximately 240 years old, looks twice his age, and seems at the brink of an instant freeze dried transformation into nothing but ashes and a hat. While he is regarded as a genius for the strategic books he's penned, he constantly plays oddly weak hands, and bets when a player of sound mind would have passed on the given cards. Seems like a truly nice guy, so no offense intended. He carries elements of lore and history with him, and he's won quite a few World Series of Poker bracelets, but other than that, he's an anachronistic museum piece that commands respect from the likes of Bratty, Sneaky, Spooky, and Dumpy.

Chris Ferguson - "Spooky"
A spooky, long haired phantom of a guy who hides behind sunglasses and under a wide-brimmed hat. This guy would be denied a job from just about anywhere if for no other reason than the frightening appearance. His long hair and scraggly beard has earned him the arguably sacrilegious nickname of "Jesus". Invariably, one is stuck with hearing commentators continually saying "Jesus has an open ended straight draw" or "Jesus folded". In various modes of partial consciousness, hearing these comments can conjur up some rather wacky dreams.

And Finally, Snow White!

Vanessa Rousso
Of course, the only true "Poker Babe" title has to go to Vanessa Rousso, oh I just love her. She isn't always on televised poker events, but she has won a tournament or two, and looks great in doing so. Smart as a whip (with a newly acquired law degree) the girl can conquer the world. I'm proud of her, and she's the ultimate poker girl in my mind, no apologies for being biased. She's featured in a PokerStars commercial as a bungee jumper, if that reminds anybody. She'll always be my favorite, and I can only hope to see her out in the poker world more often. From what I've discerned thus far, she's very charming and well grounded. I wish her the best. Fine, I have a right to my crushes. Blah.

And Lest We Forget...

None of the aforementioned people have shown up in a Vonage commercial. Stop the Vonage commercials! I hate this dreaded ad campaign, and it's driving me to drive them, and its minions, out of business.

See you next time! Four (4) posts to go!