Thursday, January 29, 2009

on final crisis being (thankfully) over.

Well, it's done.

That's about the best thing I can say about it.

This whole thing has been a mess.

Check here to see how off schedule it's been from damn near day one and that's really only scratching the surface.

For a title that was supposed to be the apex of the Crises, this one fell woefully short. The story being just a bunch of old, recycled Morrison plots has already been covered to death, but I haven't actually seen a lot of digital ink spilled about the fact that this was supposed to be a Grant Morrison and J. G. Jones affair. (That link will stay blank for now, I presume, until I can find the [inevitable] article that talks about how Morrison hand-picked Jones for this project, how he's perfect for it, and how, really, there's no worry about falling behind chedule, because of the enormous amount of lead-in time they had on the project, plus the already-planned one-month break. Yep.) The fact that Doug Mahnke had to fill in is unfortunate, but I really dug his art here, so that's not necessarily a quibble to me. What is a big-time issue is the fact that these guys couldn't get something done that they had plenty of time to do and that they said they were going to do. That they were amped to do.

Pointed out to me by my good friend Kyle, though, is this Newsarama article where Grant talks about how amazing he is and how nothing that's bad about the series is his fault, mainly because he doesn't think that anything's bad about it. The pull quote from the article really should be this one: "Of course I’m aware of a perpetual and chronic discontent from a particular jaded minority on the internet but I try to overlook their constant expressions of dissatisfaction on the grounds that it’s depressing and often personally abusive." Ah yes, the old, "Well, it's brilliant, so anyone who didn't get it, well, I'm not really interested in their depressing opinions anyway."

Here's the thing: I like Morrison. I think he's a good writer. But I don't get this self-perceived omnipotence, like I get from Peter David on certain message boards. It's this idea of, like, "Well, I wrote a great story. If you don't like it, that's your fault. It means something's wrong with you not my story." This, to me, is a lot like the teachers at my school who fault all of the kids in their class when every single one of them fails a test. It never occurs to them that, maybe, they might be doing something wrong.

Now, granted, not everyone hated Final Crisis. The afore-linked Newsarama article links to a review on its own site where it kinda seems like the reviewer dug it. And the Annotations site that I linked to first didn't display any overt hate for the storyline in general, much less this particular issue. Even Comic Book Resources seemed to think that the cheesiness was merely there to hide the depth of the subject matter.

I don't get it.

And, no, I don't mean the story. I mean, I don't get how so many of the critics can read this as a great (or even good, for that matter) series, when literally every single comic book reader I know personally in my life has been bemoaning it for quite a while. (Mikee was the last holdout and even he copped that this issue was a letdown.) I understand the story. Really, I do. I just don't think that it's good. It's overstuffed, there's no actual development of several things that turn out to be significant (For instance, what about the issue of Libra? I could have sworn that when Final Crisis was being promoted there was a quote talking about the question of who Libra really was and that it would be answered by issue two [or three?] but I can't find reference to that now. Am I making it all up?) and the appearance of bit characters all over the place didn't feel inclusion-centric to me at all - it just felt like Grant showing off. "Oh look, a black Superman. Get it? See how great he is?"

I'm not a fan of Barry coming back, I don't think that it was necessary, and I think it does more damage to the seriousness of comic books as literature when death literally means nothing. A mere issue after he supposedly died, we've already seen that Bruce is, in fact, alive. Hawkman and Hawkgirl disappeared in this issue...how long will they stay away? Until next month?

If Grant Morrison wants to write comics that scream, "I'm serious!" then he has to be ready for some serious criticism. And Final Crisis (both this issue and the series in general) just doesn't hold up to any kind of criticism. It comes out, ultimately, as a failed promise.

Bottom Line: One Star (Out of Five).

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

on expectations.

There's a problem with some of the cause->effect relationships in our world. And mainly, they have to do with the expectations of one or the other.

When we expect things, they rarely turn out exactly as we plan (hope?). This, of course, if we're being perfectly rational, is to be expected (although using that word in and of itself makes this kind of an oxymoron, or some kind of inane Mobius strip of an argument) as we can't really ever account for all the variables of the real world. I mean, even when there's only a few things that we're encountering on our way to a relatively simple task, there are still the millions (if not billions) of things that have each independently affected each and every second of our journey wherever (and, again, I'm using this term loosely - I don't mean that we physically have to be going somewhere) we're going.

We know most of this already: if someone hypes a movie to be the best thing in the world, most of us will be at least a little disappointed when we see it. We fight this by trying to protect ourselves against information overload here in the Information Age, prizing innovation. See, The Blair Witch Project, AKA Exhibit 1. The fact that so many people were talking about it first worked for it, in a major way, then against it, in the typical backlash way, and then for it again, as people became curious beyond what they even thought in the first place. Exhibit 2 is the aforementioned marketing scheme for Seven Pounds - a movie that is careful not to give too much away in the trailers, in order to build excitement without actually showing what the movie centers on. (This had a twofold affect: I was put off by it, because if I had known it was like that, I might not have seen it. [And the marketers probably knew that was the case for some people, which is at least a small reason why it was marketed the way it was.] However, to be fair, there were people who went into the movie excited to finally see something fresh, something that they didn't already know everything about - it's the opposite Harry Potter, which gets covered to death.)

And we know this in our personal lives, as well. If we expect too much from someone (whether they're a friend or a significant other), we open ourselves to the possibility of hurt: the friend might not come through with the favor we asked, the loved one might not love us back. So, we hold back those expectations, in order to try to be pleasantly surprised. Sometimes it works. Sometimes, it doesn't.

I'm having a little trouble with my expectations right now.

My bosses at work want some of the so-called troubled kids to make it. They want our help. We give them our help. But then the kids mess up, and the kids get tossed. 3 days out, long-term suspension, etc. I understand that actions must have consequences. But I'm having trouble with what exactly is the expectation, what I should lower my idea to, and what reality is. Do they flow in that order?

It goes beyond the basic job, though, too. My second season of the year started and, honestly, I didn't expect the girls to play very well. They weren't communicating as a team, some of the girls didn't seem to understand the plays, and some of them even seemed disinterested, as though their part in the play called "Make the Basketball Team!" was done - they'd made the team, they didn't need to try at anything else.

And yet, we squeaked out an ugly win in our first game, and dominated by 20 last night. Tomorrow's a tough contest, and let's not make any mistake: I'm not saying I'll be happy if we lose (expect me to bitch and moan quite frequently about it if we do, in fact, as I'll probably see this blog post as the impetus for our losing ways, cursing myself for just not being happy) - I want to win! I'm just trying to be honest with myself and acknowledge:

I'm having a trouble with the expectations in my life right now. It's an odd time.

Friday, January 23, 2009

on "texting."

One of my favorite things about Barack Obama has been his constant support of the current technology that I (and everyone that I think of as in touch with the modern world) heartily embrace. He has a BlackBerry, and everyone knew it, because he was always hunched over it, just like you see most people who have smartphones and know how to use them. He uses it to stay in touch with his friends, to get news, and to exist in a world that honestly, truly does not revolve around him.

There was some concern, however, that he'd have to give up this so-called addiction when he moved into the White House, simply because of the security concerns. (I see this as a valid point, too. I mean, if people are hacking Paris Hilton's Sidekick for nudie pics, what's gonna stop people from trying to get into the POTUS' files?) However, today, we got the good news from CNN that they've developed a "spy-proof" smartphone for him. (See how that works? I used "spy-proof" in quotation marks because it's an actual quote!) And, predictably, the comments are full of the usual back and forth: He should keep it, it's good. He shouldn't, it's bad.

I'm honestly not here to debate that, even though I had to give a little background to the story, before posting this picture. I'm only here to celebrate some technophobe's use of the word texting in quotation marks. Honestly, I don't even get this. Is it supposed to imply that texting isn't real? Is the poster, Bill, showing scorn for the fact that President Obama might want to stay in touch with his daughters? Or is it simply his opinion that texting is so, so beneath condescension that they had to put it in quotation marks in order to show their hatred for the term? (This by the way, is one of my favorite things that old people talk about. "Texting," they say, "texting! That's all these dang kids want to do anymore." Ah yes...the hypocrisy of age. I'm sure your parents approved of everything you did. And I'm sure this generation, when they have kids, will approve of everything their children do. What a fun little circle.) Online opinions: where texting your daughters means we live in a sick world. Nice.

Here's the screenshot:

Thursday, January 22, 2009

on myspace sending us (kind of us...) to switzerland.

A big, big, big time congratulations to my great friend Travis' wife, Deena, for becoming one of the finalists in a cool contest MySpace is doing. Deena made a great video to become a finalist, and it's my opinion that she's the best one up there. She's super smart (and I'm not just saying that because she reads the blog) and she works her ass off. She's amazing. Go check out her video.

I'll wait.

See? It was dope, right? There's nothing else that we can do, seeing as the contest is now being judged by a panel of five, but I think it's great to get the word out, if nothing else.

Deena would make a great citizen journalist in Davos because she's vocally passionate about these sorts of things. She even managed to sway her husband from the dark side into voting Obama! (He claimed to be Republican.) Anyway, just a short note to say congratulations to her for seeing a great opportunity, taking it, and being rewarded. Lots of people would have just said, "Well, what's the point, I probably won't win." It's all about capturing the moment as it passes you by.

Congratulations, Deena.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

on the inauguration.

So, yesterday was a pretty historic day. I mean, I don't think that I really need to tell you that. We all know that. But suffice it to say that, as a perk, the Inauguration was piped in to my class (BTW, look for a post soon in the future regarding my company's hapless tech people actually saying in their e-mail to us regarding streaming the inauguration, "the pipe is almost full." It's like, have these people never heard of Ted Stevens, or what?) and while I was watching with my first (and best) class, I swear to you that I was near tears. I try to maintain a great professional line, keeping the personal out of my teaching life, but I just couldn't help it. The history of the moment, the fact that we actually did it, the fact that it was actually happening, overwhelmed me. And my students called me out on it. (Or, at least, the ones paying attention to the TV and to me did. The rest of them were probably pissed off that it was on, either distracting them, or reminding them that they lost.)

Anyway, I know there's tons to say about everything that happened yesterday (was it one of the best speeches I've ever heard in my life? Yes it was! Will it go down as one of the great ones? I hope so. It was inspiring!) but I also know that, by this point, it's been covered ad infinitum. So I'm not really going to get into too much of that, other than to say this:



Jay Smooooooooove has been killing it for years now. When the election was closing down, for months almost, all I could hear in my head was his song, "Obama got the nom-nom-nom-nomination!" His plea to people to actually get out and vote moved me to tears (literally) when I imagined the opposite happening. And his tribute to failure (and why it's actually a good thing) is perhaps one of the best things I've ever seen on the Internet.

He's smart, funny, well-spoken, loves hip-hop, and has a loyal following who actually think about what he has to say, instead of just accepting his word as gospel. He's pretty close to what I think of as perfect.

This video sums up my feelings very well. Last night, I was running on the treadmill, sweating my head off, while watching Jay-Z perform "History" at the Neighborhood Ball, I almost couldn't even believe that it was actually happening. (Better video to come as it's put on on YouTube, which is inevitable. Got it. Thanks, Prefix.) However, when I woke up this morning, all I could think was, "Time to go to work." We've got more to do. And if Barack messes up, it's on us to call him out on it. He doesn't get a free pass. He's amazing, and I trust that he's going to do spectacular things. But it's our job to make sure that the work continues, that we're not just placated with this win.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

on an abundance of katherines.

John Green strikes again!

After reading Looking for Alaska this summer on the recommendation of a friend, I decied to seek out the rest of his books, and was delighted to find his second, An Abundance of Katherines was available in my school's library. Great, great news. Not only am I psyched to be able to read the book, finding it for free at the library, but I was even happier to see that the library is keeping great authors like John Green in our school.

Let me start off by saying the one complaint that I had about the book: it seems, after reading these two, that John Green might have some poor feelings toward his main characters - who, to be honest have been poorly concealed facsimiles for how I see him as seeing himself. They've both been kind of boy genius types, hung up on the girls that have made them the manboys they are, and have seemed pretty isolated except for a few friends who see them for the smartypants they are. This seems to be kind of obviously to be the case with Mr. Green: I mean, he's clearly really, really smart, and was probably that way since his childhood. I can't speak to his feelings on the girls (other than to say that he wrote a novel where a guy dated 19 different girls, all with the exact same name...I'm not sure that comes from nowhere) but I will say that his relationship with his brother certainly seems to indicate a closeness beyond 'just' brothers. (Keep in mind that I don't say any of this in a bad way - I could see many of the smart people that I admire fitting into this neat little stereotype that I've set up.) All this combines to, actually, a rather small quibble with the two books thus far and that is this: I'd be interested to see if John Green is capable of writing a book with a main character who is nothing like him. And for all I know, he has. Paper Towns just came out and I haven't read it yet, so I'm totally willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in this case, especially since it's such a small complaint.

Anyway, on to the good stuff. An Abundance of Katherines concerns a child prodigy, Colin, who is dealing with his own prognosis of failing to become a genius. For this reason, but also because his nineteenth girlfriend just dumped him, his best friend convinces him that he needs a road trip. His best friend, Hassan, is a superb supporting character. Everything you could want from a real human (loyalty, honesty, and a bit of fed-up-ness with Colin's self-absorbedness) he's got in spades. The odd thing about Colin? All 19 of his girlfriends have been named Katherine. No exceptions for the spelling and, at least at first, he claims, through pure coincidence. This, ladies and gents, is the start to a fabulous story.

Colin and Hassan drive along until they find a suitable place to stop, which comes chock full of amazing characters, who are human and believable (if maybe there's a couple stereotypes amongst them), and who fill the book with great dialogue.

As the book progresses, we get glimpse by glimpse of how this whole Katherine-affliction came to be, and the root cause of Colin's deep, deep depression after Katherine the XIX. (This is a hallmark of the humor in the book, wherein each of the girls in Colin's life is referred to as royalty. Which they are. To him.) The journey takes place because Colin has understanding parents, and because Hassan has put off college and both of those novelties are explored as the story continues.

By the time we get to the conflict in the city, Colin's internal turmoil almost feels secondary: you can literally feel his troubles easing away as he learns to care about things other than himself.

The ending of the novel, while not entirely surprising had a few great touches, including what I presume to be the big one that most people will talk about, but that I won't spoil here. Let me say this: I pride myself on being a pretty smart guy, but I didn't see that at all. I mean, until it was obvious. At which point, I laughed out loud and congratulated John Green on once again being a phenomenal author.

An Abundance of Katherines is a great novel for middle schoolers to read, even though it deals with characters that are older than that age range, because emotion is universal, and no one knows more about heart aches and yearning than middle schoolers. I stand by this fact because, although high school is where we go to fall in love and have our hearts broken, middle school is where we start dreaming of all that; and nothing is more real than a dream. Those dreams that we first have at that young age are fresh and they stay with us and inform all of our decisions afterwards - this is, in fact, kind of an interpolation of a lesson from the novel itself.

Highly recommended. Bottom Line: Four and a Half Stars (out of Five).

Monday, January 19, 2009

on the chicago bulls' new head coach.

No, the NBA grindstone hasn't claimed another victim. And no, I don't think Vinny Del Negro's doing a particularly poor job. I think he's working pretty well with what he's got. (Which isn't a lot.) But let's be honest - Vinny Del Negro isn't going to take these Bulls (or any other, for that matter) to the promised land. It's just not going to happen. Derrick Rose is there, they're building around him, that's a good start. Tyrus Thomas, one of my top five NBA players is there, and there are a lot of people who think that maybe he shouldn't be. They're wrong, in my opinion, but that's neither here nor there. What is an undeniable fact is that we shouldn't traded LaMarcus Aldridge for him. Bad move. Speaking of bad moves, Larry Hughes is there, which is a huge problem for me, but it turns out it might not be for much longer. Basically the team is divided into what I see as good assets versus wastes of money. And this is a dilemma for me, since I consider the Bulls (or the amazing Baby Hawks, to be fair) to be my Eastern Conference team.

So in my constant thinking about the Bulls, I've often pondered Del Negro. As I've said, I don't think he's a bad coach. He's done a little worse than .500 at this point in the season but his team, in his defense, is a disaster mess. Really, though. This was the same team that tuned out Scott Skiles in the most insane way to significantly detrimental results.

The Bulls (obviously) have a pretty successful past, but it wasn't all rainbows and butterflies before Money came along. The Bulls have struggled in the past. There's no question there. And I don't mind them struggling now, but I want to make sure that they're struggling for the right reasons, not the wrong ones. There are a few factors on the team that make me nervous:

First of all, the aforementioned Larry Hughes. Dude is a bad fit for this team, and he might just be a bad fit for most teams. He's unwilling to play second fiddle and unhappy when someone insists that he does. He complains about minutes and then does very little with those minutes. He even complained about playing with LeBron! And we see how that worked out.

I have no problem with Kirk Hinrich and the two point guard 'problem' was just written about over at TrueHoop so I don't feel like I need to talk much more about it.

Ben Gordon has had a fair share of drama, and let's remember it this way: When Kobe was going through his drama last summer and waffling on wanting to be traded or not, Chicago was mentioned as one of his preferred destinations. But he would not go there if Ben Gordon was included in the deal for him, because Ben Gordan was that important to Kobe to play with. Now look at him. (Should have taken that contract extension when it was offered Ben.) If Ben Gordon was to be let go by the Bulls, I wouldn't have a problem with it. I think he's played a good role on the team, but I don't think that he's unable to be replaced.

Lastly, I do think that a lot of the problems that arose between Skiles and the team were the result of Ben Wallace and some of the disputes that popped up there. I'm not a fan of blaming Thomas or Joakim Noah, both of whom I think the world of, for different reasons. Thomas is an otherworldly athlete, who can be a perfect complement, especially with a point guard like Rose. Noah, on the other hand, has already proved his talent twice over while in college at Florida and I'm not inclined to think that when he made it to the pros he just all of a sudden flipped. He's a good kid, but he's also a kid. It's important to remember that.

All of which brings me back to my original point: Vinny Del Negro is not the guy to take this team to the next level. However, when we arrive at that conclusion, there are a couple natural questions that arise; most notably: who's going to take over. Del Harris is currently an assistant under Del Negro, but I don't think that he'd really want the head gig. Of course, so is Bernie Bickerstaff but Lord knows we don't want any part of that. There was the whole debacle with D'Antoni this summer and while we Chi-Town fans are probably right to say that he's kicking himself for passing up the team that drafted Derrick Rose, I'm sure he's happy to be in New York, and really, it's too late to catch that train anyway. Who's left? A plethora of candidates.

Rudy T is at the top of mine. I know that he retired the last coaching gig that he had, and I know that he's still technically employed by the Lakers, but I think he'd be a great fit with the Bulls. He's a players coach, he's won championships, he's someone they'd listen to. He would fit well with Derrick Rose, who is clearly the future of this team, and he wouldn't clash with Noah or Thomas. By the time he comes in, it'd be my hope that both Ben Gordon (whom I talked about) and Drew Gooden (whom I didn't, but I will in the future) will be gone. They'll have a solid (if young) nucleus that's ready to compete in (what is really) a wide-open Eastern Conference, outside the top three of the Celtics, the Cavs, and the Magic. (By the way, the Magic are for real, despite what Slam Online says.) If they snuck into any spot outside of the 1 or the 2 (both of whom serve as sacrificial lambs for the time being to the monsters that are LeBron James and the Big Three) they could give someone a tough match up.

It's just my belief that Vinny Del Negro is not the guy to take them there. Believe me, I like him well enough. I really do. I just think there are others out there who could do better with the team as I envision it. Who else is there? (Not including Avery, whom I don't think would be a good fit, or Carlisle, who isn't available.) You tell me.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

on wine.

I have no interest in being a wine snob. However, I've recently been watching some Wine Library TV mainly because of the awesome episode that he made for Get Rich Slowly. And while I know that I like white wine and don't really care for red, I realized after watching a few of these episodes that I didn't know much more than that. I don't even really know what white wines I like more than the others. I know that I don't dislike sweet wines, and therefore enjoy Reislings, but I can't tell you the difference between a Chardonnay and a Pinot Grigio. And that, to me, is disappointing. Because I consider myself fairly knowledgeable in general and even more so about what beers and liquors I like and why. So I'm trying to move on to some wine tasting, in an attempt to better myself, refine my tastes a little bit, hone my knowledge, etc. Not to become a douche.

So, in order to do this, I went to one of the best local places in my hood where the guys were super friendly and totally appreciative of what I was doing. I explained to them that I wanted to just start to get my feet underneath me, and that I was looking for some basic whites. What follows are the descriptions of the wines that they gave me, and my reactions with my meal last night.

Placido Pinot Grigio - Crisper and has a fruity taste. Cheaper than other white wines. I don't know if it was a pre-conditioned response, but after the second taste of strawberries followed by a drink of this, I thought that I could detect some fruitiness. It was good, better than the Wente, with the strawberries. On the other hand, when I drank it with just the pasta, it came off a little too fruity.

Wente Sauvignon Blanc - Dryer, "if that's possible for a white wine," and generally more expensive. This was the winner with just the pasta. It was a great complement. It was about the same with the fish, with the Placido coming on a little too strong.

With both the pasta and the fish, it seemed like a wash (which struck me as weird, but...): both picked up the taste well - at first taste. After a few more bites, it seemed to me as though I liked the Placido a little more. I can't nail down why just yet...

Tonight, I tasted red wine, which I've had trouble with in the past. I always tell people this is because we drink red wine in Catholic church, but really, I have no idea what the taste is that I don't like there. I just know that red wine doesn't sit well with me (although it does warm me up like I imagine vodka does for Russians) and I'd rather if I never had to drink it. But what if I was in a situation where the only thing that would pair with the meal is a red? I need to know what I'm talking about!

Here, then, are the descriptions of the wines we had tonight, along with my reactions.

Taurino Salice Salentino is supposed to be a "more fruity, more sweet," red wine, which goes well with cheese. Unfortunately, as this is not yet a sophisticated household, I didn't have any snobby cheese just laying around, so I tried it with queso. Which is cheese, I mean. Ya know? When I drank the Taurino with the queso, my first thought was, "Wow, I hate red wine." I didn't enjoy it at all.

The Bodega Septima is a Malbec and is supposed to be more "full bodied" (which, actually, I thought I could tell when I poured the glasses - it looked darker than the Taurino) and go well with barbeque. It tasted fine with the cheese queso, but that might just have been my tolerance for red wine building.

We had potatoes and pork chops on this red wine tasting night, and it was a perfect meal for these wines. When I had the Taurino with a bite of potato, however, my reaction was almost the same as the first. The Septima was great with the potato, though, leading me to think that maybe I like full bodied reds more. When I tried them both with just the pork chop, though, which was slathered in BBQ sauce, they were both just terrible!

When I combined the meat and potatoes with the Taurino I was unimpressed, and the acidity stood out to me more than ever. The Malbec, in contrast, was a little bitter (I think that's the word? That's pretty much what I think of every time I drink red wine) at first, but didn't leave such a bad taste as the other.

Overall, I think that I've taken some good notes and am finally thinking about wine as something to keep track of instead of just dismissing red out of hand and thinking of all whites as equal. I'll keep you briefed on my process as it progresses.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

link of the day.

Today, you can get free financial advice from some very, very smart people. Not only smart, they're professionals. In fact, that's their whole job. That's the whole point. Check out the NAPFA's free day to jump start your retirement. That'd be the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, by the way. It's a yearly thing, and luckily for us, it's not a one-time thing, either. They're going to do this again on Friday, January 30. You can also call a phone number and talk to one of the professionals, too. Check the website for all the details. Of course, this story was originally brought to my attention (and many others') by Get Rich Slowly which is the best personal finance blog out there, as Susan says.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

on exercising in a gym.

One of my New Year's Resolutions was to stick with my fitness regime with more dedication and to run 1,000 miles this year. My sister, whom I love from the bottom of my heart, bought me a gym membership for Christmas, because, well, she's awesome. It's a really good deal for both her and me, seeing as she didn't have to sign me up for a contract, so neither of us are roped in for the long-term, and meanwhile, it's balls cold out here, so I'm experimenting with running inside on a tradmill.

Let it be said that I've run on a treadmill before in my life. It's not like this is a completely new experience for me.

But...

It's weird to work out in a gym. I've always kind of dismissed the idea of running on a treadmill (even though I've done it) because I'd heard that it wasn't as good for you. Plus, I love nature! I love to be outside, and I love to feel the sun beating down on me. One of my favorite things to do in the summer is to go for my long runs in the dead noon heat, when I can feel myself just melting away in the desert heat.

So, while I was initially grateful, I was also a little worried. The last time I'd had a gym membership was when my ex-girlfriend was living with me, here in this house, and we'd bought one as motivation to go to the gym. It didn't work out and we paid for three months and went (I'm not kidding) maybe a grand total of three times. So that was super discouraging.

But when I got this gift for Christmas, I thought it was pretty much the ideal situation: I didn't have to pay for it yet, I could try it out, see if I'd actually be going to the gym, and then, if I was, I could invest some of my own money. Win-win, right?

Right! It totally has been. I've been swimming three or four times already, and it's super relaxing to know that I don't have to rush home from my typical twelve-hour days (when I'm teaching and coaching) and try to run in the freezing cold, dark as all get out, weather. I can just go on over to the gym, hop on the treadmill, and then I can shoot the ball around a bit, too.

Sweet.

Except...there are some really weird things. I don't know if these are normal, but... Last time I went to run, the BCS game was on. I was happy to be able to watch it on the TVs they have above the treadmills, but now they even have personal little TVs on every single treadmill! I tried watching on this TV (I thought, "Why not embrace the simultaneous masochism and gluttony?") but it made me really dizzy! I don't know if this is a good idea! Meanwhile, the guy next to me had a Starbucks cup! I'm not kidding, and I don't know for a fact what it was (I can't guarantee, for instance, that it was some insanely caffeinated beverage) but does that really matter?! I mean, you're on a treadmill! You shouldn't really be drinking anything, unless it's water, right?

The time before that, I'd gone to the gym up near my work, and I was near-paralyzed from the thought of seeing some of my kids. While I certainly don't have a problem with seeing them at the gym, or them seeing me, even, I wouldn't want to run into them in the locker room. For obvious reasons. Kids freak out enough when they see the tattoo on my leg at basketball games. They don't need to see the constantly multiplying tributes to Derick's new job that are festooning my body. (Mom's worried because now I'm up to five. I'm rapidly decreasing the odds of my successfully running for public office.) So I don't think I'll be going back to that gym, despite its proximity to my place of work, which is a drag.

However, there are great options near my house, which makes this, definitely, one of the best Christmas presents I received. Thanks sis.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

on the chances of a major league team coming here.

According to Wikipedia, Albuquerque is the 34th largest city in America, as measured by population. Of the 33 above us, a mere six have no kind of major league sports team. Those cities are:

Austin, TX. Austin has no professional sports team, but they do have plenty of cool stuff going on, not to mention a crap load of semi-pro sports.

Fort Worth, TX also has none, but, to be fair, it's essentially a suburb of Dallas. It mean, come on, you fly into DFW (Dallas/Fort Worth!) when you go there.

El Paso, TX also does not have one.

Las Vegas, NV has none, for rather obvious reasons.

Louisville, TN has none, but they do have the Louisville Cardinals.

Tucson, AZ, finally, has none, but they do have the UofA Wildcats.

Now, you might see the last couple above as a cry of support for the UNM Lobos men's basketball program - and don't get it twisted, I love going to Lobos games. (See y'all there on Saturday for Air Force!) But I literally cannot believe that we can't get something here! And, to be honest, perhaps the best thing we could get would be a soccer team in the MLS. (I come here not to praise basketball, but to bury it...) With such a high percentage of our population belonging to one minority or another (I don't want to get into the Hispanic vs. Latino vs. Mexican vs. Mexican-American debate) I think we'd be a natural fit for the world's most popular sport!

This, however, leads me down the dark, dark road of soccer's fate here in America. When we hosted the World Cup in 1994, I was just a little kid who loved to kick the ball. But I have very, very clear memories of articles being written, stories being told, about how this was going to change soccer's standing in America...this was the break we'd been waiting for! Soccer was finally going to take its rightful place as one of the "Big Four" sports here in America.

And then it didn't happen.

And then, when the women won the whole thing in 1999, and Brandi Chastain proceeded to rip her shirt off there was another rash of stories: this is it! Soccer is about to break through. This is going to be the turning point.

And then it wasn't.

So while I have a deep, deep childhood love for soccer, and I think it would do well here in New Mexico, due to the factors I've talked about above, I'm very worried about bringing a professional sport here that few people are actually interested in. (This is actually my way of kinda cleverly side-stepping the whole issue of whether a poor state like New Mexico could even sustain something of the pro nature. But I'll run with it.) If we're going to bring something, shouldn't we stick with the new American pastime? Oh wait, we've apparently already got that. Don't ask me how they're doing. I have no idea. And we have the Thunderbirds. And the hockey team, despite leaving Albuquerque for the Hell that is Rio Rancho is still definitely a New Mexican team. The Dukes may be gone, but we ripped off The Simpsons and built a great park for our baseball team.

So doesn't that only leave soccer?

We need a team.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

on the celtics.

The Celtics lost for the fifth time in seven games last night and nothing really could make me happier. As a lifelong Lakers fan, I'm kind of predisposed to hating the Green Guys. But as a Lakers fan who had to live through the first six-game sweep in the history of the NBA, I absolutely detest them. I've tracked the storyline of the development of Kevin Garnett's increased trash-talking this year with all the horror and disgust of a car crash.

The Celtics have won 17 titles now. The Lakers have a 'mere' 14. The Celtics were coached by Red Auerbach, who famously lit up in the arena, and is seen as the modern incarnation of a God over there in the Northeast. The Lakers have Phil Jackson now, who is tied with Red, with 9 rings as a coach, but the East Coasters feel like Phil's job's been too easy, what with the combos of MJ and Scottie Pippen and Kobe and Shaq.

The Celtics were off to an NBA-best 27-2 start this year, before losing the aforementioned games. This has been getting a lot of press. Rajon Rondo, their point guard, says they are absolutely, positively not in a slump. All evidence tends to point to a contrary conclusion. While the Celtics' losses were started in LA, with the Lakers off to their own great start, they've now lost to some truly, truly bad teams. While one slip-up to a sub-par team is sometimes OK for a supposedly great team, losing to New York (who might make the playoffs), Golden State (who are currently in the middle of vying with the Clippers for the title of team that implodes the most spectacularly) and those same Kings (who are amazingly inconsistent) in a short time period can't be anything but worrying. The losses to the Blazers (even without Roy) and the Lakers (as I've already mentioned) are a little more understandable. However, add it all up and there's no way to deny that something is very, very wrong.

I'd like to seriously think that this is all Stephon Marbury's fault. There have been rumors that Marbury wants to go to Boston. When I heard these rumors the first time, my immediate reaction was to laugh. They couldn't be serious. Marbury is a cancer. There can be no denying this. If something is rotten in the state of Boston, it is not something that Stephon Marbury can fix. And the second they even started thinking about that, I think things started going wrong with their team.

Don't get me wrong, I don't want anything to go right for the Celtics. I hate them with all of my Forum Blue and Gold blood. But I can't help but think...if we don't get another shot at them...it's kind of like cheating. (All this, of course, ignores just how scary the Cavs look and also commits the cardinal sin of looking past some of the superior competition we have in the Western Conference. I don't really want to do either. I just think it's more stirring when we set things up in terms of us versus them.)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

on too cool to be forgotten.

Alex Robinson is kind of a wonder kid in the comics scene and his latest graphic novel, Too Cool To Be Forgotten came out this summer to a ton of press in the comic book scene. I finally got around to reading it.

It was good. Don't get me wrong. Because this review is going to kind of come across as thought I didn't totally love it, but it was good. Seriously. But here are some of the problems.

First of all, the whole thing was too short. It was sub-divided into chapters that were essentially just a little bit longer than a couple of pages. I don't know how many pages the chapters really were, since I read this in the book store and don't have it here to reference, but I'm telling you: they could not have been more than 5 or 6 pages apiece. Which, I guess, is OK, as long as you've got quite a few chapters. But Too Cool To Be Forgotten didn't have anywhere near the right amount of chapters.

This leads to the second complaint, which is, in reality, I didn't feel like there was enough time spent on the high school section. This is the crux of the novel, the whole thing that the novelty of the plot hinges upon, and I feel like it kind of just got glanced over. The beginning of this section is great, where he thinks about how he doesn't even know what year he's in, nor does he recognize the majority of the people (something that really made me think about if I went back right now how so so so many people would look unfamiliar to me, which struck me as truly unfortunate) and there's tons of room for examining some of his deep thoughts about how his voyage might mess up the past, and how he tries to avoid that (but inadvertently totally ruins it within minutes by talking about that girl's sexual exploits at a concert! Why don't we hear about that again? And again and again and again, for what it's worth.) and the ways in which he's re-living some of the most traumatic times of a kid's life.

Lastly, the whole hypnotism sends you back in time' angle...well, I have to be honest, I didn't really thought that played out very well. The story called for it, and it was a great, intense, deeply personal story that he was actually telling, but the cheesiness of the actual events kind of took away from that depth.

So since I've dogged on it so much, let me say again that the story that Robinson sets out to tell, which was that of a boy and his father, is a great story. The artwork is stark and the black and white is a perfect touch, and it really fits with the overall story, and there are lots of great, charming points, like the teenaged (but adult-minded) protagonist telling himself to keep his cool with the principal and lecturing people at a party, telling them that none of this small stuff actually matters. Too Cool To Be Forgotten is a great story, with lots of good things, but I'd recommend borrowing it from your public library as opposed to buying it.

Monday, January 5, 2009

on new moon.

Over the break, I was happy to finish three books, of which the second part to Stephenie Meyer's vampire saga, New Moon was clearly the weakest. Sorry Twilighters...it's just not that good. That being said, nothing will stop me or discourage me from reading the remaining two books. And, there were several good things about this book, and the series in general, up to this point.

New Moon is, at the bare minimum, upfront about where it's stealing from and that is something that I can always appreciate. They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, right? So yeah, Meyer essentially cops that she's writing a re-do of Romeo and Juliet, but this time with vampires (and SPOILERS! werewolves, duh). Nothing wrong with that. Plenty of other writers have mined the 'greatest love story' ever for a little more than inspiration, right? Sure, I'm willing to go that far.

However, sadly, Meyer just isn't up to the task. She starts off with one of the worst moves that an author can make, and that's getting rid of the character that her readers actually like; while teenage girls might tell you that they can empathize with Bella, it's actually Edward that they love. Moving him away (and we all know immediately that it's only a temporary move) is a necessary development for the plot structure that she's got in mind, but it's a bad mistake to make. Although it leads to some powerful depression with Bella, it's a bad sign when the three most powerful pages from that section are the three pages with only the month names on them. That means that what you're not writing is more powerful than what you are. And it's a lot to ask of your readers to think highly of Bella and to think that she's an intelligent, capable young woman, but to also simultaneously think that she's stupid enough to think that she believes Edward when he out and out lies and says that he never cared about her and that he's leaving forever. I mean, either she's a bright young egg who would never fall for that, or she's just another normal girl, for whom Edward probably never would have fallen. It's hard to have it both ways, and this disconnect really affects the tone of the first half of the book, leaving the reader waffling when Meyer really wants them wallowing.

The second half of the book, I'll admit, picks up a great bit. We already knew Jacob from the first book, and he's an intriguing character all on his own, not to mention when he's thrust into the Paris role of our latter-day Romeo and Juliet. Jacob comes across often as the friend who's just too good to be true, but I think everyone who truly experienced their teenage years probably had at least one of those, so I didn't find it all that unbelievable. The werewolf development was dead obvious to anyone with half a brain who read Jacob's dialogue in the first book, so it wasn't really a surprise coming into this one, but again, I don't necessarily mind that. It's not about the arrival, it's about the journey. And the journey that Bella takes with Jacob, both as her recovery from Edward's departure and his development into another member of the pack, are both good, intense, nicely detailed ones. Bella's addiction to adrenaline is a nice touch, as we've all seen friends go through this time when it seems like their actions are so out of character, but if we think about the deeper motivations, they totally make sense.

Finally, the resolution. I'm not going to explicitly spell everything out here, as I don't actually want to spoil anything that wasn't extremely obvious, but I will say these few things: the method of the Cullens' return was well-handled, and a good point of writing on Meyer's part. The phone call and the funeral were (perhaps) my favorite moments of the book because, for once, the obvious snuck up on me. It's always a joy of mine when something seems so obvious in retrospect, but I didn't actually track it the whole way. However, the very end, with it's too-labored, "See, this is how much I actually love you!" felt heavy-handed and more unbelievable than the actual presence of vampires in our world. When these kind of books try to do too much...

I'm looking forward to the next book, and even more to the last, since most of the people whom I trust have told me that was their favorite, but for now, I'll repeat what I said about the first one: I don't care if it's the worst-written book in the history of the world (and trust me: it's far from that) - as long as it's getting kids to read, I'm all for it. Many of those afore-mentioned people have also told me that this was the book they thought was the weakest of the four. If so, I'm looking forward to the final two books even more. Go and read them, see what all the kids are talking about.

Friday, January 2, 2009

on the curious case of benjamin button.

While the new Brad Pitt movie is getting tons of press, and deservedly so, let's not forget that the original text that it's based upon...well, it's not very close to it, other than being "based upon" it. That's kind of where the similarities end, besides the particularity of the main character's aging pattern.

That being said, that's probably the only knock that I'll put against the film. The visual effects, already being much-fawned over, are worth every single spittle of drool dangling from the critics' mouths. They're right - it's a technically amazing feat, watching Brad Pitt as an old man devolve into the man that we know him as now, and then to continue past that point, where he looks...well...young. Seriously.

More than that, though, the story's got real, emotional, weighty soul to it. This is kind of the antithesis of Seven Pounds insofar as it wasn't really predictable, besides a few points that didn't matter if you predicted them at all, and even those had a kind of gravitas that was refreshing to see from a Hollywood flick.

The movie tells the story of Benjamin Button, who's born an ugly, old man, while his mother dies in childbirth. His father, upset by that combination, freaks out upon seeing Benjamin's face, and takes him and drops him on a doorstep. From there, he's raised in an old folks' home, seemingly a perfect place for him. His mother is a kind woman who only wants to give him some kind of life, since she assumes (and a doctor [incorrectly] confirms for her) that he won't live long. As Benjamin progresses through life, his limbs become de-Arthriticized and he learns to begin walking. (Of course, this is one of the great scenes in the movie, wherein his mother has taken him to an evangelist, who proclaims that he will throw the devil out of Benjamin's body and commands him to walk! When the holy man asks Benjamin how old he is, everyone has a laugh at how loving God is, that he sees fit to let this cursed man believe that he is so young at heart. It may come off sounding corny here, but it's genuinely touching in the movie.) As he grows, it becomes apparent to his mother (and his pseudo-father, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali in a great, great, great supporting role) that he won't be dying anytime soon, and that he is, in fact, aging backwards. This provides a lot of room for discussion, almost all of which is passed over in favor of just one quick little discussion between Benjamin and his love interest, the amazing-looking Cate Blanchett. (Seriously, the effects on her are almost as good as the effects on Brad Pitt. At one point, I leaned over and said, "Whoever that is is hot! I don't believe that it's Blanchett, she just looks too young!" And I was wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.) That's really a shame because the examination of the people who love Benjamin of what's actually happening to Benjamin would be a great thing to see. However, at almost three hours already, it's not like there was a surplus of room for the editors to throw in more. I'd love to see some more in the DVD, though.

Soon, as Benjamin continues to grow, he realizes that he has to leave home. He puts in time on a tug boat, with another amazing supporting character, Captain Mike who refuses to accept that he is a tugboat captain, preferring to think of himself as an artist. He meets another woman, and learns about the world that way, gets semi-drafted into the war, and finally comes back home. The love story between Benjamin and Daisy, though, is clearly at the heart of this version of the story, and it's about time for them to meet in the middle. While Benjamin's been off learning about the world and suffering in the school of hard knocks, though, Daisy has succeeded to a huge degree in the world of dance, and is living a boho life in New York. It's not their time yet.

When it finally gets to be their time, it's sparkling to watch. The co-stars have great chemistry, and the film has done a serviceable job of bringing them together. All this, meanwhile, is set up against a background of the story being told from a diary to the daughter of Daisy and I will honestly say that setup kind of fell flat. The setting of the story in NOLA might have meant that it was inevitable that Katrina got brought up, but I didn't see the point.

That being said, the movie was, in a word, amazing. The acting is superb, the story is top-notch and the emotion is real. Go see it.

Bottom Line: Four and a Half Stars (out of Five).