Thursday, September 28, 2006

Wednesday Video: The Gourds

I know it's Thursday, but I've been trying to get this working since Tuesday. So I'm splitting the difference. This is a clip of The Gourds, in 2001, playing in Reading, Pennsylvania, at what looks like either somebody's basement, or something that was developed by the guy that owned the Keyhole Inn. The song is El Paso, and it features great violin jamming by Max Johnston, and some sweet mandolin by Kevin Russell.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Johnson Breaks Femur, Brunell Breaks Record
Saturday's Nationals/Mets game was a Fox broadcast, although I doubt that it was shown in many markets other than DC and New York. Much to my delight, Tim McCarver was, apparently, broadcasting another game, and we got Lou Pinella, who not only is not Tim McCarver, but is a pretty good announcer himself. I found it interesting that not only did Lou seem to know a lot about the Nationals, he was very positive about them. He noted that, despite their record, they had made some strides this year. He gave due credit to Jim Bowden for acquiring Lopez and Kearns. He was very positive about the Nats' offense, and said that Soriano was the face of the franchise, and that he would expect that Nats to come up with a great offer to keep Alph in DC.

His comments were interesting, particularly since Lou is looking for a managerial job. Lou's getting up there in age, so most people think that he'll go to a contender, but it doesn't look like there are a lot of contending teams looking for new managers in the off-season. (The Cubs are not a contending team.) Maybe he sees the Nationals as a team with some promise, in a league where it's not unusual for teams to come out of nowhere to contend for play-off berths. He sees the Nationals as having a great offense, an effective bullpen, and a number one starter that's due not to get injured next year. Re-sign Soriano, sign another starter, hope that a couple of the current starters get better next year, and maybe you can make a run at the play-offs. Hey, I can dream, can't I?

Unfortunately, Saturday's game took an ugly twist in the seventh inning, when Nick Johnson and Austin Kearns collided at full speed going after a ball in short rightfield. It was immediately clear that Johnson was seriously hurt, although in the initial replays it was hard to tell what had happened. Looking at the players' reaction -- Nats and Mets alike (David Wright looked like he was going to cry) -- you realized it was bad. By late Saturday, Nick was having surgery for a broken femur. That's a big bone. Looking at the replays after the injury was diagnosed, you can see the problem, and it's right up there with the Theismann leg injury as one of the most nauseating in the history of Washington sports. Nick Johnson has been a great National. No complaining (like Jose Vidro), he plays hard and effectively, and has had a great season. In today's Post, the diagnosis seems to be as positive as it could be, so I'll hope for the best.

I was certain that the Johnson injury mean that the Redskins would humiliate themselves against the mighty Houston Texans yesterday. Happily, I was wrong. The good Mark Brunell not only showed up, but set a record by completing 22 straight passes, and the Redskins cruised to a 31-15 win. Make no mistake, the Texans are horrible. Their defense is young and bad, and their offense is just bad. But the Redskins are a completely different team with a healthy Clinton Portis, who set the tone early by taking a short pass from Brunell for 74 yards in their second possession, which set up their first touchdown. The receivers we expected to look good, looked good, and David Patten made a remarkable catch. Ladell Betts had a great game, which I hope the coaches will remember if Portis gets hurt again.

The only negative was that the Redskins continued to pay homage to Steve Spurrier by getting penalty after penalty -- 12 for 126 yards. If they want to honor the old ball coach, maybe it would be better to just get a patch for their jerseys. Dan Snyder can sell some special edition stuff...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Jackass Number Two
Four years after the first Jackass, it's remarkable that all of the guys are still alive, still in possession of all of their body parts and -- especially in the case of Steve-O -- not in jail. They're probably much richer, but they're still insane. And they've made another movie. Since the first movie, Bam Margera messed with his family on his tv show, Steve-O and Chris Pontius messed with animals on their tv show, and Johnny Knoxville, in perhaps the riskiest move, messed with his career, by starring in a whole series of lousy movies, culminating in the movie version of Dukes of Hazard, a movie that, hopefully, marked the end of remaking not particularly good television shows into really bad movies.

I saw the original Jackass when it first came out. I don't remember many of the details, so I was worried that I wouldn't understand all of Number Two. But that wasn't a problem. The Jackasses play around with explosives, snakes and various things that they can use as wheeled vehicles, as well as Bam's mom and a guy from Los Angeles who thinks Johnny Knoxville is smoking and drinking with his grandson.

Fame and wealth haven't made the guys less willing to risk life and limb, or to expose their bruised and burned butts to each other and the world, resulting in a pretty funny movie.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Dangerous Connection Between Jocks and Buses
In Thursday's Washington Post, it was reported Tennessee Titans' tough guy coach Jeff Fisher responded to the contention of his former QB Billy Volek (traded recently to the Chargers) that he felt he was "thrown under the bus" by the Titans, by saying that, actually, it was Volek who threw the whole Titans organization under the bus.

Two things about this. First, if Volek threw the whole organization under the bus, he's got quite an arm and maybe the Redskins should have traded for him, given Mark Brunell's limitations.

Second, what the hell is up with all this throwing under buses?

Thursday there was an article in the New York Sun headlined The Yankee Way: Throw 'Em Under the Bus, about how his Yankee teammates threw ARod under the bus. The Windsor knot ARod used for his tie remained perfect, though. Ben Roethlisberger said that he wasn't going to throw Michelle Tafoya under the bus. Good thing, as Kornheiser was probably in the bus napping. Ozzie Gullen threw himself under the bus, to benefit his players. Ozzie's some guy. Art Shell's willing to do it for his boys, too. Tony LaRussa has recently thrown Jason Marquis under the bus. This was the right thing to do. If you've seen Marquis' numbers this year, it's surprising LaRussa didn't strangle him. TO, as we know, threw Donovan MacNabb under the bus. Afterwards, Donovan had some soup and felt better.

I guess if you're on his team, you don't have to worry about Mark Brunell throwing you under the bus. He'd throw you behind the bus. You'd just roll to the curb, and the bus would cruise on its way, the busdriver looking in the rear view mirror, chuckling about what a weak arm Brunell has. Brunell would then probably give you an earnest handshake, and tell you why he's not worried about it. John Patterson tried to throw someone under the bus, but he felt some twinges in his arm. When Chris Webber was a Wizard, one of the few things they didn't have to worry about with him was whether he'd throw someone under the bus, as one arm was usually mobilized while his separated shoulder was healing, and the other arm was involved in smoking-related activities.

So you would think DC's relatively safe, bus-wise. Not true, though, as Metro is developing a "Don't Chase the Bus" campaign, because last week there was a fatal accident where a poor guy trying to flag a a Metrobus fell under the bus, and was crushed.

So be careful out there, especially all you busdrivers.

And, again, if Jason Marquis was really thrown under a bus, he got off easy.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

New Nationals Stadium
Here's a photo of construction of the new Nationals stadium. This was taken after the Nationals game last Sunday. (They won, it was a great game.) That's my nephew Andy.

It's hard to tell what's going on with the construction. My guess is that the structure to the right of the picture is the part of the stadium that would be around home plate. Although, if the stadium is designed more like Camden Yards and less like most other baseball stadiums, it could be the other way around. I don't think so, though, I think batters will be trying to hit in the direction of South Capitol St.

We checked it out a couple of weeks ago, and progress has definitely been made since then. I'm hoping that, right behind Andy that's a prototype bathroom and not the real thing.

Our intention is to check out the progress every month or so. Andy's eleven years old and about five and a half feet tall. He'll definitely be a teenager, and probably pushing six feet by the time this is done. I think he'll survive the wait, though. Heck, I've been waiting for 35 years.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Redskins Play Unscheduled Throwback Game
On Football Night in America, the Redskins played like it was throwback night without the cool jerseys, combining the very worst of the Norv Turner and Steve Spurrier eras in an embarassing loss to the Cowboys. Maybe some of the 700 pages in Al Saunders playbook are tribute to Norv, because this offensive effort brought back nauseating memories of the worst of Norv's offenses -- a whole lot of nothing, led by an incompetent quarterback. In two games, Brunell has shown that the concerns about the arm strength of the aging quarterback were legitimate. He has no ability to get the ball deep, all of his passes are short, and he doesn't throw any long passes. Which means that he's coming up short even on his short passes. The talents of Santana Moss and Antwan Randle El are wasted. And Brandon Lloyd's name has barely been uttered in either game. Hopefully the move to DC is at least working for his hip hop career.

Last week, the Redskins played penalty-free early in the game, but caught up quickly when the game was on the line late. This week, they committed them early and often, just like under the ol' ball coach, Steve Spurrier. Get Joe Gibbs a visor. Eleven accepted penalties for 117 yards says it all.

Two constant choruses are that Saunders' offense takes a long time to master (or even to be competent with, apparently) and Shawn Springs is hurt. Given the relative success of last year, I'm not sure of the wisdom in converting to an offense that may take a season for the players to execute. More and more, though, I'm thinking Saunders' famous 700-page playbook is just how many pages it takes to try to cover for an inept quarterback.

As far as Springs, given his history of injury, the fact that he was hurt at the end of last year, and his age, I am not sure it's a great idea to be so reliant on him.

I watched most of this game on NBC, which was much better than the ESPN Monday night broadcast, although I don't really see the necessity of the four-person halftime crew. Madden and Michaels, though, are about the best.

I listened, or tried to listen, to the very beginning and the very end of the game on the radio. I had it on 730AM, and the reception, while driving down 110 in Arlington, was very much like the Redskins' offense -- shaky to non-existent. I know that Dan Snyder and John Riggins say that the games are on three different stations, and that we should use different ones depending on the time of day. What kind of crap is that? I don't know if Tom Cruise knows anything about radio reception. If not, maybe Snyder can hire that McGyver guy to rig something up.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Two for One Nationals Rant
Rant 1 - There's a big Comcast ad on the back of the Washington Post sports section trumpeting how "Comcast now carries MASN and all the Nationals games." Gee, thanks. It's September 15. They have 15 more games, and five of them were already scheduled to be on Channel 20 or Fox. So what they're doing is giving us these ten crummy games at the end of the season, which will allow them to charge subscribers $2 more a month throughout the off-season, when who knows what will be on MASN. Even when Comcast does something that you've been begging them to do, they manage to do it in an infuriating way. Please, Verizon, do whatever you have to do so that crappy apartments in Arlington can get FiOs.

Rant 2 - So Barry Svrluga has an article in the Post this morning headlined Free Agent Compensation Could Be in Jeopardy. This, of course, is alarming, because the bright side of the Nationals possibly (some would say probably) not re-signing Alphonso Soriano is that they will get two compensatory picks. I've always thought it was a better move to risk losing Soriano and getting two high picks that the Nationals could actually make themselves, than to trade him for another teams' formerly highly regarded picks that have been reduced to trade fodder. Especially once we saw what the market was, and nobody was giving away their prospects. Most writers, including Svrluga, disagree. They all remember the time the Mariners traded Randy Johnson for Carlos Guillen and Freddy Garcia, and they think that deals like that are still out there. They're not. The Astros wouldn't have even made that deal again, and, in the short-term, it worked out for them.

Anyway, now Svrluga claims that the collective bargaining agreement could be modified in December in a way that would cause the Nationals not to get compensatory picks. Why would such a change be made, you might ask. Well, you might ask that, but Barry doesn't explain it. Here's what he says: Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement expires Dec. 19, and one element of the agreement that could be on the table is the system by which teams are rewarded compensatory draft picks when they lose free agents. He then says that MLB and Stan Kasten have refused to comment on this. Can't say that I blame them.

I don't get it, because the current system seems completely reasonable, and I'm not just saying that because of my allegiance to the Nationals. If compensatory picks were eliminated it would just make it even easier for teams like the Yankees, Mets and Red Sox to pick off prospects from lower revenue teams. And they can keep their own prospects. That's not fair.

I would ask Barry, is there a particular reason this system is in jeopardy, or is it just part of the collective bargaining agreement, all of which is in jeopardy, which means he could just as easily have written an article about any other element of the agreement, and I'm sure there are many. Maybe they'll eliminate the DH. Maybe they'll contract, and they'll shutdown the Nationals totally, which would have been even more alarmist, I'm surprised Barry didn't think of that. Maybe they'll start using orange balls, to honor Charlie Finley.

I just kind of expect more from the Post, and it's hard enough being a Nationals fan without these out of left field Chicken Little-isms.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Lonesome Jim on DVD
This week I watched Lonesome Jim, a movie, directed by the great Steve Buscemi, that didn't last long in the theaters earlier this year, and is now on DVD. I loved Trees Lounge, which was the first movie that Buscemi directed, and was the first DVD that I ever bought, so I've been looking forward to this. Lonesome Jim stars Casey Affleck as Jim, who has moved back home to Goshen, Indiana, from Manhattan, where he was a dogwalker/writer. He is clearly depressed, and collapses in a ball as soon as he makes it back home, where he joins his family -- his brother Tim (Kevin Corrigan), his father Don (played by Seymour Cassel, who is one of those actors that is so good, he doesn't even seem like an actor) and his mother Sally (played by Mary Kay Place, who is also very good).

We are left to wonder why, but brother Tim shares his brother's "chronic despair." Jim thinks Tim is even worse off, and tells him so, which results in Tim, who is a divorced father of two young girls, driving his car into a tree and not quite killing himself. Prior to this, Jim picks up Anika (Liv Tyler) at a bar. You know, just like in real life, depressed guy with nothing at all going for him, no job, lives with his parents, looks like he doesn't shower, goes to a bar and immediately picks up someone that looks like Liv Tyler.

Anyway, Anika is as cheerful and positive as Jim is, well, depressed, and she and her young son quickly become a part of Jim's life, as well as Tim's. They hang out with them and their parents, which puzzles Jim who can't imagine why anyone would want to join such a band of losers. Thus we have the vehicle for Jim's awakening, although he never really becomes wide awake, just a little more awake than before, and, we think, with the potential to eventually develop into a human being.

It's not a great movie, but I liked it. It was shot well, and the long shots of Jim's arrival into Goshen are great, as are the shots of what, for Jim, is a night on the town. There are a lot of kids in this movie, who seem like (and, after all, are) real kids, which helps the movie seem like real life (except for the Liv Tyler part), which is often boring and depressing.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Al Saunders Makes Two Million Dollars!
The much-hyped season debut of Monday Night Football is over. It was notable for several reasons -- it was on ESPN, it featured the debut of Tony Kornheiser, it was on September 11, and it involved the Redskins.

It wasn't that great. ESPN's coverage didn't seem much better or worse than any other football coverage. The intro, that involved Arnold Schwarzengger and I'm really not sure what else, seemed like a big waste of some expensive graphic techniques. I was hoping that Hank Williams, Jr., maybe would have taken a wrong drunken turn during the ride from ABC to ESPN, but that didn't happen. The new version of the player intros is dumb -- one guy talks, the rest of the guys are listed on the screen and may or may not be mentioned by the guy who's doing, we're told, the introductions. ESPN gave us two sideline reporters, which really paid off when after the first quarter, Suzy Kolber told us that Pierson Prioleau, who we saw being helped off the field with his right leg in a splint after the opening kick-off more than a half-hour earlier, appeared to have an injured right leg. But her hairstyle brought back fond memories of the original Charlie's Angels.

Tony Kornheiser exhibited an Austin Powers-like fixation with how much money Dan Snyder (who knows Tom Cruise, by the way) pays Al Saunders. Two Millions Dolllars!! Say it again, Tony. When you're looking at a stadium filled with 90,000 people, all of whom have paid an average of more than $100 for a ticket and are decked out in Redskin flair from head to toe, two million dollars just doesn't seem like that much money to me.

Even more annoying, Tony has discovered this new thing called Fantasy Football, and he thinks it's cool to mention it when one of his players does something that earns him points. I can't think of anything more annoying, and that's coming from a guy that's been in the same fantasy baseball league for about 20 years. Tony's said elsewhere that he didn't even pick his team, so I really don't get what the point is, although I suspect that he is mocking me. On a positive note, Tony didn't talk about his money or golf, and he didn't whine about what time he goes to bed. He also made nice with Joe Theismann. At least I think it was Joe Theismann, although he kind of looked like a wax museum version of Joe Theismann. Maybe those fancy computer graphics were involved.

September 11-wise, it was cool to see all the flags in the stadium. I saw a sepia-toned Chris Berman, with his head taking up the entire screen of my tv, introduce a halftime feature, but I didn't listen. I can't remember the last time that Chris Berman said something that was remotely interesting to me. Quite possibly, never. I half-watched the feature, which seemed very nice, if a little lacking in new material.

As for the Redskins, well, they weren't as bad as they were in pre-season. But they do have some problems. Brunell could have looked worse. The offense showed an inclination to go with screen passes. If they keep it up, look for better defenses than the Vikings to score touchdowns. Clinton Portis looked good the time he was out there. Although we'll never really know the truth about his injury, he sure looked healthy, and I think they would have benefitted from getting him more carries. Antwan Randle-El looked good, as did the great Santana Moss. TJ Duckett didn't even play. Most troubling was a continuation of their inability to get the ball into the end zone from the red zone. Maybe Al Saunders will figure this out by next week. After all, he makes Two Million Dollars!

Defensively, the Redskins couldn't stop the Vikings on third down. You don't really have to say more than that, because you can't win giving up first down after first down. There were some unfortunate penalties in the second half that didn't help either. I think the Redskins benefitted from the fact that Vikings receiver Troy Williamson was apparently wearing his big brother's helmet, which came down over his eyes and prevented him from having an even bigger game.

While it was bad, it could have been worse. They could have lost in overtime.

So, uh, bring on Dallas!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Wicker Man
Wicker Man is a remake of an apparently awesome movie from 1973 that I have not seen. Which is maybe for the best, as people who have seen the first one are not real big on the remake. This version stars Nicholas Cage, who has aged fast and in an unfortunate manner. His hair looks like it came from a spray can, and he has visible face lift scars on his neck. He has a good dentist, though, so his caps look good.

Poor Nick plays Edward, a California highway policeman who, as the movie opens, witnesses a car crash that is fiery and fatal, despite Edward's best efforts to save a little girl trapped in the back seat. Edward takes some "personal time" after the accident, and soon receives a letter from his ex-fiance, who asks him to come to a remote island (Summersisle) to help her find her daughter. Things get weird from there.

The island is inhabited by secretive women and a few mute men. Edward immediately makes his presence felt, loudly announcing that he's the police and he wants some answers and he intends to find this little girl (Rowan). He does this before he even gets debriefed from his ex, who is named Willow and played by Kate Beahen, a woman who tries to compensate for her lack of acting skills with really poofy lips (it doesn't work). Once Willow and Edward are finally reunited, there still is a long period of time before Edward asks her what happened. Nice police work. Edward goes running and biking through the island trails, all the time never taking off his tie, and never getting straight answers from the islanders. He eventually meets Sister Summerisle, the island's boss; he finds her creepy, and becomes convinced that Rowan is stashed somewhere and the islanders are planning on sacrificing her, which will result in their bees making more honey. Really.

As things reach a fever pitch, Edward gets into a fight with Sister Honey, played by Lele Sobieski, a character that we never really understand but who must have some kind of super powers that would enable her to almost kick the ass of a cop. After Edward finally beats up Sister Honey, he steals a bear suit, and rushes to save Rowan from what he thinks will be her sacrificial death.

This movie has been universally panned. Although there were some silly parts, and I am still not quite sure why they needed the car crash at the beginning, I thought it was entertaining. And it's very funny to see Nicholas Cage running around with bear feet.

I saw this movie with about 20 other people. As with most movies these days, we were told, about five different ways, that we should turn off our cell phones during the movie. Five minutes into the movie, the idiot behind me gets a phone call. And he answers it. As he says "Hello," I turn around and glare at him. He then proceeds to talk until I yelled "Hey" at him. Then his wife, apparently scared by the big bald guy glaring and yelling at them, poked him, and he told the caller that he'd call him back in a couple of hours and hung up. Morons.