1st and Ten: The Weekly Tendown: May 23-29 2010

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dear Internet:
Welcome to Issue 28 of the Tendown; my look at the top cultural happenings of the previous 7 days.  The conceit, for you new readers, is I start with an expansive thought, labeling it First - and then I countdown, nominally in order of importance, the next ten items, some of which draw more discussion than others; usually related to the amount of time in which I have to write. Probably, there's something in here which you will find of interest; probably, there's something in here which won't mean anything at all to you; the calculus is less "what is of most interesting to the interwebs this week" and more "what's in my brain".

And what's in my brain this week is the brain.

First: I don't watch The Curiously Obscure Adventures of Old Christine which may not be the actual title of the show, but Saturday I watched a recent episode of The Curiously Obscure Adventures of Old Christine which contained the following premise, Julia Louis Dreyfus (who will hereafter be referred to as Elaine; she says here that she has not had plastic surgery; and while this seems implausible I will decide to accept it as truth) is engaged to Eric McCormack (who we'll now call Will - the thought about Will is that he's got an Uncle Miltie/Ed Begley situation going on below the waist, also, presumably not surgically enhanced - the Elaine/Will hookup is good fantasy booking on the part of the show; like when Noel dated Monica on Cougar Town for a handful of episodes this season) but is threatened by Will's too-friendly relationship with his ex Beth Littleford (who I occasionally confuse, for no good reason, with Alexandra Wentworth - so we're going to refer to her as the woman not lucky enough to have married George Stephanopolis; like - you know who I think of when I see Brad Garrett?  Marc Curry.  Giant, largely unfunny comics from the same era.  But Garrett's got retirement money from Raymond and Marc Curry would kill to get a MyNetwork TV sitcom with Ray J.  Just goes that way sometimes.  Julia Louis Dreyfus used to battle for sketch time on SNL with Mary Gross.  Now she has 8 figures in the bank and is on the tv making out with mighty donged Will; while Mary Gross, you know, isn't.  When I was 10, I looked a lot like Jason Bateman.  Now, not so much, to the detriment of my Lady Type Friend.  It isn't the life that we have chosen, but it's the one we have). Specifically, Elaine thinks (with good reason) that she isn't as smart as Will and Not Mrs. Stephanopolous; the comedic part of this manifests itself when Will and Not Mrs. Stephanopolous are having what we, the everyman audience, is supposed to recognize as generic, placeholder braniac talk - having a debate if the physical composition of the brain itself changes as a result of psychotherapy, and Elaine responds first with a not particularly timely but a well executed reference to that Miss Teen Whatever from a few years ago "the Iraq, and such as" who finished third on the most recent Amazing Race  (I didn't like any of the final 3 teams; I may never get another Tammy and Victor for whom I can unabashedly cheer.  Tammy and Victor were bad ass; I don't have the sort of encyclopedic knowledge of the Race that I have over the two other CBS reality competition series such that I can qualitatively place them in a list of best Racers ever, but I rooted hard for them.  Tammy and Victor!) and then Elaine showed that her level of sophistication was simpler by trying to engage them in analysis of Russell's mastery of locating hidden immunity idols on Survivor 19.  My Tendown thought is I try to do both here; sometimes within the same paragraph - as I've already talked about the Race and now I get to why this is first on my list this week -- this article from Wired which presents evidence that there are physical changes in the brain - not during psychotherapy, but from spending time online.

Like when writing (or reading) Tendown, for example. 

And those physical changes (spoiler alert) are not for the better. 

I've thought a lot about, for example, what the loss of a tactile relationship with the written word will mean - when magzines and books and newspapers are largely consumed through electronic means; I've thought about how far away we are from simply being able to upload content information into our brains - to consume a book and the analysis thereof as opposed to working our way through the material - it could be democratizing; if Elaine doesn't understand brain plasticity she could just upload a couple of textbooks into the chips implanted in her hand and she'd be, more or less, on a playing field equivalent to Not Mrs. Stephanopolous as they fought to enjoy the genetic bounty in Will Truman's pants.  Or there will be a commodification of knowledge to a more extreme extent - the quality of medical care is vastly, vastly, vastly different in the US depending upon your bank account; Brad Garrett, Mrs. Stephanopolous, and Jason Bateman have, if you're playing the odds, a significantly better chance to live longer, healthier lives than do Marc Curry, Not Mrs. Stephanopolous, and me - one assumes that as advanced medical treatment begins to regularly consist of a master race of neuroenhancers, the distance between the blessings given to haves and have nots will include, even more than it does today, access to all the knowledge that man possesses. 

Much like with the Hollywood Walk of Fame misspelling her name on the star and CBS cancelling her show - it looks like Elaine's going come up short one more time. 

That's the best thing this week.  After the jump, the rest of the Tendown.

1. You too Can Take PEDs
Thinking about neuroenhancers led me to this New Yorker piece from a year ago, discussing the rise and spread of designer "brain drugs" being used in academic and professional circles. From professional poker players to concert level musicians to pilots to surgeons to Ivy league professors, "recreational" use of drugs such as Adderall, Ritalin, Provigil, and Donepezil is dramatically increasing.

I have not partaken.  But I have a job that requires use of my brain.  And if given the opportunity, I'd weigh the costs and benefits, and if I thought the calculation made sense for me, I'd jump on with both feet.

If you're similarly situated, perhaps you would too.  Particularly if your job was especially competitive, right?  Maybe if you were aging a little bit.  What if, in addition to the circumstance of just performing better at work, that performance could be rewarded - maybe significantly?  I'm teaching 7 courses this quarter, I taught 8 last quarter, and that will be the case again next quarter.  But with the increase in the numbers of colleges having adjunct online positions, it's theoretically possible to, I don't know - let's say double that number.

That would be good money; I've talked about my having lost literally every dime in what history books should call the Panic of 2007 in the housing collapse; living in south Florida, my circumstance is, for the foreseeable future, living paycheck to paycheck.

I can't physically teach more than I currently am, not without significantly diminishing returns; I think, right now, I am able to be approximately as good at my job as I was teaching only 4 courses per term - but it requires exponentially more effort, and I can see the cliff from which I might fall if I either slowed down or attempted to add more courses.

But with the aid of designer brain drugs to enhance my performance?  What if I could teach 3 more courses?  That kind of money would really make things easier.

There was a poll of adults mentioned in the New Yorker piece - adults were asked if there was anything wrong with taking drugs to increase mental performance even if taking those drugs wasn't medically necessary.  2/3 said doing that was fine.  I'd agree with them.

So - why then, have we had a decade long persecution of Barry Bonds?

Except that the rewards for his behavior (I'm really talking here about all the PED athletes, not just Barry - but Barry's my guy, as regular readers know; you can insert whatever athlete makes more sense to you) were so much more significant than mine, it kind of sounds fairly analogous.  66 percent of Americans would say that they're cool if I do it - but the current, accepted position among the gatekeepers of sport is that Bonds is a cheater who should not just be excised from record books - but stricken from our collective memories; Bonds is treated by the sports establishment the way Chris Benoit is by the WWE - like he never existed, and if they could digitize him from the 2002 World Series video they damn well would.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em kids.  That's today's lesson.

2. Senator Vince McMahon
Linda McMahon is now the sole Republican candidate for US Senator from Connecticut.

She's pulled even with Blumenthal, the Democrat, after trailing by 30 points, when her campaign tipped the New York Times  about Blumenthal's occasional attempts to mislead some about his service during Vietnam. 

That Vince McMahon might win a US Senate seat because of a perception that he was the more ethical candidate is beyond description; if you vote for him, Connecticut, you get what you paid for - or rather, you'll get whatever his largest contributors paid for, because if there is an example of the United States being a plutocracy, where we are government for, by, and of the wealthiest among us - and if there is an example of any Republican surely being a wholly owned subsidiary of the insurance industry (or any industry willing to write a large enough check) it will be Vince McMahon - U.S. Senator.

And yes, I'm saying Vince and not Linda.  Linda will cast the votes - but she'll be the Senator the way Jack Tunney was WWF Commissioner in the 1980s; it's Vince who will be pulling the strings (or perhaps Hunter; if there's some position; maybe a congressman from Hartford, let's say, and he's been elected an obscene number of times the way Congressmen can be - don't be surprised to see, some three decades from now, that record number broken by a then 70+ year old Triple H.  He is the cerebral assassin, don't you know.)

Michael Benoit has written a couple of op-eds in opposition to Linda's campaign, focusing, not as substantively as he could, about the WWE treatment of its employees - which is, not as employees at all, but as independent contractors.  WWE is a billion dollar corporation which does not provide health insurance to its labor force, despite controlling the way in which they do their work (the key in distinguishing an employee from an independent contractor) in as detailed a fashion as one could imagine.  Any job in which your activities are as scripted as that of WWE wrestler would fail any conceivable independent contractor analysis - and yet WWE has built its business (and generated amazing personal wealth for the McMahons) on the backs of a labor force paid only a fraction of the profits generated (significantly less than other comparable forms of either sports or entertainment). 

A company dedicated to not providing its workers health care.  I guess Vince does fit right in with his fellow Republicans in the US Senate. 

3. First Time/Long Time
I've written in a previous Tendown about my relationship with sports talk radio (my first call was as a 12 year old in '83, defending John Elway from Bob Trumpy criticism on his WLW show from Cincinnati); I recognized at a young age that the worst element of sports talk were the callers, who take their 90 seconds of airtime to display how deeply embedded are conservative virtues into the collective sports fan psyche (my defending the rights of the player against the corporate establishment would mark me as a political outlier; you don't have to scratch too deeply to find where most sports fans live).

More importantly, sports fans are boring (me too, I never made a call worth listening to); which is why you should avoid them on your radio dial.

Someone who recognized that early was Jim Rome; who cultivated a stylized manner of phone call from his listeners (The Jungle) which essentially boiled down to - prepare something to say before you call ("have a take, and don't suck"). 
The artistic success of that is a your mileage may vary situation; and Rome's own "take" on sports really hasn't evolved beyond the most bumper sticker simplistic - but I must admit, that since my first hearing it during a long, long drive in '96, I have gone out of my way each year to locate the annual Smack Off, the battle among top Jungle residents to provide the best call on the biggest day of the sports radio year.  Like one could construct a narrative of modern WWE by viewing only each year's Wrestlemania if need be - listening to each Smack Off can allow you to weave your way through the sports radio landscape without having to kill yourself everytime Big Don calls from a car Phone.

This week, I found the entire history of the Smack Off.  And this week, I listened to every Smack Off call over the last 10 years.  Every one.

I've re-awarded each year's Huge Call, and I'm willing to say, given that I have the benefit of hindsight, that my choices for annual winner, where they differ from the official selection, are superior.  I'll get to the previous years sooner than later, and then put it all up in a separate post.

The Real Winners of the Smack Off - 2001-10

2001: Actual Winner Silk in Huntington Beach.  My Winner: Gino in San Antonio (finished 3rd)
-This wasn't a very good year; Silk made easily his best call of the decade, a political takedown of standard sports talk, and if one wanted to leave the result as it was, I'd be good with that - but Gino (making his, to this date, last ever call to the Smack Off) edges him out largely based on delivery.

2002: Actual Winner Jeff in Richmond.  My Winner: Doc Mike DiTolla (5th)
-The wost result in the decade; Jeff's almost a stereoptypically bad caller, mixing in lifted wrestling promo language with boilerplate conservativism.  He'll fit it great with the next junior Senator from the Nutmeg State.  Doc Mike won twice in the years I haven't re-listened to yet, and his call from a year that I'll get to in a moment is, I'd argue, the best of the decade.  This isn't a great call, but as with 2001, there wasn't a great call.

2003: Actual Winner Sean the Cablinasian. My Winner: Dan in DC (4th)
-Sean's the most rewarded caller in Jungle history - a 5 time Smack Off Winner; in my re-working, his 4 titles this decade are reduced to one; I like Sean, he'd make my top 3 or 4 every single year, but I have him getting edged out of most of his titles.  Like Gino, Dan in DC stopped calling the Smack Off after failing to win in his year (perhaps out of disappointment for being inappropriately unacknowledged - today, you are redeedmed, Gino in San Antonio and Dan in DC!  Redeemed!  Redeemed by the Blog of Revelation!) but Dan returned a few weeks ago for the 2010 contest.

2004: Actual Winner Iafrate.  My Winner: Iafrate
-Iafrate and the Cablinasian are the most consistent performers over the last ten years (along with Greg in Vegas).  They went 1-2 in '04 and that's the way I would have gone as well.

2005: Actual Winner Sean the Cablinasian.  My Winner: Iafrate (2nd)
-I'd actually put Sean in third in 2005, behind Iafrate and Stevie Carbone.  Iafrate has a more extemporaneous sounding style than Sean (a thought which he interjects in his calls, most effectively in 2007) and that gives him the edge for me.

2006: Actual Winner Sean the Cablinasian. My Winner: Sean the Cablinasian
-Sean's the side here, then Iafrate, Carbone, and Greg in Vegas.  Another caller who I dislike, largely for reasons of style is Terrence in Sierra Madre; which I mention here as Rome consistently calls he and Greg the best callers never to have won the Smack Off, a role that was Iafrate's at decade's start.

2007: Actual Winner Sean the Cablinasian. My Winner: Iafrate (4th)
-Sean's third straight - but again, I'm going Iafrate, in my listening - he'd be a three time winner from the decade.  Sean, Greg, Carbone once again would round out my top 4. 

2008: Actual Winner Iafrate. My Winner Doc Mike DiTolla (2nd)
-The Cablinasian got his own radio show; knocking him out of competition - and whereas the guy I thought had been the better of the two, Iafrate, actually won in '08, I would have had him 3rd, behind Joe in the OC, and my favorite single call of the last ten years, Doc Mike's "I drink your smacktake" call.

2009: Actual Winner Brad in Corona. My Winner Greg in Vegas (4th)
-My current favorite caller stylistically is Brad in Corona, but I would have placed him 3rd in '09, behind Mike in Indy and Greg in Vegas - Greg's shtick is that he says overly offensive things (in '09 there was a Christina Applegate's breast cancer joke) which prevents him from winning.  When you listen to every Smack Off call over the past ten years in one week that can really start to wear on you - but taking each year individually, I think this was the best call of '09. 

2010: Actual Winner Vic In NoCal. My Winner: Brad in Corona (8th)
The largest disparity between my choice and the official board, probably due to 2010 arguably being the best overall year for calls, at least in terms of the depth of the good calls, for the past ten years.  Brad was my favorite, and I'm not really a fan of Vic's, as his style is a step too manuscript heavy for my ears - Joe in the OC was a very close second for me, Mike in Indy, Jay Mohr (with his best ever Smack Off call) and Doc Mike would have rounded out my hypercompetitive top 5. 

4. About Damn Time

Buster Posey finally got called up.

Saturday - 3 for 4.
Today, at the time of this writing, he's also 3 for 4.

At some point, one of the AL East teams will want to pay for a catcher.  Don't care which one. 

We deal Molina for whichever prospect the Brewers would like who Molina will buy.  I can't imagine we have a position player who would be of any value in addition - maybe Juan Uribe.  We take that prospect and Jonathan Sanchez and go get Prince Fielder and extend his deal.  If Sanchez doesn't get it done then we deal Cain. 

And that's what we do. 

5. But Keep in Mind, Sometimes I'm Wrong

Not a good week for my prognostication skills.

I had Orlando to beat the Celtics.  I had the Suns to beat the Lakers.  And, from the point of the Top 24 all the way to Wednesday night, I had Bowersox~ to win the Idol.

I still don't quite understand it.

Okay - I'm not arguing Bowersox was better than Lee - of course Bowersox was better than Lee, after Tuesday I don't think I read a view contrary.  My pick was less based on that (because the obvious response would be - what about last year; last year, Lambert was obviously better than Kris Allen, but yet, Allen won) than based on the factors which pushed a less worthy Allen over Lambert (red state gay panic and Allen being exactly the kind of cute that hits the Idol audience - 14 year old girls and their moms - right in the solar plexus not being present this year.  Sure, I understood that the Cook-Allen trend from the past two years seemed to favor a singer like Lee winning the final vote - but it really seemed to me (and I argued it strongly with my Lady Type Friend, who was in complete disagreement; not on my qualitative assessment, but on the way the vote was going to go) that Lee didn't have Allen's positives - and Bowersox didn't have Lambert's negatives - and given that, the sizably better singer (and, more important than that for a normal weekly vote - the singer clearly recognized by the judges as the sizably better singer) would win.

She did not - and since she went off as a 7-4 dog - it was not a surprise.  Me, I was surprised.

6. I Was Not As Upset As This Woman
Now this white lady upset. On the real.

7. I Did Get This Right.

I did, however, get Sex and the City 2 right.  I've been saying (to the irritation of said Lady Type Friend) for months that Sex and the City 2 was going to be terrible, not bad, the way most movies are bad, but terrible in a "going to win all the Razzies they can make" terrible.  Something about the desert scenes in the commericals brought to mind Ishtar for me.  This review, from IFC, really captures the tenor of many of the reviews I've read - which isn't just that the film is bad - it's that its bad in a way that will make you angry (I don't recall a 2 and a half hour movie made in the last twenty years that didn't make me angry).  Here's an excerpt:

Never does "Sex and the City 2" acknowledge, even obliquely, that what Carrie and her pals consider "normal" and "comfortable" is not only foreign to the existence of 99% of the population, but that it might in fact be a sign of obscene excess, the spiritual equivalent of carrying around 200 extra pounds -- mountains of fat produced by an unhealthy upbringing and an addictive, soul-dead, self-loathing mindset, fat that cannot be characterized as a matter of genetic destiny no matter how desperately the afflicted person tries to rationalize it as such. When I watch these women sashay through their designer-labeled lives, I don't see escapism: I see pools of bloody runoff gathered in the gutters of a diner's grill. That shit'll kill you.

My joy is solely for being right - I got no beef inherently with SATC; I liked the series fine, I was middling on the first film; SJP and her husband have always seemed to me like good people; I had a good sized crush on Kristin Davis when she was on Melrose Place; so I'm not a hater.

But I had this one.  And I like being right.

In terms of other entertainment this week - I liked Glee; I mean, I didn't - 'cause whereas Glee used to be snarky, now Glee is earnest, and if you're going to be earnest you really have to be Friday Night Lights level of good to get me - but as a totally on the square message, the manner in which the show took down the use of the word "faggy" was calculated to do actual teaching - putting the word in the mouth of the lead male high school student, a character presented to us as largely beyond reproach, was extra deft.  If the show is going to go down Didactic Road, that was a good drive into which to turn. 

But it's not as good as Breaking Bad - which had another astonishing week in what is becoming its best season.

I also saw three 4 star wrestling matches this week (oh, and not for nothing, the best thing on WWE right now is Bryan Danielson - and he isn't even wrestling - which he does better than anyone in this hemisphere) - Marufuji/Aoki v. Go/Taniguchi from May (Noah), Richards v. Omega from May (ROH), and Kazma v. Asahi from April (KDojo).  I've left a ton of main events left to watch from the shows I've most recently worked my way through; this will probably be a big house hunting week for me (they all are; I've now looked at more houses, and not by one or two, for this rental than I did a decade ago when I bought the house I'm about to lose). 

8. Gary Coleman, Dennis Hopper, Richard Dawson

You know about Gary Coleman and Dennis Hopper.  But had you asked me a week ago if Richard Dawson was still with us, I would have said no with about 75% certainty.  I would have been wrong.

9. I liked This

The Supreme Court ruled 9-0 against the NFL in American Needle. It was a good decision less because it will lead to good things than the avoidance of bad things.  You can see analysis here.

10. I Also Liked This
I don't often read Wired, but when I found this week's article that I spoke of before the jump, I decided to read the archives - and I found this absolutely tremendous piece from 2007 about an internet hookup gone as wrong as it could possibly go.  It's like it was scripted by Mamet.  You gotta read.

And that's Tendown 28.  I'll see you next time...if there is a next time.

Your pal,



Blog said...

Alright, I'll bite. What made you angry about Titanic? The fact that it wasn't in 3D?

Jim said...

What...what are we talking about?

The movie? Titanic? It was just dopey, clumsily written and really ponderous - but I didn't hate Titanic; I never needed to...oh, this is about my talking about movies being too long. Got it. I wasn't specifically hitting Titanic (although it was long, Jesus) I guess I'm doing a combination there of "movie quality has really slipped, and why watch a longer movie that isn't as good as a shorter movie" and "my attention span is not very long for reasons of change in the structure of my brain due to the interwebs."

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