We have urgent breaking news regarding my skeptical column about Gov. Mike Easley's claim that "a cheeseburger and onion rings is $60 over there," meaning Europe, where the governor and his wife visited as part of trips that cost $279,000 in taxpayer money.
Amazing reader Jim sent in a link to a story about a $200 burger in London -- at Burger King!
Good thing we kicked those Brits to the curb 232 years ago. Apparently you have to be a millionaire to even walk into an Applebee's over there.
Friday, July 04, 2008
We have urgent breaking news regarding my skeptical column about Gov. Mike Easley's claim that "a cheeseburger and onion rings is $60 over there," meaning Europe, where the governor and his wife visited as part of trips that cost $279,000 in taxpayer money.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
The passing of George Carlin first made me think of how shocking his "seven words you can't say on television" routine seemed at the time and how thoroughly out of date it is now. I think at least three of the seven (#1, #2 and #7, if I remember the order right) have made it onto normal network TV -- not some live show, as part of a script -- and the other night we were flipping around and found some bizarre Spike TV awards show where the apparent goal was to drive censors insane. Steve Carell -- nice, mild Steve Carell -- gave an acceptance speech where he said dirty words #3, #5 and #6. Repeatedly. With relish. Yes, he was bleeped out, but anyone over age 5 knew exactly what he was saying.
What I always wonder, in those moments, is what deaf people are thinking when they come across something like that. If you're reading lips, isn't it safe to assume that the world has gone completely down the sewer?
(By the way, the only TV instance I know about involving dirty word #4 -- The Word That Dare Not Speak Its Name -- is when Jane Fonda said it on the "Today" show a few months ago. It's out there if you want to see. I am not about to link to it. I believe that's the definition of Not Safe For Work.)
Beyond the decline of Western civilization, what Carlin made me think about is where he falls in the Stand-Up Comedy Hall of Fame.
To me there is one and only one unanimous selection. Richard Pryor is Babe Ruth (shattered all known boundaries of his field) plus Jackie Robinson (crossed racial lines because he was so good, white audiences had to respect him). His first movie -- well, it's not really a movie, it's just his stand-up routine on film -- is the single funniest thing I've ever seen.
From Richard on down it's sort of a pyramid. My next group: Johnny Carson, Robin Williams (although he's got the Willie Mays thing of playing far past his prime), Seinfeld, Eddie Murphy, Steven Wright.
After that I'd put in Steve Martin, Sam Kinison (guilty pleasure), Chris Rock, Bill Hicks, and, I swear, the early Dennis Miller. I went with a bunch of friends to see him at Wake Forest maybe 15 years ago and we were laughing so hard we needed those little drop-down oxygen masks they have in case your plane is about to crash. Dennis has gone all Fox News now, which is fine, but he is no longer funny, which is not fine at all.
Never, ever, ever in my Comedians Hall of Fame: Andrew Dice Clay.
This is all off the top of my head so of course I'm missing some -- Dave Chappelle, Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Cosby... Who else you got?
While you're thinking about it, here's George Carlin at his (non-dirty) best, on baseball vs. football.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
My new Web crush is The Big Picture, a Boston Globe blog that compiles stunning photos on any given subject (Mars, life in Iraq, the Celtics' victory party) and displays them full-screen and in high resolution. It's just spectacular. And it made me think how much the right photo can mean to us.
There's a photo of me, my mom and my dad that we took one year for our church directory. The image itself is nothing special (although it is a rare moment of me in coat and tie) but it's a moment to hold onto -- my dad was alive and healthy, for one thing. He didn't become a father until he was 49 and you can see he's proud of his little family. I'm pretty sure I was in high school then and the biggest drama of my life was whether I would get to make out with a girl in the back of the bus on the way home from the debate tournament. I'm smiling pretty big in the photo so I'm guessing it had happened by then.
It also turns out that there are a lot of pictures of me and my mom, or me and my dad, and of course there are lots of pictures of my mom and dad, but not that many of the three of us together. So it's special that way too.
So... tell me about a photo that means something in your life. Doesn't have to be a family photo -- doesn't even have to be a photo that you're in, or that you took. Just something that you keep somewhere special.
And really, before you log off, go look at those Mars photos.
Monday, June 09, 2008
We didn't get much done around the house this weekend because Lee Child has a new book out. I stopped by the bookstore Friday night, bought a copy, walked in the front door, said "This is how much I love you" and handed it to my wife to read first.
I'm romantic that way.
Lee Child will not be winning the Nobel Prize for literature. He writes thrillers. But they are tremendous thrillers -- smart, sexy, powerful, thoughtful. The hero, Jack Reacher, has the skills of Jason Bourne and the body of Howie Long. He roams the country with nothing more than an ATM card and a toothbrush. If people would just leave him alone, things would be fine. People tend not to leave him alone. Broken bones result.
Genre books -- mysteries, thrillers, horror, Westerns -- are tricky business. They have to feel familiar and surprise you at the same time. That's a high degree of difficulty and the reason why the authors who get it right can sleep on stacks of hundred-dollar bills.
The single greatest blurb in the history of books was written for Lee Child by Malcolm Gladwell, who has written some great books himself. It captures exactly how I feel. Here's the blurb:
"I started out reading Lee Child in paperback. Then I realized I couldn't wait and started buying his books in hardcover. Now I call around to my publishing friends, and make them send me the galleys. My next step is to break into Lee Child's house and watch over his shoulder while he types. "
If I ever write a book I'll be begging Malcolm Gladwell for a blurb.
Our household book report on Lee's latest, "Nothing to Lose": Wife started Friday night and finished Saturday afternoon. I started Saturday night and finished Sunday afternoon. It was a great weekend.
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
Lord knows I'm no expert on politics (or anything else, possibly excepting obscure Southern rock and pro wrestling) but every so often my spidey sense starts tingling... and so today I'm here to tell you Barack Obama's pick for vice president. Obama himself might not know it yet but this is where he'll end up.
Let me give you the quick odds for some other potential VP candidates:
Joe Biden -- 25 to 1
Evan Bayh -- 30 to 1
Sam Nunn -- 50 to 1
Dick Cheney -- 1,000,000,000 to 1
Hillary Clinton -- 1,000,000,001 to 1
There is NO WAY that Obama will pick Hillary as vice president. She would double his negatives. She would bring Bill back to the White House, which would be terrible news for everyone except the editors of the National Enquirer. And most of the Hillary supporters who are furious today, vowing that they'll vote for John McCain over Obama, will step into the voting booth in November and realize that, hey, Obama is a Democrat and McCain is a Republican.
Obama needs a conservative Democrat, someone who is tough on national defense and can appeal to some of the blue-collar voters who aren't in love with Obama yet.
Why, look -- here's a Democrat who used to be a Republican, a Vietnam vet who earned two Purple Hearts, and a strong defender of gun ownership. Plus he coincidentally has a new political book titled "A Time To Fight."
Ladies and gentlemen, Jim Webb, senator from Virginia and soon to be your Democratic vice-presidential candidate. I'd bet the contents of my wallet* on it.
*Current contents of my wallet -- $4 and a Harris Teeter VIC card.
Hillary will make nice and campaign for Obama and then go off and plan her next move. Bill... well, it looks like he's keeping busy.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
The other day I was watching this fascinating talk by Jonathan Harris, a computer scientist and artist who has written brilliant programs that take the temperature of the Internet -- what people are feeling, thinking, writing about at any given moment.
One of the thing he says in the talk is that the same touchstones come up over and over again -- stories from childhood, weddings, deaths, the things that all of us experience in one way or another. We love to tell our own stories, not only because those stories helped form us but because they connect us to one another. Sometimes just telling a tiny part of your story is enough, which is the genius behind sites like PostSecret (warning: If you've never visited PostSecret before, prepare to spend at least an hour there.)
All this is an overlong way of introducing something I'd like to try on this blog every so often. For now I'm calling it "Tell me about..." but holler if you've got a better title. I'll throw out a common experience, and you tell your story in the comments.
Here's the first: Tell me about... your first kiss.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
If you're free tonight, swing by the Visulite Theatre at 7:30 for the launch party for the new book "Making Notes: Music of the Carolinas." There's music from Steve Stoeckel, the Local Tomatoes and the Rev. Billy C. Wirtz, plus readings from John Grooms, Sheila Saints and yours truly. I have made the dubious decision to read an essay that reveals my shameful connection to the Captain and Tennille. Come at your own risk.
My essay is (at least partly) about how you hang onto some of the music you loved as a kid. I wasn't exactly a kid when this came out -- I was 19 -- but it was on MTV, when MTV still mattered, and when I was 13 or 14 and we didn't have cable there was nothing better than going to my friend Virgil's house and gorging on MTV. I heard this on the radio the other day and it all came rushing back. So feel free to add your guilty childhood pleasures in the comments, but for now, you know this much is true:
Friday, May 09, 2008
I've been meaning to write about how someone on the Hillary Clinton campaign has a fine future in telemarketing. During the run-up to the N.C. primary, Clinton sent more e-mails than the Nigerian finance minister or even the nice people offering natural male enhancement.
Some days I'd get eight or nine e-mails from the Clinton folks, notifying me of everything from Maya Angelou's endorsement to a Chelsea Clinton appearance with the singer Sophie B. Hawkins (you might remember her from the song "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover", although I'm not sure that's quite as good as Barack Obama getting the nod from Bruce Springsteen).
Reporters tend to get more of this stuff than regular voters, but I'm wondering how many of you got peppered with Hillary e-mails -- and whether, after a while, they were more annoying than energizing.
(The e-mails from the Obama campaign always ended up getting caught in my spam filter. Make any symbolic point you'd like from that.)
Somehow this dovetails with this Freakonomics post about e-mails that get sent to the wrong person with disastrous results.
When I was at my first job we had a primitive version of e-mail that assigned each person in the office a three-digit number -- to send that person a message, you sent it to the number. I was on the night shift and was dating a co-worker. I wrote her a note -- nothing racy, something like "can't wait to get together after work" -- punched in her three-digit number and hit send.
Except it wasn't her three-digit number. It was the three-digit number that sent a message to the whole newsroom.
Did I mention that we had computers that beeped when you got a message?
One by one, I heard every computer start beeping... and then saw every person in the newsroom peering over their cubicles at me.
Not good times.
So what's your biggest e-mail horror story? Confess away in the comments.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Sometime around 12:05 p.m. I'm scheduled to be interviewed on XM satellite radio's POTUS '08 channel (POTUS being the acronym for "president of the United States"). I think we'll be talking about the Sunday package where we talked to 100 voters about the issues that are motivating them in this election.
This will also give you with satellite radio the chance to hear my voice, which I would describe as "obscene phone caller in training." Sorry, it's all I've got.
Monday, April 21, 2008
One of my ironclad rules of life is, always give some money to the street musician. Even if it's a bad street musician. It takes guts to stand out there and play your songs and have people instantly pass judgment on you. There's also the problem of, well, being out on the street. One time in New Orleans I saw a drunk guy come up to a sax player and holler, "I'll give you 20 bucks if you play 'Flight of the Bumblebee!'"
The sax player ignored him.
The drunk guy said, "I'll give you FIFTY bucks if you play 'Flight of the Bumblebee!'"
The sax guy glanced up, stopped his song and broke into a perfect version of "Flight of the Bumblebee." The crowd went nuts and the drunk guy dutifully tossed his 50 bucks in the jar.
I love a good street musician.
A couple of things lately made me think about this. Saturday morning we stopped by Nova's Bakery on Central Avenue and a kid was playing the violin inside. He was doing fine as it was, but then he took it over the top -- he busted out "Sweet Child of Mine."
Nothing like hearing a little Slash on the fiddle.
The other thing was that we're now just a few days away from the Bruce Springsteen concert at the arena (you can still get tickets!) and so I've been dredging YouTube for clips. Diehard Bruce fans will have seen this one, but it's still my favorite -- the Boss joining a street musician in Copenhagen for a version of "The River":
Wonder if Bruce made a few extra bucks that day.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Nope, not Kansas over Memphis. (And definitely not Kansas over UNC.) This was an ordinary Little League game in California that turned into -- well, watch:
And read the background, which makes it even better. (The leader of this group is a guy named Charlie Todd, who grew up in Columbia and went to UNC. I'm guessing he was fun to hang out with in college.)
The whole wonderful stunt made me think of this question: Have you ever just stumbled into something where you had no idea what was going on, but it turned out to be really cool and special?
Back in my college days we went bar-hopping in Atlanta one night and ended up riding through downtown in my white 1971 Buick LeSabre, a/k/a The White Shadow. Downtown was deserted. We pulled up to a red light. I looked left. Nothing. I looked right.
There was a tank in the street.
Clearly, the Russians had taken over the country while we had been out at the bars. We were completely freaked out for about 10 seconds... until we saw all the floodlights and all the people milling around. It turned out that Chuck Norris was making a movie (the immortal "Invasion U.S.A.") and 3 a.m. was the only time you could roll a tank through the middle of downtown Atlanta.
So we hung around awhile and watched. A drunk guy showed up and wanted to fight Chuck. Security hauled him away. Eventually we headed back home, feeling the same way I suspect those Little Leaguers felt -- a little confused, a little giddy, with a great story to tell.
So: Ever have one of those days that ended up turning into something surreal? Let's hear it in the comments.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
We're down to one game now (Stanford-Cornell) and I've had roughly 179 glasses of tea. It's time to head home.
This has been a blast -- thanks to all of you from around the country who gave this a read and maybe dropped in a comment or two. (Feel free to continue the debate on tipping now playing on Liveblog 7.)
So let me leave the rest to you. What's your favorite moment ever from the NCAA tournament? The best game you ever saw, the best game your favorite team played -- whatever it is, let's hear it in the comments. And feel free to brag on your brackets. (I will do no bragging, considering I currently sit at 4-3 and had Baylor in the Sweet 16. Ouch.)
Take it away, y'all. This was great fun.
All the games are blowouts right now -- if you picked Pitt, Purdue and UNLV, good for you -- so I'm going to tell my favorite tournament story. I think I've told this one before, but this is the right time for it.
There used to be a great sports bar called the Scoreboard out on Independence Boulevard. One year I had some friends in town and we went over to watch the tournament. This happened to be 1992 and the game we sat down to watch happened to be Duke-Kentucky.
Basketball fans will recognize this as one of the greatest games of all time.
I was in the rare position of hating both teams, but I had to root for someone, so I went with my SEC roots and picked Kentucky. This put me in the minority because about 80 percent of the people in the bar were rabid Duke fans. (Most of the rest were rabid Carolina fans who of course rooted for Kentucky to win and the Duke players to be swallowed up by a hole in the floor.)
There was one Duke fan who was especially obnoxious. Every time Duke made a good play he would turn to us and scream creative four-letter words, often accompanied by one-finger gestures. Just a class act all around.
Toward the end of the game, Duke went ahead and there was a timeout and this guy did a victory lap inside the Scoreboard, flipping off us Kentucky fans along the way.
So now we're late in overtime -- it's clear now that this is a FANTASTIC game -- and a Kentucky player throws in an off-balance prayer to put Kentucky in the lead with 2.1 seconds left. I am now the biggest Kentucky fan in the world. All of us newly minted Kentucky fans are taunting this guy, and he is devastated. He puts his head down for a second. And then he walks out of the bar.
Let me repeat: He walks out of the bar.
You might have heard what happened next.
Grant Hill threw the long baseball pass to Christian Laettner, and Laettner turned and jumped, and he buried the jumper at the buzzer to win the greatest game of all time for Duke.
The obnoxious guy never saw it.
I always wonder how he found out what happened. Maybe he walked out of the bar and decided to shun sports and bought a ticket to Tanzania and became a missionary. Maybe to this day he still doesn't know that Duke won.
One can only hope.
When you're watching multiple TVs at once you get multiple commercials at once. And so just this afternoon I've seen these Michael Jordan/Cuba Gooding Jr. commercials about 25 times.
I've come to the conclusion that somebody with Hanes is playing a gigantic prank on Michael Jordan.
The main commercial features MJ walking into Cuba's dressing room to find Cuba wearing just his underwear and a T-shirt, looking at a picture of MJ, and holding a basketball in front of his crotch.
This is the follow-up to a commercial where Cuba bursts into a room where MJ is mingling with some fans and yells, "Michael! I'm wearing your underwear!"
And THAT is the follow-up to a commercial where Kevin Bacon is lounging around his apartment, shooting wads of paper at a trash can, only to have MJ come out of nowhere and swat the paper onto the floor.
The message of this ad campaign:
1. MJ and Kevin Bacon appear to be roommates.
2. MJ and Cuba Gooding Jr. have an unusually close relationship.
3. If you and MJ become good friends, he will buy you underwear.
4. MJ litters.
The one thing I am sure of is that Michael Jordan does not watch TV. Because if MJ ever saw one of these commercials he would immediately fire his agent and find out if he could sue Hanes for making the worst ads in the history of television. Also he would probably have Cuba Gooding Jr. killed.
It is sad to see Air Jordan become Breathable Cotton Blend Jordan. But at least that leaves him a lot of time to put in a full effort as head of basketball operations for the Bobcats.
Game updates: It's Blowout City. Pitt up 24 on Oral Roberts, UNLV up 18 on Kent State, Purdue up 17 on Baylor. Marquette-Kentucky is the only game even close to close -- Marquette's up 8 without about two minutes left. But Cornell-Stanford tips off in 10 minutes. Play on!
My waitress here at Jocks & Jills is a lovely woman named Teri. You think you pull long hours? She signed up for a double shift today to make a few extra bucks. So productivity is down in offices all over America because people are watching the games, but on the other hand, waitresses get a windfall. So maybe it's a wash.
My mom was a waitress, which means two things: 1) I'm a big tipper, and 2) when I was in high school, my allowance was always a stack of dollar bills. I was the only 14-year-old in town fully equipped to go to a strip club.
Anyway, I watch waitresses. Teri is good. She regularly checks in but she never hovers. She'll tell you what's good on the menu and what's not. And she always calls you "hon."
She normally works the night shift because day-shift customers are stingy tippers. She pulls out a ticket that came to more than $50 and looks at the tip: $4.53. "At night the tip would be twice that much," she says. "We routinely get 15 or 20 bucks."
It's almost 3:30 p.m. and the crowd has thinned a little but it's still fairly crowded -- way more than a normal Thursday afternoon. Even better, Duke plays tonight. Big tips await.
Score updates: Marquette leads Kentucky by 2. Purdue leads Baylor by 2. UNLV pounding Kent State, 18-6. Pitt up 2 on Oral Roberts.
In case the games get boring, here's a diversion: my good friend Joe Posnanski's greatest screw-ups. Everyone in the newspaper business has some of these stories. Maybe at some point I'll devote a post to the greatest headline in Charlotte newspaper history. It involves the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile.
UPDATE: I can't believe I didn't ask Teri the key question of the tournament. But she came back around and I had a chance for the follow-up.
So who tips better, Carolina fans or Duke fans?
"Carolina fans," Teri says. "No question."
Scott Adams, the guy who draws "Dilbert," has a theory in one of his books that people survive on pleasure units -- that we all get pleasure out of certain things, and that we arrange our daily lives to accumulate the number of pleasure units we need to get us to the next day.
My alma mater gave me a big old stack of pleasure units today.
Georgia didn't win -- they went down 73-61 to Xavier -- but they led most of the game, and they made an incredible run just to get to the tournament, and they made us proud. (Georgia basketball is not exactly a proud tradition -- we're the school that gave our basketball players quizzes such as, "How many points in a three-point basket?")
For so many of us, sports is a big source of pleasure units. It's almost better if you know that the score really doesn't matter in the scope of the real world; not mattering means you can cheer as loud as you want and scream at the refs and fall on the floor in a heap when your team makes the shot at the buzzer. Loving sports means letting yourself go. And not much in the world is more pleasurable than that.
The first set of games is over -- congrats to Xavier, Kansas and Michigan State. And congrats to those of you who had all three in your pool (which would be pretty much everyone but me). The next slate of games has already started. Sit back and enjoy.
So I'm sitting here rooting my guts out for a group of young men that I've never met and most likely never will meet.
All we have in common is that they are attending the University of Georgia, where I went to school more than 20 years ago. I don't have a clue if they share my values or my political views. I have no idea if we would get along for five minutes in the same room. But for the 40 minutes of this basketball game, they own my heart.
It sounds sort of pathetic when I say it like that.
But of course most of us have our teams, and they matter way more than any rational mind would think they should. In fact I'd say that our home teams matter even more these days, when we're all so spread out and everybody moves around so much. When I lived in Augusta, rooting for UGA was fun. Now that I'm two states away, it's more than that. It's something that draws me back home.
Already today I've heard from people living out in Arizona and out in L.A., where the games started at 9 in the morning. And I know as I write this that my buddy in Indianapolis is watching this, and probably my buddy in Japan too, although God knows what time it is over there. And if Georgia should pull the upset, we'll all be in touch and it'll be just like that night in our freshman year when we beat Kentucky and stayed up all night.
Well, WE didn't beat Kentucky. But you know what I mean.
Scoring update: Kansas up by 27. Michigan State up 15. Dawgs up by 7 with nine minutes left. Gulp.
Based on a quick survey of outfits, I'd say about 90 percent of the folks here in the sports bar are here on a workday.
I see lots of company ID badges on those cloth lanyards that are part of the 21st-century corporate worker's daily ensemble. But in a sports bar, nobody makes fun of you for having to wear an ID badge on a lanyard. Just the opposite -- it's a badge of honor. You're the guy who stuck it to the Man by sneaking out to catch some basketball at lunch.
Those guys, like me, are drinking soft -- tea or water or Cokes. The guys at the bar are wearing track suits and knocking back Bud Lights. Let's be charitable and say they probably work the night shift.
I think I mentioned that I can see 36 TVs from my post here at Jocks & Jills. Most of them are showing the three tournament games currently being played. A few show various channels from the ESPN universe. One TV is tuned to CNN. I'm not sure who would come to a sports bar to watch CNN with the sound off. I'm also not sure I'd like to meet that person.
Your scoring update: Kansas up 23 at halftime -- bye-bye, Portland State. Michigan State up nine on Temple. And your Georgia Bulldogs up 35-26 on Xavier. I am now officially afraid to watch the second half.
Portland State is sort of hanging with Kansas -- they're only down six. Wait, now it's nine. Somehow six qualifies as "hanging" but nine does not.
Is there anything better in the tournament when the little school keeps the game close, then all of a sudden there's maybe 5 minutes left, and some kid who will never again play competitive basketball beyond his church league somehow drains a three, and the crowd is into it and the announcers are into it and you think this is it, it could really happen?
There are so many places in life where the underdog never wins, where the underdog basically CAN'T win. This is one of the reasons to love the tournament. Because sometimes the underdog does win. And in these first two days, game after game, the little guys hang in there.
Of course, in the time it took me to write that, Portland State went from down nine to down 18.
But in other news, Georgia leads Xavier by three near the end of the half.
Live the dream, baby.
Right on the dot at 12:20 p.m., CBS shows The Montage: Jim Valvano looking for a hug. Christian Laettner making The Shot. That coach for Hampton wiggling like a bug as his player lifts him off the ground.
Jocks & Jills is two-thirds full and I can see three guys with laptops and half a dozen on their cell phones. I've heard that people occasionally wager on these games. Not anyone that I know, of course, but maybe you know someone.
We also have a case of the Sports Bar Time Shift, which happens when one TV is showing the over-the-air broadcast of a game and another TV is showing the satellite feed. There's about a three-second delay from one screen to the next, which is really weird if you can see them both. And the screen on the delay is also the big, hi-def screen -- so you end up either watching the tiny screen where the action happens first, or twisting around in your seat so you DON'T see it.
Forget those investment-firm buyouts. This is the sort of thing the federal government should be trying to fix.
Your first score update: Georgia 11, Xavier 8. I really should just leave right now.
From where I'm sitting I can see 36 TV screens. A nice woman keeps bringing me sweet tea. My NCAA bracket is spread out before me. And the first games of the best two days in sports are about to begin.
Is this heaven?
No, it's a sports bar.
I'm in the Jocks & Jills on Tyvola Road, across from the old Coliseum (or, to be exact, the pile of rubble that used to be the old Coliseum). I'll be here for the next six hours or so, liveblogging two sets of games.
The good things about this gig:
-- Somehow, I'm getting to paid to do this.
-- Plus I think I'll get to expense out some chicken wings.
The bad things about this gig:
-- Charlotte Observer policy won't let me drink beer on the job.
-- Charlotte Observer policy definitely won't let me expense out beer on the job.
-- Charlotte Observer policy most definitely won't let me expense out tequila shots on the job.
So, as you can see, I am suffering here. That's OK. I can take it. The first games are about to begin, starting with my beloved Georgia Bulldogs facing off against mighty Xavier. Of course I have picked the Dawgs to win, because one of the great things about the tournament is that insane picks are always encouraged and sometimes rewarded. We shall see.
I'll be posting regular updates, so keep dropping by. Also post any NCAA thoughts in the comments, especially on the broadcasting -- I'm not sure I'll be able to hear the announcers here. Which is not such a bad thing unless the announcer is the brilliant Gus Johnson.
And if you're somewhere near Tyvola Road, come see me. I'll buy you a drink. But probably not a tequila shot.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
This was the do-not-disturb card at the hotel room in Boston where we were staying over the weekend. (Click on the picture for a bigger version.)
I'm going to hang this on my door every March for the rest of my life.
Thursday and Friday -- the first two days of the NCAA tournament -- are the best two days of the sports year, and I will brook no argument about this. If you check back here on Thursday, I'll be liveblogging the day games (roughly from noon to 6) from a sports bar somewhere in town.
Some days this is not a bad job.
You can pick the regional winners and national champ on our Web site here. In the meantime, here are my picks, ready to be ridiculed. To cut down on space, for the early rounds I'll just name the upsets.
First round: St. Joe's over Oklahoma (11 seed over a 6 seed), South Alabama over Butler (10 over 7).
Second round: St. Joe's over Louisville (11 over 3).
Regional semis in Charlotte: UNC over Washington State, Tennessee over St. Joe's.
Regional final: UNC over Tennessee.
First round: Kent State over UNLV (9 over 8), Kansas State over USC (11 over 6), Davidson (homer pick!) over Gonzaga (10 over 7).
Second round: I really want to pick Davidson over Georgetown, but Georgetown has a center named Roy Hibbert who is 7-2 and 275 pounds. I'm pretty sure Davidson has never had a player in its history who was 7-2 OR 275 pounds. But I am picking Clemson over Vanderbilt (5 over 4).
Regional semis: Clemson over Kansas (5 over 1!), Wisconsin over Georgetown (3 over 2).
Regional final: Wisconsin over Clemson.
First round: Oregon over Mississippi State (9 over 8), St. Mary's over Miami (10 over 7).
Regional semis: Pitt over Memphis (4 over 1), Texas over Stanford.
Regional final: Pitt over Texas (4 over 2).
First round: Texas A&M over BYU (9 0ver 8), Western Kentucky over Drake (12 over 5), Baylor over Purdue (11 over 6) and Georgia over Xavier (14 over 3). Every bracket needs one insane pick, and Georgia beat three teams in two days, plus a tornado, to make the tournament. Plus I went to school there. So I'm not about to pick against the Dawgs. At least in the first round.
Regional semis: UCLA over Connecticut, Duke over Baylor.
Regional final: UCLA over Duke.
UNC over Wisconsin, UCLA over Pitt... and UNC beats UCLA in the final, 76-66. Ty Lawson is the MVP.
Mock my picks in the comments -- and add yours so the mocking can go both ways. Mocking all around! And more chicken wings!
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
Well, you know spring is coming because the daffodils are starting to bloom, and some mornings it's warm enough to sit on the porch, and birds have crapped all over my car.
I'm not sure what I have done to the bird kingdom. We have a feeder in the backyard and occasionally even fill it. Last year we let doves make a nest on the porch. We have several CDs by the Jayhawks (although none by the Eagles*).
*I'm totally stealing this footnote-in-the-blog thing from my friend Joe Posnanski, who probably stole it from David Foster Wallace or any number of other famous footnoters. OK, there probably aren't any number of other famous footnoters. The point is, does anyone really need to own an Eagles record? If you need to hear the Eagles, just turn on a classic-rock station or a country station or an easy-listening station and wait 15 minutes. One of the VH1 family of channels is probably playing the Eagles reunion show at this very moment. Yet the Eagles' first greatest-hits record is still the best-selling album of all time in the U.S. -- 29 million copies. That's an awful lot of people who just have to hear "Witchy Woman" RIGHT NOW.
It's possible that a bird perched outside our window might have seen me laugh at this story that compares Barack Obama to Bugs Bunny and Hillary Clinton to Daffy Duck. So it's possible that word got around the bird community that the guy in the green Camry was laughing at Daffy again.
Birds stick together.
Whatever the reason, this was not just the work of one bird. This was a whole squadron. They nailed the hood, the windshield, the windows, even the doors. I'd think it would be hard to hit a door from such a high angle. Maybe some birds are like those trick-shot artists in pool.
If you have ideas for keeping birds from dive-bombing your car -- ideas that don't involve a shotgun -- pass them on in the comments.
Oh, and I guess it goes without saying that I just got the car washed last week.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
It's "Garfield." OK, not exactly "Garfield," but a better version -- addition by subtraction:
"Garfield" minus Garfield.
It's like a Greek tragedy designed by Andy Warhol. And a million jillion times better than the real "Garfield."
This gives me an opening for my comics rant (which our features editor has already heard about 100 times already).
I read the comics every single day -- it's a low-grade addiction, like chewing on pencils. I got hooked when I was growing up and now I can't shake them (the comics, not the pencils). But by the end of my life I'll have spent months of my precious time on comic strips that maybe, if I'm lucky, make me laugh once or twice a year.
The problem is that the people who love bad comic strips love them with the passion of a thousand burning suns. You can't touch those strips without getting furious letters from readers whose lives are ruined because we quit running "Beetle Bailey," never mind that "Beetle Bailey" hasn't been funny since, I'm guessing here, 1962.
"Family Circus" is untouchable -- untouchable! -- even though it has spent the last half a century rotating five Sunday ideas:
1. Follow the dotted line as the kids ramble around the neighborhood.
2. The kids ask a bunch of questions to an exasperated Mom and Dad.
3. Little Billy draws the strip!
4. Family ghosts comment from heaven.
5. Wisdom from Grandma.
(I would never recommend or link to any sort of vulgar satire regarding "Family Circus," but if you happened to Google the phrase "dysfunctional family circus," I would be powerless to stop you.)
I've told folks here at the paper that we need to have a Monday Morning Massacre -- one Monday, without warning, all the comics deadwood is gone. "Hagar"? Dead. "Cathy"? Dead. Neidermayer? Dead. (Sorry, lapsed into "Animal House" mode there...)
I'd keep "Zits," "Dilbert," "Doonesbury," "F Minus," "Frazz," "Baby Blues" and "Pickles." I'd put "Get Fuzzy," "Pearls Before Swine" and "Lio" on probation -- they have some promise but are mostly too clever for their own good.
My one nod to tradition would be keeping "Dennis the Menace," because he's drawn by Marcus Hamilton, who lives in Mint Hill and is a really nice guy.
Everything else goes in the recycle bin. Even "Peanuts," which is a great strip but violates my First Rule of Comic Strips: It's time to stop running a comic strip when the creator is dead.
OK, end of rant. Feel free to defend "The Lockhorns" or your other favorites in the comments. And if you have strips you like that we don't run, pass 'em on. I'm wondering how cool "Blondie" might be if you took Dagwood out...
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Every year I'm slightly handicapped in my Oscar picks by the fact that I rarely see any of the movies. This leads me to pick in sort of the same way that certain women pick football games by choosing the team with the best helmets.
Last year, however, was proof that even a blind hog gets an acorn now and then. I came in second in my friend Leigh Dyer's Oscar pool and won an "Animal House" DVD, which led to a few days of unsolicited movie quoting. (Dean Wormer: "The time has come for someone to put his foot down. And that foot is me.")
My wife and I got Netflix for Christmas, which in theory should have caught us up on the best of 2007, but instead we've been watching stuff like "The Wizard of Oz." I am fully prepared to make Oscar predictions for 1939. Not so much for this year. But let's give it a shot anyway.
By the way, I'm only including categories where I can make a reasonable guess. I have NO idea who's going to win for best live-action short film, and if you do, why are you reading this?
Best Song: "Falling Slowly" from "Once"; "Raise It Up" from "August Rush"; "Happy Working Song," "So Close" and "That's How You Know" from "Enchanted."
"Once" was the only one of these movies I saw AND it was my favorite movie of the year. Plus the trailer for "August Rush" featured Robin Williams as a scruffy street musician. That's the moment I knew we wouldn't be seeing that one.
Adapted Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson, "There Will Be Blood"; Ethan and Joel Coen, "No Country for Old Men"; Christopher Hampton, "Atonement"; Ronald Harwood, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"; Sarah Polley, "Away from Her."
Here's the problem with this category: To cast a legitimate vote, you'd have to see the movie AND read the book it was adapted from. Do people in Hollywood read books? They take meetings, they have lots of long lunches, but I don't think they actually read books. So I always pick the book that I figure most of them have at least heard of. Most of them have probably heard of Cormac McCarthy. So "No Country For Old Men" is the pick.
Best Director: Paul Thomas Anderson, "There Will Be Blood"; Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, "No Country For Old Men"; Tony Gilroy, "Michael Clayton"; Jason Reitman, "Juno"; Julian Schnabel, "The Diving Bell And The Butterfly."
To me this is a degree-of-difficulty category: Which movie was the hardest to put on the screen?
"Michael Clayton" -- George Clooney in a suit. Easy.
"Juno" -- Teen comedy with great supporting parts (Jennifer Garner, C.J. from "The West Wing," the guy who was the psychiatrist on "Law and Order"). Easy.
"There Will Be Blood" -- Just point Daniel Day-Lewis at the camera. Easy.
"No Country For Old Men" -- On the plus side, Tommy Lee Jones; on the minus side, nobody understands what it all means. Pretty hard.
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" -- Told from the point of view of a main character who can communicate only by blinking his left eye. Ladies and gentlemen, your winner.
Supporting Actress: Cate Blanchett, "I’m Not There"; Ruby Dee, "American Gangster"; Saoirse Ronan, "Atonement"; Amy Ryan, "Gone Baby Gone"; Tilda Swinton, "Michael Clayton."
Obviously, if you've read this far, you can see that I have no business giving anyone in Hollywood career advice. But here's Amy Ryan, nominated for an Oscar, and there's also Amy Smart and Amy Adams playing the same type of supporting roles. I have no idea which is which (although I liked whichever one was in "Junebug").
Amy is a nice name. But I might go with Amy-Lou or A.J. or something just to break out of the pack.
Anyway, Amy is not going to win. Every year the Oscar grants one unofficial lifetime achievement award, and this year it goes to Ruby Dee.
Supporting Actor: Casey Affleck, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"; Javier Bardem, "No Country for Old Men"; Hal Holbrook, "Into the Wild"; Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Charlie Wilson’s War"; Tom Wilkinson, "Michael Clayton."
Here's the rule for supporting parts: If people who didn't see the movie know about the role, that's your winner. I didn't see "No Country For Old Men" but I know that Javier Bardem is the crazy killer with the cattle gun. He's a lock.
Not to mention that there is NO way you get an Oscar when you can fairly be described as "the less successful Affleck."
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"; Julie Christie, "Away from Her"; Marion Cotillard, "La Vie en Rose"; Laura Linney, "The Savages"; Ellen Page, "Juno."
Oscar voters don't always pick the most popular movie... but I'm guessing "Juno" has made more money than the other four movies combined, plus critics like it enough that voters can justify voting for Ellen Page while never revealing that they skipped the others for reruns of "Project Runway."
Best Actor: George Clooney, "Michael Clayton"; Daniel Day-Lewis, "There Will Be Blood"; Johnny Depp, "Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"; Tommy Lee Jones, "In the Valley of Elah"; Viggo Mortensen, "Eastern Promises."
Look. I know Daniel Day-Lewis is a great actor. He's going to win the Oscar, no question. But here's the poster from "There Will Be Blood":
And here's a photo from his last big movie, "Gangs of New York":
Looks like the hat and the mustache are doing an awful lot of the work there. I'm just saying.
Best Picture: "Atonement," "Juno," "Michael Clayton," "No Country For Old Men," "There Will Be Blood."
Let me stop here for a second (as if this post isn't long enough already) to remind you of one of the great underdog moments in history -- "Rocky" winning Best Picture in 1976.
Now... "Rocky" is a GREAT movie. I could watch it a million times (and probably have, if you piece together all the times I've caught 30 minutes on late-night cable). I forgive Sylvester Stallone "Rocky V," "Rocky Balboa," all the "Rambo"s and even "Rhinestone" because he came up with the original "Rocky."
But there were four other nominees for Best Picture in 1976. One was "Bound For Glory," a Woody Guthrie bio that you probably didn't see. Here are the other three:
"All the President's Men."
Those three movies make a lot of lists of the 20 greatest movies of all time. Yet somehow "Rocky" beat ALL THREE in the same year. This is a much bigger upset than Rocky going the distance with Apollo Creed. In fact, you can make a case that it's the biggest upset of all time:
3. Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32 (2007).
2. David b. Goliath, first-round TKO (approx. 600 BC).
1. "Rocky" over "All the President's Men," "Network" and "Taxi Driver" (1976).
I will say right off that "Juno" is the only Best Picture nominee I've seen (and just last weekend at that). It's great. But this has nothing to do with my highly detailed analysis.
From what I've heard, "Atonement" and "Michael Clayton" and "No Country For Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood" are fine movies. They are also all dark and depressing dramas. Then there is "Juno," a smart and bouncy comedy.
One of these things is not like the others.
"Juno" it is.
Add your picks (and your rationale) in the comments and save me from myself.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
The story goes that Ernest Hemingway once claimed his finest work consisted of six words: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."
The people at Smith magazine took that idea and ran with it, asking readers to send in six-word memoirs. They're now collected in a book, "Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs From Writers Famous and Obscure."
Some samples from the book:
Cursed with cancer, blessed with friends.
I still make coffee for two.
I like big butts, can't lie.
(Threw that last one in there to let you know they're not all bittersweet.)
So here's your challenge: How would you sum up Charlotte in six words?
Here's a few to get you started:
We tore that down years ago.
Don't go to church? Really? Hmmm....
Where Buffalo comes to get warm.
OK, this is harder than it looks. You can do better. Six words, no more, no less. Show us what you've got.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
I swear, this is not intended to be the Ric Flair tribute blog, but this is too good not to share. Introducing the Nature Boy as West Coast rapper:
(Created by the amazing Poodleface, found via the brilliant college-football blog Every Day Should Be Saturday)
Thursday, February 07, 2008
If you're under 30, or not a sports fan, I won't be able to get across to you just how big a deal it used to be when Sports Illustrated showed up in the mailbox.
My freshman year at the University of Georgia, Herschel Walker -- the greatest college football player of all time, and I will brook no argument about this -- announced that he was leaving school a year early to join the new United States Football League. On campus we talked about it for days, in shock, but it wasn't real until that Thursday afternoon when SI arrived and there he was on the cover in that freaking New Jersey Generals uniform.
No big sports event was over until you read SI. It was like talking about the concert on the drive home -- that's how you digested the event, savored it, figured out what it meant. I have never loved a publication (except for the ones I worked for) as much as I loved Sports Illustrated.
Which is why I've waited so long to admit that it's over.
I've found reasons to keep stringing it along. The photography is still fabulous. Gary Smith is still one of the top sportswriters in America. My wife still wears the SI sweatshirt we got for subscribing a few years ago and it's holding up pretty well.
But the Super Bowl clinched it for me.
My issue came Thursday and the coverage is just fine -- a solid game story, great photos, a meaty sidebar on the Giants' final drive from legendary NFL writer Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman.
But that was Thursday. The game was Sunday. And between then and now I've seen hours of ESPN's postgame shows, our paper's coverage, Bill Simmons' melancholy take on the loss of a perfect season, many startled takes on the sudden heroism of Eli Manning, a hundred replays of the miraculous play that turned the game around, and one story of how a Giants fan sneaked onto the team bus and into the locker room on the day of the victory parade.
In the 24/7 ESPN and Internet age, I'm not sure Sports Illustrated could've done anything to make the Super Bowl experience more interesting or rewarding four days after the fact. It's a keepsake for diehard Giants fans and that's about it.
This is an example of the problem most print publications are going through these days, especially the ones that make a living by making sense of last week's news. Time and Newsweek are in the same boat. Every issue starts out behind, and even when they're great, the collective wisdom of all the talk shows and newspaper pieces and blog posts is almost always better.
I realize, of course, that you can say the same thing about the newspaper I work for. We do have some advantages (journalistic if not business-wise). Our print product is daily, so it's fresher. We have a higher percentage of material you can't get anywhere else. And of course we're out here on the Web, like SI and everybody else, trying to figure out how to do good work and turn the kind of profits that magazines and newspapers are used to.
Sometimes we can make the whole thing work and sometimes we can't. But I can't imagine how hard it is to come out once a week, writing about sports, and still try to be relevant.
The little address sticker on my copy of SI -- it's not a sticker anymore, but you know what I mean -- shows that my subscription expires in December. I've subscribed for most of the last 30 years. But I'm not sure what's left to salvage at this point. Honey, I'll always love you, but we've grown apart.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
After watching them this season it seems like 10,000 years ago that the Carolina Panthers were in the Super Bowl. But I went back and checked the calendar and, yep, it was just four years ago that the Panthers lost to the New England Patriots 32-29 in the most exciting Super Bowl ever played.
How good was that game?
-- The two teams combined for five touchdowns and 37 total points in the fourth quarter. (The Panthers scored 19 points in the quarter; this past season they averaged just under 17 points a game.)
-- Jake Delhomme's 85-yard touchdown pass to Muhsin Muhammad was the longest play from scrimmage in Super Bowl history.
-- The Patriots' Adam Vinatieri kicked a field goal with 4 seconds left for the win.
-- Oh yeah, and Janet Jackson flashed her breast to the entire civilized world.
That was also the first and only Super Bowl I've been to -- the Observer sent, I'm making a rough guess here, 175 people to Houston to cover the game.
Three quick stories.
Story #1: I think I might have told this one in the paper before... So many media people come to the Super Bowl that there's no way to fit them all in the press box, so they turn a couple sections of stands in the upper level to media overflow. That's where my seat was. So I'm there an hour or so before the game, and another media guy scoots by me on the way to his seat, and a couple of minutes later I look down the row and notice that the guy is standing and gesturing. Apparently somebody is sitting in his seat.
They argue about it for a little while, pulling out their credentials and checking section numbers and so forth, and finally this bent-over old man gets up out of the seat and heads away from me and down the aisle. He totters down the steps -- his seat is God knows where -- and I can't help but feel sorry for the poor guy just trying to find his seat and cover the game. Then he turns his head and I can see his face.
It's Andy Rooney.
Did you ever notice that people don't like it when you sit in their seat at the Super Bowl?
Story #2: The great untold story of the Janet Jackson Wardrobe Malfunction is this: Most of us inside the stadium had no clue.
A lot of the fans were at the concession stands. A lot of the media people had their heads in their laptops. And a lot of the people watching the halftime show were looking at the field from hundreds of yards away; from there, Janet J. and Justin Timberlake were about the size of beetles. Nobody in my section had any idea that a live nude breast had appeared right in front of us.
Then, about 10 seconds after it happened, everybody's cell phone started ringing. And you could hear 70,000 people having the same conversation:
"Hello? See what? Her WHAT?"
Story #3: I wrote from Houston that whole week but had one last story that never got published.
You know how, seconds after every big sporting event, people at the scene are walking around with newspapers that say "RED SOX WIN" or something like that? Those pages are made up in advance -- they're not entire newspapers, just a front page -- and the hometown papers of both teams have them ready to go in case their team wins. It's great publicity for the paper and a cool souvenir for the fans.
The Observer had done up a front page that had a giant headline, a big photo and what we call a copy block -- just a few paragraphs under the photo. I had written the copy block -- which had to celebrate the Panthers' win without being able to describe any actual details of the game.
If I remember right, we had 10,000 of those ready to pass around the stadium if the Panthers won. I guess they got mulched. I still have one somewhere -- the front page that never got published. If I can dig it out I'll post it here sometime.
I don't know if this year's Patriots are the best team of all time, but they're going to win the Super Bowl -- they have the best players AND the best coach, and that's a rare combination. I can guarantee only one thing. It won't be as exciting as the Pats-Panthers Super Bowl. Not even if Tom Petty flashes a breast.
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
(FYI: I'll have a bonus post or two on the S.C. primaries today on the Primary Source blog... a little something on yard signs and maybe an early take on the pre-debate prep at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.)
On Wednesday I stopped in the fishing village of Little River, S.C., to talk to folks about the South Carolina primaries. I got out of my car and walked down to the docks and an older guy waved me over. His name is Tommy Long and he's the unofficial mayor of Little River (there's a little more about that in my column today).
I told Tommy that I work for the Charlotte newspaper and his eyes lit up. "I know a man from the Charlotte newspaper!" he said. "You ever hear of Kays Gary?"
Have I ever.
So many people in Charlotte are newcomers that most of you probably haven't heard of Kays. He was simply the best columnist in the history of the Charlotte Observer.
Kays wrote columns for the Observer from 1956 until he retired in 1986. Along the way he quit three times but he couldn't stay away -- he even wrote occasional columns from his place on the coast for years after he retired. He was so popular and so generous that people literally lined up in front of his desk every morning to talk to him. He died in 1997, leaving a connection with readers that none of us who have done the job since him could match.
The best compliment I get is "You remind me of Kays Gary." The comment that stings the most is "You'll never be as good as Kays Gary."
It turned out that Kays had come to Little River some 50 years ago to do a story and ran into Tommy Long. Tommy never forgot.
I wish I could link to a bunch of Kays' columns but there's not much on the Web. Last year, though, we reprinted his column on Dorothy Counts, the girl who helped integrate the Charlotte schools in 1957. It's his best-known column and an amazing piece of deadline poetry. Check it out.
Because of the Web I guess you could say all newspapers are global now -- who knows, you might be reading this in Beijing. But in print we (and most other large newspapers) have cut back our reach. I'm sure this makes business sense. But it used to be nice to know that you could find an Observer box in every mountain holler and every outpost on the Outer Banks. And over the years, Kays traveled to just about all those places chasing down stories.
Which is all a way of saying I wasn't surprised that a random guy in a tiny fishing village on the S.C. coast would say he used to know Kays Gary.
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
I've never been good at New Year's resolutions. Every year in my teens and 20s I made a resolution to dunk a basketball. Even back then I had the hops of a Galapagos turtle. And I didn't exactly acquire more hang time as I got older. So that resolution is pretty much dead unless I buy one of those Fisher-Price goals.
This year I approached the resolution thing a different way. Here are my three resolutions for 2008:
1. Exercise 30 minutes every day.
2. Eat healthy every day.
3. Write at least 500 words every day.
You notice the common thread of "every day." I used to have resolutions like "write a novel" or "run a 10K," but those are long-term goals and easy (at least for me) to give up on somewhere around, let's say, the second day of January. This year I'm going to try to accumulate small changes over time and hope they turn into something big. Sort of like throwing a few bucks every week into an IRA.
The way I'm keeping track is through a Seinfeld chain, which (if the story's true) comes from the way Jerry Seinfeld puts together his material. Every day that he writes something, he marks it on a calendar. Eventually the marks make a chain. And then the goal is not to break the chain.
This isn't an original idea, of course, but it's simple and effective -- if you don't break the chain, you're almost guaranteed to succeed at your larger goals. (A free printable Seinfeld chain is here -- make sure to get the leap-year version for '08.)
So what are your resolutions? And if you've actually kept any over the years, how'd you do it? Educate us in the comments.