Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Putty Tat

In Israel, they have the Jewish calendar, so they don't celebrate New Year's, but instead "Yom Sylvester". So, Yom Sylvester sameach!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Golden City

There's just something about Jerusalem. I know that it's well more religious than I prefer. I know that Ben Yehuda Street is a huge tourist trap. But then you see pure ruach as a Bratislaver bounces up and down to techno. And you feel how serious everyone is about everything. Jerusalem is just ___-er than anywhere else in Israel, maybe the world. It always feels good to be back.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Hearing The Footsteps

Standing right now at the tomb of Maimonides. This, after coming directly from Kefar Nahum (Capernaum) where Jesus had his pulpit and where Simon Peter lived. Probaly nothing about Israel is so powerful as the sense that you are really where these things happen. It almost diminishes it to some sense, but beneath that it can be a bit overwhelming.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Holier Than Me

Tzfat is rivalled by only Jerusalem in the level of observance of its population. Everybody who lives there seems to be orthodox and you see lots of messianic (not in the Jews For Jesus way) graffiti. So how did it feel when I'm standing at a falafel stand and a Hassid in his twenties looks at today's paper with a picture of screaming Palestinians and asks me, "Are you happy? Everyone in Israel is happy today!". 200 were killed in yesterday's airstrike in Gaza. How holy is it to be happy?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Rolling With The Punches

After a day of sightseeing in the Haifa area -- the beautiful Baha'i shrine and gardens, old Akko, and the grottoes of Rosh HaNikra, we set off tomorrow for the Kinneret for two days in Tiberias. Of course, things in Israel can always get a little crazy. Turns out that there was some rocket fire from the Gaza onto Sderot, and a resulting air strike by the Israelis on Gaza. So, what would have been a trip to the Lebanese border (the great view at Manara) tomorrow will be curtailed to a short visit to the Naot factory which is sort of near the Lebanese border. Fun, fun, fun, though more for pure caution's sake -- there's no imminent threat from Hezbollah as the UN and Israel has them mostly under control.

Otherwise, trucking along in our monstrous van across the Israeli countryside. Tiberias, then a quick detour to Yafo, an afternoon in Beit Shemesh (a suburb of Jerusalem) and then five days in Jerusalem. More tomorrow on Tzfat, the center of Kaballah.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Welcome Party

Sitting in Ben-Gurion Airport, waiting for another member of our group to arrive. The area where people leave customs is quite remarkable. Because almost all trips to Israel have aspects of both pilgrimage and homecoming, there is much fanfare about arrivals. Cheering, balloons, flowers, huge crowds - you see it all. Sure, it happens at every airport, but nothing like to this extent.

Commandment #2, Harder Than You Thought

Greetings from the bustling pre-Shabbat Shuk HaCarmel in Tel Aviv. So the first thing we did in Israel was to go to the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem. It's considered the center of Judaism because it's the last remnant of the Temple complex destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. It's a place that raises a lot of emotions, but is that right? The second commandment says that we can't have idols, so why do we let a wall replace God in some ways? Are we worshipping it?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

I am not a crook

Today is December 25th. A celebration all over the world. Some spend time with family and open presents while others go to the movies and eat Chinese food. I, like most Jewish people, are in the latter half. This year, the selection of Christmas day movie candidates was rather thin. Usually, this is the time of year that all the Oscar worthy movies come out. This year I was underwhelmed with the possible selections. Not that my selections in good years have ever been stellar. In fact, over the past few years, my track record of Christmas day selections downright stinks. Last year, National Treasure 2: Electric Boogaloo came out. That movie most likely will not make the list of AFI's top 100 movies the next time it is distributed. Over the past few years, Christmas Day selections have included The Producers (a movie based on a play based on a movie?), Babel (zzzzzzz.....), and Spanglish (no esta bien).

Based on my track record, we were extra picky this year in our Christmas movie selection even soliciting suggestions from people in the know. We settled on Frost/Nixon, a Ron Howard movie starring a whole bunch of people that you know from somewhere but can't recall exactly where you know them from. It also stars Kevin Bacon, just in case you run out of ways to link Kevin Bacon to other actors. I know I haven't seen very many movies this year but Frost/Nixon wins my vote for movie of the year. The acting was superb. Frank Langella should be a very strong candidate for Best Actor for his portrayal of Tricky Dick. The storyline was moving, as you don't know whether to sympathize or hate Nixon as he goes through his cathartic admission of guilt in the Watergate scandal. The docu-drama style of filiming helps tie the movie together. Two thumbs up from me.

Other random thoughts:
  • I didn't think the Lakers-Celtics game would live up to the endless hype that ESPN had been giving the game. However, the game was great from start to finish (even if evil defeated good). I can't wait until they meet again in June. On a side note, I don't know how I never noticed this before but Pau Gasol has to be one of the ugliest basketball players alive. Popeye Jones and Sam Cassell are one-two in some order but Gasol is a close third.
  • Is showing A Christmas Story twelve times on TBS today really going to get better ratings than, say, a Saved By the Bell marathon? If you are watching A Christmas Story at 4:30 in the morning, you'd better have a newborn child with you.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Don't Narc On Me

While Josh is floating somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, I will try to keep his streak of blogging intact.

Today, I completed my first Craigslist transaction. The entire experience totally made me feel like a drug dealer. Let me set up the story. Last week on the radio, I had won a Guitar Hero game for the Nintendo Wii. My only problem is that I don't have a Wii. I tried playing the "my brother gave me a gift for the wrong system" game at Best Buy, Toys R Us and GameStop but could not find anyone willing to swap a Wii game for a PS2 game even though the Wii game sells for $15 more. I decided Craigslist was the way to go.

I posted the game Monday night with the guarantee that I would drive it to their place in time for Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa or Festivus. A few hours later, I received a response. I found my buyer. Luckily, he lived only a few blocks from me so delivery would not be a problem. When I arrived at the person's house, the front door was open even though the temperature was rather chilly. I immediately found this kinda sketchy. The "merchandise" was in the trunk of my car. The buyer, a college kid, walks out his front door, checking me out as he approaches. He quickly stuffs a few unmarked bills in my hand, grabs the game and quickly scurries inside. The entire transaction took less than 15 seconds. It just felt really weird. I don't know why but now I know exactly what drug dealers go through. Now if I can only get sell the VRE pass that I was given...

As for the links of the day, here a couple of fun theme songs.
1) Have you ever wondered exactly what kind of relationship Larry and Balki had going on with each other? There is way too much touching in this intro.
2) Am I the only person who is still waiting for the final episode of Alf?


Packing for Israel and not wanting to blog about anything because of the f***ing Yankees (and I don't feel like touching on that), so I'll just leave you with a concert video. The next time I post will be from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem (depending on what strikes me when). In the meantime, here is the greatest Christmas song ever. Honestly. Sorry, Marissa.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lies, Damn Lies, And Hebrew School

We all know that we baby our kids nowadays. We give trophies to losers, steer kids away from true competition, protect them from things that end up giving them worse allergies or keep them from understanding the value of hard work. Is all that true or not? Who knows, I'm sure that people said that my generation had it too easy when we were kids. It's all relative, probably blown out of proportion. However, I can think of one pretty long-term damaging way in that we inexplicably protect our kids.

Hebrew School.

No, I'm not one of those people who hated their hebrew school experience so much that they think the overall concept is useless garbage. I also don't mean that hebrew school, in principle, damages kids. It's all those lies that we tell them in their education that hurts them, through a lessened understanding of their religion and their cultural history, and there's no better example than Chanukah, the holiday currently happening.

Here's the story of Chanukah, as told (to me and many others) in hebrew school: Antiochus, the Greek king of Syria, was ruling over Israel. He banned practice of the Jewish religion in order to make the Jews supplicant to Greece. Matthias and his sons rose up against Antiochus and won a long war. They took the Temple back in Jerusalem, but it had been desecrated. They wanted to re-sanctify it by cleaning it and re-lighting the everlasting light, but they only had enough oil for one day. After sending a runner for more oil, the original oil miraculously lasted for eight nights and the Temple was saved.

We Jews have heard that countless times and I'm sure many Gentiles have, as well. It's the only holiday with some serious historical credibility (Flavius). The problem is that this story sounds basically impossible. How could some townspeople from Modi'in legitimately defeat Alexander the Great's army, even a small part of it? Are we expected to just swallow a miracle with no questioning? The only thing that can explain it is God, right? Well, when you're talking about a story that old (late second century, BCE), there are a lot of ways for people to tweak it.

Here's what modern scholars agree was the real story: Alexander was conquering everywhere, including Israel and into Egypt. His Hellenic culture was so strong and so attractive that Jews began to follow it. As is still the case in Judaism, from Israel to Brooklyn, the ultra-observant Jews saw this assimilation as a threat to the religion's future. The leader of one of these ultra-observant groups, Matthias (Matisyahu in Hebrew), led his sons in a civil war against the Hellenized Jews. This group, the Maccabis, won the war and took back the capital in Jerusalem. The Temple had been desecrated, so they needed a ceremony to re-sanctify it. When Solomon built the original Temple, he opened it during Sukkot, leading to an eight day festival. The new rulers, the Hasmoneans, decided to honor that tradition with an eight day festival. They had plenty enough oil. Later, as they formed the post-Temple religion, the Rabbis decided that they didn't like a story that glorified only men, so they added the whole miracle thing to add God's presence.

So what gives? Why did I not learn that story until recently? We teach the kids the traditional Rabbinical stories, leaving out any potential disagreements with history. There doesn't seem to be a good reason for this. If nothing else, you can teach young kids the fun, simple stories and then teach older kids the more complex side in order to promote discussion and help them grow in the understanding of Judaism.

I'm not as familiar with non-Jewish religious schools, but I have to think the same sort of thing goes on. And that's one of my biggest problems with organized religion. If you're as confident in your views/"truths" as you seems to be, why not present potential arguments? Showing the challenges should only strengthen that faith as answers are found. Instead you end up with people blindly following whatever they're told, true or not, and nobody likes the thought of that.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sixteen Down, One To Go

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • I have a lot of History Channel cramming to do before the Israel trip. Playing tour guide is much easier after a few hours of those bible history shows.
    • During Football Night In America, Costas went on this huge rant about how much he hates when people say the phrase, "control our own destiny," since destiny, by definition, is out of one's control. Well, yeah, but isn't that one of those things where an ironic comment has become a cliche?
    • Besides, Bob, you were against the Wild Card in baseball. You're the best there is, but you have to get knocked a little for that one.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • My two best games of the year so far are the Eagles-Cowboys game back at the beginning of the year and tonight's Panthers-Giants one. That was just football at its best.
    • Is anyone surprised by the Jets losing at Seattle or the Broncos losing at home to the Bills?
    • How badly did the Steelers crap the bed today?
    • The play that LaRon Landry made to keep Reggie Brown from crossing the plane on the last play of Eagles-Skins was insane. The presence of mind to make that hit in that direction.
  • Super Bowl Watch:
    • One week left and three spots up for grabs. I have six/seven teams that have a legit shot to win the Super Bowl: Giants, Panthers, Titans, Steelers, Colts, and the Ravens/Pats representative. I don't believe in Atlanta in the playoffs and the non-bye week division winners in both conferences are very flawed. Right now, I'll go with the Colts and Giants in the show, but I think the Panthers have a very, very good shot as well.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Saturday Night Football

The Ravens were flat-out dominant tonight. I can't find if any team had ever run for over 150 yards on two consecutive carries, but I did see that Willis McGahee's 77-yard run was the longest run in Texas Stadium history. Until Le'Ron McClain went for 82 on the next Ravens play. That sequence was insane.

As for the Cowboys, they are in serious trouble. They need a lot of help, but they do have the Eagles in Week 17, so they can help themselves out. They just need to stop a running back first.

Season's Viewings

Christmas is only six days away, so that means we have only 144 hours to finish watching our usual holiday fare. Here is my list:

  • It's A Wonderful Life -- I'm a sucker for this one. When Jimmy Stewart comes running home, crying, grabbing Donna Reed and then his kids? Kills me.
  • "It's Hard To Be A Jew On Christmas" -- South Park clip #1
  • Jingle Bells Dogs -- Go ahead, I dare you not to laugh.
  • "D*** In A Box" -- The newest holiday classic.

  • Die Hard -- Greatest Christmas movie ever? Definitely the greatest action movie.
  • "Chanukah Song" -- Instead of one day of presents, we get eight crazy nights.
  • "Raging Rudolph" -- A classic from when MadTV was watchable.
  • "Christmastime For The Jews" -- Love this one.

  • And, finally and maybe best, "The Spirit Of Christmas" -- The original short animated film by Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

Any others you can think of?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Crescendo, Annie

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • As I compile the year-end awards, you can always find crappy lists on Yahoo! This one is about the top ten reality TV moments of 2008. Horrible. You say that it was great when Paula talked about Castro's second song after his first, but you leave out when she said she wanted to hang Archuleta's head from her rear view mirror? You talk about an entire season of Survivor as just one moment, but you leave out Ozzy all but castrating himself with the wussiest tribal council question ever? Nothing about Randy's ouster this past season? No mention of Dandrew's lack of marching prowess? Did they not realize that all of season one of Celebrity Rehab aired in 2008? I know they put lists out to get people talking about them, but can they at least freaking try?
    • Finished the first season of Mad Men tonight. The show is just so good. I always laughed when I heard it in the same sentence as The Sopranos in terms of theme and style, but no other show makes sense as a comparison.
    • In his latest short story collection, Stephen King included "liner notes" for a look inside his thought process. Very cool addition.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • Tyler Hansbrough became the all-time leading scorer at North Carolina tonight. That's quite a feat when you think about their history. He's around five hundred points away from supplanting J.J. Reddick as the ACC all-time leading scorer. I just have to think that, with his passion, Hansbrough is going to be more on the next level than a guy like Reddick is. Plus, he doesn't go to Duke (tagline: Where NBA Dreams Go To Die).
    • Peyton Manning lit me up tonight. I need big things from Steve Smith and Brian Westbrook. I could have worse guys to rely on.
    • I'm sort of saving up for a big music video spectacular, but I was thinking about the band Alien Ant Farm today because, while I enjoy their cover of "Smooth Criminal", it pales in comparison to the original. However, I do love this song, "Glow". One of the more underrated songs of the last five years or so.
  • Daily Rave:
    • Screw it, here's the original "Smooth Criminal" video. Kind of makes you sad to think what could have been for decades and decades. I mean, that lean near the end...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

El Perdedor Mas Grande

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • I have to have mentioned this before, but there is no show as disorganized as a Biggest Loser finale. The audience is too rowdy, the contestants don't pay any attention to the host, and the host flubs line after line. Doesn't matter who the host or contestants are, it happens like clockwork every season. Makes you wonder what they do wrong when Probst rules over the Survivor reunion with not a second wasted.
    • Remember the Unabomber's rant? Well, here you go with something similar. But, hey, to Axl's credit, it only took him fourteen years to release Chinese Democracy and Kaczynski didn't get caught for twenty-seven.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • If you didn't see the Cleveland State buzzer-beater over #11 Syracuse, here it is.
    • Even after a few months of not playing, I may just be the greatest Wii Sports tennis player of all time.
  • Daily Rant:
    • Championship week in fantasy football and my matchups absolutely suck. I've been riding Chris Johnson and he's going up against Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, my opponent has Pierre Thomas and Kevin Smith going against each other's pathetic teams. Ugh.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Amazing Stories

"Master narrative" is the term used to describe the story that forms the foundation for a culture. I've been in a discussion most recently about this concept regarding how it relates to the Jewish people. The classic master narrative of Judaism is the Exodus. It forms the plot of four of the five books of the Torah and it reverberates in every way that we pray and, well, exist as a people. Its themes of optimism, freedom, and social justice have been the impetus for the Jewish community's survival over thousands of years and many threats to our existence. One of the hot topics of conversation within Judaism right now is the threat of the Exodus being supplanted by the Holocaust as our foundation. Do we want triumph or victimization? It's the reason that maybe the Holocaust is mentioned a bit too much. But, that's a (very controversial) topic for another time.

The question I want to get at is this: What is the master narrative of the United States of America? What is the one story that forms our foundation and, to make it harder, that all of our society's members know? The legends about George Washington that teach honesty and strength? The Boston Tea Party that teaches a love of democratic representation and a free spirit? Paul Revere riding the countryside tirelessly to help the rebellion? The Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, showing the importance of our Union? I honestly don't know. I'm not sure that I have faith that all Americans know any one story and I bet that people from different parts of the country would have different answers. I'd say the Boston Tea Party. Someone in the South may say the "War of Northern Aggression." Do we have one story that keeps us together as a country?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Could Heroes Be Back?

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • Tonight was undoubtedly the best Heroes episode of the season. I know it was written only by Exec Producer Jeph Loeb, so I don't know if this was after they fired a lot of the writers or if they didn't do that until after Volume Three was finished. Either way, this episode had the it factor that the first season had. From the surprise deaths of the side villains (especially since we didn't know it would be the finale of the volume) to Peter finally getting his powers back to save his new archenemy to Sylar at his most evil, Loeb and Kring finally found the formula they had been missing for almost two years. And Michael Dorn (Worf from Star Trek: TNG) as President? Nice nerd touch at the end. Yeah, maybe the next part looks like it'll be a bit derivative of some X-Men plot lines, but the first season had some of the same themes as Watchmen and we were all okay with that.
    • I know the show is a comic book, by the way, but if you're going to make a point of using Einstein's theory of relativity, you can't totally blow it. Daphne was able to travel back in time when "super-charged" by Ando because time travelled slower than normal, relative to her speed. However, if she tried to run that fast again, she'd only go back farther in time, yet somehow she made it back to the present. According to Einstein's theory, she'd only be able to go forward in time through relative gravity. She'd have to exact an impossible (as impossible as going faster than light) amount of gravity, which would make her move relatively slower enough that time would speed by her. Again, I loved the episode, but I have to call "shenanigans" on that plot point.
    • Did you hear that Billy Packer is gone from CBS? Jim Nantz is paired with Clark Kellogg now. Good news.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • Is North Carolina the best team I've ever seen? Probably not. I'm partial to the 1999 UConn team with Rip Hamilton (and the 2004 one with Okafor and Gordon wasn't too bad, either), but how can you argue with Florida from a couple of years ago?
    • It seems like everyone is in a horrible mood today. I think we're all done with the year; it's really sucked aside from that whole election thing. So, let's get happy! Here (NSFW), from Jay-Z's documentary Fade to Black, is one of the most fun music-related videos I can remember seeing. Obviously, the joy is in the reaction to the great beat, but you have to love Timbaland drinking fruit punch from a gallon jug and then later eating a banana while dancing.
  • Daily Rant:
    • This Bernard Madoff thing is pretty insane. He's making us Jews look like money-grubbing shysters.

Thirty-Nine, Eighteen, One -- You Know The Math

Tonight marked the end of maybe the best season of Dexter, certainly the best acted. The night also began with a great Steelers-Ravens game that came down to the wire, but I don't have much to say about that other than the Steelers flat out won. But, my favorite show had its season finale, so I have to focus on that:

  • Another season of Survivor (the seventeenth!) is in the books and the winner ended up not being a big surprise, though how Bob got there was. After Susie won the immunity challenge, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Bob would be gone and Matty or Sugar would win the million. Instead, Sugar went (stayed?) a little nuts and Matty never had a chance in the tiebreaking fire challenge. Once they got to the final tribal it was a lock that Bob would win, but somehow Susie tallied three votes. I guess that Matty, Kenny, and Crystal were just that bitter about Sugar that they lumped her and Bob together. Sugar did play a good game, though she got lucky in the beginning with Ace setting her on her path. In the end, Bob's a deserving winner and not at all the worst champion ever, though it may have been one of the lamest final tribal councils.
  • If you watched the reunion show... First of all, how can you not watch the reunion show? It provides great closure to the season and it always leaves me with a nice warm feeling about the whole thing. Anyways, if you watched the show, you just have to love Randy. It was obvious that he was putting on an act and isn't such a bad guy after all. He kept trying to look mean and not smile, but he kept failing.
  • Did anyone else notice how many of this season's contestants had Jewish last names? I caught at least Dan, Marcus, Charlie, and Corinne. I don't know that they're all Jewish, but it stood out.
  • And of course I can't let it pass without pointing out the real star of the show. It's impossible to imagine Survivor being as good without Jeff Probst as the host. I talked about how much I enjoy the reunion shows, but die-hard fans will remember how miserable they used to be when it was Bryant Gumbel or, yuck, Rosie O'Donnell. I know that stories pop up now and again about Probst wanting to do other things, but after being recognized for his work with an Emmy last year, I'm hoping he sticks around for a long time.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Why I Scream Like Snipes At The End Of Jungle Fever

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • I classify this past Survivor's ending as delightful. "Matty, take this cursed thing away." Very nice. Amazing that Bob's chances of winning went from zero last week to, well, what? You figure that Suzie and Kenny have no chance of winning. You figure that Sugar is with Bob, which means that Matty is too. Does Bob really have a fifty-fifty shot at this thing? I'll go ahead and pick Bob going into the final episode, with Sugar being the dark horse.
    • I watched SNL tonight with Hugh Laurie and Kanye West. Kanye did two of his pop songs and he sounded downright awful on the first one. The computerized singing wasn't loud enough and he was extremely off-key. He did sound a lot better on the second one.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • Playoffs start in my second league tomorrow after a miserable first-round loss in the first one. I've named my star backs the Three Horseman: Westbrook, Chris Johnson, and MJD. They'll carry me through. Well, that and I have Steve Smith and Roddy White too. The team is stacked.
    • Here's the funnier of the two digital shorts from last week's SNL, "J*** In My Pants". I didn't really want to type the title out, but I suppose it isn't entirely dirty because it was on network TV. Just don't play it real loud at work.
    • My friend Roy told me about this video, which is apparently for a serious song. First of all, the song is horrible as a song. Second, the song is even worse as an idea for a song. I watched this with a mix of horror, laughter, and confusion. So, still astounded, I present Riskay's "Smell Yo D***".
  • Daily Rant:
    • I went to the mall today. It's ugly out there -- parking, crowds, screaming kids. However, one thing stood out and annoyed the hell out of me and it had nothing to do with Christmas. I kept walking past this one same guy who had his bluetooth headset in his ear as he traversed the mall. You look like a jackass. Do you want to look important? Are you trying to look like the Borg from Star Trek? Are you trying to hide some facial blemish right next to your ear? I propose that, while cars are hands-free zones for phones, everywhere else be hands-full. It's already a little annoying when someone doesn't know if you are talking to a friend or to yourself. You can hold a damn phone when you're walking around.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

New Orleans And Detroit

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • Today was the somewhat-awaited "Dysfunctional Family Friday" on WJFK. I listened to most of the Junkies and all but a half hour of O'Meara. Overall, it was pretty entertaining. They talked over each other quite a bit and, towards the end, there were an awful lot of inside jokes that didn't make sense and a Password segment that was a mess. A big fight even broke out. Good experiment. Please don't do it again any time soon.
    • Great Soup tonight. Very targeted use of Spaghetti Cat.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • Looks like it might be up to Bush to save the Big Three. Well, the auto companies aren't poor black people, so they may just have a chance.
    • Because of the movie, I'm badly behind on the big TV from last night like the second-to-last Survivor and the Laurence Fishburne debut on C.S.I.:. Tomorrow.
    • The movie Doubt is getting Oscar buzz. It's based on a play by John Patrick Shanley, who also wrote the screenplay and directed the film. The only other movie he ever wrote and directed? Joe Versus the Volcano. There's some weird trivia for you.
  • Daily Rant:
    • I have nothing. It's been a long week. Sleep has been no friend of mine.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Pre-Christmas Christmas Movie Review

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • There may be no upcoming movie with bigger bomb potential than Valkyrie, Bryan Singer's WWII drama starring Tom Cruise. There had been buzz about it for a long time and Cruise just soaks up controversy and hatred (for reasons I don't totally understand). After seeing a preview of it tonight, I can assure you that it does not live up to its potential as a bomb. Rather, it's a pretty tense, very efficient political movie with strong performances from Cruise and from a supporting cast that includes great actors like Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson, and Bill Nighy. Singer is one of my very favorite directors (along with Spielberg, Fincher, Cuaron, and Shyamalan) and he has some beautiful shots, including some very powerful close-ups that allow an actor like Wilkinson to develop a character with only a facial expression. The story of the assassination attempt on Hitler is pretty well-known, but the surrounding story of the coup that was put into motion is not. As much as anything else, it's a great relief to see a WWII movie that has nothing to do with the Holocaust. Valkyrie isn't an Oscar movie, although David Bamber, as Hitler, is jarringly good, but it's probably a lot better than you think it would be.
    • My wife has been listening to the new Killers CD and it is very, very good.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • I don't think I could be a bigger Bryan Singer fan. Not everyone loved Superman Returns, but I did. A lot. And all you need to know are two things: how bad X-Men 3 was (it's the one he didn't direct) and that he helped create House.
    • Apologies to my gentile friends who don't understand this at all. I was in the middle of a discussion today on Chanukah's connection to Sukkot when someone walked by, beaming, and said, "Shemini Atzeret is my favorite holiday!" Now, I can see why anyone would like any number of holidays -- the solemnity of Yom Kippur (my favorite), the ruach of Purim, the meaning of Pesach, even the commemoration of Tisha B'Av -- but who's favorite holiday is Shemini Atzeret?
  • Daily Rant:
    • Bethesda traffic is miserable, especially in the rain. Took us over an hour to go like two miles on back roads. This forty-degree rain has to stop. Let's get some snow going!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Hurry Boy, It's Waiting There For You

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • You have to love House because it's the only show that can have one of its funniest episodes while also dealing with teenage pregnancy, baby abandonment, and teen death.
    • I half-watch Private Practice while my wife watches it. The last couple of weeks they've gone pretty hard into the themes of abortion and adoption. I don't mind shows exploring sensitive areas, I just have a problem with the way they're doing it. Something a little too heroic about the employee who is anti-abortion. At least treat stuff even-handedly.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • I'm pretty sure that because of the records, the Ravens can only either get the Wild Card or the first-round bye. Quite a discrepancy.
    • This seems to be the big viral video of the moment. I don't really get it, but whatever.
    • Instead, you should just watch the real thing -- the video for Toto's "Africa". Great song.
  • Daily Rant:
    • The word of the day is "communication". Every time you hear it, scream.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Chicago Way

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • What a freaking intense episode of Dexter this week! Way more so than usual.
    • I keep flipping to the Golf Channel to catch little bits of their reality show, Big Break X: Michigan. Teams of amateur golfers get a chance to win an exemption into a PGA/LPGA tournament and their Q-School entry fee paid. The golf itself is interesting enough, but there's something about the hosts that cracks me up. They stand to the side, commenting quietly and somewhat inanely about the action. I think it's mostly that the male commentator generally just stares and nods. Either way, I DVR-ed a replay of the finale tonight so I can see who won. Yeah, Golf Channel.
    • I predicted that Grey's Anatomy was on the way to jumping the shark and now it is reported that T.R. Knight (O'Malley) will be leaving the show. He's a seriously key part of the cast, probably even more than Isiah Washington was. Rats leaving a sinking ship, so to speak?
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • Leaving two weeks from tomorrow for Israel. Hoping to actually be able to report from there on a daily basis, which would put the year-end awards off by a few days.
    • We visited the newly-opened American History Museum on Saturday. While walking around the Mall, we decided to hit Natural History to see the Nature's Best 2008 photo competition (amazing pictures, some of which you can see here) when we were surprised to be greeted on the museum's steps by a huge crowd of Santas. People of all races, mainly young, many with dyed hair and/or piercings, all in Santa or elf costumes. I did a little research when I got home and found this site that explained it all. I think it's funny that they say that people can dress up like Jesus, yet nobody did.
  • Daily Rant:
    • I don't know if this is a rant or a rave. This Blagojevich stuff is great. Definitely bears watching over the long term. Because they stopped him before he actually sold the Senate seat -- selling a Senate seat?!? -- and because his crimes are non-violent and relatively victimless, I can find a great deal of joy in his iniquity.

Spoiled Rotten

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • Spoiler Alert! Well, sort of. Read below for more on that. Huge surprise as Nick and Starr won the Amazing Race by a ton. They dominated the whole time. The big thing was that Toni and Dallas weren't at the finish line. It wasn't commented on, but it was noticeable, especially in light of the thing with Dallas and Starr. So where were they? Did the loss of their passports mean they are stuck forever in Russia? Were they sent to Siberia?
    • It was actually a reasonably good Heroes episode tonight. The whole using the comic book to see the future thing is a little played out. It just seems a little deus ex machina for me. But they killed off a good number of characters and they showed a path for Peter to get his powers back. Weirdest part was that catalyst power. They only showed it in this episode and it seems like it's gone forever.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • Here is the video for "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer". I dare you to watch it. I got a whole twenty-six seconds in before my ears started bleeding.
    • I'm going to lose my first-round playoff matchup by three points because the Eagles let Eli Manning throw a meaningless touchdown pass in the last minute of their game on Sunday. Sucks, but I've won championships in that league by fewer points than that (once by one, once by a tiebreaker). My other league wrapped up the regular season this week and I won by close to sixty. Here's to Brian Westbrook continuing his resurgence.
  • Daily Rant:
    • Ta-Nehisi Coates of wrote a post about The Wire a few days back and talked about some of the story, specifically the death of Omar. Apparently a few people took him to task for ruining a major plot point. Let me repeat, he wrote it a few days back. The Wire had its series finale back in March. So, in light of my spoiler alert at the beginning, when is it okay to stop saying, "Spoiler Alert!" Obviously nine months is plenty. Look, if you missed the Wire finale to have sex and you've been really busy with your pregnancy and now that you've borne the child and named it Lester or Stringer, you're finally ready to see what happened with the Red String Killer and Marlo? You're out of damn luck. That craziness aside, something as big as the Amazing Race finale is even pushing it after two days. If you really cared, you'd watch it live or soon after it's over. People talk about it. Same goes for Survivor, which is usually treated as big news. I'm stretching my kindness by alerting you. Don't make me do it again.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Frozen and Abbreviated

After a very cold Sunday Night Football matchup between the Redskins and the Ravens, I'm keeping it short since I didn't get home until after 1AM and I have a twelve-hour day tomorrow. We found out a little more about the Ravens tonight and how special they have the potential to be. It wasn't the two takeaways in the first five minutes, nor the three total takeaways by Ed Reed. It was all about the fourth quarter.

Up 17-0, Joe Flacco threw an interception that turned into a field goal for the Skins. Then, Willis McGahee fumbled, setting up a Washington TD to make it 17-10. The Ravens got the ball back with about 11:20 to go and momentum squarely against them. This is championship time. This is when a team that hopes to go somewhere exerts their will on another team. The Ravens lined up with two tight ends, a fullback, and their power back. They basically said, "We're going to run the ball up the middle. Try to stop us." The drive went for twelve plays and eighty-three yards, capped off by a twenty-eight yard touchdown pass to Derrick Mason. The drive took 7:52. Things don't always go well all the time for a team, but even against a top-five defense, the Ravens were able to overcome that and show how dominant they can be.

Pittsburgh next week for a share of the division.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Your List Sucks!: Top 5 In The NFL

Just a quick post on the state of the league, going into the last quarter of the season. To be honest, I'm not sure that anyone has a legitimate shot of winning the Super Bowl outside of the Giants, the Titans, and the Steelers. I want to throw some love to my boys though, so here you go:
  • 5. Baltimore -- Fun fact: Only three teams have a 100+ point differential (on the positive side) in the league. That would be the Giants (+146), the Titans (+129), and the Ravens (+102). The Steelers are next at +99.
  • 4. Tampa Bay -- Fun fact: I have always thought Jon Gruden is overrated and I always will. I don't buy this team for a second, but they're playing well.
  • 3. Pittsburgh -- Fun fact: The Steelers D is impenetrable. They can not be penetrated. Sort of like the toughest guy in a jail house.
  • 2. Tennessee -- Fun fact: Chris Johnson, in his untouched 58-yard touchdown run against Detroit, was running up to 34 mph. The Model T, created by the patriarch of the family that owns the Lions, had a top speed around 40 mph.
  • 1. N.Y. Giants -- Fun fact: The Giants are making the NFL boring this year.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Star Child Lives

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • Went to see Role Models tonight. I've been meaning to for a while, because I'm a big fan of both David Wain (the director) and Paul Rudd. No joke -- you must see this movie. Obviously you can't underestimate the funniness of Paul Rudd, but the movie as a whole is hilarious. I kept almost choking because I couldn't laugh hard enough for how funny it is. Even the sappiest moments are followed up within seconds by huge laughs. It's yet another step in the resurgence of R-rated comedies.
    • I'll have the year-end awards for you later this month, but funniest movie of the year is going to be a tough one. Tropic Thunder is on such a huge scale -- it's hard to compare it to a lower-budget comedy.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • The Madden games usually have a good song or two that you may not have heard anywhere else. Right now, I'm really into this track, "We Made It" by Busta Rhymes and Linkin Park.
    • I was watching Duke play Purdue the other night. There's a funny thing in college basketball where so many of the well-known players leave early that one who stays around for four years seems like they've been around forever. Hansbrough is famously sticking around, but I keep thinking that guys like Greg Paulus or Gerald Henderson of Duke or Jeremy Pargo of Gonzaga have to be in their fifth or sixth year by now.
  • Daily Rant:

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Survivor Type

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • Strong season on Earl. Very strong. Whereas last season they used the whole jail thing and then the coma thing to keep it fresh, they're using other story techniques to stick to the list but with a variety of plots.
    • Survivor tonight. Where do you start? How could Kenny be that gullible and, if he was, how did Crystal not go along with it? How did Bob almost pull that off? How annoying is Sugar? Does she have any shot at getting even one vote if she makes it to the final Tribal Council? Why do those family episodes always make you so emotional? The last question is simpler, I suppose. You see the people in their basest and most conniving moments and even though you don't like most of them, you still get to know them very well. So when Matty proposes, in tears, to his girlfriend, it's pretty moving. It was actually the third proposal in Survivor history -- everyone remembers Rob and Amber, but the first was actually Keith on Australian Outback.
    • I've written before about the great and underrated work that Eric Dane does as Mark Sloan on Grey's Anatomy. He was fantastic tonight in the scene where he's telling Callie not to go after the hot intern. It's scenes like that that, while I hate the Denny stuff with a passion, makes me still like the show.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • Was going to go with an essay/discussion starter tonight, but TV is just too good on Thursdays. Stay tuned.
    • On Survivor tonight, as they showed the families, we found out that Kenny actually has a sister named Jenny. Do they also have a mentally-challenged brother named Benny, a dead-fiancee-come-back-as-a-ghost named Denny, a Jewish comedian brother named Henny, a foul-mouthed brother named Lenny, a daughter named Penny, a badly-directing brother named Renny, and of course a congressman for a brother named Steny?
    • Carolina bombed #12 Michigan State last night by thirty-five. I can't stress enough how freaking good this team is.
  • Daily Rave:
    • You want to feel good about the world? Just read this. Amazing.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Please Don't Let World Of Warcraft Be The New Gangsta Rap

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • I picked up Stephen King's latest short story collection, Just After Sunset. I thought he retired, but he's shooting them out as fast as ever.
    • On WTEM's Sports Reporters today, the hosts were discussing what the Redskins can do, with an injured running back and an awful offensive line, against the Ravens defense. They said just stick to passing. I say the only option is deep prayer.
    • WJFK announced today that on next Friday they will have all of their talent on the air together all day, from 6AM to 7PM. They're calling it "Trainwreck Friday." Oh, "Dysfunctional Family Friday." Sorry, must have heard that wrong.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • Have the Terps dropped so much in reputation that the Michigan-Maryland game wasn't even televised tonight?
    • The big video of the day is "Prop 8 - The Musical", from Jack Black is funny, but it's all about John C. Reilly and NPH. As always.
    • You think Marc Shaiman is a great writer?
  • Daily Rant:
    • The Junkies have, of late, been using the term "pwned" with reckless abandon. Look, white kids using black slang after it's long stale is cute in an awkward way. I've done it myself many times. But people over twenty-five that aren't into gaming using played out gaming terms is not cool. We're dangerously close to them referring to the Redskins with an "Epic fail!"

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Classic Random Babbles -- December 2, 1983

The internet is a wonderful thing where nothing is ever lost. To that effect, I was able to go back into the archives and pull up the post from twenty-five years ago today. So here is "Classic Random Babbles -- December 2, 1983". (Note: I didn't make anything up or change anything to this date.)

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • Friday night means the Duke boys! One of Enos' old rivals broke out of prison in California and came to Hazzard to settle the score. I'll give you one guess as to who won in the end.
    • During the commercials, I changed the channel to watch that new show, Webster. Something about Webster losing his teddy bear and being sad about it. We've all been there. I'll probably stick with the show a little, but I did like it better the first time I saw it when it was called Diff'rent Strokes.
    • Obviously Dallas and Falcon Crest are the big shows tonight, but they're too adult for me. I tried watching Manimal at 9, but it kind of sucks and I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't last too much longer. So I just decided to come upstairs and play Donkey Kong on my trusty TI-99/4A here, before typing this up. You can do a lot of cool stuff in Basic.
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • Still can't get over the O's winning the Series this year. Between them, the Blast dominating the MISL, and the Redskins at 11-2 after winning the Super Bowl last year, Baltimore-Washington sports looks very strong. Looking forward to many more years of the same!
    • You never know what the future may bring... For instance, somewhere in some random southern state, there may be some chick named Britney something-or-other who turns, say, two today and one day she may be one of the biggest celebrities in the world. Life can be crazy like that.
  • Daily Rave:
    • Tonight, MTV premiered the new video from Michael Jackson for his song "Thriller". You can check it out here. Now, you know that the album is great, maybe the best ever. But this video... If this is what MTV is like forever, count me in. I'll be watching it as much as I can for as long as they show music videos.

Monday, December 1, 2008

D-V-R You Kidding Me?

  • What I'm Watching/Listening To/Reading:
    • Obviously, the end of the eclipse thing on Heroes was very predictable. Still, I enjoyed most of the Seth Green/Breckin Meyer bit. Any Robot Chicken love is great. The end part though, where Seth Green is channeling Tim Kring by talking about how meaningful it is that regular people can have powers? Way cheesy. I did love Hiro saving the day in the Bennett household. The show is still watchable, it just continues to remain well below its first season glory.
    • So far in the past year or so, Seth Green has been on Grey's Anatomy, My Name Is Earl, Entourage, and Heroes. He's America's Guest Star. He's a Carol Burnett Show away from being Tim Conway. I do have some timely references, don't I?
    • Weird out-of-the-story-arc episode of Terminator tonight. There was a tiny bit to prove that it wasn't just an episode they had in the can and decided to show, but just a tiny bit.
    • That kind of brings up an interesting point about the evolution of TV and people's attention spans. The X-Files had its running story with the conspiracy and the Cigarette Smoking Man, but that got pretty old by the end and the better episodes tended to be the one-off story lines that were wrapped up in an hour. Twin Peaks had a running story, but it couldn't be sustained for more than one season. Was it The Sopranos that made long stories popular? With that, Lost, The Wire, Heroes, and Desperate Housewives, among others, some of the most popular shows have to be watched over a long period of time for them to make any sense. Sure, you still have C.S.I.: that has a story arc but is mostly made of one-off episodes, but it used to be the rule instead of the exception. Are people more into being invested in a show? Do they lose attention now if a show doesn't leave cliff-hanger after cliff-hanger?
  • Random Thoughts/Links:
    • Peter King said today that he envisions as many as thirteen coaching changes at the end of the year. Well, I'm watching the Jaguars look like crap right now against the Texans and I can think of at least one.
    • You know I love my basketball highlights. Check out Derrick Rose breaking out a wicked crossover to send Andre Miller, a legit player, to the floor.
    • I keep wanting to see Maryland play Georgetown every year. Maybe not. 75-48 is pretty ugly and it shows that the Hoyas are at the top of DC hoops and nobody else is close.
  • Daily Rant:
    • It's happened on Heroes the last two weeks and at least twice on House this year -- the show is scheduled from, say, 9-10, but the last scene and next week's preview happen at 10:01. Are they trying to screw people with DVRs and get them to watch live? Maybe I'll set everything an extra minute from now on, but it pisses me off more than anything. In the meantime, I'll have to get the recap from Television Without Pity and stew over it.